Saturday, March 14, 2009
East and West Criminal Minds
I've had a lot of fun the last two years moderating at the Beijing Bookworm International Literary Festival on crime writing. Last year we had a great session with Shanghai crime writer Qiu Xiaolong and Beijing based Catherine Sampson. This year Cathy was back again, this time with Ridley Pearson, a mystery and crime writer from America who sells fearsome amounts of books over there. Last year the subject was crime writing and place - China obviously given Qiu's Shanghai Inspector Chen series and Cathy's Beijing set books. This year the subject was the question of topicality and crime writing.
And thanks to a great question from the packed audience on Friday I think we've found our topic for round three in 2010 - Criminal Minds - or more specifically the idea that the criminal mindset in China might be different from that in the West giving us different sorts of crime in reality and in crime writing.
Ridley pointed out that (to paraphrase roughly) a psycho is a psycho is a pyscho and some criminals are just completely outside of normal moral and social boundaries and just don't care. But other factors are at play too - different understanding and interpretations of guilt and shame etc.
Chinese crime and crime writing is also fascinated by the opportunities for crime thrown up in current Chinese society with a still forming legal system, moral norms in a newly marketised economy and growing disparities in wealth - corruption, economically motivated revenge, issues around China's recent past are all popular themes in China set crime novels while serial killers and "traditional" crime books of the heist, bank robbery type so common in the West are still rare. It's also interesting to note that "policiers", police procedurals, are yet to become popular in China though of course are standard in the West - perhaps this represents the ambigious attitude of the public to their police in China? On the other hand the West has little that is similar to the judge-led books that have appeared in China for years (a genre that has has proved popular of course with the great Judge Dee series in the West from the old China Hand Robert van Gulik).
Ill-formed thoughts admittedly but hopefully they'll firm up over the next year and become crystallised by March 2010!