Xie Peng, a 36-year-old Chinese graphic novelist, spent six years working on his first book Darkness Outside The Night. It’s been praised by China’s first Nobel laureate for literature, Mo Yan, as inspiring people on how to deal with life.
It’s a psychological journey into the world of young Chinese: a world of competition, stress, anxiety, but not necessarily one of politics. His characters, children of the one-child generation, are anxious and alienated.
It’s a world Xie knows well: He works 12 hours a day as a computer-games animator; overtime work eats up his weekends. Financial pressures bear down on him, since he married recently and bought an apartment.
Darkness is a collaboration between Xie, also known as Eliparvic Xie, who drew the pictures, and Hong Kong-based writer Duncan Jepson, who contributed the words.
“It’s kind of like a Sibelius tone poem, but it was very visual. It was about anxiety, it was about frustration,” Jepson says. “It was, at the same time, about seeking something better, something beautiful, something more human.”
Highlights From Xie Peng Interview
On whether his generation is freer than his parents’
“In our generation, you are free, but things have to be purchased. Freedom needs to be bought. Without money, you will have no freedom. Dignity also needs to be bought. It’s an illusion.”
On the stress that young Chinese are under
“Competition is very fierce, for example exams are a competition with a very low chance of winning. And at work, too, for example when I do a project, there are many others doing the same project, so my chance of success is very low, probably only 10 percent of the projects are successful. In different eras, we suffer from different problems, and the problem at the moment is massive stress.”
On his favorite piece of work, “Hate”
“It’s about a character walking outside. He was stabbed by a dagger thrown at him. He didn’t know where it came from, so he put the dagger in the bag which he carried slung round his chest. He was assaulted again and again, and he kept each of the knives. Eventually, when he was tripped over, he was stabbed to death by the knives inside his bag. This tells a story that during life, we meet with problems that come out of nowhere. But if you keep holding grudges and you cannot discard the hatred, eventually the hatred will kill you.”
On his next work
“This work is from my younger years. Now I’m drawing my adult anxieties. It’s not the same character. The work I’m preparing now is the story of a failed superhero, who finds himself back. I don’t know when I’ll be finished because I’m working very slowly. Since we have so much overtime, I work for 12 hours a day, and at the weekend I also have to work. So I don’t have time for drawing.”
On why he doesn’t expect to be popular in China
“There’s a common tendency among this generation to castrate their own thoughts. They automatically don’t think about negative or complicated thoughts. They’re factory farmed, like chicks in a chicken farm. After birth, their lives are regulated like that, and some boundaries can’t be crossed. As long as you don’t cross them, you will live very happily.”