NPR logo
For China's Youth, A Life Of 'Darkness Outside The Night'
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/187044910/203890640" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
For China's Youth, A Life Of 'Darkness Outside The Night'

Asia

For China's Youth, A Life Of 'Darkness Outside The Night'
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/187044910/203890640" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's not every day that a young unknown graphic novelist is praised by a Nobel laureate. But that's exactly what happened to a 36-year-old Chinese cartoonist. The country's first Nobel laureate for literature, Mo Yan said the young man's graphic novel will inspire people on how to deal with life. It's a psychological journey into the world of a young Chinese man. And as NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Beijing, it's a world of competition, stress, anxiety, but not politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: A small, childlike creature wearing a cone hat stands alone in the middle of a brightly lit street of bars and nightclubs. There is enough for everyone, he thinks, yet some have so little. He looks into a toyshop, happy at the sight of a snow globe. Something small for me, he thinks. Perhaps one day.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIM: At that very moment, it's bought from under his nose by a reveler, laughing and dancing with friends. The few will take everything, thinks the child, even happiness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIM: This is a vignette from "Darkness Outside the Night," a graphic novel illustrated by Xie Peng as he listened to this music. It's a glimpse into his world, where freedom has become a commodity.

XIE PENG: (Through Translator) At this time, you are free, but everything has to be purchased. Freedom needs to be bought. Without money, you will have no freedom. Dignity also needs to be bought. It's actually an illusion.

LIM: This is true for Xie Peng himself. He struggles to buy himself the freedom to create graphic novels. He works 12 hours a day as a computer games animator. His weekends are eaten up by overtime work. Financial pressures bear down on him, since he's just gotten married and bought an apartment. He wants to work on a new graphic novel about a failed superhero, if he can buy himself the time. His characters - children of the one-child generation - are anxious and alienated.

XIE: (Through Translator) To put it simply, there's a feeling of isolation when you're among very happy people. You feel you have no relationship with them.

LIM: Xie Peng draws dystopian Gotham-like cities where skyscrapers close out the sky. Monsters lurk in the background; nature is absent. And the characters are engaged in intense competition for everything. Xie Peng believes his book is unlikely to find a large audience inside China; it's simply too depressing.

XIE: (Through Translator) There is a common tendency among this generation to castrate their thoughts. They automatically don't think about negative things or complicated things. They're factory-farmed like chicks in a chicken farm. After birth, their lives are regulated like that. Some boundaries can't be crossed. As long as you don't cross them, you will live very happily.

LIM: His work is not, however, political. It's more a commentary on the passivity of young Chinese. The rawness of the art has won him fans, not least Duncan Jepson, a Hong-Kong based writer, who wrote the book's words.

DUNCAN JEPSON: My attitude was it's kind of like a Sibelius tone poem, but it was visual. But it was about anxiety. It was about frustration. But it was the same time about seeking something better, something beautiful, something more human.

LIM: (Reading) The small child is walking along the road. He trips and falls into a massive hole.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIM: (Reading) With a huge effort, he pulls himself out. He peers into the blackness as he sits on the edge of the hole. Around him, the road is pockmarked with holes. He is completely, utterly alone. There I am, he thinks, again. The last picture is the view from the bottom of another hole, the world outside contracted to a white dot inside the inky black vacuum. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.