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My Travels in Ding Yi is an epic novel told from the perspective of a spirit who inhabits an array of beings in different places and times. From Adam in the Garden of Eden, to a fish, to the novel’s protagonist, Ding Yi, an average Chinese boy in the second half of the 20th century. It’s in Ding Yi that Shi explores coming of age during the Cultural Revolution, love, lust, mortality and betrayal in language that dips and soars from crude to lyrical, often in a single breath. Unpredictable and engrossing, My Travels in Ding Yi is a contemporary classic of Chinese fiction first published in 2006 and now available to readers of English for the first time.
The flesh is a boundary, you and I are two cages.
Of all the brief lives I’ve inhabited, humans are definitely the most interesting. Poetry and painting, literature and drama, song and dance; there’s nothing they can’t do.
As I fell into this young creature named Ding Yi, a life filled with hardship, love and betrayal unfolded before me.
I’ll try to make this account as entertaining as possible, but please bear with me – it was several lifetimes ago.
Shi Tiesheng (1951-2010) was one of the most prominent Chinese writers of the second half of the 20th century. Born in Beijing in 1951, he attended Tsinghua University High School before being sent down to Yan’an, Shaanxi province as part of the Cultural Revolution campaign to re-educate urban youths in the countryside. An injury to his spine in 1971 left him paralysed from the waist down. On returning to Beijing, he wrote as a way to process his grief and explore the world. His first work of fiction was published in 1979, and he went on to write a number of acclaimed books, including Notes On Principles and several short story and essay collections. Shi’s 1985 novella Like a Banjo String was turned into a film by the acclaimed director Chen Kaige. In January 2018 The Complete Works of Shi Tiesheng was published by Beijing Publishing House, comprising twelve volumes of his novels, short stories, essays, scripts, poetry, letters and interview transcripts. His essay The Temple of Earth and I is considered a masterpiece and is taught throughout schools in China.