Taking inspiration from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent call for leaders to “tell the good China story” (jianghao Zhongguo de gushi), David Wang examines the function of fictional narrative in contemporary China. At the same time, however, Wang offers two twists on Xi’s call. First, whereas Xi refers to China in the singular, Wang is instead interested in China as a plurality, offering detailed analyses of contemporary authors from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sinophone Southeast Asia, and beyond, even as the stories of “China” that these authors tell cover an even broader spectrum. Second, whereas Xi is interested in “good” stories about China, Wang emphasizes that, for many authors, the process of telling “the good China story” often yields detailed explorations of deviance, perversity, monstrosity, death, and the demonic. As Wang explains, paraphrasing author Yan Lianke, it is sometimes only by “shin[ing] his light into the darkness” that an author can thereby help others to see the “light.”

At its heart, Why Fiction Matters in Contemporary China is both a testament to the inexhaustible energy and innovation with which contemporary authors have approached the task of “telling the good China story,” and also product of Wang’s own long-time and similarly irrepressible dedication to “telling the good story” about the relationship between modern Chinese literature and the social orders that inspire and are shaped by it.