Yan Ge Uses Alienation to Connect Her Audience

Today marks the third anniversary of the publication of Yan Ge’s celebrated Strange Beasts of China. The novel, originally published by Yan in 2006, was translated into English by Jeremy Tiang and re-released in 2020. Upon its new publication, the work was met with instant critical acclaim, with The New York Times including Strange Beasts of China on its list of 100 Notable Books of 2021, and The Washington Post naming it on their list of best science fiction, fantasy, and horror of the year. The novel, which draws on elements of magical realism, chronicles a cryptozoologist’s encounters with various humanoid beasts, which Yan uses to explore humanity’s treatment not of these creatures, but of each other.

Yan Ge was born in Dai Yuexing, China in December of 1984. Raised in a family of writers and literature lovers, Yan knew from an early age that she wanted the same for herself—even writing her very first published piece at only nine years old. In an interview conducted by FF2 contributor Elisa Shoenberger last year, Yan explained, “My whole extended family consists mostly of writers. My parents are both the Chinese equivalent of English literature teachers. My granny’s a poet and my granddad also was a Chinese teacher. Lots of my uncles are journalists and editors…I just grew up – maybe metaphorically – ‘in literature’.” 

The guide slowly builds chapter by chapter to reveal the image of the main beast the work strives to catalog and inventory: people.

At seventeen, Yan published her first collection of short stories, and soon after began work on Strange Beasts of China. “I didn’t plan to write Strange Beasts of China,” Yan admitted. “It was commissioned by a magazine roughly translated as Youth Literature. It was a magazine that was quite popular among college and high school students. The editor asked me to write a serialized novel. The premise is that I have to write self-contained chapters that can be published one chapter at a time per issue of that journal.” In order to tailor the work to the format of the journal, Yan organized Strange Beasts of China into subsections. Each chapter deals with a specific beast, guiding the reader through this world one creature at a time. The result is a handbook of sorts which Yan gifts to her audience—a guide which slowly builds chapter by chapter to reveal the image of the main beast the work strives to catalog and inventory: people.

The main idea which Yan explores in her novel is the human tendency to “other” one another. The writer told FF2, “I think the idea of othering people is very interesting. The beasts in the story were like the marginalized, underrepresented, and so sometimes persecuted groups in a city – like migrant workers or factory workers. I think it’s really important to know that they are also us.” The idea of “othering” has come to affect Yan deeply specifically due to the book’s newfound commercial success in the United States. “When I’m doing interviews, especially these days, I often get asked if this is what Chinese people are like,” Yan shared. “Or if this is what Chinese society is like? The question itself subconsciously comes from the very action of ‘othering’ people.”

Yan holds a PhD in comparative literature from Sichuan University, as well as a MFA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. She is the Chair of the China Young Writers Association, and, in 2012, the Chinese Literature Media Prize named Yan the Best New Writer. She has published thirteen books across her career, including the acclaimed novel The Chili Bean Paste Clan which was translated and published in English in 2018. 

This is the perfect time to acquaint oneself to Yan’s work, as she has a brand new book set to be released next month. Elsewhere, which will be Yan’s English-language debut, is a collection of stories which embrace the surreal in order to explore themes of alienation, art, and how the two connect through the human condition. These are concepts which Yan returns to time and again in her writing, and which each time immediately connect with readers regardless of the language in which the message appears. 

We are all very excited for the fast approaching release of Elsewhere, as well as for what other treasures Yan will share with her readers in the future. Though the idea of “othering” comes from a place of isolation, the degree to which audiences connect with Yan’s work speaks to the universality of that feeling—feeling like a strange beast.

© Reese Alexander (7/13/23) FF2 Media


Read Elisa Shoenberger’s interview with Yan Ge here.

Visit Yan Ge’s Wikipedia page here.

Pre-order Yan Ge’s Elsewhere here.


Featured Photo: Courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Middle Photo: Courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Bottom Photo: Yan Ge portrait by Joanna Millington. Courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Tags: Elisa Shoenberger, Elsewhere, Reese Alexander, Strange Beasts of China, The Chili Bean Paste Clan, women writers, Yan Ge

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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