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8 must-see talks at the Bookworm Literary Festival

The Bookworm Literary Festival is back with a bang! Here are some of the stand-out talks

Update: a limited number of tickets are now available for pre-sale online. Tickets are buy 5 get 1 free, buy 7 get 3 free, and buy 10 get 5 free.

Literary lovers take note: The Bookworm Beijing has just published its schedule for next month’s Bookworm Literary Festival. The organisers haven't publicised the list yet, but it's online for all to see. You heard it here first!

As usual, it looks set to be a full and varied schedule including workshops, comedy, open discussions and sessions on children’s books – plus plenty of opportunities for general merriment (check out the Whisky and Writers event on the evening of Saturday 26).

This is the tenth annual Bookworm Festival in Beijing, and while similar events will be taking place in both Chengdu and Suzhou, Beijing is the festival's largest base.

Although the website says tickets aren’t available yet, a few are actually already on Yoopay, so get in quickly to book the first tickets. Keep an eye on the festival website for more tickets.

There are plenty of writers, poets, filmmakers and journalists making appearances this year. To help you sort through a packed two-week programme, we’ve selected our top picks that shouldn’t be missed.



Known only as Xinran, the author has been a cornerstone of Chinese culture over the last 35 years. A radio host in Nanjing in the 1990s, Xinran’s bestselling books explore women’s place in modern China, with her first, groundbreaking book The Good Women Of China reaching international acclaim. Her latest work, Buy Me The Sky, explores the impact of the one-child policy on the only children, their parents and wider society, portraying with compassion an alarming array of young-adult only-children who are lost, disconnected from society, and unable to act independently.

10am Sat 19 Mar, 60RMB, The Bookworm. See full event details.

A Yi


Author A Yi is one of the latest Chinese authors to break beyond national boundaries and reach acclaim outside China. Formerly editor of literary magazine Chutzpah, which pushes its own boundaries, this rising writer had his first collection of short stories published in China in 2008, and has since been published in literary magazine Granta and The Guardian. Having spent eight years as a policeman before turning to writing, A Yi draws on a huge breadth of rural life experience in his work, often writing on the margins of society.

In this talk he will consider the new styles of Chinese writing with fellow author Shuang Xuetao, both of whom have taken unusual routes to literary success.

6pm Sun 13 Mar, 60RMB, The Bookworm. See full event details.

Sonthar Gyal

A renowned Tibetan cinematographer and artistic director, Gyal will join human rights activist Li Dan and author Xinran for a look at the representation of ethnicity in Chinese culture. Although China recognises 56 ethnic groups, many minority groups have repeatedly criticised the government for squeezing their traditional customs and traditions. In 2013 the government made a pledge to start using propaganda films to publicise its ethnic minority groups – shooting one movie for each of the country’s 55 ethnicities including the Hui, Manchu, Mongols, Uyghurs and Tibetans. But how well are ethnicities represented Chinese popular culture?

These are core discussions in modern China, making this an absolute must-see.

10am Sun 20 Mar, 60RMB, The Bookworm. See full event details.

David Bandurski

Author and journalist David Bandurski has spent ten years researching his latest book, Dragons in Diamond Village: And Other Tales From the Back Alleys of Urbanising China, in which he explores the stories of predominantly rural activists who find themselves unwilling urbanites, swallowed up in the rapid growth of China’s new cities. Bandurski tells hard-to-reach tales of farmers fighting to keep rights to ancestral land, and those who refuse to turn over their homes to property developers. Editor of Investigative Journalism in China, Bandurski promises to have plenty to tell about the new China and the human cost of rapid development.

2pm Sun 13 Mar, free, The Opposite House. See full event details.

Yang Li

One of the most prominent members of China’s avant-garde poetry movement, Yang was a founding member of the underground ‘Fei Fei’ poetry project, which drew attacks from authorities for being ‘subversive’ in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. His disruptive nature means Yang enjoys upsetting poetic conventions in his work, while often focusing on the most everyday, non-revolutionary of topics. Rightly celebrated as a Chinese literary pioneer, Yang will read short extracts from his work, and discuss his not-always-easy career path as a Chinese poet.

6pm Fri 25 Mar, 60RMB, The Bookworm. See full event details.

Jason Y. Ng

jason ng

Hong Kong native Jason Y. Ng’s Umbrellas in Bloom is the first English-language book to chronicle the pro-democracy protests that hit Hong Kong in 2014. An analyst of Hong Kong’s present and future, Ng draws on both his native experience of home and an international viewpoint, having spent much of his life in North America and Italy. He draws together the tale of Hong Kong’s democracy movements with insight and compassion, asking key questions about the region’s future. Also author of Hong Kong State of Mind and No City for Slow Men, Ng will discuss Hong Kong’s turbulent place in China and the world, and share his experiences of the Umbrella Revolution.

Midday, Sun 13 Mar, 60RMB, The Bookworm. See full event details.

Hyeonseo Lee


Image: Wikimedia Commons

A defector from North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee’s talk at The Bookworm is a rare opportunity to hear a first-hand account of everyday life within the North Korean state. In her memoir, The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story, Lee recounts the harrowing story of her life, seeing her first public execution at the age of seven, witnessing death and starvation, and her eventual escape from the country. Her story has been published in more than 20 countries. In this talk she will explain the circumstances of her own escape, how she managed to get her parents out via China,

8pm, Mon 14 Mar, 80RMB, The Bookworm. See full event details.

Joy Chen

Joy Chen has a massive following in China, and was formerly awarded the ‘Woman of the Year’ accolade by the All-China Women’s Federation. Don’t let state approval put you off; Chen is an outspoken voice on women’s rights and author of Do Not Marry Before Age 30, a book that received great accolades (within China) for challenging cultural expectations that single women become ‘leftover’. Former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and currently working on two films, Chen has plenty to say on the role of Chinese women in popular culture and in modern society.

8pm Mon 14 Mar, 80RMB, The Bookworm. See full event details.