Betrayals are partly the result of history and culture and partly human nature

Diane Wei Liang was born in Beijing and spent part of her childhood in a labor camp with her parents. She now lives in London. Paper Butterfly is her second novel.

Your writing is very meticulous and the different aspects of contemporary China are very well depicted, like a documentary film. Was is intentional?

It was not intentional. It was driven by the story and the mysteries that unfolded, which took readers into different aspects of contemporary China.

Why did you choose the mystery genre?

I chose the crime genre, going back to your first question, because it gives rise to a broad scope of characters and social behaviours. It allows the reader, through the interrelated nature of crime and passion, to experience first-hand what lies behind closed doors.

Paper Butterfly takes places almost ten years after Tiananmen.
25 years after, is the cloud of silence over the repression that followed 6 weeks of demonstration beginning to clear up in China?

It is common in China that people are cautious of what they say and do, given that freedom is limited and there remains certain degree of danger if they speak out. The event of 1989 in Tiananmen remains off limits.

There are at least two betrayals in Paper Butterfly. Did the repression lead not only to the destruction of the individual but of entire families as well?

Betrayals are partly the result of history and culture and partly human nature. China’s recent history, particularly during the Mao era, has cast a long shadow on relationships, both individual and family. This kind of damage might take a long time to heal.

There is a lot of eating in the novel. Is everything settled around a meal in China?

Yes, everything in China revolves around eating. Food is a very important part of our culture.