R.F. Kuang and Ken Liu on The Burning God

by Rakka   Tags: books

R.F. Kuang and Ken Liu held a panel today to celebrate the launch of Kuang’s newest novel, The Burning God, finishing up the trilogy started in The Poppy War.

Full recording (about an hour long).

Some highlights this time:

Both Kuang and Liu pushed back against the typical conception of what Chinese people did in the past, during things like the Cultural Revolution, as “irrational”—something Liu traced back even to early missionary writings. He also noted that Chinese intellectuals themselves often adopted this viewpoint, further solidifying it.

A side comment Liu made stuck with me—while he considers his translation work relatively minor, just things he did as favors for friends, people (myself included) always bring it up with him and he doesn’t understand why. This was part of the larger theme of the second half of the discussion, about how Asian-American writers are often pigeonholed. Their works aren’t viewed as universal; they feel uncomfortable writing about things outside their “heritage”; readers and editors don’t realize they’re writing about the American experience. Kuang shared that after finishing her book, people kept asking her what Chinese mythology or history she wanted to tackle next—even though what she wants to write about is the Victorian era now!

I’m definitely guilty of seeking out Asian-American authors out of some sense of solidarity—so this is something I’ll have to think about as well.