It is absurd to see that Asian culture is so little known and barely discussed in depth

Xiaolu Guo is a novelist and filmmaker. I am China is her fifth novel in English.

I am China is full of energy, from the free-spirited Iona who lives her life as she pleases, without being bound or attached to anyone, to Mu and Jian whose political and human beliefs inescapably come up against the normalized mindset imposed by the government.
Music, especially punk, is very important for the characters and is present throughout the narration, as it was already the case in your film She, a Chinese. How meaningful is this kind of radical musical expression in your work?

Compared with western youth, my youth went by in China without much of a musical environment. The first time I heard The Beatles or the Doors was 18 or 19 and I realised I was a un-cool peasant teenager – maybe that’s why I was desperate to get knowledge … since then i have been catching up. But stuff like the Sex Pistols came with my art school experience in Beijing. I wanted to have that sort of energy in my work, especially in my films. With I AM CHINA, Kublai Jian’s conversation with Jonny Rotten is a bit like a footnote for Kublai jian’s character, even if a comical one.

In Jian’s ambivalent relation to his homeland—he is outraged by the government but he realizes when he is abroad that he deeply misses China—we also see someone who is quite lost. Did you want to depict an aspect of the Chinese youth through the character of Jian?

Surely. Especially the youth of the 1980s. I would call that generation the last romantic generation of China. After that period, materialism took over the society in general including the youth culture. This is also the phenomenon of the west.

The novel covers several decades and countries, from the Tiananmen Square protests to modern-day London, from the Belleville metro station to the semi-deserted landscape of Crete in late autumn. How did it translate in terms of research?

Again I wanted to write about my generation from China who have left the country, but also to write about globalized youth nowadays which lives everywhere and nowhere at the same time. This is the essential pattern of the new immigration in our society – people move from one city to another, you, me and everyone we know, the traditional idea of ‘home’ is no longer geographical.

You were recently featured in many newspaper articles for a statement you had made during the Jaipur festival about American literature being overrated and readers being too rarely exposed to foreign literature and narratives. Do you think a certain “fear of risk” (from publishers, authors or readers alike) has to do with it? Would you consider your work to be in the “discomfort zone” rather than in its counterpart?

I cannot really say that. It is just there is a main stream culture which dominates the world and then there are different sub-cultures lurking around, fighting for their voice. It is absurd to see that Asian culture is so little known and barely discussed in depth despite the fact that Asia has the biggest population and the strongest culture roots in the world. But I am not talking about national identity here, I am talking about the double-way of learning and knowing that spans east and west. You have to, in our contemporary world.

Several of your works were originally written in Chinese, but your most recent novels are written in English. Since only a very small percentage of today’s publications in English are translations, was it a way to take action? How did it affect your identity as a writer?

It is a huge challenge, to write in two languages at the same time. But i like the fact that i am writing in a second language – it forces a writer to think beyond his/her normal pattern, it takes a writer out of his/her comfortable domain and faces the difficulty in all sorts of aspects. This process enriches a writer and an artist, certainly.