Ning Ken at the New England Review:
What are we to make of contemporary Chinese reality? Political scientists have their way of looking at things, as do economists, historians, sociologists, and philosophers. Make no mistake, we fiction writers have our way of looking at the world too. Only the fiction writer’s way of looking at the world is not just one more to add to our list. The fiction writer incorporates all ways of looking at the world into one. It is a compound eye. If Magic Realism was the way in which Latin American authors presented their view of their reality, then Ultra-Unreal Realism should be our name for the literature through which the Chinese regard their reality. The Chinese word “chaohuan” (ultra-unreal) is something of a play on the word “mohuan” (magic), as in “mohuan xianshizhuyi” (magic realism)— “mohuan” is “magical unreal,” and “chaohuan” is “surpassing the unreal.” In the 1980s, when China was starting to open up to the world, Latin American literature, with Gabriel García Márquez as the representative, poured into China. When we read “magic realism,” it seemed familiar, it seemed close to us, and that is because in their suffering and their difficult, incredible histories, Chinese people and Latin Americans have a lot in common. Indeed, in the 1980s we often spoke of China as a place of “magic realism.” But since the 1990s, and especially in the past dozen years or so, China is no longer that place; it is now a place of the “ultra-unreal.”
Or maybe in China this has always been the case.