An Interview with Tony Huang, Guest Editor and Translator for Chinese
Tony, thank you so much for choosing a story in Chinese for SmokeLong Quarterly‘s Global Flash Series. What kind of story will you be looking for?
I’m honored to join this literary program and to help pick a story that is originally written in Chinese. As to the kind of story I’m looking for, there are actually very few requirements and I would like to give our contributors complete freedom to create their own stories. Our contributors do need to pay attention to the maximum length of their work, though. Since the Global Flash Series publishes flash fiction up to the equivalent of 600 English words, the maximum length of the stories we are looking for should be shorter than 900 words in Chinese, which is much shorter than the maximum length (1,500 Chinese words or so) conventionally set for flash fiction in China.
Give our readers, who may not be familiar with Chinese literature, an idea of current trends in Chinese writing, especially flash-length writing.
Like the literature in any other country, current Chinese literature is so diverse in its forms and contents. There are still a lot of people who are writing the kind of poetry you may find prevalent in Tang and Song dynasty, a kind of poetry which is still regarded by many today as the highest form of art, especially when it is combined with Chinese calligraphy. However, there are also people who are experimenting with all possible forms of modern prosody and they gain equally wide readership. In terms of fiction, it is true that the kind of avant-garde, modernist, and experimental writing survives the 1980s and is still living today, but we see more and more writers tend to have an extremely realistic, and at times critical, look at the new problems and moral dilemmas that pop up every day as the society together with its economy pushes violently ahead.
In China, flash fiction started roughly in the 1980s and is still evolving and thriving today. For a long time, flash fiction has been taken by many writers as a convenient, and yet powerful, tool to satirize the ills of the society, especially the bureaucracy of many government agencies. Its language is often humorous, poignant, or bitter. However, flash fiction tends to adopt a new dimension, and thus a new look, by looking inside, rather than merely outside, when it gets into the new millennium. It is still a flash, or a segment, of life, but it tends to offer its readers a prism to observe the many colors of life and living that are otherwise invisible to modern people’s baffled and imperceptive eyes. It is less angry, but it challenges its readers even more.
We may have mentioned this when we spoke in Portland, but did you know that SmokeLong Quarterly apparently took its name from the Chinese phrase that describes how long it takes to read a piece of flash fiction? When I was in Hong Kong last year I did some research with friend and editor Nicolette Wong. We found a song that refers to this idea but nothing else really. I wonder if anyone in China actually uses this term to refer to flash fiction.
This is very interesting! I remember you talked about this when we were at AWP Portland. I also found two Chinese songs that sing about what will happen within the time of a cigaret. However, I fail to find anyone in China who is referring to flash fiction as “a-cigaret-long-story.” Sometimes people here do call flash fiction by the time it takes for them to finish reading a story though. We may find flash fiction is also referred to as “one-minute-story,” “four-minute-story,” or “five-minute-story” in some Chinese publications both in and out of China.
You are the founding editor of The Hong Kong Review. I love everything about your mission statement. Could you tell us more about the journal?
Thank you for your good words and your interest in The Hong Kong Review. The idea to establish an international literary journal was rooted in my experience in running a student magazine when I was in my high school. It is also related to my experience teaching literature at university and my concern about how a lot of academic literary criticism is writing about literature. I realize how easy it is for modern readers to be distracted by different kinds of screens, big or small. I feel suspicious about some current literary criticism that is published in academic journals here and I doubt if this kind of critical practice is really benefiting literature in general. I also feel alarmed to see the rise of irrational nationalism and the many walls that may threaten human communication and understanding. The mission statement I put on our website is my response to these challenges and I hope The Hong Kong Review can be a very effective venue for international literary community to fight against these challenges as well.
The Hong Kong Review publishes short stories, novellas, excerpts of novels, poems, creative nonfiction, critical essays, translations of poetry or short prose, and pictures of artwork. In our first two issues we are so honored to be home to work of Carl Phillips, Jane McCafferty, Natalie Shapero, Hugh Sheehy, Sheng Keyi, Karin Lin-Greenberg, Rachel Heng, Anjanette Delgado, Maaz Bin Bilal, Andrew Grace, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Maggie Smith, K. Scrilata and many others. And we are very proud that our first two issues have been sold to more than 14 countries and regions in the world. Our third issue will be out in June, and we will have a novella issue in September.
Finally, what is the literary community like in China? One of the goals of SmokeLong’s Global Flash Series is to engage with writing communities the Anglo-centred lit world doesn’t often enough have access to.
Again the literary community in China is a very diverse and vibrant one. However, if we look more closely at the community, it seems that there is a dim line that divides the community roughly into two groups. One group of the writers belong to a certain writers’ association that is sponsored by governmental funds. The other group of writers are more independent, in terms of their writing and their financial resources.
From the Chinese writers I know, they are pretty open to the world outside and they are eager to share their work with international readers. I’m very glad to see the initiative that has been taken by SmokeLong’s Global Flash Series and I think The Hong Kong Review can be a very good partner that SmokeLong can work with to bring international literary community closer together.
Tony Huang is the founding editor of The Hong Kong Review, an international literary journal that is based in Hong Kong and Tianjin, China. He is also the founder of Metacircle Fellowship, Metacircle (Hong Kong) Culture and Education Co., Ltd. and Metaeducation. His poems and translation have appeared in The Hong Kong Review, Tianjin Daily, Binhai Times, Nankai Journal, Large Ocean Poetry Quarterly and other places. He teaches British and American literature and literary theories at Nankai University.
Christopher Allen is a translator, freelance editor and the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press). Allen’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Best Small Fictions 2019, [PANK], Indiana Review, Split Lip Magazine, Longleaf Review and others. He is the co-editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and the curator of SmokeLong’s Global Flash Series.