Not your typical author tour
by Sal Robinson
Chinese author Li Chengpengâ€™s reading at Zhongguancun bookstore in Beijing didnâ€™t go exactly as planned: Li was punched in the head by a man who (as the South China Morning Post puts it) â€śclaimed to have a strong aversion to the content of Liâ€™s new book, The Whole World Knows.â€ť And if that wasnâ€™t enough, another man at the reading threw a kitchen knife wrapped in plastic at him. With admirable aplomb, Li apparently chucked back 50 fen, a small amount of money that has come to stand for the people who are paid to make pro-government comments online. Ai Weiwei got one of these â€ś50-centersâ€ť to talk to him last year, in a long and detailed interview that appeared in the New Statesman.
Liâ€™s book is a collection of essays about a number of controversial topics, including the school building collapses during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Li is a former journalist and now a blogger with a large following on Sina Weibo, and he blogged about his experience of the earthquake and its aftermath. A translation of his post ran in the New York Times last May, and itâ€™s a narrative of profound disillusionment. When the earthquake happened, Li and some friends rushed to the epicenter to help out. â€śI didnâ€™t know it at the time,â€ť he writes, â€śbut those were my final days as a typical Chinese patriot.â€ť Li and others drew attention to the shoddy construction of the many buildings that toppled during the earthquake, and his criticism has clearly earned him enemies. Hereâ€™s the video of the knife incident:
Earlier in his tour, when he appeared in his hometown of Chengdu, Li was told that he couldnâ€™t address the crowd or answer any questions.
Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House, and co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.