Truth really is stranger than fiction

When I post in ShortStops, it’s usually about short stories that the folk at Paper Republic have translated and posted online. But this month, we’ve branched out into non-fiction, and we’ve found a stunning piece of reportage. “Searching for Bodies” by Ma Jinyu, translated by Kate Costello, explores the art of corpse preservation. Here’s just a taster: ‘I first saw old man Liang’s ads pasted under the “gonorrea, syphilis” and “cure impotence” ads at the mine. “Corpse preservation.” Followed by old man Liang’s telephone number….The most difficult bodies were the ones that needed to be stitched back together. The leg bone needed to be sewn back into the muscle, or the organs needed to be put back in place and the stomach skin stitched back over them. Old man Liang said that after death your skin becomes very hard, and a normal needle couldn’t pierce through it. He made the big needle that he used himself, grinding down the spoke of a bicycle wheel into a point. ….Old man Liang said that when he was young and working in the mine, there would be flies and coal dust in his lunch. His two companions might be chatting one moment, but when he turned to look they’d been crushed to death by falling coal. He couldn’t see the blood in the dark, and he lay by their sides for an afternoon nap, thinking to himself, “They are also having a rest.” ‘

Set in and around the coal mines, Ma’s essay speaks of resilience and courage, stoicism and humanity. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

“Searching for Bodies” is the second instalment in our Read Paper Republic: China Dispatches series. Our three-way collaboration between Paper Republic, One-Way Street Magazine (单读) and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ China Channel focuses on the best non-fiction coming from China right now. Check back next month for the next essay.

Autumn Chronicles: Speed-Book Clubbing with four shorts translated from Chinese

Are you within reach of London and interested in contemporary Chinese fiction? Come to “Autumn Chronicles: Book Clubbing with Britain’s Most Loved Translators” at the Guanghwa Bookshop, 112 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 5EJ, on Tuesday, 5 September 2017 from 19:30 to 21:00 (BST). Join us for face-to-face discussions with four award-winning Chinese literature translators: Nicky Harman, Natascha Bruce, Emily Jones and Helen Wang. Themed “Autumn Chronicles”, our forthcoming speed-bookclub will present four tales in which four women are coming to the end of their lives. Liu Ting’s Autumn Harvest Chronicles, a woman reflects on a grim past as she harvests the family’s buckwheat; in Ho Sok Fong’s The Wall, a giant wall drives an old woman to search obsessively for a cat; In Fan Xiaoqing’s Ying Yang Alley, a surprise visit from a stranger brightens an old lady’s afternoon; in Jia Pingwa’s elegiac Back-flow River, a childless woman makes the bravest decision of her life. These elegantly-written stories, by both male and female authors, are both sad and funny but always readable. There will be plenty to discuss! Book here:…

READ PAPER REPUBLIC celebrates half-way mark with a story co-published in The Guardian and Asymptote magazine

READ PAPER REPUBLIC, as some of you shortstop readers will know, is a project run by four of us on, with the aim of raising the profile of contemporary Chinese literature. We’re publishing a short story (or essay or poem) every Thursday for a year, until June 2016, so that means we’re now at our half-way mark. Our aim has been to reach the general reader, to enable them to dip a toe in the water, so we have chosen as broad a range of stories as possible, something, we hope, to suit all tastes. You might like to read Chad Post’s review about us on his Three Percent blog on 11th December.

This week we’ve collaborated with Asymptote Journal and The Guardian newspaper: our story, “Venus”, by Taiwan’s queer writer Chen Xue, translated by Josh Stenberg, appeared simultaneously on Read Paper Republic and Asymptote (and, through Translation Tuesdays by Asymptote) in The Guardian newspaper). Asymptote have also run an interview with me about Read Paper Republic on their blog.

Our project is really gaining momentum, as more people hear about it. But don’t take my word for it. Go read the stories themselves, 27 now to choose from, free-to-view on We’ve posted some great reads!