Qiu, Xiaolong 1953–
Qiu, Xiaolong 1953–
Name is pronounced "Cho Shaw-long"; born 1953, in Shanghai, China; immigrated to United States, 1988; married Wang Lijun; children: Julia. Education: Washington University, St. Louis, MO, Ph.D., 1996. Hobbies and other interests: Cooking.
Home—St. Louis, MO.
Writer, novelist, poet, educator, translator, and critic. Washington University, St. Louis, MO, professor of English.
Chinese Writers' Association.
Ford Foundation grant, 1988; named among best ten books of 2000, National Public Radio, Edgar Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, and Anthony Award for best first novel, Bouchercon, 2001, all for Death of a Red Heroine; prizes for Chinese-language poetry; Missouri Arts Council Writers Biennial Award, for poetry.
"INSPECTOR CHEN" SERIES; MYSTERY NOVELS
Death of a Red Heroine, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2000.
A Loyal Character Dancer, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2002.
When Red Is Black, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2004.
A Case of Two Cities, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
Red Mandarin Dress, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2007.
Si ge si chong zou (biography), Lijiang chu ban she (Guilin, China), 1985.
(With Peter Jones) Yi xiang pai shi xuan (poetry criticism), Lijiang chu ban she (Guilin, China), 1986.
(Translator) William Butler Yeats, Shu qing shi ren Yezhi shi xuan (poems), Sichuan wen yi chu ban she (Chengdu, China), 1986.
(Translator) William Butler Yeats, Lida yu tian e (poems), 1987.
(With Peng Lü and Jianhong Wu) Zhongguo da bei ju di ren wu (biography), Zhongguo ren min da xue chu ban she (Beijing, China), 1989.
Lines around China (novel), Neshui Publishing (St. Louis, MO), 2003.
(Translator and editor) Treasury of Chinese Love Poems: In Chinese and English, Hippocrene Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Evoking Tang: An Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, PenUltimate Press (St. Louis, MO), 2007.
Also author of poetry written in Chinese. Author's novels have been translated into fourteen languages.
Now a respected mystery novelist, Xiaolong Qiu initially began his writing career as an award-winning poet in his native China. He defected to the United States while attending Washington University in the late 1980s, and after working as a professor for a time he took a detour into mystery writing that even he himself had not anticipated. His series of novels featuring Shanghai Inspector Chen Cao has been praised for its accurate portrayal of modern life in communist China, where a difficult transition toward a more Western society and capitalist economy conflicts with traditional Chinese values and a still-oppressive and bureaucratic government.
Qiu's childhood occurred at a time when communist leader Mao Zedong's infamous Cultural Revolution was forcing the country's citizens to become agrarian laborers under harsh conditions. Qiu avoided being sent into the countryside because he suffered from severe bronchitis. While bedridden, he discovered English literature and became a particular fan of modern Western poets such as T.S. Eliot. Deciding to become a writer himself, he began composing poetry, winning several prizes for his verses. He also published several books in Chinese regarding such English writers as Eliot and William Butler Yeats. Earning a Ford Foundation grant, Qiu was able to travel to the United States in 1988, where he attended Washington University. The next year, the Chinese government cracked down on student protestors at Tiananmen Square, and Qiu made the decision to stay in America.
While earning a living as a university professor, Qiu was inspired to write a novel that would capture the reality of life in modern-day China. His main character, Inspector Chen, is based on a friend of his, an English literature student who was assigned to become a policeman so he could do "useful" work for the Chinese government. Like the author's friend, Chen maintains his love of literature, especially Chinese poetry, passages of which are often quoted in Qiu's novels with translations by the author. Working as a police inspector in China is a balancing act between trying to solve the case and not upsetting the bureaucracy, as is apparent in Chen's first adventure, Death of a Red Heroine. The victim in the book is a professional model and Communist Party loyalist. As Inspector Chen looks for clues and suspects in her murder, however, he uncovers politically sensitive facts about the case that make his job all the more difficult. Many reviewers noted that Qiu's descriptions of China and its society are the most interesting part of the book, the murder mystery serving as a device to paint the nation's portrait. Connie Fletcher, writing in Booklist, declared the book to be "fascinating for what it reveals about China as well as what it reveals about a complex man in this setting."
In the subsequent "Inspector Chen" mysteries, A Loyal Character Dancer and When Red Is Black, the author continues to use crime as a way to show both the positive changes in China and its less admirable traits. In A Loyal Character Dancer Qiu introduces U.S. Marshall Catherine Rohn, a talented investigator who also speaks fluent Chinese and assists Chen in finding the murderer of another Party member, dancer Wen Liping. The character of Rohn serves as a person to whom Chen can logically explain or describe certain aspects of Chinese society to those less familiar with it. Critics of A Loyal Character Dancer especially enjoyed the Chen character, whom a Kirkus Reviews contributor described as "likable" and "admirable." A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that, although "Qiu's writing style can be somewhat stilted … the characters manage to achieve an engaging realism."
When Red Is Black has Chen in a less-prominent role; he gives a case to his detective, Yu, while he concentrates on the task of translating a book. Yu proceeds to solve the murder of a dissident Chinese writer. While a Publishers Weekly critic found the ultimate solution to the mystery "banal," the reviewer added that the rest of the novel makes for an "engrossing read." Fletcher, writing again in Booklist, commented that the plot of this installment might be somewhat slow for some readers, but those who enjoy a more stately pace will find it a mystery "to savor."
Inspector Chen returns for a fourth adventure in A Case of Two Cities. In the novel, Qiu portrays an "honest detective's struggle to be true to his professional ideals under a repressive regime," commented a contributor to Publishers Weekly. As part of its widening campaign to curb rampant corruption, the Chinese government assigned Inspector Chen to investigate a rich businessman, Xing Xing. Xing has amassed a considerable fortune while working with corrupt government officials, and the Communist state wants him investigated. When the police official who had formerly been investigating Xing is found murdered, Chen realizes that the case will be difficult and dangerous. Thomas Gaughan, writing in Booklist, observed that Qiu's depictions of the essence of China are crucial to the novel's construction. "Character, poetry, insights into Chinese society and culture, and food" all take precedence over story and plot in what Gaughan called an "unusual and compelling crime novel." Throughout the book, "Chen's literary sensibility and Xiaolong's incisive portrait of modern China, mixed with traditional gumshoe exploits, make for heady entertainment," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic.
The next book in the "Inspector Chen" series is Red Mandarin Dress. The title comes from the murder victim, a lovely young woman whose corpse is discovered by a jogger one morning. The woman is clothed in a red Mandarin dress of vintage style. However, Inspector Chen Cao is off on a leave of absence to further his education, and with him gone, his second in command, Detective Yu, takes on the investigation in his stead. Yu is looking forward to being able to make an impression now that he is out from under the prestigious shadow of his superior, but it is not to be. Word comes from higher up that Chen is to return and man the investigation, due to a politically sensitive matter. A second body turns up, also wearing a red Mandarin dress, but this appears to be the only connection between the two women, the second of whom worked as a prostitute while the first worked long hours in a respectable job at a hotel. Using intellect and knowledge of symbolism, Chen sets out to get to the bottom of the case before any more young women die. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews wrote that "the author's heady plot highlights his strengths, elegantly capturing China in transition. A fascinating read." Harriet Klausner, writing for Genre Go Round Reviews Blog Web site, declared that "it is Qiu Xiaolong's powerful glimpse of Shanghai dancing with capitalistic globalization yet remaining communist that makes this a winner."
Qiu is planning to continue his mystery series. "I feel the obligation to write about the change taking place in the country where I have lived for thirty years," he told an interviewer on the January magazine Web site. While his portrait of his homeland can at times be negative, the author told the interviewer, "I'm trying to do something quite realistic…. I'm not trying to portray China as black as possible. I want my books to be something like a window through which people can look at China."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Death of a Red Heroine, p. 1625; July, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of A Loyal Character Dancer, p. 1829; May 1, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of When Red Is Black, p. 1519; January 1, 2007, Thomas Gaughan, review of A Case of Two Cities, p. 66.
Economist, December 16, 2006, "Tale of Many Cities: International Crime Fiction," review of A Case of Two Cities, p. 87.
International Herald Tribune, April 6, 2007, Howard W. French, "A Writer Trying to Solve His Own Mysteries, and China's," interview with Qiu Xiaolong.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2000, review of Death of a Red Heroine, p. 504; June 15, 2002, review of A Loyal Character Dancer, p. 843; October 1, 2006, review of A Case of Two Cities, p. 992; October 1, 2007, review of Red Mandarin Dress.
Library Journal, July, 2000, Rex Klett, review of Death of a Red Heroine, p. 145.
Mystery News, October-November, 2002, S.J. Rozan, interview with Xiaolong Qiu.
Publishers Weekly, July 1, 2002, review of A Loyal Character Dancer, p. 56; April 26, 2004, review of When Red Is Black, p. 44; October 9, 2006, review of A Case of Two Cities, p. 39.
Asian Reporter Online,http://www.asianreporter.com/ (March 26, 2002), Josephine Bridges, review of Death of a Red Heroine.
Black Raven Press Web site,http://blackravenpress.com/ (June 13, 2007), S.J. Rosen, "Qiu Xiaolong: Poetry in Prose," interview with Qiu Xiaolong.
BookLoons,http://www.bookloons.com/ (June 13, 2007), G. Hall, review of Death of a Red Heroine.
Genre Go Round Reviews Blog,http://genregoroundreviews.blogspot.com/ (November 11, 2007), Harriet Klausner, review of Red Mandarin Dress.
January,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (June 13, 2007), Caroline Cummins, "Qiu Xiaolong & the Chinese Enigma," interview with Qiu.
Missouri Center for the Book Web site,http://books.missouri.org/ (June 13, 2007), Jamieson Spencer, interview with Qiu Xiaolong.
Mystery Readers International Web site,http://www.mysteryreaders.org/ (June 13, 2007), Cara Black, "At Home Online," interview with Qiu Xiaolong.
Persimmon Online, http://persimmon-mag.com/ (June 13, 2007), Andrea Kempf, review of Death of a Red Heroine.
Qiu Xiaolong Home Page,http://www.qiuxiaolong.com (June 13, 2007).
StLToday.com,http://www.stltoday.com/ (September 25, 2002), Repps Hudson, review of A Loyal Character Dancer.