Exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian has said that Hong Kong publishers were “too afraid” to publish the Chinese version of his new novel.

Ma, 65, was born in Qingdao but lives in exile in the UK. An English translation of his book China Dream was published on Thursday.

“Impossible to publish in China, of course. But now even Hong Kong publishers are too afraid to bring out the Chinese original – the first time that’s happened to one of my books,” Ma said in a tweet posted on Thursday.

The Chinese original of China Dream remains unavailable in Hong Kong.

“I approached the publishers directly, but they all declined,” Ma told HKFP. “One brave publisher was eager to go ahead as long as I made a few changes (e.g. use different characters for the name ‘Xi Jinping’), but at the last minute, he pulled out, saying that no HK bookshop would dare sell it.”

Ma was scheduled to host a talk next Saturday night at Tai Kwun in Central, as part of the events of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, to introduce his new book.

Asked if he was concerned about denial of entry, Ma told HKFP that he has Hong Kong permanent resident status and a British passport.

“I always try to hope for the best,” he said.

‘China’s Solzhenitsyn’

The introduction of the book said: “A poetic and unflinching fable about tyranny, guilt, and the erasure of history, by the banned Chinese writer hailed as ‘China’s Solzhenitsyn’.”

“In seven dream-like episodes, Ma Jian charts the psychological disintegration of a Chinese provincial leader who is haunted by nightmares of his violent past,” it continued.

“From exile, Ma Jian shoots an arrow at President Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ propaganda, creating a biting satire of totalitarianism that reveals what happens to a nation when it is blinded by materialism and governed by violence and lies. Blending tragic and absurd reality with myth and fantasy, this dystopian novel is a portrait not of an imagined future, but of China today.”

Ma Jian
Ma Jian’s scheduled talk in Hong Kong. Photo: Screenshot.

Ma’s debut novel Stick Out Your Tongue was published in 1987 – it led to the permanent banning of his books in China. He moved to Hong Kong that year.

But Ma returned to Beijing in 1989 to take part in the pro-democracy protests. He was able to travel back and forth between Hong Kong and mainland China after the Tiananmen Massacre on June 4 that year.

He then moved to Germany in 1997 – after the Handover of Hong Kong – before moving to the UK. He was banned from entering mainland China in 2011.

His works were translated into more than 20 languages, and have received awards including the Index on Censorship Book Award and the Athens Prize for Literature.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.