January 16, 2013
Not your typical author tour
by Sal Robinson
Chinese author Li Chengpeng’s reading at Zhongguancun bookstore in Beijing didn’t go exactly as planned: Li was punched in the head by a man who (as the South China Morning Post puts it) “claimed to have a strong aversion to the content of Li’s new book, The Whole World Knows.” And if that wasn’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 “50-centers” to talk to him last year, in a long and detailed interview that appeared in the New Statesman.
Li’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 it’s a narrative of profound disillusionment. When the earthquake happened, Li and some friends rushed to the epicenter to help out. “I didn’t know it at the time,” he writes, “but those were my final days as a typical Chinese patriot.” 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. Here’s the video of the knife incident:
Earlier in his tour, when he appeared in his hometown of Chengdu, Li was told that he couldn’t address the crowd or answer any questions.
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.