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CHINA - Shanghai Nights, June 2004

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Notorious Writer, Forbidden StoriesRead excerpts from Candy

The cover of Candy
Banned in China. It wasn't her goal, but it certainly hasn't hurt Mian Mian's career as a writer. Chinese authorities banned Mian Mian's first novel, Candy, when it was published in 2000, denouncing her as "a poster child for spiritual pollution." But censorship did not dampen sales. Candy quickly became an underground best-seller. Pirated editions still circulate widely in China, and now, an English-language version, translated by Andrea Lingenfelter, is available from Back Bay Books.

Candy is a dark confessional novel, the story of a teenage girl who drops out of her elite prep school in Shanghai and makes her way to Shenzen, a frontier boomtown filled with fortune seekers, renegades, slackers and lost souls. There she takes up with a long-haired Chinese rock guitarist, struggles to find her own identity and becomes addicted to "chasing the dragon" -- inhaling heroin -- before her father finally rescues her.

The novel confirmed Mian Mian's reputation as China's literary "bad girl." "In China, we never had a book like this," Mian Mian told FRONTLINE/World reporter and KQED Pacific Time host Nguyen Qui Duc. "About sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Like the '60s in America ... Chinese, they are not so used to a writer being so open. To talk about, in full detail, a troubled girl. It's too much for them."

Too much for government censors, but not for her avid readers.

On the Edge

In this first excerpt from Candy, Mian Mian's teenage narrator, Hong, describes the academic pressures and sexual tensions that cause her high school friend, Lingzi, to have a nervous breakdown and ultimately commit suicide. This harrowing experience prompts Hong to quit school and run away to a lawless border town. "I quit trusting anything that anyone told me," Hong says. "Aside from the food I put in my mouth, there was nothing I believed in. I had lost faith in everything." Depression and female suicide are among the normally taboo topics Mian Mian dares to write about in her novel.

Rock and Roll Romance

Sometimes Candy is dark and disturbing. Sometimes it reads like the latest "chick lit." Trying to find her way in a chaotic border town, Mian Mian's alter ego, 19-year-old Hong, meets a Chinese rock guitarist, Saining. They share a passion for Jim Morrison and the Doors and for China's rock legend, Cui Jian. After they make love for the first time, Hong says, "I saw into my own future, saw that I would become a woman with many stories to tell. But every story would have its price."

Escape to the Open City

Like many in her post-Mao generation, Mian Mian's central character, Hong, is searching for something to believe in. She tries to find it in Shenzhen, the gritty, free-for-all "open city" in the South. There she experiences moments of exhilarating freedom and self-discovery, but she succumbs to heroin. Fortunately, her loyal father arrives to save her, as happened in Mian Mian's own life. "My father is my hero," she says in an afterword to Candy.

"So many young people are getting lost," Mian Mian told the International Herald Tribune. "I want to show them how freedom is exciting but also dangerous."

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Excerpts from CANDY by Mian Mian. Copyright © 2003 by Shen Wang; Translation Copyright © 2003 by Andrea Lingenfelter. By permission of Little, Brown and Company Inc. All rights reserved. To purchase copies of this book, please call 1.800.759.0190.