Ratnesh Dwivedi Interviews Creator of Chief Inspector Chen

Qiu Xiaolong creator of Chief Inspector Chen was born in Shanghai, China. He published prize-winning poetry, translation and criticism in Chinese in the eighties, and became a member of the Chinese Writers' Association. In 1988, he came to the United States as a Ford Foundation Fellow, started writing in English, and obtained a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Washington University. He is the author of Death of a Red Heroine (2000), A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), The Mao Case (2009), Don't Cry, Tai Lake (2012), Enigma of China (2013), Shanghai Redemption (2015), and Becoming Inspector Chen (in French and Italian, 2016 and 2017) in the critically acclaimed, award-winning Inspector Chen series; a collection of linked stories Years of Red Dust (serialized in Le Monde first, 2010); three poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003), Evoking T'ang (2007) and 100 Classic Chinese Poems (2010); and his own poetry collections, Lines Around China (2003) and Poems of Inspector Chen (2016). Qiu's books have sold over two million copies worldwide and have been published in twenty languages. He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter.

Ratnesh Dwivedi talked to him candidly on his early life in China where his family faced suppression,his migration to USA,his creation-Chief Inspector Chen and also if he has a plan to return to Mainland China.

Q-1: I know you have seen a lot and so is your family. I have heard and read that your father opposed communist regime in China and was termed as Capitalist.He saw a suppression on his family and was forced to write a guilt letter to Red Army? Can you tell us in detail what was this issue all about and how your family survived?

A: My father suffered a lot as a "capitalist" under the Communist Regime after 1949, particularly so during the period of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. He was a target of the "revolutionary mass criticism," suffering humiliation and persecution, and his health was totally ruined those days. Because of his class status, I too was called a "black puppy," considered politically unreliable, hence no future in the communist China. Even at hospital, my father had to write guilty pleas to Red Guards, two or three times a week, and I had to stand beside him, supporting him lest he could fall, on a stage during a revolutionary mass criticism. In my latest story collection, Inspector Chen and Me, I give quite a detailed description of the ordeal for my father and me in the story entitled "Confidence First Gained."

Q-2 : Your family migrated to USA later. But it was not all of sudden.Can you tell me what was incident which made you decide to stay in USA?

A: I came to US toward the end of 1988, as a Ford Foundation Fellow for one year's research at Washington University in St. Louis. Before one year was over, however, the Tiananmen crackdown happened. While still in St. Louis, my name was mentioned in 1989 in Voice of America for trying to help the student demonstration in Beijing, and the Chinese police visited my family in Shanghai. A collection of my Chinese poems, the proof of which I had already read, was banned from publishing. So I knew I could not go back to China--at least not at the time. That's also why I switched my writing to English because I could no longer publish in Chinese.

Q-3 : What you did in you early days to carry on your livelihood in USA and what was your routine?

A: After the Ford fellowship, I got some scholarships, thanks to Washington University, and I also worked as a night manager at the Student Center as well as on some odd jobs, and in the meantime, I had to work on my Ph. D. degree in comparative literature at Washington University in St. Louis. So my early days in US was quite a hectic period. Usually, I had to spend most of the time studying for the degree to keep my student status, and whatever time left working part-time to support my family. And I also learned cooking during that period, as my wife was also busy working and taking care of our newborn daughter.

Q-4 : When you decided to write and was it your first decision to write investigative stories with lead character of Chief Inspector Chen?

A: I decided to pursue a writer's career in China, as early as the late seventies when I started to study under Professor Bian Zhilin for my first MA in English literature. At that time I was writing poetry in Chinese, of course. What happened in Tiananmen Square then totally changed my plan to write in China; in 1996, after seven or eight years in U.S., I made my first trip back to China, and I was surprised at all the changes that had been taking place in China. So I thought about writing a book about the Chinese society in transition, with an intellectual as the main character who would think about how and why things are happening like that, but having not written a novel before, I had a hard time putting things together, so I turned to the structure of crime fiction as a ready-made framework, in which I might say what I want to say. As it turned out, an investigating police officer proved to be a convenient vehicle to look at the social problems. And then it turned into an ongoing series.

Q-5 : How many series you have written till now and can you please tell me what are plots of theses books?

A: Eleven novels in the Inspector Chen series, and I'm working on number twelve. In each of the Inspector Chen novels, I set the criminal investigation in a specific background. In other words, what I want to explore is not simply whodunit, but in what social, cultural, political circumstances the crime and investigation take place. For instance, in Red Mandarin Dress, a serial murder case investigated in terms of the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution; in Don't Cry, Tai Lake, a mysterious case in the crisis of China's water pollution; in Shanghai Redemption, a murder case in the midst of uncontrollable corruption under the one-Party system.

Q-6 : I have visited China thrice and I see many changes taking place in China? Will you decide to return China on a permanent basis in future?

A: For a writer, one question I have to ask myself is: can I write as freely, without worrying about the censorship in China. Nowadays I have had some of my Inspector Chen novels translated into Chinese, yet with so many cuts and changes in the Chinese text. For instance, the background of my books are set in Shanghai, but Chinese censorship officials would not tolerate the idea that a crime could have happened in Shanghai,China, so they changed Shanghai to "H city" in the Chinese. Needless, things politically sensitive are all censored. As it is, I think I will travel back to China for my books, but I will not return to China as a permanent base in the near future.

Q-7 : Do you see any role model for you in China or in USA and what message you would like to give to today's youth across globe who loves reading your books?

A: For my role models, it will be a long, global list, including Li Shangyin, Fan Zhongyan, Joseph Conrad, Romain Rolland, T. S. Eliot--just to name a few that are jumping into mind. And for my readers all over the world, I want to thank them; in this complicated global age, books may make all of us see world in a different,hitherto unthought-of perspective--the same with me, and their support and encouragement make writing worthwhile.
Qiu Xiaolong has authored following books in Chief Inspector Chen series:
Shanghai Redemption

For years, Chen Cao managed to balance the interests of the Communist Party and the promises made by his job. He was both a Chief Inspector of Special Investigations of the Shanghai Police Department and the deputy party secretary of the bureau. He was considered a potential rising star in the Party until, after one too many controversial cases that embarrassed powerful elements in the Party, Chen Cao found himself neutralized. Under the guise of a major promotion, a new position with a substantial title but no power, he's stripped of his job duties and isolated. That's still not enough, as it becomes increasingly clear that someone is attempting to set him up for public disgrace and possibly worse..

Enigma of China

Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is in an unusual situation―a poet by training and inclination, he was assigned by the party to the Police Department after he graduated college, where he has continued to shine. Now he's a rising cadre in the party, in line to take over the top politic position in the police department, while being one of most respected policeman in the department. Which is why he's brought in by the Party to sign off on the investigation into the death of Zhou Keng.

Don't Cry, Tai Lake

Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is offered a bit of luxury by friends and supporters within the Party – a week's vacation at a luxurious resort near Lake Tai, a week where he can relax, and recover, undisturbed by outside demands or disruptions. Unfortunately, the once beautiful Lake Tai, renowned for its clear waters, is now covered by fetid algae, its waters polluted by toxic runoff from local manufacturing plants. Then the director of one of the manufacturing plants responsible for the pollution is murdered and the leader of the local ecological group is the primary suspect of the local police. Now Inspector Chen must tread carefully if he is to uncover the truth behind the brutal murder and find a measure of justice for both the victim and the accused.

Years of Red Dust: Stories of Shanghai

The stories in Years of Red Dust trace the changes in modern China over fifty years ― from the early days of the Communist revolution in 1949 to the modernization movement of the late nineties―all from the perspective of one small street in Shanghai, Red Dust Lane. From the early optimism at the end of the Chinese Civil War, through the brutality and upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, to the death of Mao, the pro-democracy movement and the riots in Tiananmen Square―history, on both an epic and personal scale, unfolds through the bulletins posted and the lives lived in this one lane, this one corner of Shanghai.

The Mao Case

Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is the head of the Special Case group and is often put in charge of those cases that are considered politically "sensitive" since, as a rising party cadre, he's regarded by many as reliable. But Inspector Chen, though a poet by inclination and avocation, takes his job as a policeman very seriously, despite the pressures put upon him from within and without, and is unwilling to compromise his principles as a policeman in favor of political expedience.

Red Mandarin Dress

A serial killer is stalking the young women of Shanghai. The killer's calling card is to leave the victims' bodies in well trafficked locations, each of them redressed in a red mandarin dress. With the newspapers screaming about Shanghai's first serial killer, Party officials anxious for a quick resolution, and the police under pressure from all sides, something has to give.

A Case of Two Cities

Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is assigned a high-profile anti-corruption case, one in which the principal figure has long since fled to the United States and beyond the reach of the Chinese government. But Xing left behind his organization, and Chen, while assigned to root the co-conspirators, is not sure whether he's actually being set up to fail.

When Red is Black

Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau is taking a vacation, in part because he is annoyed at his boss, Party Secretary Li, but also because he has been made an offer he can't refuse by Gu, a triad-connected businessman. For what seems to be a fortune—with no apparent strings attached— he is to translate a business proposal for the New World, a complex of shops and restaurants to be built in Central Shanghai, evoking nostalgia for the "glitter and glamour" of the 1930s.

A Loyal Character Dancer

Inspector Chen's mentor in the Shanghai Police Bureau has assigned him to escort US Marshal Catherine Rohn. Her mission is to bring Wen, the wife of a witness in an important criminal trial, to the United States. Inspector Rohn is already en route when Chen learns that Wen has unaccountably vanished from her village in Fujian. Or is this just what he is supposed to believe? Chen resents his role; he would rather investigate the triad killing in Shanghai's beautiful Bund Park. Li insists that saving face with Inspector Rohn takes priority. So Chen Cao, the ambitious son of a father who imbued him with Confucian precepts, must tread warily as he tries once again to be a good cop, a good man and also a loyal Party member.

Death of a Red Heroine

A young "national model worker," renowned for her adherence to the principles of the Communist Party, turns up dead in a Shanghai canal. As Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Special Cases Bureau struggles to trace the hidden threads of her past, he finds himself challenging the very political forces that have guided his life since birth. Chen must tiptoe around his superiors if he wants to get to the bottom of this crime, and risk his career—perhaps even his life—to see justice done.

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