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'Crime fiction is a commentary on society'
Shanghai-born Qiu Xiaolong is best known for his two books 'Death of a Red Heroine' and 'A Loyal Character Dancer' featuring the compassionate, poetic Inspector Chen. Qiu is your typical contemporary crime writer whose stories go way beyond the bodies and the investigation. In an interview to TOI-Crest, the writer, who lives and teaches in the US, says his books reflect the reality of Chinese society and politics. His protagonist just happens to be a policeman.
How close to the real China are your books?
For Inspector Chen, it is imperative to grasp under what social and historical circumstances a murder takes place, not just obsess with whodunit. For instance, in When Red Is Black, his realisation of the tragedies of the time - the social and ideological upheaval - is far more important than all the technical or forensic analysis.
Does China have an indigenous tradition of crime writing? Any more books in the Judge Dee category?
Not exactly. China may be said to have a tradition of a gongan (judge) sub-genre. The main character is a judge or an official, not a detective or private investigator. It's mainly because of the difference between the judicial system of the West and China. People have to be in power to be able to do something. The suspense often did not lie in the whodunit aspect, but in knowing who the criminal is (most often a powerful man or an official), and the question of how to bring him to justice.
What is the response to your book across the world and in China itself?
Three of my Inspector Chen books have been translated into Chinese, with cuts and changes, of course (mostly politically sensitive stuff), and with Shanghai turned into "H" city. Chinese readers are interested in them. So I hope in the translation of my next book, Shanghai will not be shanghaied! I believe they sell everywhere in the world. They have been translated into more than 20 languages.
How did you chance upon the character of Inspector Chen?
I have a friend who majored in English, but upon graduation he was assigned to work in the Shanghai Police Bureau. That was, of course, an initial thought, and then a long process of evolution. There are so many things happening in China right now. I don't have to worry about getting a writer's block in terms of plots.
What is the reason for the growing popularity of crime fiction?
There may be so many reasons. In the case of my books, it could be because I am of Chinese origin. Crime writing serves as a commentary on the society in which it evolves. To succeed, this fiction has to go with a sociological approach.
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