Deng Xiaohua: China's Controversial Author

June 14, 2012
Editor: Zhao Liangfeng

Deng Xiaohua is one of China's most controversial authors []

Deng Xiaohua is one of China's most controversial authors []

The cover of Miss Lu Fangshi []

The cover of Miss Lu Fangshi []

Readers and critics of Deng Xiaohua, whose pen name is Canxue, have adapted two passages from famous literature to describe their feelings towards her. One is 'To love her or hate her, that is the question' and the other is 'It was the best of words, it was the worst of words; it was the embodiment of wisdom, it was the book of foolishness; she is a woman of belief, she is the villain of incredulity'.

These words, popular among Chinese netizens, serve to illustrate the controversy surrounding this female writer.

The general consensus seems to be that Deng is self-centered and somewhat arrogant. She purportedly looks down on contemporary authors and supposedly thinks that she is different from all other writers and is the best.

About her latest novel Miss Lu Fangshi, she said bluntly, "This novel is my best achievement. I am very satisfied with it."

For Deng, literature is witchcraft.


Miss Lu Fangshi tells the story of a sex worker and a carpet dealer. The apartment building located in the center of the city in the story has a weird name: 'Cemetery.'

When asked the typical questions often asked of writers, such as where she gets her inspiration from and what kind of story she wants to tell, Deng once answered, "With all due respect, your question is too old fashioned. When writing an experimental novel, I would never look for inspiration in books or life, and then develop a story based on it. That is what a realistic novelist does."

In her novel, Deng repeatedly refers to northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which is one of the major settings for the book.

She always tries to build an imaginary 'castle', just like the castle the protagonist struggles to gain access to in the novel The Castle, by Austrian author Franz Kafka (1883-1924). "My 'castle' is not built on a hill, but among buildings in the city. Maybe that is the reason Canxue has surpassed other authors," she said, referring to herself in the third person.

Deng is also known for making sweeping pronouncements. She has told other writers in China on several occasions that Western literature and philosophy are better. However, when it comes to her own work, she has said, "I am more dynamic than Western authors."

Although her latest novel was published with a low profile, Deng is not worried about sales. "If you check online, you will find that Canxue's works are best sellers," she said.

Meanwhile, Deng's first novel Five Spice Street, which tells the story of a street in an unnamed city whose inhabitants speculate on the life of a mysterious Madam X, has been republished.

Although some critics are worried about the sales of this novel as they think young people nowadays prefer humorous stories, Deng seems confident. "In Sweden, Five Spice Street has been highly praised. What the critics there have is the English edition, and they called it 'a great novel.' A publisher has talked with me and is planning to publish a Swedish translation," she said.

'Automatic Writing'

In 1966, Deng graduated from primary school. Instead of going on to high school she stayed at home reading her father's philosophy books because she was not welcomed by her classmates, as her father was labeled a rightist.

Later, she became a worker at a local factory. In 1978, she got married and became an English teacher at a high school. A year later, she quit her job and began working as a tailor.

During that time, she began to write Yellow Mud Street, which later became one of her famous novels. For the first time, she began to use Canxue as her pen name.

"Canxue refers to dirty snow which has been trampled on. It can be interpreted as independence and resilience," Deng explained.

In 1985, she completed the novel, which turned out differently from what she intended it to be.

About her experience, she said, "One day, I found that I was writing something out of my expectation or understanding. I did not know what it was and what was controlling the pen I held," she said. She called it 'automatic writing.'

Some readers have said, "Canxue is weaving magic rather than writing."

"Automatic writing is based on instinct. After jogging, I sit at the table and start writing without planning or revising, simply using my subconscious," Deng admitted.

When someone said she that she was 'just scribbling,' Deng responded angrily, "How about I give you a piece of paper and a pen to scribble, let's see what you can produce."

Clearly a unique character, Deng has chosen to differentiate herself from her literary counterparts and, after years of experience, she has convinced herself that this choice could not be more correct.

(Source: and edited by

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