Ma Jian biography

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Ma Jian
Photo: Flora Drew

Ma Jian

How to pronounce Ma Jian: mar GEE-arn

Ma Jian Biography

Ma Jian was born in Qingdao, China, in 1953. He worked as a watch-mender’s apprentice, a painter of propaganda boards, and a photojournalist. At the age of thirty, he left his job and traveled for three years across China. In 1987 he completed Stick Out Your Tongue, which prompted the Chinese government to ban his future work.

He left Beijing for Hong Kong in 1987 as a dissident, but he continued to travel to China, and he supported the pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989. After the handover of Hong Kong he moved to Germany and then London, where he now lives with his partner and translator, Flora Drew. He's free to travel to China, but his books are banned or censored, and he's forbidden from publishing or making public statements.

Note: In traditional Chinese fashion, Ma Jian places his family name (Ma) first and his given name (Jian) last.



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Interview

Ma Jian explains his reason for writing Beijing Coma: "The Tiananmen tragedy was a defining moment in 20th Century history, but in China, no one is allowed to discuss it. Remembering has become a crime. Today, the Chinese are a people who ask no questions, and who have no past. They live as in a coma, blinded by fear and newfound prosperity ... I wanted to write a book that would bear witness to recent history and help reclaim a people's right to remember."

Ma Jian on Beijing Coma

In April 1989, I left Hong Kong, where I'd been living in self-imposed exile for two years, and caught a train back home to Beijing. Photographs of crowds marching through the dusty streets of the capital had been plastered across the world's newspapers. Chinese students had launched a movement for freedom and democracy. I wanted to be part of it. At last, it seemed as though Communist China was changing.

For six weeks, I joined the students on their marches, crashed out in their cramped dormitories, shared their makeshift tents during their occupation of Tiananmen Square. I watched them stage a mass hunger strike, dance to Simon and Garfunkel, fall in love, engage in futile power struggles. I was ten years older than most of them. Their passion and idealism impressed but also worried me. Denied knowledge of their own history, they didn't know that in China political protests always end in a bloodbath.

When the government quelled the protests with the Tiananmen Massacre on June 4th, I was 1000 kms away, in the coastal town where I was born. My brother had run into a washing line while attempting to cross a road, smashed his head on a concrete pavement and fallen into a...

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Books by this Author

Books by Ma Jian at BookBrowse
China Dream jacket Beijing Coma jacket
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Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Ma Jian but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Jung Chang

    Jung Chang

    Jung Chang was born in Yibin, Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. She was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen and then worked as a peasant, a "barefoot doctor," a steelworker, and an electrician before becoming an ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Beijing Coma

    Try:
    Mao
    by Jung Chang

  • Barbara Demick

    Barbara Demick

    Barbara Demick has been interviewing North Koreans about their lives since 2001, when she moved to Seoul for the Los Angeles Times. Her reporting on North Korea won the Overseas Press Club award for human rights reporting, ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Beijing Coma

    Try:
    Nothing to Envy
    by Barbara Demick

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