Interview. A meeting with the Chinese writer A Yi, a guest at Milan’s Book Pride where he will presentthe Italian edition of his book "E adesso?" (A perfect Crime). "Death terrifies me, it is a great humiliation"

A Yi, Savage Boredom

A Yi has changed, at least since the last meeting in Beijing years ago. He still has the same eyes, lively, alert and ready to focus, on a physique that no longer seems that of the bad boy in search of the curse that triggered his career. Now he writes full-time and he has regained a position – for the first time, in his opinion – that resulted from his commitment, as well as his suffering.

The meeting takes place in Milan, where A Yi has presented the Italian edition of his book E adesso? (English edition here) at BookPride, while waiting for his other productions to be published in China and abroad. Apparently, in fact, the Chinese writer, after a rather complicated personal period, seems to have found a new creative verve. Always in crime fiction, while stirring personal experiences and real events he learnt about during his police activities.

In your novel, the story begins and ends, without any distraction or procrastination. It moves forward very fast – as the protagonist does – to the end. How did you write it? Did you start from the beginning or did you have to reconstruct the sections, moving from a precise point created before the rest?

I had an ending I thought was fascinating and so I started to build the story around it, through the preceding details that would lead to that kind of conclusion. I had in my hands a young very bored man who could not achieve any kind of “fullness.” The protagonist goes to play basketball, billiards or video games but he does not reach his goal. Actually, everything increases his sense of frustration, so he decides to play cat and mouse.

He ends up identifying with the mice, fugitive; the police, the rest of society, becomes the cat. He thinks that if the police chases him, he has to run away and thus, he can find something to do. This is why he kills a person: to attract the attention of the police. In the event that the police were not motivated enough to arrest him, he decides to kill a beautiful girl, his classmate. A beautiful and innocent person.

Only through the savagery of the gesture and the choice of the victim, the boy feels that he can unleash society’s, and public opinion’s spurn. Killing this type of person can create a real social rage, which then puts pressure on the police to find the culprit. To complete the game, he develops a range of choices, beginning with the victim’s. Then, he goes to buy the weapon and steals to find the money needed to carry out this action. During his escape, since he fears that the police is not dedicated enough to his hunting, he decides to leave tracks to facilitate his capture.

I actually wrote the beginning of the story at the end. Because after the murder and the arrest, no one knows why he did it. Only at the very last page, there is an explanation. In summary, it was boredom and the desire to live an escape experience, and to attract attention.

In the book, all seems to be clear from the start, one can figure out what comes next, but the story still creates a sense of anticipation. Only the boy is unbearably obnoxious …

This novel was inspired by a true story. A boy killed a classmate girl. Then, it was a ferocious murder that attracted media attention. The murderer unleashed his fury against the victim, and put her inside a washing machine, after killing her. The washing machine was half filled with blood. After he was arrested, he met many people, police officers, journalists, psychologists, television crews. But no one figured out the reason for this murder. Until the time of his execution, no one knows why he committed that murder.  I read some of his diaries, and I thought that he was a bored person.

However, even though I had access to the investigation material, I do not know what he was doing in daily life. I filled these spaces with memories of my periods of monotony. In the period between 21 and 30 years of age, I was an extremely bored man.

Let me give an example, which has to do with the statues. In the West, the statues are represented with genitals. In China, things are different. One day, I was in Henan, I noticed a statue in a square. After going back home, I thought about it for a bit. It was 2002, I was extremely bored and I had nothing to do; at that point, I decided to leave and go back to the square to check the statue, I wanted to confirm the sexual detail. It was a Greek sculpture that represented a very manly man. I arrived, I looked closely and noticed that it did not have the genital organ. To give you an idea of how bored I was: I went by bus, to waste even more time.

I walked on the street always hoping for something to happen. Today, I am not bored anymore: writing makes me feel full

Today, I am not bored anymore: writing makes me feel full, I finally found the pleasure in creating, but I remember that at that time, I walked on the street always hoping for something to happen. A fire, for example, or the outbreak of another world war. But nothing ever happened. Compared to this character, there is a difference: I have lived some fantasies inside my brain. Instead, he steps out the recognized moral and legal framework and makes a cruel choice.

More than boredom, it seems that what you are describing is actually a form of loneliness …

So it is. Of course, boredom and loneliness can be superimposed. Many people in their solitude can develop a profound moral life; while others get bored and become pricks. I like solitude for a reason: it allows me to write. And therefore I think it’s a great freedom: but not all can (or succeed) to handle it this freedom. They are not able to manage the time available to them.

In your book, the family is virtually absent or is an impediment. Strange for a society like China’s that is based on the institution of family … 

In China, the concept of family is changing as a result (or thanks) to state policies, or as a consequence to the epochal conflicts that have characterized the country in recent decades.

The reform of the one-child law, after three decades of a policy that allowed only one child per family, changes everything.

With the one-child law, the value of this “heir” rose exponentially, making it a veritable “little emperor” revered and pampered by everyone. It was so for many decades. So, some of these guys have had and have an arrogant attitude towards the elderly, just like the emperor behaved arrogantly towards his officials. But now the law has been changed and, with the possibility of having more children, I think also the balance within the family will be realigned.

Then, there was the launch of the market economy. Trade has always been important in China, except for a period when businessmen were not respected.

Suddenly, everything has changed. Today those who have money are respected, those who don’t are despised. This change has challenged the Confucian culture. These two reasons have transformed profoundly the institution of family in China.

When reading your stories, one perceives a certain obsession with death. Through your writing, do you want to run away from it or normalize it?

I’m terrified of death. It feeds a feeling of limits that you cannot violate. It is the end of every person. Death is something very cruel: you’re somewhere and suddenly, someone comes and takes you away. As an actor taken away from the stage by some officials. It’s humiliating and sometimes, it takes place by force.

I repeat: death is a humiliation. The prisoners, on their way to the gallows, shout slogans, they shout against death. In my opinion, they want to prove some kind of force against this humiliation. In these years I have not been healthy, I was sick and I felt death approaching. I touched the feeling of listening to it closely. Also my father gets worse every year. I saw death up close and of course I’m obsessed.