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How Old Dan Became a Tree

by Yang Zhengguang

Six challenging, surreal stories from rural China.

“Set off after suppertime,” the old lady ordered. At the moment they were about to leave, she added: “Kill Old Eyes.”

In this boundary-breaking collection of short stories, Yang Zhengguang, the dark horse of contemporary Chinese literature, unflinchingly dissects the passions and sexual mores of the past. By his own admission, he aims to “unsettle” the reader with black humour and filmic vividness, enticing them into a world where vendettas, humiliation, grave-robbing and murder are an integral part of everyday life in a rural Chinese province untethered from reality.

These stories, available in English for the first time, include the inspiration for the 2001 film How Harry Became a Tree, for which Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic relocated the action to 1920s Ireland; and for which Colm Meaney, starring alongside Cillian Murphy, won an Irish Film & Television Award for Best Actor. Now, this intriguing volume is set to introduce Yang Zhengguang’s unique view of 20th-century China to a whole new global audience.

This book is part of Shaanxi Stories, a series of translated works by acclaimed authors from the Shaanxi province of China, produced by Valley Press in collaboration with Northwest University, Xi’an. The series editors are Hu Zongfeng and Robin Gilbank.


Yang Zhengguang was born in Qian County, Shaanxi, in 1957. After graduating from Shandong University in 1982 with a degree in Chinese literature, he moved to the city of Tianjin to be part of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body promoting multi-party cooperation. Four years later, he moved to a small village in northern Shaanxi to write poetry.

He then became a successful scriptwriter, most notably adapting the classic Chinese epic The Outlaws of the Marsh to great acclaim. Yang also founded and served as CEO of the Chang’an Film & Television Production Company, and became chairman of the Shenzhen Association of Literature and Art.

A collection of his short stories, How Old Dan Became a Tree, was published by Valley Press in January 2018.


Edition: First

Date Published: 2018-01-04

ISBN: 9781908853967

Catalogue Number: VP0113

Number of Pages: 256

Cover design by Jamie McGarry

Cover photograph by The Tenth Dragon

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