Preview: Shanghai International Literary Festival

By Andrew Chin, October 21, 2015

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Bibliophiles of the city, rejoice! The multi-faceted wonders of the written word are being made manifest once more, as literati from around the world alight in Shanghai to dazzle with their wit and wisdom. From a Pulitzer Prize winner and a master of modern fantasy, to a football-loving slam poet and a wild-eyed traveler wandering the Australian desert with camels, every creed of author is appearing at M on the Bund to pay homage to the delight of reading from October 31-November 8. Tickets are available now at MyPiao and below is our full guide to the writers, workshops and talks that will tickle your literary bone. For more information, visit the official Shanghai International Literary Festival website.


Nisid Hajari


Image from NPR.

The award-winning journalist has penned popular columns about Asia for Bloomberg News, Newsweek and TIME. His newly released first book, Midnight's Furies, explores the tragic summer of 1947. Set to gain independence from the British Empire, the Indian subcontinent would descend into months of chaos and slaughter spurred by the searing rhetoric of India's Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan's Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Hajari delves into declassified intelligence reports, personal diaries and top secret cables to make sense of one of the world's least-understood modern tragedies. Other topics discussed are the roots of Islamic terrorism and the shadow of war in South Asia. Moderated by Hannah Beech.

// Oct 31, 11am, RMB75. 

// Midnight's Furies is available on Amazon.

Ovaltine and Elephants: New Opportunities for the People of Myanmar


In anticipation of Myanmar's national elections on November 8, the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents’ Club and Flamingo present a discussion examining the country’s future.

// Oct 31, 1pm, RMB75. Tickets.

The Art of Architecture and the Architecture of Art: WAI Think Tank - Garcia Frankowski


Image of Li Creative Offices from WAI ThinkTank 

Founded in Brussels and currently based in Beijing, WAI Architecture Think Tank specializes in architecture, urbanism and architectural research. In this discussion, WAI’s Garcia Frankowski explores the differences and convergence between art and architecture while offering insight into the concepts and effect these realms have on each other. 

// Oct 31, 3pm, RMB75. Tickets.


Children's Session: The Story of the Little Girl and the Sun


The multitalented cofounders of WAI Architecture Think Tank, Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski, incorporate design principles in this charming story. Geometric shapes take center stage in this witty tale that follows a little girl and her rabbit in their journey from a city where the sun never sets. Suitable for ages 5-10.

// Nov 1, 11am, RMB75 (RMB35 for students). Tickets.

Michael Meyer: Covering China from the Ground Up


The former That’s Beijing scribe documented life in one of the capital’s oldest hutongs in the award-winning The Last Days of Old Beijing. For In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland, he documents life in a north-eastern rice-growing village at a time when corporate agribusiness is rising. The book also dips into the history of the Dongbei region and got the thumbs up from our book reviewer Aelred Doyle. For more, read our interview with Meyer.

// Nov 1, 1pm, RMB75. Tickets.

// In Manchuria is available on Amazon.

Edward Larson: Setting the Course for a Nation - Washington and the Second American Revolution


The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian has covered everything from the Scopes Trial to the first Antarctic science expeditions of the early 20th century. In his latest book, The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789, Larson delves into the underexplored years when Washington stepped down as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army only to return years later to lead the Constitutional Convention and serve as America's first president. It was a New York Times 2015 Bestseller.

// Nov 1, 3pm, RMB75. Tickets.

// The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789 is available on Amazon.

North Korea Panel of Specialists: From The Outside Looking In

201510/northkorealife.jpgThis panel discussion provides a glimpse into the mysterious Hermit Kingdom of North Korea. Simon Cockerell has been instrumental in making tourism to the country possible with Koryo Tours. Investigative journalist James Pearson has demystified life in the country through acclaimed works like North Korea Confidential. Award-winning photographer Matjaž Tančič was recently showcased in the first international photographic exhibition in Pyongyang. For more, read our interview with Cockerell and Pearson.

// Nov 1, 5pm, RMB75. Tickets.


LITERARY LUNCH: Is the Foreign Press Too Tough on China?


Lisa Murray moderates this discussion examining the ways foreign journalists cover China. Are abuses and environmental disasters highlighted over positive stories about poverty reduction? Or is the foreign press not tough enough? Reporters Michael Meyer, Duncan Hewitt and James T. Areddy will take part.

// Nov 2, noon, RMB120. Tickets.

WORKSHOP: WAI Think Tank - Manifestoes and Paper Zines


Beijing-based WAI Architecture Think Tank caps off a busy few days at the Lit Fest with this workshop that explores the relevance and potential of alternative publications today. Dipping into their visual archives, WAI will examine the evolution of printed media and hand-made publications, while touching on integration of digital technologies. Participants will create their own publications reflecting on the condition of art, architecture and the contemporary city.

// Nov 2, 3pm, RMB120. Tickets.


LITERARY LUNCH: Onny Eikhaug - The Business of Inclusive Design


The Programme Leader at the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture provided an introduction to how inclusive design can be used as a strategy for better business in 2010’s The Business of Inclusive Design. She’ll discuss this practical guide that details how industrial and commercial enterprises can integrate a people-centered approach in their own design and development processes. Huang Xiaojing moderates.

// Nov 3, noon, RMB120. Tickets.

// The Business of Inclusive Design is available on Amazon.

WORKSHOP: Matjaž Tančič - Visual Storytelling


Image from World Photo Org

The award-winning Slovenian photographer will discuss ways to effectively tell a story through a series of images. Learn practical tips on the importance of appropriately editing photographs while discovering different types of visual stories. Participants are required to bring 30-50 photos, and through constructive debate, will select the best to tell a coherent story online or in print form.

// Nov 3, 3pm, RMB120. Tickets.


LITERARY LUNCH: Daniel Bell - Democracy, Meritocracy, or Both? The Case of China


A chair professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Bell is one of the most respected commentators on Chinese politics. His recently published book, The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, explores the genuinely new approach to governance that China has taken over the past three decades. His discussion will explore how ideals of political meritocracy set the standard for evaluating political progress in China, as well as what the West can learn from China’s political model that simplifies democracies as good and authoritarian regimes as bad.

// Nov 4, noon, RMB120. Tickets.

// The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy is available on Amazon.

WRITING WORKSHOP: Musa Okwonga - The Poetry Toolkit

201510/MusaOkwongaworkshop.jpgThe multitalented Brit will be pulling triple-duty at this year’s lit fest. In this workshop, he will draw upon 10 years of experience as a performance poet to break down the essential elements needed to write great poetry. Participants will learn different writing exercises and will have an opportunity to perform their own work. Catch the teacher in action on November 6 at a live slam poetry event, with more details below.

// Nov 4, 3pm, RMB120. Tickets.


LITERARY LUNCH: Xiao Bai - Shanghai: The Theatre of Shanghailanders

201510/xiaobai.jpgSix years ago, the then 41-year-old Xiao Bai began writing. Now he’s one of Shanghai’s most celebrated writers, winning prizes for his debut collection of essays Horny Hamlet and picking up the 10th Annual Shanghai Literary Prize for 2013’s Xu Xiangfei. His second novel, French Concession, was translated into English and released this year. Check out our book review in the November issue of That’s Shanghai. Shanghai Art Deco architecture fiend Spencer Dodington will moderate.

// Nov 5, noon, RMB120. Tickets.

// French Concession is available on Amazon.

BLOGGING WORKSHOP: Olivia Martin-McGuire & Amelia Chappelow - Getting Connected: Developing Writing, Photography & Your Online Presence


Fresh off exhibiting at last month’s Photo Shanghai, Australian photo artist Olivia Martin-McGuire connects with former Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) reporter-turned-Shanghai sewing blogger Amelia Chappelow for a workshop on developing an online presence. Discover ways to plan and write content, manage your social media presence and practical tips on taking the best photos. Participants should bring a laptop, camera and ideas.

// Nov 5, 2pm, RMB120. Tickets.

That’s Shanghai Erotic Fiction Competition

Over the past four years, the city’s literary souls have regaled us with tales of Scottish lords wooing maidenly Metro attendants, divine giantesses frolicking around the Pearl Tower, and randy robots breaking a lot more than Isaac Asimov’s The Three Laws of Robotics. Well, they have once again been dipping their quills into the inkwell. Get ready for a saucy night when we lower the bar, raise the tone, and turn up the heat of the LitFest.

// Nov 5, 7pm, free entry.


LITERARY LUNCH: Patricia Luce Chapman - Why I Will Never Pierce My Ears and Other Shanghai Stories

201510/patricialucechapman.jpgThe multitalented Chapman has written for the Associated Press, won country music songwriting awards and oversaw two international non-profit organizations for 20 years. On her fourth book, Tea on the Great Wall, she looks back at her childhood in Shanghai, where she attended grandiose parties held by the Sassoons before fleeing with her family prior to the full-blown war with Japan. She will share stories, providing a rare glimpse into this legendary era.

// Nov 6, noon, RMB120. Tickets.

// Tea on the Great Wall is available on Amazon.

WRITING WORKSHOP: Bert de Muynck - Paper skylines, a Shanghai workshop


As co-director of Shanghai-based think tank Moving Cities, de Muynck constantly investigates the roles that architecture and urbanism play in shaping the contemporary city. In this workshop, the architect and writer will discuss ways to incorporate the city as a character in poetry and prose, using the iconic Pudong skyline as the starting point.

// Nov 6, 3pm, RMB120, tickets.

Musa Okwonga: Glam SLAM Poetry

After leading a writing workshop on Nov 4, the award-winning performance poet will strut his stuff at this free live slam poetry event. Expect to hear works from his just published Eating Roses for Dinner that marks his first decade as a poet. The man that Q Magazine describes as “a globe-straddling Mike Skinner (aka. The Streets)” may even drop some songs from his BBC-approved electronic EP The Nomadic.

// Nov 6, 9pm, free entry.


Douglas Clark: Gunboat Justice


A respected lawyer with over 22 years of experience in China, Clark has just published a three-volume history of extraterritoriality in China and Japan. Gunboat Justice explores the legal systems imposed by Britain and America from the Opium Wars up to World War II. As Shanghai developed into a great trading city, judges took on cases that ranged from murder to infidelity to rebellion. Clark brings to life the remarkable judges and lawyers trying to bring order to a home that wasn’t theirs with gunboats often used to quell local opposition to the court’s authority.

// Nov 7, 11am, RMB75, tickets.

// Gunboat Justice is available on Amazon.

Leta Hong Fincher: Leftover Women - the Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China


In last year’s Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality, Fincher crafted a striking look at the erosion of women’s rights in China’s pursuit of breakneck economic growth. She tackles everything from the state-sponsored media campaign that has labeled unmarried urban females over 27 as “leftover women” to the issue of property ownership inequality. The book was named one of the best foreign policy books by FP. Robert Schmitz moderates.

// Nov 7, 1pm, RMB75. Tickets.

// Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality is available on Amazon.

Cai Jindong: Beethoven in China - How the Great Composer Became an Icon in the People’s Republic

201510/caijindong.jpgBest known as the conductor and music director of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, Cai Jindong’s musical journey has taken him from his home in Beijing to America where early teachers included Leonard Bernstein. In his follow-up to Rhapsody in Red: How Western Classical Music Became Chinese, he explores China’s long love affair with the music of Beethoven. Recently released as a Penguin China Special, Beethoven in China is a fascinating look at the influence of the composer with Cai dishing personal stories like hearing his music for the first time on a contraband set of 78RPM records during the Cultural Revolution.

// Nov 7, 3pm, RMB75. Tickets.

// Beethoven in China is available on Amazon.

Musa Okwonga: The Love of the Game - Talking & Writing About Football

201510/MusaOkwongafootball.jpgAfter indulging in his poetic side, Okwonga will detail his experience as a William Hill Sports Book of the Year nominated football author and ESPN journalist. He’ll discuss how he got started, the process in writing his two football books and share stories about the colorful figures he’s covered. A special guest from Shanghai SIPG will join.

// Nov 7, 5pm, RMB75, tickets.

// Will You Manage?: The Necessary Skills to be a Great Gaffer is available on Amazon.


Lena Scheen: Shanghai Literary Imaginings - A City in Transformation

201510/shanghailiteraryimaginings.jpgThe NYU Assistant Professor Faculty Fellow explores the social and cultural impact of China’s rapid urbanization in Shanghai Literary Imaginings: A City in Transformation. The cross-discipline study puts a focus on how the changing city has affected local writers to shape contemporary Shanghainese literary culture.

// Nov 8, 11am, RMB75. Tickets.

// Shanghai Literary Imaginings: A City in Transformation is available on Amazon.

Andrew Field


While best-selling fantasy writer Lev Grossman has pulled out of this year's Lit Fest, organizers have capably rebounded with Andrew Field. The scholar has been a fixture in Shanghai, espousing its historical nightlife in books like the recent released Shanghai Nightscapes.

> Nov 8, 1pm, RMB75. Tickets.

> Shanghai Nightscapes available on Amazon.

Robyn Davidson: Tracks and Treks Through the Deserts of Australia

201510/tracks.jpgThe first woman to win the prestigious Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, Davidson has crafted a legendary career as a travel writer. She’ll recount the epic trek that started it all. Released in 1978, her first book Tracks recounts her journey through the deserts of Western Australia with four camels and a dog. It has since been translated into 18 languages en route to selling millions of copies. Davidson will present clips from the titular film inspired by the book (pictured above), while also sharing insight into the nomadic communities that she has covered extensively in her career.

// Nov 8, 3pm, RMB75. Tickets.

// Tracks is available on Amazon.

Critical Writing In-Between: Contemporary Art from China Facing Global Challenges

201510/QiuzhuangProject.jpgArthub founder and respected curator Davide Quadrio moderates this conversation exploring Chinese contemporary art. OCAT Xi’an Executive Director Karen Smith will discuss her As Seen series that reviews the work of Chinese artists presented in public galleries. Also participating are Gu Ling and Li Mu, who recently published Qiuzhang Project. Over a year and a half, Li recruited eight artists to reproduce and exhibit 10 important pieces from the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands in his village hometown (pictured above), providing an opportunity for locals to be immersed in this new environment of art.

// Nov 8, 5pm, RMB75. Tickets.

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