Dream of Ding Village: A Conversation with Novelist Yan Lianke


Dream of Ding Village: A Conversation with Novelist Yan Lianke


Yan Lianke is a Chinese novelist frequently mentioned for the Nobel Prize for Literature; he’s often called the country’s most controversial writer. In this special virtual Humanities Without Boundaries talk, Yan discussed his experiences researching and writing Dream of Ding Village, the prescient story of a public health crisis of the 1990s when rural villages selling their blood led to an AIDS outbreak. He reflected on the novel’s perspective on pandemic profiteering, government corruption, as well as trauma and hope.

Officially censored upon its Chinese publication, Dream of Ding Village was the result of three years of undercover work by Yan, who once worked as an assistant to a well-known Beijing anthropologist in an effort to study a small village decimated by HIV/AIDS as a result of unregulated blood selling. Yan’s virtual visit provided us an opportunity to ask the questions on all of our minds during this moment of global health crisis. How does the Chinese public health system work? What are the inner lives of the suffering and those who allow suffering? What do we do with our fear and uncertainty in a time of illness? And ultimately, what is our responsibility as participants in a public health crisis, and how can we respond here in Wisconsin?


Drawing on his experiences in the military and the Cultural Revolution, Yan Lianke is a satirist and one of the world’s greatest chroniclers of modern Chinese society. Among many accolades, he was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize, he was twice a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, and he has been shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Man Asian Literary Prize, and the Prix Femina Étranger. He has received two of China’s most prestigious literary honors, the Lu Xun Prize and the Lao She Award.