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Globally acclaimed author Yan Geling considering giving up writing in native Chinese over censorship

If you watch the Chinese film One Second on a streaming platform, you won’t see a credit for the author whose book inspired the movie.

That’s because Chinese authorities have successfully erased any mention of globally renowned Chinese-American writer Yan Geling, both in China and overseas.

The movie — directed by celebrated Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou — is available in Australia from platforms including Prime Video, Google Play and Apple TV.

“I can understand if you don’t want to put my name on it because censorship doesn’t allow it in China,” Yan told the ABC from her home in Berlin.

“However, practices like this are not acceptable overseas. The initial spirit and life of a work are given by the original author.”

Director Zhang Yimou directed the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and 2022.(Reuters: Christina Charisius)

Born in Shanghai into a family of artists, Yan – a prolific book author and screenwriter who has won more than 30 literary and film awards and is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science – started her writing career in the 1980s.

She has published more than 40 books in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the US, the UK and elsewhere.

But she is now considering giving up writing in Chinese and writing in English instead.

“If this is a price I need to pay, then I will pay it. There is no other way,” she said.

A woman, in focus, sits well behind a blurred book cover as she is interviewed.  She has her hands outstretched, palms upwards
Yan Geling says she will write her next book in English instead of Chinese.(Reuters: Bobby Yip)

The 63-year-old wondered if she had already been subconsciously self-censoring her writing because of China’s strict censorship practices.

“I think being censored for a long time, one will develop a subconscious of self-censorship,” she said.

“And it will dominate you when you are making words and sentences.”

Prime Video, Google Play or Apple TV were all contacted for comment but have yet to respond.

Self-censorship widespread in China’s film industry

A movie scene showing a group of girls hanging film reels on railings.
Yan Geling says the film One Second is inspired by her novel, The Criminal Lu Yanshi.(Weibo: @Dianying Yimiaozhong)

Censorship in China is back in the spotlight after the country’s National Radio and Television Administration this month decreed artists should produce more “high-quality works” that “adhere to the correct political direction” of China.

It came after President Xi Jinping ordered the arts industry to “tell China’s stories and spread Chinese voices to strengthen the country’s international communication capacity.”

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