Selected Works: 2021 Nanjing International Writers' Residency Program

Selected Works: 2021 Nanjing International Writers' Residency Program

On October 31, 2019, Nanjing was designated UNESCO City of Literature. In accordance with the mission of UNESCO, Nanjing, as the only UNESCO City of Literature in China, embraces cultural diversity and urban inclusiveness, values mutual aid and mutual learning between different countries. Writers’ exchange and residency is a common practice promoted throughout the sub-network of Creative Cities of Literature. Since Nanjing’s designation, and even before that, Nanjing has played an active role in hosting international writers through its annual residency program.

Due to the pandemic outbreak in 2020, Nanjing City of Literature has introduced the Virtual Residency as an alternative. As the pandemic virus continues to spread in 2021, Nanjing Literature Centre has opened calls for Nanjing International Writers Residency Programme 2021, and has received 30 applications from 11 cities of literature worldwide. Finally, 6 writers have been selected as writers-in-residence. During the one month residency, they had virtually experienced Nanjing’s cultural history, literary achievements, masters and masterpieces, cultural landmarks and cultural spaces through the Residency Package, which consisted of videos and introductions to Nanjing; and “face-to-face” meetings with local writers and citizens.

At the end of this year’s residency, all 6 writers that participated in the 2021 Nanjing International Writers’ Residency Program submitted their original literary works completed during the residency. Here we post some selected works, may our readers enjoy.

Izabella Kaluta

Kraków, Poland

Izabella Kaluta, cultural manager, traveler and writer, fascinated by China, its complex and vast tradition. Former Vice President of the Polish Nobel Prize Winner Olga Tokarczuk Foundation, co-founder of the Polish Book Institute, where she had been working for more than 15 years, promoting Polish literature abroad. Currently she has been devoted to her own writing and academic teaching. She teaches Cultural Diplomacy at the Jagiellonian University – one of the oldest European Universities, at the same time is working on travel essays and her own novel.

Eating Together Brings Us Closer

If things were normal, on finding out I’d been accepted for a residency at the Nanjing City of Literature, I’d scream with joy, call a friend, and rush to check the weather forecast. A whole month in a city I’ve never been to! Later, I’d grab my bag and think about what to pack. I love travelling to China. There’s so much going on and I’m always learning something new. I don’t understand everything perfectly, but hey, who cares.

It takes several hours to travel to the Middle Kingdom from my hometown, Kraków – an old university town in Central Europe, also bearing the honourable title of UNESCO City of Literature. For me, this was usually a period of transition, a time to prepare for the array of different colours, tastes, smells, traditions and behaviour. Instead of strong coffee and sweet pastries, youtiao and soymilk. Instead of hugs and kisses, restrained bows. Instead of eye contact, nods conveying equal acceptance and recognition. 

After arriving in Nanjing, I’d run straight to the place described as the main tourist attraction, either Laomendong or Fuzimiao, and later – to the bookshop. As a child, I was often sick. Books allowed me to travel to faraway places, and it kind of stayed that way. Maybe that’s why I always go to local libraries and bookshops when I travel – it’s as if I’m paying off a debt. Thanks to this habit, I found out that books look different in different countries, and it’s not just about the difference in language. I really like Chinese books – they’re sophisticated and modest, quietly promising soothing time imaginatively spent on acquiring knowledge. I’d probably like to get to Librairie Avant-Garde, which I’ve heard is one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, but won’t that be too far? As the day slowly turned into evening, the city would shimmer with colours and fill with the scent of dishes served at dinner.

I’d check what I could eat and what I should try while in Nanjing. I’d learn that restaurants and bars along the Qinhuai and Qingxi rivers, near the Confucius temple, reportedly serve more than 200 different dishes, a kind of dim sum. For example: “Eggs boiled with five spices and tea leaves, spiced beans and Yuhua tea, sliced bean curd cooked with dry shrimp, crab-shell-yellow baked cakes, bean curd slices with sesame oil and baked duck-oil cakes; jellied bean curd and onion-and-oil cake; steamed bun stuffed with assorted vegetables, noodles with sliced chicken meat; beef soup and baked dumpling stuffed with beef; thin-wrapper dumplings, noodles with fried​​ fish in red soup; small stuffed rice balls with acanthus flowers and five-colour rice balls and cakes…”

What would I feel like eating? I wouldn’t be able to try it all at once, but the small stuffed rice balls with acanthus flowers and sliced bean curd cooked with dry shrimp sound good. I can almost feel the sweetish taste of dry shrimp on my palate. I can even see myself trying to recreate that flavour in my kitchen when I get home.

Alas, right now things aren’t normal. It’s the second year of the global pandemic. We keep saying that this isn’t the first plague in history, and even the longest ones lasted no more than three years. I’ve already had all the jabs, but I’ve not been able to go back to travelling regularly. For the first time since 2007, I’ve not been to China for two years. That’s a long time. Way too long.

My remote residency is all the more difficult since I was planning to explore the food culture of Nanjing or the entire Jiangsu region. For years, I’ve been collecting culinary books. My collection has long exceeded 200 copies. I am a foodie and a homegrown chef. I cook a lot, but I almost prefer reading about food – for me, imagining the dishes has a soothing effect, gives me a sense of security, satisfies the need for trying something new, and sometimes even evokes memories. I’ve long been fascinated by the fact that flavours can transport us to places where we were the happiest or the time of our youth and childhood. “Proust’s Madeleine” might as well be dumplings! The ones I made in my grandmother’s kitchen as a little girl tasted different from xiaolongbao, but preparing them for the whole family required the same amount of time and attention.

Professor Yu Bin, the author of “A Taste of Nanjing,” with whom I can speak courtesy of the Nanjing Literature Centre, asks me where I had my first xiaolongbao, making sure I know the taste. Fortunately, that was in Shanghai, so the dumplings probably tasted similar to those prepared in Nanjing. The professor suggests that while in Nanjing I should also try lion’s head meatballs – Nanjing’s traditional comfort food, one that is often missed and remembered.

I want to write about food, so I switch to Chinese flavours. I cook zhou. Oh well. If I cannot go anywhere, I’ll try doing what I did as a child. I will read. While we are grounded, words, writing, and literature allow us to visit places that we cannot actually reach. I’ll go online, watch “A Bite of China” and “Once Upon a Bite”, listen to sentimental songs by Zhou Xuan, Wu Yinying and other pre-war Shidaiqu singers from Shanghai and cook. In the books I have on hand, I look for information about how Nanjing’s cuisine differs from cooking in other parts of China. As I read in Phaidon’s emerald compendium “China. The Cookbook”, its characteristic features are clean, delicate taste and dishes featuring fresh fish and seafood. It is considered one of Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese cuisine, or the Su cuisine, consisting of the culinary styles of Yangzhou, Nanjing, Suzhou, and Xuhai.

I reach for other books on Chinese cuisine from my collection. One of the oldest is “Traditions and Culinary Art of China” from 1995, written by Poland’s former Ambassador to China, Ksawery Burski. I had the pleasure of meeting the Ambassador during one of my first trips to Beijing. He joked that what interested him most in China was food and as a diplomat he could eat at all the best restaurants. Following an engagement, he’d always find a minute to talk to the chef, and often caused confusion by going into the kitchen. Burski begins the chapter on Jiangsu cuisine with the word “heavenly.” “There, juggling flavours, the chef is able to prepare dozens of dishes from an ordinary pumpkin or bitter melon.” Will I ever be able to see for myself? 

Further research leads me to recipes for other Nanjing delicacies: pressed duck, hairy crab, fried mud eels, and duck blood soup. These dishes put both the European stomach and sensitivity to the test. Hypnotized, I watched the roast rabbit and duck heads arranged in rows in Chinese shops. I’m not a vegetarian, although I try not to eat meat. Still, I cannot imagine the pleasure in sucking out rabbit eyes; I don’t think I even want to try.

I wonder what Chinese cuisine will look like when a new generation will insist on the ethical treatment of non-human beings. European experience shows that this is inevitable. I’d like to find dishes that I could cook for my vegan friends. Currently, in Europe, one in five people are vegetarian or vegan. Although Chinese cuisine features plenty of tofu and vegetables, vegetarians and vegans in China still face some difficulties. Vegetables are often an ingredient in meat dishes or are prepared with the addition of meat, fish or shrimp that add umami flavour to the dishes. Frequently, soup prepared with bone broth is served as a vegetarian dish. Although the traditions of meatless Buddhist cuisine date back many centuries, reportedly just four per cent of people in China don’t eat meat. Still, a few per cent of a billion and a half is a lot of people! I think of all the great tofu recipes – a skilled chef can change its structure beyond recognition. I also think about places that serve amazing vegetarian cuisine – for example, the Beijing restaurant King’s Joy, which recently received its third Michelin star. Someone recommends I go to the Da Shu Wu Jie restaurant on Zhongshan Road in the Xinjiekou district of Nanjing – I diligently write down this address.

Professor Huang Hong, whom I also met through the Nanjing Literature Centre, comes to my aid. “Vegetarians can always look for food in Buddhist temples,” she points out. “For religious reasons, it will definitely be vegan. In Nanjing, you have to visit the Jiming Temple, which is famous for its vegetarian dishes prepared in the Buddhist tradition.” Since my list of future indulgences includes trips to Nanking teahouses, I have one more reason to go to the Jiming Temple – it is next door to Tai Cheng Shu Fang, a tearoom with books or a stylish tea studio. There are books by Nanjing writers and books about tea, so it will be the perfect place to try Yuhua tea – one of the ten best Chinese teas that is not available in Poland but popular in Nanjing.

Both Professor Huang Hong and Professor Yu Bin would be great guides to the Nanking culinary and literary scene. Professor Huang is the translator of Marguerite Duras and professor Yu Bin is an expert on Eileen Chang. We agree to meet again, one day, in Nanjing. After a delightful and certainly too brief conversation, Professor Huang sends me a recipe for New Year’s salad, which consists exclusively of briefly fried vegetables with the addition of sesame oil. “Su Shi Jin is a traditional dish from Nanjing that is always served at the Spring Festival party,” professor Huang explains.

“According to local traditions, the authentic Nanjing Assorted Vegetables needs 16 or 19 different kinds of vegetables. As you may have already known that “6” implies your dreams will come true, while “9” means “long-lasting (fortune)”, and “1” simply means “I will achieve/have”. 

Serving this salad is said to bring good luck. In Chinese culture, its most popular ingredients – mun mushrooms, bean sprouts, Chinese spinach, celery, lily rhizomes, lotus root, shepherd’s purse or jìcài – all have subtle meanings related to the fulfilment of wishes and prosperity.

A month of cooking Chinese food makes the entire house, and not just my kitchen, smell of ginger, garlic, fermented beans, and soy sauce. My woks are covered in a beautiful patina and the cleaver likely needs sharpening. I am endlessly cleaning the stove covered with splashes of oil. I realise that Nanjing dishes have a more balanced flavour than Sichuan food I enjoyed cooking the most until recently. My residence in Nanjing is slowly coming to an end. In the morning paper, I read that flights from China are suspended due to several new cases of Covid and I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to travel to Nanjing. But I’m almost glad I’m at home – I don’t have to worry about the visa ending, rush to the airport, or pack. Tonight, as always when I return from China, my friends come over for dinner. Eating together brings us closer. I’ll tell them all about my new discoveries, make some Chinese snacks, and the New Year’s salad from Professor Huang’s recipe.

Kraków, 28th November 2021

Alessandra Bautze

Iowa City, U.S.A.

Alessandra Bautze holds an M.F.A. in Screenwriting from The University of Texas at Austin, as well as a B.A. in The Writing Seminars and Film & Media Studies from The Johns Hopkins University. She is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Screenwriting at The University of Iowa.


I am honored to have had the opportunity to be among the six writers chosen to participate in this year’s Nanjing International Writers’ Residency. It was a thrill to be able to learn about the rich literary heritage of Nanjing and how Nanjing society continues that storied tradition today. The one-on-one discussions I had with Yiming Yu and Shiming Song were the highlights of the residency for me. For example, Mr. Song and I discussed the differences between the Chinese and American television-writing systems, comparing how issues of authorship and creative control are handled. In speaking with Mr. Yu, a teacher at Nanjing Foreign Language School, I learned of our mutual respect for Raymond Carver. As educators, we also shared our common concerns about the many social and emotional pressures placed on students today. My discussion with Mr. Yu, as well as my virtual visits to various Nanjing landmarks (particularly the Jinling Library), served as the inspiration for the following short story I have composed. I was tasked with writing a story based on my knowledge of Nanjing. My knowledge of Nanjing is naturally limited, as even with the best virtual tours it is impossible to get a sense of a place unless you have walked its streets yourself. As such, this was a challenging task. Yet this residency has been all about fostering connections—across time zones, across languages, and across disciplines. Thus, I thought of the theme of connection, of our innate human desire to connect with others, especially during challenging times, and tapped into that idea for this piece.

Yīnuò at Jinling Library

The Reading Festival at Nanjing Foreign Language School was just one day away, and Zhou Yīnuò wanted to be ready. Yīnuò knew that Mrs. Zhāngjié would be coordinating the event and so she wanted to make a good impression. After all, she had gotten excellent grades her first year of middle school and wanted to finish strong. It was never too early to start thinking about her future and she hoped that Mrs. Zhāngjié would write her an excellent recommendation letter for an American university. Hopefully Stanford. Or maybe UC Berkeley. At least, that’s what Yīnuò told her mother; in reality, it was because Mrs. Zhāngjié always had time for her, not like her own mother, who always seemed to be off somewhere doing who-knows-what.

It was Sunday. Yīnuò was home for the weekend. In her pink and purple bedroom, decorated the same way it had been since elementary school, she stared at the clock, watching the minutes tick away. A feeling of dread sunk into her with every passing moment. She couldn’t focus. She padded into the kitchen on sock feet, passing the packs of instant noodles that had been left for her on a kitchen table crowded with unpaid bills, grabbed her bookbag, slipped on her shoes, and left her apartment, if you could even call it that. She was rarely here, ever since she became a boarding student at NFLS at the start of the year.

She headed in the direction of Jinling Library. There she knew she would find everything she needed. She walked along a path lined with cherry blossom trees, passing mothers with their children, hands clasped tight together. When she saw the magnificent glass building that was Jinling Library—every time she saw it—she always quickened her pace, as if the building would fade away if she didn’t reach it as quickly as possible.

Yīnuò settled into her usual corner at Jinling Library to finish her project. For the Reading Festival, each student had to present a book report on a foreign language short story or novel and distribute handmade bookmarks to classmates. Putting the finishing touches on her handmade bookmarks (which she had made in the shape of cassette tapes), she saw them: the blind boy and his mother.

She had seen them before. The blind boy would always have his hand on his mother’s elbow and his mother would lead him, one step ahead, to the Audio Library for the Visually Impaired. Surrounded by soundproof glass walls, the mother would sit with the blind boy while he read, headphones on, as if soaking in the silence surrounding her. Mother and child—separated by a seemingly insurmountable barrier, like the City Wall, each brick inscribed with the name of a laborer, those chiseled characters his only legacy.

With her own mother, she often felt the same way—like there was a wall around the woman who was supposed to be her protector. As a child, she had always asked her mother to read her a story. But her mother always said the same thing: “I’m tired. Let’s go to bed. We can always read tomorrow.” At least this mother, the mother of the blind child, took him to read in the way he could. But she never read with him, only sat beside him in silence.

Yīnuò turned back to her project and began reviewing the first paragraph of her chosen story:

“This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night. His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wife’s relatives in Connecticut. He called my wife from his in-law’s. Arrangements were made. He would come by train, a five-hour trip, and my wife would meet him at the station. She hadn’t seen him since she worked for him one summer in Seattle ten years ago. But she and the blind man had kept in touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth. I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.”

She had chosen Raymond Carver because Mrs. Zhāngjié had called him “the greatest American writer of his generation.” Mrs. Zhāngjié liked to wax poetic about American literature and was fond of hyperbole, so many of Yīnuò’s classmates smirked behind the teacher’s back when she said this, but not Yīnuò; she had found the story fascinating. She had read it in English, carefully marking the words that she didn’t know. There were words she really didn’t know, like spiffy or scarfed, and then there were words that she knew she knew but that didn’t seem to make any sense when put together, like seeing-eye dog or military-industrial. After she had highlighted any unfamiliar English words in the story, she then read it in its Mandarin translation before returning to the original version of the story and reading it again. In the darkness of her dorm room, long after her roommates had fallen asleep, she had whispered the words and had felt herself being pulled into the story until the very end. “It’s really something,” she found herself saying—and with that, she had felt a heaviness overcome her eyelids, a heaviness that she could not ignore. The next day she had chosen “Cathedral” for her Reading Festival project. Mrs. Zhāngjié had smiled at her and then had noted the title carefully in her logbook.

It was Mrs. Zhāngjié’s smile and careful penmanship that had convinced Yīnuò that she had made the right decision, and she was remembering the way her teacher’s eyes lit up--when the sound of a door opening caught her attention. The blind boy, led by his mother as always, was leaving the Audio Library for the Visually Impaired. She wanted to catch up with them, to introduce herself to the blind boy, to ask him if he had ever thought about getting a seeing-eye dog. But she did nothing of the sort. Instead, she gathered her bookmarks and left Jinling Library, not speaking to anyone.

Back at NFLS, her roommates had not yet arrived back to the dorm; it was still the weekend, after all, and unlike her, they had mothers who actually took the time to cook for them on Sundays: red bean soup with sweet rice balls, marinated bean curd, steamed buns with crab roe in a family-sized bamboo steamer.

Alone in the room she usually shared with two other girls, she pulled out her headphones, voice recording software, and the Mandarin copy of Cathedral. She flipped to the titular story and began to record herself reading it. From her window, she could see Xuanwu Lake and Purple Mountain. They were so commonplace to her that she never stopped to think about them much. Their glory was so ubiquitous as to be invisible. Now, she found herself wondering if the blind boy’s mother ever took him to hike up Purple Mountain or stop for a red bean bun at one of the tea houses along Xuanwu Lake. She didn’t know how long she sat at her desk, shrouded in the half-darkness, her voice echoing the translator’s. It didn’t matter. She needed to do this. When she was done, she burned the MP3 to two blank CDs and slipped them into her bookbag. Then she pulled out cardstock and some puffy paint she had stolen from the art teacher’s classroom.

The sound of a key in the door made her jump. One of her roommates stood in the doorframe.

“What are you doing?” the roommate said, her tone accusing.

“Nothing.” Yīnuò shoved the cardstock and puffy paint aside. She watched as her roommate flopped onto her bed.

“I’m stuffed,” the roommate said. “If I see a sweet rice ball ever again, it’ll be too soon. I might throw up.”

The next day, the Nanjing Foreign Language School was abuzz with excitement for the Reading Festival. There were high-school students and middle school students too. English was by far the most represented language, with over 300 students participating, but the other languages—French, German, and Japanese—had about 30 students each. As Yīnuò walked through the gymnasium crowded with students, she glanced at the titles of others’ chosen books:

L'Étranger by Albert Camus, Der Tod in Venedig by Thomas Mann, コンビニ人間 by Sayaka Murata. The Stranger. Death in Venice. Convenience Store Woman.

She traded bookmarks with Li Bao, who had done her project on Convenience Store Woman. Bao had made photocopies of the book cover: yellow, with a pink ID badge of a woman with a blank face. This must be the convenience store woman. Written on her ID badge were the words Years of service: 18.

Where would Yīnuò be in 18 years? She would be 30 years old. Hopefully with a career and family in California. With a child who she would read to, and not just say, “Tomorrow,” like her mother always had.

As Yīnuò wandered through the Reading Festival, still thinking about her mother and the convenience store woman and others who had worked too much and ignored every other good thing in their lives, she spotted Mrs. Zhāngjié.

Mrs. Zhāngjié—with her hair secured with a beautiful comb, as it was every day—was surrounded by students, who were listening to her intently. They nodded, some excitedly, and then dispersed. Bao was among them. Yīnuò touched her arm lightly to get her attention. Bao was so startled she almost dropped her yellow and pink bookmarks.

“What’s going on? What did Mrs. Zhāngjié say?” asked Yīnuò.

“Didn’t you hear? She’s retiring.”

“What?” Not waiting for an answer, she speed-walked towards where Mrs. Zhāngjié had been, but she was nowhere to be found. How could this be? And how could she not tell Yīnuò first? After all, they had a special connection.

Through furious tears, Yīnuò bolted, not bothering to sign out, not letting anyone know where she was going. She knew there would be consequences later—she hadn’t even given her speech on Raymond Carver and his cathedral and his blind man—but she didn’t care. She never slept at home on a school night, but she couldn’t bear the idea of seeing Mrs. Zhāngjié with the other students, acting like her retirement was something to be celebrated.

She took the train across the city to Jinling Library. She burst through the doors and then quieted her footsteps as she entered the sacred space. She made her way to the glass-walled room that was the Audio Library for the Visually Impaired. There was no sign of the blind boy or his mother. No one was there at all. So she waited, curled in her usual corner, watching the sun set over the Qinhuai River. Nanjing’s mother river, many people called it. How could Nanjing—or its river—have a mother, while her mother was always gone? At least her mother let her do what she wanted. Not like the blind boy’s mother, who watched his every move like he was part of Tennessee Williams’s glass menagerie, like part of him could break at any moment if you brushed against him the wrong way.

Neither the blind boy nor his mother showed up. So when the security guard told her the library was closed and it was time to leave, she gestured for him to wait just one moment. She took the CD and left it on the table of the Audio Library for the Visually Impaired. She pulled out a note, too. Carefully, in puffy paint on heavy cardstock, making the characters as massive as she could: she had written:


She thought maybe the blind boy would come by himself and would feel the strokes of the characters under his fingers. Maybe he would listen to her voice alone, without his mother over his shoulder. Just maybe.

As she left the library and made her way back to her mother’s apartment, the city looked different—darker, somehow.

She found her mother at the kitchen table. Her mother had her head on her arms but raised her head and turned to her when she entered. The front door always creaked.

“What are you doing here? Does your dorm mother know you’re here?”

“Yes.” That was a lie, of course. She didn’t care to answer the first question. So with an outstretched hand, she offered her mom the CD. “I made you something.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a story. I thought you could listen to it tonight. That we could listen to it together.”

“I’m tired. Let’s go to bed. We can always read tomorrow.” With that, Yīnuò’s mother left the table. Yīnuò was left staring at the CD, at how she had labelled it in black Sharpie:

Cathedral. 大教堂。

In her childhood bedroom, with the CD in her aging stereo, Yīnuò felt herself falling asleep to the sound of her own voice echoing Raymond Carver’s. “It’s really something,” she whispered. And yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that something had been lost in translation.

Şafak Sarıçiçek

Heidelberg, Germany

Born in Istanbul in 1992, Şafak studied Biological Sciences in Heidelberg and Law in Heidelberg as well as in Copenhagen. He works for the Law Faculty in Heidelberg and also founder of the Literary Collective Echolot. He has published numerous publications aside from his published books in anthologies and literary magazines.



Dr. Hassan, much famed Sinologist from Germany fell asleep on a literary work about a Ming emperors and empresses’ mausoleum in the city of Nanjing. Books lie open everywhere: Tao Te King, Goethes West-Östlicher Diwan, the famous Kurdish saga of Mem u Zin (an allegory of ideal love), a research paper on the Ming dynasties wall and its construction, dissertations on the Six dynasties and seemingly randomly open books, for example Dostoyevskis Double and papers on absurdist theater, Kafkas chapter on Naturtheater in 'America' etc.

The scenery is dreamlike, blurry lights.

Place: The Singularity Library of Nanjing city.

Hassan, Children, Parents, Librarian

Child runs after his sibling, both giggling. Accidentally pushing Hassan awake.

Parents: Excuse us Mister, Zhu! Liyang ! Come here.

They smile at Hassan while hurrying after the two energetic children. Hassan slowly waking up. All the while the scenery remains blurry and dreamlike (with the help of a dim light, ambiguous sounds etc.)

Hassan, cleaning his eyes and slowly focussing on the novel again: (...) The cherry trees were everywhere. Waves of pink in ancient whispers: There walked the empress Ma, there she stood.

Librarian: Your cherry juice!

Hassan confused:

An ethereal voice: Imagine and focus on the image. Sounds, fragrances, a place you feel at home. Maybe by the lake? Maybe in another time?


Botanists, Architects, Head Botanist, Head Architect, Zhu, Liyang, Hassan

Head Botanist: Zhu! Liyang! Here!

Zhu: I bring you a cherry tree most wondersome. A colour the like you have never seen. A taste, worthy only of a true connoisseur.

Liyang: The provinces finest, the provinces cherry best.

Cherry Competition Judge (reveals himself as Hassan): I can't, I shan't make up my mind.

An ethereal voice: Take a deep breath, relax, let go of abstraction, feel the image.

Zhu: Our family are partisans of masonry, we led the design of all six dynasties architecture.

Liyang: Head Architect, I plead thee. We'll design thee a wall, it will honour the dynasty of Ming and all around the world it will be known as that monument impossible to conquer.

Head Architect (with Hassans face): But where is the librarian ?

(General confusion, running around, talking, without listening to the other, stage gets prepared for next scene)


An immense gate, plastered roads leading up to a masterfully designed mausoleum.

Plum trees. A lake. Families walking along the road chatting. Dr. Hassan walking along the plastered road as well, in deep conversation with ancient poets, and such of modern times. People of past and present, of his home town in Mesopotamia, of his faculty in that small German university town join the procession, all walk to the mausoleum.

Change of scenery.

Suddenly Dr. Hassan walks alone along the circular paths of a modern library of Nanjing. Abstract art hangs on the wall. He opens and closes his eyes. Lights are blurry still and dreamlike. He reaches a door, opens it and finds himself in another library. Books, books surrounding him: A cross hangs on the wall ın front of him. On the walls shadows recitate poetry of East and West, Ferdousi, Hafez, Wei Zhuang calling the ghosts of the six dynasties, Hölderlin calling for the unification of East and West.

Then a light that grows blinding.


Oriental Museum, Hassan, Shadow Puppets

A large spotlight serves as a sun. From a grand window, the light disperses into the 'Hall of Sunshine' in the Oriental Metropolitan Museum of Nanjing.

From the window Dr. Hassan looks at the hall, where lights are slowly drawing the contours of traditional Shadow Puppets until the puppets can be seen very clearly)

Hassan: But these look familiar...

He wrinkles his face but looks curiously at the shadow theatre play.

Shadow Puppet Sheng, quoting Lao Tzu, slowly and loudly: Big things of the world can only be achieved by attending to their small beginnings.

Three shadow puppets run by, giggling: Excuse us Mister!

Hassan: But... I have seen this before.

One shadow puppet walks away.

Two remaining and looking at Hassan first, inquiringly.

Then they look at each other, just as inquiringly:

Shadow puppet one: I am a trope. Elderly Male Ran. Pleased.

Shadow puppet one: Trope as well. Sheng, a young man.

My pleasure. Both. Turning to Hassan abruptely: We petition to the dreamer. We do.

Sheng: Light write us ! Sight us.

Ran: Write us in the light!

Both: Unite us. Trope us swell. Farewell!

The light in the room fades.

Hassan walks down the aisle. The light is focused on him.

He comes to a door, which opens up to new floors, theatrical spotlights move around the rooms, showing various exhibitions of the different dynasties, antique pieces and in a final room an exhibition on traditional shadow puppetry. Hassan sits in front of the stage at the theatre box. For some time nothing happens.

Then the parents of scene 1, the giggling children, Zhu and Liyang, young man Sheng and elderly male Ran as well as finally a doppelgaenger of Hassan and his wife Awesta appear on the stage one after the other. Smiling and waving hands at Hassan in the theatre box. But it is absolutely quiet and the waving people make no sound as they pass along the stage.

Spotlights begin swirling around.

The room disappears.

Light again.


Hassan, Hypnotist, Hassans wife Dr. Awesta

Inside the Hypnotherapists Office

Hypnotist: And, now, if you feel ready...

Hypnotist: And now you may slowly leave that favourite place of yours when i say the word I mentioned at the sessions beginning

He mumbles a word.

Hassan wakes up out of the Hypnotic stage.

Hypnotist: Welcome back. Now take some minutes to adapt to your regular surroundings again. I'll leave you be.

Hassan nods and thanks the Hypnotist.

After the session and the handling of its formalities, he leaves the building for the cafe in Heidelberg, where he and his wife, Dr. Awesta, had agreed to meet after today’s session.

Outside the Cafe in Heidelberg.

Awesta: So, how was today ? Could you connect the dots a bit more ?

Hassan begins to smile without answering yet. Sipping his tea.

Awesta: I know you're reading and reading the monographies and essays all the time. But it had been so long, since you had actually visited the mausoleum over there, in Nanjing. So many years... At least that is what you nag about. I really do hope the plan with the hypnotist helped at least a litte. Well you do smile.

Hassan smiles again: Yes, today was... Quite insightful. I think that my mausoleum chapter will advance... He pauses and sips from his tea again.

Hassan: ... If I can go back there again.

Awesta: Well we both know that you did promise your editor the newest Nanjing novel by the beginning of next year. So yes, you should travel back there like this. But do so soon...

She sips from her tea as well

Awesta:..Because, just to be clear, I won't lecture for the two of us at the academy much longer than that. We both know that too.

Hassan, mysteriously: Now we almost sound like that odd pair of Zhu and Liyang. Awesta frowns: Zhu and Liyang ?

Both continue their half serious, half silly debate.

Hassan looks dreamily, with his head only half in Heidelberg, all the while strolling the empress Mas cherry fields. Awesta looks focused and has a very down to earth attitude about her, a character trait that is often told of empress Ma.

Azal Narmon

Bagdad, Iraq

Azal Narmon is an active associate in the Iraqi Writers Union and prolific writer in a wide range of innovative writing; short story, poetry, graphic novel and art critic. He is very much a writer-researcher and knows how to maximize the resources available to him and has the capacity for the discipline and precision required for the programme.

Nanjing the Society, or Nanjing the City of Literature

no show but

no arena but

no metamorphosis but

no theater but

no language but

no joint but

no art but

no horizon but

no style but

no definition but

no literature but

no metamorphosis but

no displacements but

no body but

no construction but

no appearance but

no function but

no pragmatics but

no craft but

no tradition but

no history but

no consumption but

no social but

no bareness but

no invisible but

no material but

no skin but

no model but

no identity but

no gender but

no seduction but

no object but

no media but

no public but

no opportunities but

no formation but

no City

but, nothing is what it seems.

A rain dance is a ritual that attempts to create the conditions necessary for good harvest, but does not itself produce the harvest.

-No translation is available

These sequences of photographs were taken by a tourist wearing his thought. The camera that took the second image is visible in the first one. Photographs of a city taken by the tourist, who couldn’t visit it

A city has more than 2,500 years present in history.

A city had served as China’s capital throughout ten dynasties

A city has been named by many names since its creation

A city of historical records list more than forty names,








I heard the sunshine singing in the wilderness,

The bell rings at ten o’clock with the cheers one after another

All take place at set times

It It It It It It It

It It It It It It It

It It It It It It It

It It It It It It It

It It It The City

Subject: Nanjing the Society, or Nanjing the City of Literature

It happened that I was there virtually

but it is here

It happened that I crossed with the cross

but the light is there

It happened that I walked miles and miles seeking Tao

but the horizon is there

It happened that I rode the wind

but the horse is there

It happened that I was aiming for literature

but the sun is there

It happened that I was longing for freedom

but the ocean is there

It happened that I was aspiring for something else than grey and green

but the spectrum is there

It happened that I thought of angel and snake

but Heaven is there

It happened that I was there

but my delightful memories of it are here

Call it Heaven; how heaven is she!

– Why does the tourist write about a city he didn’t visit?

Imagine a world without roads leading to the city that was born out of the confluence of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers?

7,000 to 8,000 years ago, the Neolithic Age was marked by relics of pottery and tools made of stones and animal bones

3,000 years ago, rudimentary villages appeared in the Qinhuai River Valley, and based on these villages, the prototype of Nanjing city began

In 438 AD, China’s first “literature Academy” was born

In 509 AD, China’s first book for children had enlightened the future since then

– You Who set ‘A Dream in Red Mansionsone’

Imagine you hadn’t walked Nanjing Eye Pedestrian Bridge neither encountered Dr Sun Yat Sen Statue, nor you could witness the breath-taking scenery and experience the Confucius Temple

Imagine you won’t admit to the Archways through South Gate, nor you contemplate the Massacre memorial entry statue

Imagine the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum doesn’t exist, the magnificent mausoleum of Zhu Yuanzhang (1328–1398), begins with a 618 m’ spirit path’, lined with stone statues of lions, camels, elephants and horses that drive away evil spirits and guard the tomb

Imagine you didn’t ramble this scenic area on Zijin Mountain, where a tree-lined pathway winds around pavilions and picnic grounds and ends at scenic Zixia Lake, nor ascending the breathless 392 steps of an enormous stone stairway to reach the astonishing sight, Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum at the top

Imagine you visit Presidential Palace for two hours and have no time to experience the Qinhuai River & Fuzimiao Confucius Temple

Imagine you have the opportunity to join the locals, practising ballroom dancing while saxophonists, clarinet players and other musicians in the peaceful but maudlin Wuchaomen Park

Imagine you missed hike to a sacred site on Qixia Mountain and the following the path to the majestic Purple Mountain embracing many ancient historical sites are preserved, a number of famous cultural relics are dotted near its foot

Imagine you get lost in Linggu Temple and can’t reach the South Gate of City Wall

Imagine you reached Yuejiang at the top of the Lion Mountain and could not circuit the whopping and enjoyable 9.5km jaunt in Xuanwu Lake and be hosted by the five interconnected isles that scattered with bonsai gardens, camphor and cherry-blossom trees, temples and bamboo groves

Imagine you lying on the lower stretches of the Yangzi River, explore a rich and impressive historical heritage, cultured and relaxed in a university town’s atmosphere, sensitise your senses with wide, tree-lined boulevards and excellent museums, fine your vision in a fine landscape of lakes, forested parks and rivers, get lost in the countless wutong trees, shade gloriously on sunny days and lend yourself with a very leafy complexion

Who could ever imagine that a univer-city hosts more than 1000 libraries, 24-hour self-service libraries, subway libraries and libraries for the blind and migrant workers?

How to ensure equal access to reading citywide without countless literary salons, readings, book clubs, book launches, literature-themed lectures and other events that take place in the city’s hundreds of bookshops?

It is not about the infinite beauty, charm of an ancient city that has a progressive feel, where one can enjoy both the sunrise and sunset over the in a fine landscape of lakes, forested parks and rivers.

It is not about Jiankang was the largest city in the world with more than one million people. It was also considered the center of world’s civilization, equal to Rome.

It is not about Librairie Avant-Garde, the city’s largest independent bookstore, has been described as the most beautiful in the world by international media agencies BBC, CNN and National Geographic.

– Call it a city in its ideal; how rich is she!

2021 late November ‘To be’

How early to be?

Today November the 30th ‘I had’

14:00 Nanjing

09:00 Baghdad

06:00 Greenwich

Xuanlan Forum, Nanjing Library

Modernist condition

Traditional ambience

Through innovative integration

Rooted exclusively

Rational considerations

Amenity value

Aesthetic experience

The ceilings of the rooms

Look good

Feel good

A different one in each room

You are no longer in a library

You might be in a movie

They are thought out in every detail

Aesthetically and in terms of amenity value

A red rose in the toilet

A saying above your bed

A weather check at the stairs

Theatrical ambience

Ocean of knowledge

Sky of experiences

80,000 square meters

10 million titles

Staff and readers both play a role,

Turn the stay in such a place into an event

Feel good

Blue sky

No decision has yet been made

I had a desire; I have an urge



Imagine topping your gastronomic delights with the top ten things while you wonder about the four top food streets,

Shiziqiao (狮子桥),

Confucius Temple (夫子庙),

Sanpailou (三牌楼)

Mingwalang (明瓦廊)

The range of menu options will satisfy your appetite and you will have the opportunity to experience all the wonderful flavours of Nanjing

1. Jinling Roast Duck (金陵盐水鸭), tender and juicy meat on the inside, with a crispy exterior

2. Tangbao (汤包)

3. Duck blood soup (鸭血粉丝汤)

4. Dumplings in red-bean soup (赤豆元宵) 5. Zhuang Yuan Dou (状元豆)

6. Fried Bean Curd in Chicken Soup (回⻧干) 7. Rice Cake (糕团)

8. Tofu jelly (豆腐脑)

9. Hairy crab (固城大闸蟹)

10. Pan-fried beef dumpling (牛肉锅贴)

– Call it the confluence of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers; how authentic is she!

She had a dream in which she strode through a large forest, shedding stuff until she was naked.

Suddenly she heard a rustling sound behind her and she turned to look back; from a great height, people were gazing down on her and applauding

Let’s face it, the main aim of spectacle is to get the public excited, so they are clapping and applauding

The theatrical bit is an attempt to make it different from all those spectacles

Imagine to experience

a wave of transition to revive original downtown

carve meaning of life once spring breeze comes

energies boost on every corner of the city

convert former lives of a bomb shelter and government parking lot into a Heaven for book lovers, “Here in Librairie Avant-Garde, reading is our religion and this place is the heaven for readers,” says Qian Xiaohua

The news is changing; the market is changing,

No today is ever the same

Everyone that’s involved in our programme needs to know what’s happening

You get the option in a minute

The people appear in our show, watch our show

Hello, welcome to our programme

– You shouldn’t miss out on all of that while travelling!

It is not about a city that served as the capital of five subsequent dynasties, Eastern Jin (317-420), Southern Song (420-479), Southern Qi (479-502), Southern Liang (502-557) and Southern Chen (557-589)

It is not about Jingling Scripture Engraving and Nanjing Paper Cutting have been designated as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, nor Nanjing’s designation as UNESCO Creative City of Literature

It is not about the infinite urban regeneration initiatives; it revived the urban structures and historical landscape to create spaces for literature, art and culture.

It is not about the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) between the Chinese and the British during the Opium War when the British troops invaded Nanjing

It is not about a city that was central in the revolution led by Dr Sat Yun Sen, which led to the downfall of Chinas last emperor and the Qing Dynasty in 1911

It is not about the year 1937 when the Japanese invaded Nanjing and, in a bloody battle, took control of the city and committed a Massacre

As much as the city has seen some great times in China’s history, it has also seen some of the worse. Nanjing was at the heart of all those changes. The most important masterpiece of the Chinese Kunqu opera Blossom Fan was created and performed in Nanjing. It is the birthplace of the Yongle Encyclopaedia, the largest paper-based encyclopaedia in the world. “Our Nanjing often appears at the turning point of the history. It’s a glittering city. The relationship between Nanjing and literature is natural. Many great writers such as Wang Xizhi, Li Bai and Cao Xueqin all have a complex connection with our city and left their tails of literature.” Says Bi Feiyu

If you have already reworded yourself with a unique experience, elevated to the 89 stories high, the Zifeng Tower viewing all of the city from high up above,

Took a leisurely stroll around Xuanwu Lake, an adventurous hike at Purple Mountain,

Entered the Míng Xiàolíng Tomb, experiencing a large copse of plum trees bursts into floral fragrance

Swam in Xuanwu Lake, lived a peaceful world-away, feel and a delightful array of statues dotted around its leafy hills,

And you are still eager to discover more hidden gems and authentic experiences in Nanjing? Travelling with a local expert opens up so many more possibilities than trying to figure it out for yourself

– What else did I miss?

It is not about the past nor the future, neither the old stories nor future visions that coexist in a global city

It is Nanjing, the city that has inherited relationship with literature, the literary blood over 1800 years flowing in her body. She was, now she is, and she will be in the future

– Why do I write what I wrote?

I envy people who have never visited Nanjing; they can still discover, taste, and experience all those things that I had the great pleasure to explore!

People use to collect beautiful things; is there a need to say how lucky am I to explore the ocean of knowledge that let you let you swim, the sky of experiences that let you fly, home for souls, the city of literature

– Imagine I was on the verge of an ancient and modern vibrant world

“I love those who yearn for the impossible.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

As soon as the winged wind landed him into another distention, the recent journey that settled in his memory has perfumed the new place; after all, he lay on the sofa to relive the journey that the tourist took

Stand out

Wonder about

What are they?

Are they players? or actors?

an individual identity

Across the City

Urban scene

Stand between

Large economic




Political forces

Shape the City

They are individual

Like us

made of


The city

Literature’s role

Digital era

Urban life

The combination

The reality

We cannot experience a cultural product if we don’t understand the forces that affect its practice

Ishrat Shaheen

Lahore, Pakistan

Ishrat Shaheen is a project manager, writer, actor, and a producer associated with Bradford Literature Festival. Her writing piece won the competition in Uk“ Sampad Arts “ project titled “My City my home” and will be published in the UK.

Aroma of love in the digital window: (City as a Human being)

I met first time Nanjing with the introduction by this writing residency in the digital window by moving images, still images, sounds, words but surely it’s a love at first sight. I try to approach her through speakers who hold my hand and put me in time machine to go through the ups and downs, purples and gold, love and affair within their words. There are a lot of images in my mind that helps me imagine many places in the world of imagination and it’s like folklore of memory of places. The Plum flower mountain with its growing seasonal character and change of colors and conditions are the attributes of this human being to have layers of purity, affection, sensitivity and love. Rivers are the fluid character of this human, soft edge, welcoming habits and one of the known names on the screen of my mind is No Sorrow Lake. It gives me insight to the city of happiness and it’s like when human being go through an intense conditions of love and ultimately connected with their self with immense grounded feeling. It almost finds the happiness inside and balanced energies and connected with nature and self-exploration never let her alone. I find it an almost silent human being with going through a lot of time expressions but still have that vulnerability of tradition, expression and traces of timeline at the cover of Nanjing.

I feel it with growing age from childhood to adulthood and all experiences of my time machine driver help me out to feel the connections of spaces. I feel my childhood school time trips at Plum Flower mountain and being a child the connectivity with tree wisdom, to explore the layers of silence, to go through the lucid pure reflective light and feel the sounds of many living creatures to pull me out to my comfort zone and try to find the rhythm and meaning of constant situation of deep silence in to the layers of sound. Many flowers were fall on the pathways, on green grass and this connects me to the process of growth. I visited the pathways of school to home that steep pathways in grey weather and many buildings, trees that changed the space with time. Later on I landed in the auditorium where I was watching a performance of Kunqu Opera. There were two actors on the stage with different live musician who were playing different instruments with movement of characters along with some dialogues. Nanjing involves me with the rhythm, movement and appearance. Yes the audience was mesmerized and I explored another color successfully.

There was another window open at me when I was exploring Lao Dong Men. It was expression to see the young Nanjing when she used to be naturally beautiful without meeting migrators from different cities. It excites me to eat Plum cake with coffee, Plum cake is a traditional desert represents the sweetness and friendliness of Nanjing and expresses its historical background.

It was a connection of Lover and beloved and exploration was a series of connectivity and travel towards deep connection. Festivity is an utmost happiness with the people who are real painters of Nanjing and Nanjing help them to grow as a human. In this directly prepositional relationship I found the festivity of connection in spring festival to express the celebration. Yes it was Nanjing Qinhuai festival; different landmark sites complement the contradiction of darkness with beautiful designed lights to define me the changing character of city with people.

I love the transitional spaces in some traditional buildings that give me impression to connect the intricacy of inside and outside. The Verandah, open windows, skylights tells us the connection of wide space that has more depth like a human being and illuminates the different layers. Same as human has different layers and transitional common spaces in their relationships and open the windows to their close ones where they can share their inside feeling and emotions.

The art is the inner self of any human being .I saw the Ronghua (Velvet Flower) from Tong dynasty is the delicate art to transform floral displays but also animal shapes made by silk on twisted wire frames. I met Zhao Shuxian, he is like a makeup artist, is striving to keep the ancient Chinese art making alive and help to groom Nanjing beautiful with traditional makeover. He started his career as a Ronghua Artist at a factory when was just 19 years old.

Incense is an aromatic material that is burned to release the fragrance it holds. It’s made up of different materials that helps produce a fantastic fragrant. At the beginning, incense was used by Chinese cultures for religious purposes. It helps to create an atmosphere of peace and relaxation. Every City has a different kind of aroma but Nanjing has specialty of its own customs to use fragrance for emotional expression.

I found her so intellectual and full of expression while I was visiting the libraries and book stores. The intellect was with full of festivity and based on interaction with citizens. This intellect makes any human more interesting and makes it curious enough to explore it. When city has this ability it never makes the people to get bored and always make curious to dig and touch the deep tunnels inside.

Now I am sitting on the boat of relationship in the river of love that evokes me to sit in silence and live every moment of this relationship with the flow of water. Lights around me thinking me out to relate the colors of emotion and there were a lot of characters in the form of statues to relate with folklore characters that I found alongside the canal at my boat tour.

This Lover story is a real with Nanjing every bit of I explored it I fall in love and yes it long term bond with the love aroma and intellect, I found friend and beloved at one place. Every good book and beautiful art has this quality, when we read it again and again and it gives us wisdom, element of surprise curiosity and every time new understanding about situations. I found Nnanjing has emotion, expression, wisdom, soft heartens and colorful with a combo of modernity and tradition. I will keep exploring you and send love letters to the city of fragrance and love.

Ally Zlatar

Edinburgh, UK

Winner of Princess Diana's "Legacy Award" 2021, Ally Zlatar is an artist, writer who is exploring curating and art-making as a methodology that suggests the human condition is more complex than it is currently understood.

Nanjing: A Firefly Ally Zlatar

Upon reflection the city of Nanjing embodies elements of the natural world Nanjing has the resilience of bamboo

The patient strength of water

And can be an emblem of modest rapture of the cherry blossom

Out of all the metaphors I can fathom, I would suggest that Nanjing at its core evokes the spirit of a firefly

The firefly has slender wings and can thrive in the twilight hours

The firefly reminds us of how nature can create such complex beauty and can form one of many uniquely mighty and mysterious beings

It is perhaps one of the oddest creatures, it is a soft bodied beetle that emits a warm yellow glow

Nanjing is a small firefly that provides a flicker of light into our understanding of existence through the sincere devotion to the past and powerful literary spaces

The city walls and cultural hubs are the soul and foundation of the people and have over the centuries helped us

gracefully divulge into our own evanescence through the brevity of the arts and provenance of heritage that create tiny moments of satori

A firefly can shine light on the ocean of information, can fly through the stormy skies of knowledge and enlighten us on beauty that scholars cannot even unravel

We are like frogs, in the twilight hours, who gaze at the firefly’s twinkle with bewilderment and wonder This light gives us hope and guides us in our darkest hours

Fireflies are embodied in the city walls and landmarks which preserve the memories of past lives and shelter the bodies and the souls of the present

The city has a sincere authenticity which allows us to confront difficulties and examine our own poignant lives

The flickers of Nanjing’s light expound devotion to the past, embracing the present and offers us a breadth to be discovered

Nanjing is a little glimmer of hope that provides sanctuary in literary spaces that allow us to allocate a few brief moments in which to behold and try to make sense of our own existence in an always largely unfathomable 13.8-billion-year-old universe

If you have the pleasure of visiting this city, it evokes the whispers of a firefly

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