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This interview was published in the journal "Chinese Women's Culture" in a new column called:

"Anjing Dialogues: Interviews with Women Writers in Europe and China".

Title of the interview: Anjing in conversation with Xie Lingjie about "Identity Recognition and Mental Journey of Writing in a Foreign Country".

Date of the interview: July 2020.

Also published in "Art and Literature"magazine in Taiwan


An Jing Conversation with Xie Lingjie: Identity Recognition and Journey of the Heart in Foreign Writing


Interviewee: Xie Lingjie (Belgium)

Interviewer: An Jing (Austria)


Editor's note: Starting from this issue, the "An Jing Dialogue: Interviews with European-Chinese Female Writers" column is introduced by the Austrian critic An Jing. It includes corresponding discussions about the authors' creative talks. The first interview features Belgian Chinese writer Xie Lingjie.


Xie Lingjie's masterpiece "Brigantine" is groundbreaking in overseas Chinese literature. Utilizing various forms such as news, letters, poetry, and drama, it integrates religion, philosophy, politics, academia, and mystery. Set against the backdrop of World War II, the novel explores significant issues like human civilization, war, peace, life, humanity, friendship, love, and faith. Its complex structure, broad perspective, profound meaning, unrestrained prose, metaphorical symbolism, and avant-garde narrative strategies paint a spiritual panorama of post-World War II European society, subverting readers' traditional reading experiences. Some even refer to it as "an indescribable novel."


Graveyards Elicit Thoughts on Life, Death, and War


An Jing: On the cover of your essay collection "藏书,书藏" (Collection of Books, Books Collection), it prominently states: "Geographically, I am a perpetual stranger. This began in my youth. The melancholy of 'where is the hometown at dusk' accompanied my confusion. I now feel ashamed to mention it. In fact, it has nothing to do with the geographical hometown. For the traveller, the hometown is always in the distance; for the poet, the hometown is in the ideal city-state. There, what is discussed is the ideal, not homesickness." You have been in Europe for more than ten years now, seemingly without the conventional sense of homesickness. On the contrary, you seem to have found a spiritual ideal city-state.


Xie Lingjie: Talking about homesickness should be something from before the 1990s, a period after Long Yingtai's "大江大海" (Big River, Big Sea) when information exchange was difficult, and emotions were stirred by the traditional sentiments of family and country. During that time, a poem by Yu Guangzhong, "乡愁" (Homesickness), resonated with several generations. In the secular sense, let alone being thousands of miles away on another continent, I keenly felt homesickness twenty years ago when drifting in Beijing. However, in this age of interconnected Earth, information overload on social platforms, and entertainment leading to death, talking about homesickness seems to carry a sense of "forcing new words to express sorrow." Therefore, I consciously avoid it and prefer to discuss distant places, poetic, or broader topics. For my homeland, Europe is my distant place.


An Jing: In this "distant place" of Europe, besides receiving emotional nourishment, and the supply of the mind and knowledge, what things have particularly amazed you?


Xie Lingjie: At the beginning of my time in Europe, everything was new. My husband took me to churches, museums, art galleries, and opera houses, and I liked every place. However, the most astounding experience was when he took me to visit graveyards. The graveyard in the small town where he is from is a public cemetery surrounded by birch woods. It was my first time witnessing the graves in a Catholic country, completely different from the ones I was familiar with in Asia, especially in China. Here, death and fear were not associated with the sight. The design, carving of tombstones, sculptures, decorations, all corresponding to everything in the Bible, were so solemn, dignified, and full of poetry and even romance. It sparked endless thoughts, imagination, and moved me deeply. It made me understand that every village gives rise to two villages: the village of the living and the village of the dead. After birth, people come to the church for baptism, and immediately, their names are added to the list of new members. At the time of death, they undergo purification, and afterward, their names are hung on a black cross, forever belonging to the column of the deceased. Life converges here, silently, with inexplicable emotions enveloping me—grief, tenderness, lingering. These comforts and emotions deeply moved me. From this, I also understood what classical and romantic meant, and what the dignity of life is. A country that treats life with kindness and respect is the ideal dwelling place for humanity.


An Jing: Graveyards are an important carrier of European civilization. They are related to heaven, redemption, and humanism, evoking ultimate care. Critic Song Xiaoying said: Europe, as the birthplace of the Renaissance, provides a "distant civilizational perspective" for our Chinese writing, because sometimes, the literary perspective on the Chinese mainland is indeed too close to reality.


Xie Lingjie: Yes, European graveyards showed me the epitome of a culture. This extremity consoled me: dust returns to dust, and soil returns to soil. The ultimate destination of humanity is here. The sleepers underground have no connection to me, yet the conclusion of life, returning everything to quiet and serene silence, touches the depths of my thoughts. Despite the geographical, political, historical, and racial differences among humanity, equality in life and emotions is consistent, which is also the interpretation of literature. The richness of ancient European humanism serves as a supplement for me and even brings me excitement and satisfaction, as if I am growing anew.

An Jing: Your novel "Brigantine" delves deeply into issues such as survival and death, war and peace. Is this related to your visits to graveyards and reflections?


Xie Lingjie: Before and during the creation of "Brigantine," I often lingered in graveyards in various countries. Over the past decade, we have visited countless graveyards, with a focus on World War I and II cemeteries. Each country in Europe has soldiers who died in these wars, and we drove through various nations, witnessing rows of tombstones like dominoes on desolate plains—soldiers' graves. At the entrance or centre of the graveyard, flags flutter in the wind. If it's a red, white, and blue tricolour flag, it signifies that British soldiers are buried there. If it's a red, white, and blue stars and stripes flag, it indicates the resting place of American soldiers. Over a century has passed since World War I, and more than 70 years since World War II. My current residence, especially former battlegrounds like Ypres during World War I, which was occupied three times and witnessed heavy casualties, still holds nightly memorial ceremonies at 8 pm without fail. Every November, the War Remembrance Day, the suburban British cemetery, adorned with thousands of red poppies, commemorates over ten thousand British soldiers. Commemorating the fallen is a major way of reflecting on and remembering wars. Narrating stories of war or post-war life has become a timeless theme for European and even global writers. The souls sleeping beneath that desolate expanse are the firsthand witnesses of war. "Brigantine" tells the stories of several individuals who experienced the war: William, David, Adonis, Ronald, and Karl's family. Despite different backgrounds and residing on different continents, they were all thrust onto the scaffold of fate by a war. Rich or poor, talented or ignorant, under the execution-like brutality, all were subjected to the equalization of opportunities. Unfortunately, those buried at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean became eternal souls, and the survivors, who once considered themselves fortunate, were, in reality, more unfortunate. This is the prevalent post-war syndrome worldwide: the experience of war becomes a lifelong reflection, and fallen comrades become irreversible symbols of emptiness and grief. In addition to mourning, the reflections on rescue efforts, evasions of responsibility, and deficiencies in humanity or character make reflection and self-redemption the main themes of the post-war era.


An Jing: In your exploration of post-war syndrome, with the sea and sailing as metaphorical symbols, and relying on religion and philosophy for interpretation, you've created a multifaceted narrative.


An Jing: Your creative themes are quite different from other writers. Most writers focus on themes like love and marriage, family dynamics, overseas entrepreneurship, and cultural differences. Your writing seems to distance itself from the mundane aspects of life, delving into World War II, history, the maritime world, and underwater graveyards. What profound experiences touched your soul?


Xie Lingjie: Like almost all commentators, you have repeatedly mentioned the difference in my themes compared to other Chinese writers. Perhaps that's true. I feel that my reading interests don't lie in the literary texts of others but in other disciplines such as history, natural science, philosophy, and art. As for why "Brigantine" delves into the maritime world and underwater graveyards, it is primarily related to a significant location in the story—the Truk Lagoon in the Pacific, also known as Chuuk Lagoon. This was a vital base for the Japanese navy during World War II, referred to as the "Pearl Harbor of the Pacific." It served as a stronghold for the Japanese fleet, including battleships, destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers, tankers, tugs, freighters, gunboats, minesweepers, landing ships, and submarines. After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942, the United States declared war on Japan in February 1944, launching Operation Hailstone. This severe attack destroyed various warships, merchant ships, and aircraft at the anchorage. Consequently, it became the largest underwater battlefield cemetery in the world, with nearly 4,000 Japanese naval personnel and relatively few casualties among the U.S. forces. Over half a century, the sunken warships, merchant vessels, and aircraft have become part of the seabed and coral reefs. The Asian marine climate is suitable for the reproduction of coral and algae, making the various steel structures and marine vegetation on the seafloor merge into one. Due to the inconvenience of transportation to this remote island, coupled with legends of spirits among the steel ruins in the abyss, disturbances from external forces are minimal. Over time, this underwater wreckage, along with the lush and colourful marine life, especially the ghosts of thousands who perished in the abyss, has silently created a mysterious and cold world under the blue ocean. This world is a paradise coveted by divers and underwater exploration teams worldwide. Divers, particularly those exploring underwater, take pride in being able to dive to the Chuuk Lagoon underwater graveyard. Interestingly, my husband is a diver. In addition to teaching technical aspects of underwater diving and underwater rescue in the club, there are likely more interesting elements, such as marine geography, marine biology, and tracking and investigating endangered animals like blue whales and giant sharks. Of course, this part falls within my personal speculative reasoning and imagination. People who are qualified to teach here probably have different roles. Some may focus on the professional technical aspects of diving, while others may cover topics like geographic and ecological surveys and marine encyclopaedias. These aspects are also part of my personal speculative imagination.


An Jing: Unexpectedly, your husband's hobby turned out to be a significant catalyst for this novel. Your experience precisely validates what Mukherjee said: "The shift of the place of survival is not a depletion but an expansion of cultural and aesthetic experiences."


Xie Lingjie: Mukherjee has indeed spoken the truth. Thank you for quoting his insightful words here. Without Locke's diving experiences and his underwater world, there would be no "Brigantine." That's certain. Besides his professional responsibilities, Locke serves as the editor of the marine travel magazine "Adventure Herald" for the club. Each issue features a personal interview. Twenty years ago, he interviewed an instructor from the club, an elderly Belgian veteran who aided Korea. The veteran often enthusiastically discussed the glorious history of his three-month service in the new recruits' battalion at the bar, especially the splendid journey across the Atlantic and Pacific to support the war in Asia. However, when asked about his experiences on the front lines or life after returning from the front lines, he always remained silent. Interestingly, the turning point in his life, the decision to support Korea, was not a result of careful consideration by him and his family but a moment of confusion before graduating from high school. Faced with the dilemma of whether to enlist or go to college, and in a bet with classmates at a bar, betting beer, whoever dared to bet him beer to drink, and if he lost, he would enlist. If he won, he would go to college. As a result, he lost, and to fulfil his promise, he had no choice but to enlist. That morning during breakfast, he told me about this interview, and it excited me immensely. He immediately retrieved the interview recording, which he had kept for 15 years in the basement, played it while translating for me. It was the mention of the bet on beer and enlisting that sparked my inspiration. Immediately, I went upstairs to start writing the novel. The reason William joins the military in the book precisely replicates the details of the veteran's beer bet: William and his friends bet on beer at a bar, with his close companion Adonis offering him the drink. He lost the bet and had no choice but to enlist. Adonis, who was William's spiritual mentor and backbone, became aimless and disoriented when William went to the military. He had no direction and had to follow William to the army camp.

An Jing: Interesting! This detail became the starting point of creative inspiration – it is indeed a meaningful entry point. Here, the ocean is not only an important theme but also a profound symbol.


Xie Lingjie: Throughout the entire text, the ocean symbolizes vastness, confusion, the unknown, abyss, mystery, concealment, annihilation, obliteration… The sea where the Truk Lagoon lies is the "Dead Sea" mentioned in the Old Testament, a salt marsh where the scapegoat, exiled from Leviticus, was sacrificed. Since ancient times, subjects and soldiers have always been sacrificial objects, and the battlefield is the place of sacrificial offerings. The sea in the story is a crucial background, both a metaphor and a symbol. The core chapter, a three-act play titled "Song of the Blue Whale," features personified marine creatures engaged in a debate on the justice of war in the labyrinth beneath the abyss.


An Jing: In the intricate chapters of "The Twin Mast Ship," I see your persistent compassion for questioning humanity and redemption, like the many-cut facets of the "Heart of the Ocean," reflecting your unique spiritual structure from different angles.


Xie Lingjie: You're flattering me; I don't have such radiance. The "Heart of the Ocean," with its multiple facets like a polyhedron, is a metaphor referring to a crystal that has been obliterated in the abyss, shining with eternal light in the ancient darkness. It is some form of life's skeleton or fossil.


Here, let me start with a metaphor: when a beauty wears a ring or when diamonds are displayed in a shop window, the precision of the golden section stands out, and the geometric facets are vivid, emitting enchanting colours like those transformed by water mist. Facing this scene, humans can only marvel at the magical beauty of diamond cutting and the brilliance of its reverse reflection. However, few people think about what it went through before becoming a diamond – the immense pressure it endured in the deep layers of the Earth, transforming from ore to a captivating crystal through a lengthy process of carbonization. Diamonds and graphite are isomeric forms of pure carbon; why does a diamond display magical colours throughout its structure while graphite appears pitch black? According to scientists, the difference lies in their crystal structures.


I want to emphasize that this metaphorical vehicle is not me but life as a carrier. The enchanting brilliance of diamonds is derived from their magical brilliance value and their reverse reflection. Humans, as carriers of life, are no different. Speaking of which, I suddenly recalled something about six years ago when my husband and I attended an expo organized by the Psychological Association. Nearly every booth displayed a skull model with a maze-like brain structure. This discovery was quite shocking: it turns out that the ultimate goal of psychological and philosophical research is the brain – the brainstem, limbic system, and cerebral cortex. The limbic system, located in the deep layers, is the spiritual cipher system of human beings. Every person's spiritual structure is unique, and life is only the physical existence of this cipher system. I don't know which category I belong to, but I am clear that there is a deep well in my heart, where secrets, sorrows, confusion, and vastness are hidden. Perhaps it is these elements that shape my personal spiritual essence.


An Jing: Do these secrets and sorrows set your thematic approach apart from other writers? Does it have to do with your personal experiences, family, and destiny?


Xie Lingjie: Your question is spot on.


The most candid and relaxed state for a writer is in their own study. I have always been in the study; it is only in facing myself, in reading books or writing texts related to growth, that tears inevitably flow. My personal life is very happy; I have been blessed by heaven and deeply loved by my father and older brother since childhood. They have shaped the person I am today. I am extremely grateful for what I have today. The earnest wish for a beautiful life has been realized, but when I am alone on a journey, especially when I return to my mother, the gaps, losses, and pains of the past few decades will continue to assail me. An ideal life almost doesn't exist; it is more like a life theme at the opposite extreme: imperfections. Especially when some imperfections strike at an age when you are completely incapable of accepting them, it becomes a bullet wrapped in sulphur and black gunpowder, destined to be swallowed from the moment it enters the throat, and since then, there seems to be no way to dissolve and excrete it. It becomes a mole on your radiant life, like some astronomical phenomenon, reminding you of the existence of the matte part, no matter how bright the aperture is. Looking back, the vicissitudes and encounters of the previous generations of the family have made me ponder: Why are our experiences and our history the way they are?


Nearly 30 years ago, I made the decision to resign from the bank, which may be directly related to all these. At that time, I was only in my early twenties, with almost blank vision and knowledge. However, I always acted on intuition since I was a child, listening to my inner self, understanding that there is only one thing that can heal, redeem, and gradually restore my shattered world—art that encompasses all aspects: literature is a complex art.


An Jing: In the "Twisted Chapters" of the book, the protagonist embarks on a journey of self-discovery and redemption. Can you share your thoughts on this journey and its significance?


Xie Lingjie: In the "Twisted Chapters," the protagonist's journey is a quest for self-discovery and redemption. It reflects a spiritual journey, an exploration of the inner world, and a confrontation with oneself. The twists and turns in the narrative symbolize the complexities and challenges of life. The protagonist's struggles and experiences mirror the universal human condition, where individuals grapple with their own demons, face moral dilemmas, and seek a sense of purpose and meaning.


The significance of this journey lies in its transformative power. Through the protagonist's encounters, trials, and reflections, there is an opportunity for growth, healing, and redemption. It becomes a metaphor for the human experience—the constant quest for self-understanding, the pursuit of higher ideals, and the resilience to overcome adversity.


An Jing: Your literary works often delve into the complexities of human emotions and relationships. How do you approach portraying these intricate aspects of life in your writing?


Xie Lingjie: Portraying the complexities of human emotions and relationships is a delicate and nuanced process. I approach it with a deep sense of empathy and a genuine curiosity about the human experience. Observation and introspection play crucial roles in understanding the intricacies of emotions and relationships.


I draw inspiration from real-life experiences, both personal and observed. Human interactions, emotions, and relationships are rich sources of material for storytelling. By keenly observing the nuances in how people communicate, express love, navigate conflicts, and experience joy or sorrow, I aim to capture the authenticity of human experiences in my writing.


In addition to observation, introspection is essential. Exploring one's own emotions, reflecting on personal relationships, and delving into the complexities of the human psyche contribute to a more profound and authentic portrayal in literature.


Ultimately, the goal is to create characters and narratives that resonate with readers on a deep emotional level, fostering a connection between the fictional world and the readers' own lived experiences.


An Jing: In your journey as a writer, how do you navigate the balance between personal expression and connecting with a broader audience? What role do you believe literature plays in fostering understanding and empathy among diverse readers?


Xie Lingjie: Navigating the balance between personal expression and connecting with a broader audience is a continual process of self-reflection and adaptation. While personal expression is the core of artistic creation, finding common threads of human experience allows for a more profound connection with readers.


Literature has the power to transcend individual differences and cultural boundaries by tapping into universal themes and emotions. When I write, I aim to explore the shared aspects of the human condition that resonate across diverse backgrounds. By delving into fundamental emotions, struggles, and joys that are part of the human experience, literature becomes a bridge that fosters understanding and empathy.


The act of reading itself is an empathetic exercise. Readers immerse themselves in the perspectives of characters, experiencing their emotions and navigating their challenges. Through this process, literature has the potential to broaden readers' perspectives, cultivate empathy, and promote a deeper understanding of the complexities of the human psyche.


In a world that is increasingly interconnected, literature serves as a medium for cross-cultural dialogue and mutual comprehension. It allows readers to explore worlds beyond their own and gain insights into the diverse tapestry of human existence. By fostering empathy and understanding, literature contributes to the building of bridges between individuals and communities.


An Jing: Your exploration of the human psyche and the intricate layers of emotions is evident in your writings. How do you perceive the role of literature in addressing mental health issues and promoting well-being?


Xie Lingjie: Literature plays a crucial role in addressing mental health issues and promoting well-being by providing a platform for individuals to engage with and reflect on their own mental and emotional landscapes. Through the exploration of characters' internal struggles, triumphs, and vulnerabilities, literature creates a space for readers to connect with and understand the complexities of the human psyche.


Mental health is a multifaceted aspect of human well-being, encompassing emotional, psychological, and social dimensions. Literature, with its capacity to delve into the depths of human emotions and experiences, can contribute to reducing stigma, increasing awareness, and fostering empathy towards mental health challenges.


Writings that authentically portray characters navigating mental health issues can resonate with readers who may see reflections of their own experiences or those of people around them. This recognition can be a powerful catalyst for open conversations, empathy, and a sense of shared humanity.


Moreover, literature can serve as a source of solace and catharsis for individuals grappling with mental health concerns. The act of reading allows for a temporary escape, a journey into different perspectives, and an exploration of possible paths towards healing and resilience.


By addressing mental health issues in literature, authors contribute to a broader societal conversation, encouraging compassion, understanding, and support for those facing mental health challenges. Literature becomes a means of fostering a more inclusive and empathetic society that recognizes the importance of mental well-being.


An Jing: The themes of redemption and healing are recurrent in your works. How do you envision these themes contributing to the broader narrative of human experiences in your literary universe?


Xie Lingjie: The themes of redemption and healing hold a central place in my literary universe, serving as narrative threads that weave through the broader tapestry of human experiences. These themes contribute to the exploration of the human condition, offering reflections on resilience, transformation, and the pursuit of inner peace.


Redemption, in the context of my works, often involves characters confronting their past actions, acknowledging their flaws, and seeking a path towards positive change. It emphasizes the possibility of growth, forgiveness, and the capacity for individuals to transcend their mistakes.


Healing, on the other hand, delves into the emotional and psychological aspects of characters as they navigate traumas, losses, or internal conflicts. It signifies the transformative journey towards wholeness, self-acceptance, and finding a sense of equilibrium in the face of adversity.


In envisioning these themes, I aim to present a nuanced portrayal of human experiences that resonates with readers on a deeply emotional level. Redemption and healing are universal aspirations, and by exploring these themes, literature becomes a mirror reflecting the complexities of the human journey.


While the specific circumstances and challenges faced by characters in my works may vary, the underlying themes of redemption and healing create a common ground for readers to connect with the shared struggles and triumphs of the characters. It is my hope that these narratives contribute to a collective understanding of the human capacity for growth, resilience, and the pursuit of a more meaningful existence.


An Jing: Your literary career has spanned several decades. How have you witnessed the evolution of literature, especially regarding themes, styles, and the relationship between authors and readers?


Xie Lingjie: Over the decades, I have observed significant transformations in the landscape of literature, reflecting shifts in societal dynamics, cultural influences, and technological advancements. One notable evolution is the diversification of themes explored in literature. While classical themes such as love, conflict, and existential questions remain timeless, contemporary literature has increasingly embraced a broader spectrum of topics, including social issues, identity, and the complexities of human relationships.


Styles of writing have also experienced a dynamic evolution. The boundaries between genres have become more porous, allowing for innovative blends of literary forms. Authors today often experiment with narrative structures, perspectives, and linguistic styles, contributing to a rich and diverse literary tapestry.


The relationship between authors and readers has undergone a profound transformation, largely propelled by digital technologies. The accessibility of literature through online platforms, e-books, and audiobooks has democratized the reading experience, enabling authors to connect with a global audience more directly. Social media platforms provide authors with avenues to engage with readers, receive feedback, and build virtual communities around shared literary interests.


Despite these changes, the fundamental magic of literature remains unchanged—the ability of words to evoke emotions, provoke thoughts, and transport readers to different worlds. The enduring power of storytelling continues to captivate hearts and minds across generations.


An Jing: In your literary pursuits, what role does cultural heritage play in shaping your narratives and influencing your creative process?


Xie Lingjie: Cultural heritage holds a significant place in shaping my narratives and influencing my creative process. As an author deeply rooted in my cultural background, I draw inspiration from the rich tapestry of traditions, folklore, and historical legacies that define my heritage.


The cultural landscape provides a nuanced backdrop for my narratives, allowing me to explore themes unique to the experiences and perspectives rooted in my cultural identity. Whether delving into the complexities of family dynamics, exploring the intersection of modernity and tradition, or weaving narratives around cultural myths, the cultural heritage serves as a wellspring of creative exploration.


Moreover, cultural heritage contributes to the authenticity of characters, settings, and societal norms portrayed in my works. It adds layers of depth and resonance, creating a more immersive experience for readers who may encounter facets of a cultural milieu that are both familiar and enlightening.


While embracing my cultural heritage, I also strive to create narratives that possess a universal appeal, transcending cultural boundaries. The interplay between the specific and the universal in my works reflects the interconnectedness of human experiences while celebrating the unique cultural contributions that shape the mosaic of global literature.


An Jing: As a writer, what advice would you offer to aspiring authors who are navigating their own creative journeys?


Xie Lingjie: To aspiring authors navigating their creative journeys, I offer the following advice:


Read Widely: Immerse yourself in a diverse range of literature. Reading widely exposes you to different styles, perspectives, and storytelling techniques, enriching your understanding of the craft.


Write Authentically: Find your unique voice and be true to your authentic self. Write from the heart, drawing inspiration from your own experiences, emotions, and observations.


Embrace Revisions: Writing is a process of refinement. Embrace the revision process with an open mind. Each draft is an opportunity to enhance your narrative and hone your storytelling skills.


Seek Constructive Feedback: Share your work with trusted peers, mentors, or writing groups. Constructive feedback can provide valuable insights and help you refine your work.


Persist Through Challenges: Writing often involves facing challenges and overcoming obstacles. Persist through moments of self-doubt, writer's block, or rejection. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth.


Cultivate Empathy: Understand the depth of human emotions and the complexities of relationships. Cultivating empathy will enrich your characters and resonate with readers on a profound level.

An Jing: A thoughtful and profound person often tends to be more vulnerable. Writing has freed you from the quagmire of your family's historical hardships, providing a vent for your unspoken soul and bringing healing and salvation.


Xie Lingjie: Based on this, the significance of literature to me seems to differ from those whose growth background and literary mission are distinct. At a certain level, my act of writing is not a pursuit of anything else; I am consciously engaging in a dialogue with those who came before me, standing on the altar. It's like a church mass. Poetry or sacred chanting, for others, might designate the listener as under the omnipotent god above, but for me, it is primarily directed towards the souls buried in the cellar beneath my feet—those buried for a hundred or a thousand years. They are not just the dormant ones; they are not lacking in those wrongly accused. Once, they too were humble and devout towards life and faith.


Regarding religion, I am not particularly inclined, but as a writer engaged in contemplation, avoiding the two major topics of religion and philosophy is impossible. Belgium is a traditional Catholic country, and I grew up in a typical Catholic family. The previous generation included a priest with a famous theological degree who spent over ten years preaching in Africa, a nun who served in a monastery for a lifetime, and my biological brother who had experiences as a monk before entering a Christian theological college for study and missionary work. This is the objective part of the background. Personally, I faced troubles and pain brought about by reality, and nobody could provide me with answers. Due to my mother's family background, we lived in an atmosphere of fear and suppression from childhood to adolescence. Fortunately, we had a very spiritual and compassionate father. Due to the shattered family, my mother lived in a state of mental trauma, being irritable, overbearing, and rebellious. My father was the refuge for all of us—my father and all my brothers showed me the charm of male personality and the brilliance of human nature. In my childhood memories, my mother was Satan destroying our world with thunderstorms, and my father was an angel who performed secret arts, mended the heavens, resisted the darkness, and gave us eternal light. My brother faced serious obstacles in his future, and it wasn't until after the Cultural Revolution that he was able to go to university through the college entrance examination. In my memory, our truly peaceful and outwardly oriented smiles began when my brother received his admission letter. Before that, our smiles were purely natural and innocent, coming from the fun and joy that my father created in our family atmosphere. I will always remember: that was the watershed where our family dispersed the haze and liberated our spirits. These years, I often ask myself: why does time seem to be so detailed in my memory's film? Is it because of my sharp eyes, or is there a mysterious hand that always directs my gaze like a camera lens toward those cruel and warm, grand and subtle moments?


Growing up left me unforgettable memories: my mother inflicted trauma on us, and my father provided us with poetic warmth. About our growth and various aspects of the family, I never had the courage and strength to unfold that scroll-like old history. Similar to my mother's family, our good days were few, just over ten years, and the sunlight that favoured us was taken away again...


An Jing: Austrian poet Rilke wrote in the "Duino Elegies": "Between living and creating great works, there is always some ancient hostility." Poet Bei Dao believes this is a kind of destiny. If Rilke lived a peaceful life, Kafka achieved success in his youth, and Céline did not experience exile, would they leave enduring works? This "ancient hostility" is actually the arrangement of heaven. The process of suffering is the crucible for forging the literary heart.


Xie Lingjie: Thank you for this question and quotation; it can be said that this is the key to interpreting writers and great works. Rilke's poetry is considered to have "pierced through the hypocrisy of utopia and presented the true face of the world." Bei Dao believes that this "ancient hostility" is a kind of destiny, and I agree. This agreement comes from my personal growth memories, feelings, and cognition. God created mankind, and mankind coexists with original sin. Religious doctrines such as sin and punishment seem to soothe the hearts of the wronged, but in reality, the sinners are also the punished, with a dual identity, and only the innocent are innocent. This makes the innocent fall into an inescapable shame due to the inability to explain the paradox, and this shame is the internal root of hostility. Souls deeply humiliated need healing and comfort. For writers who endure humiliation and harbor "hostility" towards "life," their works, created with everything they have, may be an interpretation of this "ancient hostility" and an interpretation of the comforting "Duino Elegies." It is so sad and sacred.


In the past nearly 30 years, there has always been an image in my personal mind: the sheep tied with a red cord in the Book of Leviticus, exiled from the altar to the Dead Sea, and the salt marsh of the Dead Sea filled with goat fossils with human-like innocent eyes wide open...Years later, I realized that this revelation from God was not just my personal illusion but a mirror reflection of generations, a silent film-like decoding of fate. When I became an adult and had some responsibilities, I personally witnessed another "sheep tied with a red cord exiled to the Dead Sea."... If the suffering of my parents and even the previous generation was a pain and helplessness separated by generations, then this time it was a blade inserted into my heart, a bullet shot into my throat, wrapped in sulfur and black gunpowder ammunition, exploding in my young body and burning. After that, I started to suffer from long-term insomnia and repeated dreams, crying and sobbing in the night like a furious lion. The vault of the world revealed an irreparable gap, and I, so young, pure and resolute by nature, with the brave courage that was once invincible, fell into a desperate helplessness. Youth is so unforgivable, with narrow vision and limited knowledge. No one could guide, explain, or comfort me. Anxiety and desolation intensified my confusion and loss. For many years, I often found myself sitting on a bus in the evening or even at midnight, carrying my bag and sitting in the city bus, as if I were about to board another bus to leave my city. I knew that all my directions were to go to the "Dead Sea," to find the sheep that I had always admired and loved. But my knowledge and experience were limited, and I didn't know where the "Dead Sea" was. But since then, I understood that seeking the "Dead Sea" had become my destiny. The "Dead Sea" was like my Jerusalem, destined for my remaining years to move towards it with a pilgrimage heart...During this period, when I sought help in vain, I took my son to an island or went to a temple in the suburbs to live with a nun. She suffered serious injustices during a critical period, was very talented and wise. When she slept, she talked about her experiences, alleviating my distress and giving me strength. Later, I found a Catholic church and a Christian church in my city. It was strange that they gave me peace. Later, I began to read the Bible, but in the local cultural atmosphere, I understood only half. It wasn't until I came to Europe and entered a Catholic family that everything seemed to be a mysterious arrangement...In this very traditional Catholic family, I felt a sense of belonging and obtained a peaceful place to anchor. However, the sheep that were "exiled to the Dead Sea" and the "salt marsh of the Dead Sea" that engulfed and submerged the exiled sheep never disappeared from my heart; on the contrary, they became clearer and more vivid.


An Jing: Whether it is Buddhism, Catholicism, or Protestantism, in a certain sense, religion has brought you tranquillity. When reading your works and communicating with you, I can feel that philosophy has also benefited you.


Xie Lingjie: There are differences and connections between religion and philosophy. Philosophy advocates caring for reality, while religion advocates ultimate care. Ultimate care, known as the path beyond life and death, can provide positive thinking between the finite and infinite aspects of existence, resolving the tension and anxiety between the sharp oppositions of life and death. This kind of contemplation on the value of life and death is something I did not have in my previous experiences. Philosophy is a rational study of truth, and religion usually puts forward similar truth claims, providing ultimate thinking about the origin of life and the value of death exploration. Gradually, I gained healing and gradually found relief from it.

An Jing: So, your writing doesn't focus on the details of life but rather roams freely through history?


Xie Lingjie: I love the complexity and classicism of the Middle Ages, which was the heyday of romanticism. From the perspective of life, I adore the rich and vivid natural elements of late Louis XIV Rococo art, such as seashells, palm leaves, iris flowers, vines, and flowers... symmetrical or asymmetrical, in any case, the complexity and poetic romanticism embroidered by the "one stitch, one thread" in the French style fascinate me. Previously, the art and history of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, which focused on religion and human history, were obviously much heavier, but from a humanistic perspective, they can more powerfully present the essential existence of the human world and reveal the truth. To give another metaphor, I am fascinated by the lightness and beauty of Impressionist paintings by Monet and Debussy, but in terms of demand depth, I am more inclined towards the depth of Mahler and the pessimism of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. They provide a hope and inspiration to heal people, similar to ancient Greek tragedies. Returning to the topic, the definition of a novel, especially a long novel, is based on the ecological and memorial framework of a certain historical period. The intertextuality of literature and history is precisely reflected here. It can be said that history is the food and poison of humanity, presenting itself as a warning and awakening.


An Jing: So, "Brigantine" is the result of your entanglement with your own scars and characters. Can you talk about the interpretation and intention of justice, self and life in the three-act play "Song of the Blue Whale"?


Xie Lingjie: Those characters initially came from the abyss of life, and later they all stood on the high parapets to examine the justice of war with wisdom and knowledge. Indeed, it is the result of self-entanglement. The three-act play "Song of the Blue Whale," set in the underwater rainforest, involves a group of marine creatures representing the food chain debating the justice of war. Philosophical speculation is one of the main themes of this book, just like the definition of a soldier in a war: a hero in the warring country but actually a killer in the victim country. Those who refuse to participate in the war or escape from the front line are called cowards, deserters, or defectors. However, they have become defenders of life or advocates of peace. Regardless of whether they are heroes or deserters, their true identity is only two: natural life from parents and citizens under politics. Why is the age for conscription set at 18 and not 28 or 30? Because this age has a common point: vigorous agility, an unpredictable future, and a lack of thinking, but easy to obey. Out of protecting the country or heroic feelings, inspired and urged by military power, they go to the battlefield, unfold killing under banners and slogans. After becoming an adult, with a change in perspective and values, they discover that what they once thought was a glorious and proud behaviour is actually an unforgivable crime committed by humanity. This is the fundamental spiritual torment and self-condemnation.


An Jing: The value of war reflection lies in revealing the truth, universality, and eternity. This is a common emotional and value need of humanity, regardless of boundaries and races. Is this the reason you, as a Chinese writer, chose to set it in Europe?


Xie Lingjie: The background and historical framework of "Brigantine" may seem to be thousands of miles away in Europe, and most of the main characters are not Chinese. These are external factors. What's important is that their characters, talents, personal charm, interdependence, and value pursuits are so consistent. "Brigantine" not only tells the story of Europe but also involves China and the United States. It should be said that its themes and characters are not limited to any continent. As long as there are humans and places with normal value needs, there will be resonance. I believe that the writer's creation should not limit readers to a specific race or region, and even readers should not be the direction of consideration. However, one consideration is eternal, that is, whether the work can provide inspiration and a way out for human crises or value pursuits.


III. Starting from Ideology or Life?


An Jing: Your writing is based on the reflection and scrutiny of history, and some characters have certain prototypes, but imagination and reasoning are still the main focus. The source of general people's creativity comes from life, but you skip various aspects of daily life and directly draw from world history and fiction. How do you handle the relationship between reality and history, and fiction?


Xie Lingjie: I have always adhered to this red line in my novel creation: not to write anyone around me into my works. Their experiences only accidentally provided me with thoughts. The direction of my creation is facilitated by Europe. Living on the main battlefields of two world wars (the Vietnam War is the continuation of World War II in Asia), understanding the history of war, reflecting on the Holocaust, the stories and characters gradually forming in my mind became active to a certain extent and naturally needed to be written. There are two ways to write: one is to copy and restore what "is" through an organic system, such as recording a personally experienced life; the other is imaginative or ideological writing, creating a world and a group of characters in the rich and colorful world deep in the subconscious, purely a personal act. In terms of novel creation, history, reality, and fiction are precisely the three-dimensional coordinates X, Z, and Y of a three-dimensional space. History X and reality Z are the foundation, and Y is the refinement and sublimation based on these two foundations.


An Jing: For a long time, we have been taught that literature comes from life and is higher than life, which is almost regarded as the criterion for artistic creation. But you dare to admit that your creation has little to do with specific life, which is quite astonishing.


Xie Lingjie: "Literature comes from life but is higher than life," which presents two meanings: the first half emphasizes material, and the second half emphasizes creation, with the key hint in the second half. There are two types of writing: one is to record and replicate what "exists" through an organic system, such as recording a personally experienced life; the other is imaginative or ideological writing, creating something "non-existent" into something tangible, concrete, or even lifelike through a personal thinking system. The former emphasizes recording and replicating, while the latter emphasizes creation. Creation is challenging, satisfying, and exciting. I prefer the latter.


Since it is creation, imagination and creativity are naturally indispensable.

An Jing: This is your uniqueness, as mentioned earlier, it is related to your upbringing or values. Your writing inspiration even comes from ideas, reminiscent of Plato's ideas and Hegel's absolute spirit.


Xie Lingjie: You mentioned several times whether my creation starts from ideas, and there is a possibility of "ideas first," perhaps. Mr. Fang BoLin, an American translator, said that "Brigantine" has the temperament of "novel of ideas," and you mentioned Plato's theory of ideas and Hegel's absolute spirit. Plato's theory of ideas has two terms, "idea" and "eidos" (the former is generally more common). Hegel's absolute spirit in English is "absolute idealism." Plato's core contribution to philosophy is the theory of ideas. The so-called idea is actually a kind of cognition, concept, or idea. The philosophical community calls it "the eternal behind the phenomenal world, an unchanging, eternal form or prototype, a non-material form or prototype." This idea is objectively existing after knowledge demonstration. For example, Leonardo da Vinci demonstrated the golden ratio of human proportions through a large amount of data knowledge, and the golden ratio later transformed from a mathematical principle into a criterion for the beauty of form. This criterion has become a prototype or form of aesthetics, that is, an idea. Through the debate on justice in "The Republic," Plato argued that justice evokes human emotional resonance and meets the value needs of most people. The recognition of this justice is the prototype or form of beauty, that is, the idea. Plato believes that there is always a similarity, a commonality, and a value that meets universal needs between all forms of beauty. He believes that the world is composed of the world of ideas and the world of phenomena. Schopenhauer believed that there is a world beyond the world of phenomena, that is, the will of the thing itself, and the object of this will, which is actually what Plato called "forms": form or prototype, that is, idea. On this point, it seems that many "idealists" views have similarities, especially Hegel. He mentioned in "Aesthetics" the "absolute object of consciousness" and "belonging to the absolute realm of spirit or mind." I think this "absolute object of consciousness" in the "absolute realm of spirit or mind" is Plato's idea and Schopenhauer's "object of will." Hegel said in "Aesthetics," " captures ideas through sensory images, religion captures ideas through representations or imagination, and philosophy captures ideas through concepts. The 'absolute idea' finally recognizes itself in art, religion, and philosophy, achieving the unity of subject and object, thought and existence."


I personally think that starting from ideas or from the perspective of ideas should be generally present in artistic creation. A mature writer, composer, playwright, painter, etc., must have the support of ideas before and after the motivation for creating a work.


An Jing: Painter Gauguin once said, "Colour is the result of thought, not observation." This kind of artistic thinking that starts from subjective consciousness, parallels the journey of "The Twin Mast Ship" from conceptual understanding to practice.


Xie Lingjie: Gauguin's point reveals a secret and a fact: nature is a person's original colour, and the mind and intuition have an overwhelming power that theoretical knowledge cannot refute. Later learning is only supplementary knowledge of tools. "The Twin Mast Ship" seems to be the result of this subjective arbitrariness. A story that took root more than ten years ago, indeed, was nurtured by the subjective consciousness of "belief," and then the story gradually took shape and thrived, which naturally originated from the persistence of subjective consciousness. This subjective consciousness is: this thing is worth writing, because aside from the story, just the behaviour of several characters and their noble qualities make me admire. Their values ​​are in line with the wishes of most just people. Once these are clear, all technical treatments such as the story's structure, details, etc., will follow this logic and direction. This direction becomes the criterion.


Four, telling old Europe from the perspective of a modern person rather than an Eastern person


An Jing: "Telling old Europe from the perspective of a modern person rather than an Eastern person"—this sentence can be regarded as the key to interpreting your work, which surprises me. Most overseas Chinese writers stand at the crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures, telling Europe from the perspective of an Eastern person. However, you are unique, and you can even say that you are unique. You said that your writing is a 21st-century European looking back at the 20th century and even earlier in Europe because you are not interested in modern society at all. Your soul only fits the cultural atmosphere from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. You also said that the late 20th century has already lost much flavour; it's just that the tail end of the era is still attached to the end of the story.


Xie Lingjie: Initially, I positioned myself to observe and tell Europe from the perspective of an Eastern person. Later, I hoped to look back at the old century with the eyes of a European and restore some people and things under the historical framework. And I am doing it. Why not? Those European writers who are the same age as me, the biggest difference between them and me is that they live in their hometown, and relative to the centuries before they were born, they, like me, are blank. Through learning, perceptual understanding, and understanding, our opportunities are equal, and the rest is imagination and skills. I am confident that I am not worse than them. My contact with the West began at the age of 30, when I interviewed the head of Dow Chemical's branch in my hometown (John Jashasah, an American). It opened my eyes when I saw the way a group of Americans behave and speak, and I realized a natural fit between my personal nature, expression, and behaviour and theirs. Therefore, when I came to Europe, everything was natural. The second hometown means re-growing, needing to learn, precipitate, and face the challenges of creation everywhere. As for language, whether it is based on learning language or creative language, it is essentially a barrier set by politics. Emotions, memories, personal dignity, self-pursuit, and the consciousness of seeking truth, these commonalities are beyond race and geography, and are eternal.


V. Cross-Cultural and Cross-Regional International Perspective


An Jing: Many scholars believe that your work "Brigantine" has a cross-cultural and cross-regional international perspective, full of historical, ancient texts, books, mazes, news, academic, and maritime encyclopaedic atmosphere. The language is magnificent, magnificent, rich in texture, with complex imagery, filled with poetic passion and abundant imagination.


Xie Lingjie: Thank you for the kind words. Living in multicultural Europe, an international perspective is inevitable. However, I naturally yearn for the unfamiliar and vast. Over a decade ago, Professor Huang Weilin from Guangxi Normal University's School of Literature mentioned similar things about my preferences in a comment titled "<Surging In, Surging Out>—On Xie Lingjie's Short Stories." Placing me in the current context of Chinese fiction, one can see that I have an irreplaceable characteristic, which is the unique subject matter of my fiction. One of its unique aspects is showcasing the lives of the North Sea Vietnamese diaspora. These characters and lives have a transnational, cross-cultural nature at the border. This reminds us of the international potential in my fiction. Looking back now, I feel that Professor Huang's eyes were sharp, almost like predicting some of my directions.


"Brigantine" is a book about books, also about academia, history, politics, and it touches on religious philosophy. It is intricately woven, faces are varied, and it contains a wealth of information, making it challenging to read. The reason for achieving such a pattern in the book should be said to match the logical tradition of the emperor matching the imperial palace. With the outstanding character and outstanding talents of the characters in the middle, I should do my best to create a maze-like imperial palace that is different from the ordinary world.


An Jing: Encyclopaedia-style writing has a strong knowledge, speculative, and philosophical flavour. You have to visit museums, libraries, do a lot of research...


Xie Lingjie: Regarding the portrayal of the novel as "encyclopaedic," there are probably two reasons. One is a personal preference, and the other is the possibility provided by the subject matter and place of residence. Personally, the reason why I am negligent in reading literary works is that there are few works that satisfy my reading preferences. Privately, I refuse to read novels based on three principles: those that do not align with my values, those that tell a single story, and those that lack sufficient knowledge and information. In terms of personality and creative preferences, I have a strong curiosity and love for challenging things. As long as there are challenging things, it can activate my potential. The thoughts and actions of ordinary people and things do not stir my heart. As for the intricately woven details of ancient European architecture, I feel a sense of thorough and delightful intricacy. This is Europe: as the birthplace of classical arts such as classical music, painting, and philosophy, Europe encompasses various centuries of classical art, including the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and so on. Europe in terms of mood is wrapped in lace, intricate and delicate, tender and deep Europe. In terms of style and temperament, it is classically romantic, poetically beautiful Europe, with a pattern as vast and exquisite as a museum on the earth. I believe that anyone stepping on this ancient land of Europe will be shocked and moved by its abundant beauty. Perhaps it is precisely because of this that I want to enjoy this mysterious land given to me by fate, to enjoy the cultural heritage flowing from ancient Greece, the source of humanities. It is a mine and treasure that keeps the tree of European literature evergreen.


An Jing: Your emotions and efforts make me inexplicably moved... I also have the same love for the picturesque and profound Europe, which is a paradise for thinkers and artists, and also our second home.


Xie Lingjie: A few years ago, I volunteered to teach a group of children at a Chinese church. I talked to the children and their parents about a topic: the greatest wealth in Europe lies in cultural heritage, which is public and free. We should not limit ourselves to the lives of our own ethnic groups, especially for your children. They are fortunate to grow up here, so they should participate and enjoy everything here. Take them to libraries, museums, theatres, etc., and let them grow up like the children here.


An Jing: In addition to drawing nourishment from ancient European civilization in your creation, have you also borrowed or learned from contemporary European writers? How is your relationship with their sources?


Xie Lingjie: In English, borrowing and learning are actually the same thing: learn from. First of all, I think there is no doubt that I have learned from European writers. Just like the accent influenced by language residing in different regions or the orientation of individual clothing styles in group styles, personal preferences will always be inseparable from the subtle influence of others. However, due to the serious imbalance between creation and reading, I am not a literary reader but more of a cross-disciplinary learner. In more than 20 years of reading and writing, I have read less than 4 complete novels. I read some short stories and medium-length stories more than 20 years ago, especially during my time at the Lu Xun Academy of Literature. After 2006, except for the works of some literary friends, I no longer read short and medium-length stories. Regarding the intake of literary nutrients, I feel that my taste is quite picky, just like dating. I hope to meet those who are somewhat similar in three-dimensional space. Such people are like another self, interested in the same or similar directions. Even though the results may have differences, some elements may be surprisingly similar. This is related to the region where the writer is located and the closeness of the relationship with the environment.


So, after the publication of "Double Mast," some people said that it has the taste of works by European writers such as A, B, and C. In fact, it was precisely because of the publication of this novel that I learned about these writers from reader feedback and subsequently bought their works. For example, after the completion of the work, I went to Cuba for vacation. I received an email from Ji Ming in Shanghai saying that "Double Mast" has the taste of Eco and Pamuk. I was excited and thrilled, but I couldn't find out who Eco was in Cuba with almost no internet. I asked my husband, and he said, "Wow, he is a master, an Italian philosopher, a professor..." When I finally found Eco's "The Name of the Rose" and downloaded it the next day, I heard the news of Eco's death on the radio in the early morning—meeting Eco in this way was really uncomfortable. The former editor-in-chief of "Chinese Literature," Zhang Weidong, said that "Double Mast" "reminds people of Hermann Hesse's 'The Glass Bead Game.'" Six months later, I bought "The Glass Bead Game." Mr. Fang Bolin, the American translator, said that "Double Mast" reminds people of Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom. I didn't know who Cees was and asked my husband. He said that he is a Dutch writer he really likes, who has won several top awards in the Dutch-speaking world. He has several novels by Cees, but they are all in Dutch, which I cannot read... So, in many ways, it is wonderful. Thanks to my readers, especially those senior figures who encouraged me, I realized from their feedback that I lean towards the same or similar directions. In the inexplicable joy of coinciding, the reason may be related to thinking about and expressing the resistance to values that are based on survival and contradict the ethnic group, regardless of your race or cultural background.

An Jing: You mentioned before that Woolf and Emily were very inspiring to you. Do you have anything you'd like to say about them?


Xie Lingjie: As mentioned earlier, I read very few literary works. I have "Mrs. Dalloway" by Woolf, but I haven't read it yet. Up to now, I have only read Woolf's famous lecture at Oxford University, "A Room of One's Own." However, inexplicably, I don't know why I have a natural sense of familiarity, intimacy, and fear towards her. This may be because I repeatedly watched the movie "The Hours" based on her works and visited her house a few years ago. I have a lot of information about her life and creative scenes, and even her character, spiritual world, and life status. I also visited Emily's home the day before I went to Woolf's house, which was a visit that deeply impressed me. The Brontë family was a genius, with Emily being outstanding. I read "Wuthering Heights" and watched the BBC series adaptation. After finishing the book and the series, I admired it greatly and was shocked. In the authoritarian era of 19th-century Britain, where women had no status, a twenty-something daughter of a clergyman not only openly criticized the divine authority but also subverted and challenged the subordinate status of women. It's almost a significant event in 19th-century Britain. Writers like Woolf and Emily have the delicacy and flexibility of women, but also the masculine spirit derived from their bloodlines. This combination of strength and softness is what I admire.


An Jing: Woolf is exceptionally intelligent, with sharp and agile thinking. In order to escape the entanglements of trivialities, she immersed herself in her spiritual world, ultimately finding liberation in the shimmering waves. Neurosensitivity and character defects were both the source of her genius creations and the root cause of her suicide. In the modern society of demystification, people need literature and art to detach themselves from shallow and mundane states, but delving too deeply into a highly pure spiritual world can be extremely dangerous.


Xie Lingjie: Woolf is an ultimate writer, with intelligence, boldness, charisma, and a charming way of life and creation. Such cases as hers can be explained not only from a literary perspective, feminism, and the characteristics of the times but also from the dissection of neuroscience and psychology, such as the structure of the nervous system, evolutionary function, genetics and biochemistry, as well as Jung's theory of persona. Jung's theory of the first and second personas points out the difficult balance between external social roles and the inner mysterious unconscious. Woolf happens to be a soul that dives deep into the inner mystery and has a tense relationship with the demands of external social roles. It should be said that once a writer delves into that world, such problems will arise. Undeniably, that is the realm of the purest creation. Everyone longs to reach that world, half human and half god, but it is a dangerous threshold. The language at that threshold is fascinating, like the refinement in perfume manufacturing, evaporating or metamorphosing in a moment of trance. There are many such examples. The high risk of the writer's profession lies in two points: the seriousness and offense in non-autonomous contexts and the evaporation and annihilation of high-dimensional self. Woolf belongs to the latter.


An Jing: Your creative work also reminds me of Eileen Chang. Similarly, she went abroad, but after arriving in the United States, she was not as prolific as she was in mainland China. Can you analyze the reasons?


Xie Lingjie: I mentioned Eileen Chang in an essay discussing artistic views. Eileen Chang's silence after leaving the mainland is indeed a phenomenon. She was exceptionally talented, well-dressed, and in her prime of creativity around the age of 30, producing many works that gained great popularity. When she arrived in the United States at the age of 40, which was the peak of her creativity, the multicultural environment could better satisfy the curiosity of a writer. Knowledge and information were also more accessible. However, during her half-century stay in the United States, not only did her works decrease significantly, but something happened in between. Reflecting on this, I often ponder this question. Chang was in the United States, and although the colonial history and war history of the United States were also lengthy, compared to Shanghai's rich and diverse environment, it might have been challenging for Chang to adapt. Maybe her themes didn't need external assistance; she could write about Shanghai even in the United States. However, the open and direct language of the United States, contrasting with the subtle and delicate style influenced by the ancient Chinese culture in the lanes of old Shanghai, was entirely different. While her classical charm with an Eastern flavour could be compatible with the unrestricted openness of the United States, whether the change in environment affected her state, whether the hardships of survival in a foreign land troubled her—these factors might have influenced her. If that's the case, it indicates that the creation of a writer is not only related to the richness or poverty of the environment but more importantly to the degree of adaptation between oneself and the environment.


An Jing: In contrast, you have a happy family, no survival issues, you are brave and strong, and you don't experience the wandering, lack of belonging, loss, and displacement that many overseas immigrant writers face. You also don't have expressive obstacles, proficiently handling your Chinese language, narrating European stories, and advocating global significance.


Xie Lingjie: I feel fortunate to have gained physical and mental freedom and access to information away from my homeland. The history of Europe may not be comparable to China in terms of time length, but its cultural heritage is thick and traceable. These are what a writer needs. However, when you mentioned those feelings, I indeed don't have them. Survival is not a problem, but there are pressures from family and societal roles. So, returning to Jung's theory of the first and second personas, no one is exempt.


An Jing: You have a natural affinity with European culture, without the confusion of Eileen Chang. Europe has not only not stifled your creative talents, but on the contrary, its history and humanities—geography, historical facts, colonization, wars, political games, refugee crises, etc., have sparked your thoughts and provided you with ample material, compensating for the previous difficulties of lack of historical records and information.


Xie Lingjie: The traditions passed down from family to family in Europe, from the Bible and prayer books to a plant, a few old pieces of furniture, and small relics, are all handed down through generations. These not only provide me with thoughts but also assist in my creation. Any event that has happened can be found in archives, libraries, or museums. Even in many families, these can be found. In contrast, my personal native family and environment, searching for these things, are almost non-existent. Chinese people in that era burned archives and old items, including letters, photos, banned books, etc., so that very few things that could be provided to future generations were left. Precious historical materials have almost turned to ashes. Regarding war and refugee crises, it reminds me of the refugee port in my hometown. Despite such significant historical events, it is extremely difficult to find any information. People generally lack awareness of history and archives, which is the complete opposite of Europe.


An Jing: Going abroad has given you physical freedom, spiritual freedom, and freedom of information. While many other overseas immigrant writers struggle with identity recognition issues, you have achieved identity recognition. You don't write about the experiences of your homeland, and you don't have identity conflicts; instead, you write about old Europe.


Xie Lingjie: Indeed, being here has given me physical and mental freedom and freedom of information. But to say that I have fully realized identity recognition is impossible. For Europeans, we are Chinese, and for the motherland, we are treated as Europeans. So, regarding my identity recognition, I can only define it this way: I am the sole citizen of a self-established state.


Regarding the experiences of my homeland, it's not that I don't write about them, but it's not now. My hometown is too heavy for me, and I need enough time to avoid it, to convince myself, or to make the cocoon in my heart thick enough, so that the peripheral nerves are not so sharp anymore. Only then will I have the courage to look back. I hope that when the time comes, the homeland presented in the magical lines of my self-built state will be calm, generous, and full of kindness and compassion. But for now, I'm not ready. So, I can only turn my gaze to the world.



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