Wang Xiaobo wasn’t widely read by readers in China, including myself, until he died of a heart attack at the age of 41. When I entered his literary world as a teenager, inevitably, his narratives, coloured by the notion of death, unfolded with a latent sense of melancholy. Such melancholy was further enhanced by his obsession with the past, more specifically, tales set during the Tang Dynasty. ‘Mister Lover’ is from Wang’s collection Tales of the Tang, and, like lots of his other retellings of Tang, is essentially a superimposition of cynical black comedy onto intricate lyricism.
I’m unable to tell what made me cry: the notion of a bygone era and a dead writer or the clear indication that under his slouchy and ironic way of telling, there is always a faint light of innocence. The light is so indistinct that, often, before you realise that it’s there, it wavers and goes out.
First published in English in Paper-Republic, 2015 and available to read here