Northern Girls: Interviews with Author Sheng Keyi
In an interview with Muhammad Cohen at Asia Times Online, Sheng Keyi discusses the English-language publication of her first novel, Northern Girls, based on her own experiences as a migrant worker in Shenzhen.
Asia Times Online: What’s changed in China since Northern Girls was published in 2004? How different would the story be if you were writing it today?
Sheng Keyi: Northern Girls was my first novel, written in 2002. A decade has passed since I began my writing career and China has undergone significant changes over the past decade. Social behavior is getting worse: devotion to money is widespread; social values are distorted; individuals give up their moral bottom line; the media is no longer guided by justice and conscience; materialized and self-materialized “New Women” and ignorant, morally degenerated “Successful Men” can be seen everywhere; people work exclusively for profit.
[...] ATol: Northern Girls depicts a male-dominated society. To what extent does that represent China today? To what extent are the situations of characters Qian Xiaohong and Li Sijang consequences of their gender and to what extent are they consequences of their class, their rural origins and lack of education?
SK: This male-dominated society not only refers to the real men, but also refers to the combination of power, wealth and an unreasonable social system and values. It is almost impossible for women from all social classes to escape such social pressures. Thousands of years of political traditions and social customs are deeply rooted in Chinese society and prevent women from overcoming the limitations caused by their sex. Northern Girls depicts the life circumstances of women from a specific social class.
When you were living in Shenzhen, did you encounter the same kind of situations and struggles as the characters in your book?
Yes, naturally. I was fired, jumped between jobs, resigned, dealt with temporary residency permits and, for a long time, suffered discrimination as a temporary worker. I wished in vain that I could be promoted to a full time worker at my company, feel proud and elated, and become equal with everybody. But I failed. Eventually I quit the magazine where I was working and moved up north to write and control my own future.
[…] Towards the end of the novel, Qian Xiaohong’s breasts start to enlarge, and won’t stop growing. What does this symbolize for you?
It symbolizes the female identity, and how much it has become a burden. Also, how women cannot escape the confines of their gender.
[…] When can we expect the next translation of one of your pieces?
Well, my next piece to come out in the English language will be my sixth novel, “Death Fugue.” The plans have already been discussed, and it should be on the shelves next year.
See more on women’s rights in China via CDT.