In the past few months, we’ve brought you news about Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs being translated into Chinese. It may seem like a minor miracle that these authors’ works have been allowed to go on sale in this notoriously censorious country, yet it is even more unusual that Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-fueled escapades have been published for the Chinese market, too.
In September of this year, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was finally released in Mainland China. On Christmas Day, I was exploring a bookshop in downtown Hefei, in Eastern China, when I saw the new display. Apparently, not only is Dr. Thompson’s Gonzo classic on sale, it is being quite heavily promoted. Hopefully it will reach a generation of young Chinese readers who are desperately in need of tales of excess and adventure.
One might wonder just how this famously depraved tale was permitted to go on sale in China – seemingly one of the most restrictive countries on earth, where “having fun” is probably listed on the books as illegal. The reason may be that foreign literature has for a long time been largely ignored by those in charge of policing public morals. Whether in the original English or translated into Chinese, foreign texts deemed as “classic” tend to bypass the censors. I have copies of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” complete with cock and balls and ass fucking…. as well as Kerouac’s On the Road in its scroll version.
On the other hand, I’ve had my copy of Ginsberg’s Indian Journals seized by the government due to mentioning the Dalai Lama. It seems sex and drugs are permissible when set in an entirely foreign context, but politics (at least as relating to P.R. China) is still not allowed to be discussed.