Hong Ying

'Hong Ying's work [is]… tough, uncompromising, direct and tense with strong emotion, but also full of poetry and grace' Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate

Hong Ying was born in Chongqing in 1962 into a sailor's family. She was the sixth child in a family of eight, and she endured great poverty and hunger as a child. She spent her childhood in the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution, and her mother had to work as a brick labourer to feed the family, while her father was too ill to work. She later discovered that she was in fact the illegitimate daughter of a lover her mother took while her father was in prison.

Hong Ying started her freelance writer's career in early 1980s. One of the very few freelancers at the time, she wrote both fiction and poetry. In late 1980s she studied in the Lu Xun Creative Writing Academy and Fudan University. In 1991 she came to England and settled in London. Her novels K: The Art of Love and Summer of Betrayal, as well as her autiobiography Daughter of Hunger (called Daughter of the River in the English translation), have been translated and published into 16 languages, including alongside the major European languages, such languages as Finnish, Polish, Israeli, Portugese & Vietnamese. Her story collection A Lipstick Called Red Pepper, Fiction about Gay & Lesbian Love in China was published in Germany in 1999. She has recently finished her latest novels Ananda and Peacock Cries, on which she has spent three years. Her fiction and poetry have won 9 major prizes in Taiwan since 1990. In mainland China she also won both the critical acclaim and readers’ recognition. Her books have been at the top of the bestseller charts, and she has been acclaimed as one of the ten most popular authors in China in 2000.
She now divides her time between London and Beijing.

In 1999 Hong Ying's novel K: The Art of Love was published in Taiwan, a fictionalised account of the true story of the Chinese intellectual who became Julian Bell's lover when he was in China in the 1930s. Known only as ‘K’ in the letters that he wrote home to his mother, the true identity of Julian Bell’s Chinese lover continues to spark controversy to this day. Already dubbed the Chinese Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Hong Ying’s imaginary account of the real-life love affair in the 1930s between Julian Bell, son of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf’s nephew, and Ling Shuhua, one of China’s most highly regarded short-story writers, was the focus of intense legal debate and became the subject of a scandalous court case on the Chinese mainland. The author was sued in Manchuria by Chen Xiaoying, the outraged daughter of Ling Shuhua, who died 12 years ago. The daughter has pronounced the book defamatory and is taking advantage of Chinese law, which stipulates that dead people can be protected from libel.

Denouncing the book as ‘unbearably pornographic’, Chen Xiaoying has brought a lawsuit against Hong Ying and the two Chinese publications that have carried extracts of the novel for causing ‘spiritual damage’. ‘It is very obscene,’ she told the UK’s Observer at the start of the trial in June 2002. ‘There is no law in England to protect ancestors. But in China the dead cannot be slandered.’ This startling case highlights the fluid boundary between biography, artistic license and China’s totalitarian legal system. If Hong Ying had lost, she would have faced a fine of 200,000 yuan ($24,000) the banning of the book for an unbelievable 100 years and the seizure of all her property in China. ‘If the court bans K from being published,’ Hong Ying announced at the time, ‘it would be a huge step backwards for modern Chinese writing. It would mean a return to a chaotic, conservative and totalitarian state.’

To read about the libel case against Hong Ying, click here


K: The Art of Love
The Concubine of Shanghai
Peacock Cries

Summer of Betrayal

Short Stories
A Lipstick Called Red Pepper

Daughter of the River (1999)