I first met the Chinese writer Hong Ying many years ago in a fashionable bookstore in London’s upmarket Chelsea district. She was surrounded by literary stars and critics, looking a little tense, yet somehow pensive, elegant, patient. A blend of curiosity and bewilderment creased her face while, just beneath, there was an expression best described as a hard-as-nails vigilance.
The gathering was during the bubbling optimism of the late 1990s; the Cold War was over, and the world was opening up. Hong Ying was launching “Daughter of the River,” her first autobiographical account of her childhood in a crime riddled Yangtse River slum, about as far removed from the Chelsea chattering classes as you could get. […]