Mian Mian reaches maturity with 'Panda Sex'

[China News]: Once banned from publishing in her home country, China's bad girl of literature Mian Mian is back with a novel which she says reflects her new found maturity after steering her life clear of drugs, booze and even sex. China's bad girl of literature Mian Mian is back with a novel which she says reflects her new found maturity after steering her life clear of drugs, booze and even sex. The whimsically titled "Panda Sex", which refers to characters' perilously inactive mating habits similar to those of the notoriously sex-shy bear, has also won the tacit approval of authorities. It is currently being prepared for publication in Europe. "A panda only has sex twice a year, I'm like a panda," the author of international bestseller "Candy" says with an impish smile during an interview with AFP.

The 180-page novel printed by small independent mainland publisher Qun Yan is an exegesis of the flawed nature of male and female relationships set in China's glitzy and most modern city Shanghai. With its collage of pictures and dry, script-like prose, "Panda Sex" is a radical departure from the passionate, desperate and ferocious world of wretched love affairs, fast sex, suicide and heroin abuse found in Candy. "I don't need to write another book like Candy," Mian Mian, 34, says of her first semi-autobiographical novel. "We already have it." "If I were to write it like Candy I would be dead," adds Mian Mian, who says that after her "hardcore" years in Shenzhen she cleaned up her act and despite her current part-time job as nightlife promoter finds herself staying at home more often than not. It's not just growing older that has tempered Mian Mian's rebel soul. Aside from the demands of writing -- "Panda Sex" took her four years -- her father, a famous engineer, has been diagnosed with cancer, and as such, "life has changed".

These days she also spends more time with her four-and-a-half year old daughter Prudence, a product of her brief marriage to a British man she divorced more than four years ago. Among the many unreconcilable differences, she says, the relationship was "too fast". She remains hopeful in love although there is no one in her life now and neither is she holding her breath. "I don't believe the perfect relationship in the world exists, that is why I'm single," she says. "I always want to find a prefect person, a perfect love like the kind in my book, but that is impossible." While not as visceral as "Candy", the themes of unfulfilled love, general discontent and the dyspeptic emptiness of modern life runs just as forcefully in "Panda Sex".

"Candy" may careen at high velocity with tragedy looming around each corner, but "Panda Sex" is a slow, almost meditative exploration of ideal love and its unattainable complexities. The narrative follows the relationship between two lovers and their imagined solution to the trials and tribulations of conjugal love, with a proposal to experiment with an "open" or polygamous relationship. "I think its necessary for people to go and think about an open relationship," Mian Mian explains. "It's like the future of relationships between lovers, this open relationship is how it can be done, because if a relationship is not open then there will be lies -- an open relationship is also screwed up, but lies are worse." Born Wang Shen, with a strong dose of assertive independence, Mian Mian has never been far from controversy since she dropped out of high school at Shanghai's elite Yanji School. "Once I started to write fiction at 16, I then just could not be a good student any more," she says.

She took gigs at Shanghai's most well-known jazz-and-blues venue Cotton Club and modelled naked for artists before she packed her bags and headed for China's first boomtown Shenzhen. To date, most of her stories have been set in this picaresque, lawless world full of thieves, beautiful prostitutes and weak, ineffective men. And like other modern female Chinese writers, Mian Mian's heroines also tend to suffer and survive hardship, even if it is self-inflicted. When "Candy" was first published in China nearly five years ago it caused a monumental stir, winning the hearts of a younger generation that appreciated her blunt, hard-hitting honesty. Mian Mian was one of the first writers to address China's underworld of drug addicts and social misfits. But prohibition and controversy helped to further boost her fame and today many mainland Chinese under 30 are likely to have read an illegal copy of her taboo works, although she says today's college student is more likely to have only heard of her.

Overseas Mian Mian is one of a raft of young women Chinese writers to have been snapped up by publishers. In France, the paperpack edition of "Candy" was a bestseller in 2003. There may be plenty of talk about love and sex, but true to the panda's mating habits nobody is jumping in the sack either, which is precisely the point. She acknowledges that some readers and publishers might be disappointed at a first reading of the novel, with its deliberately simple, colourless prose, in part meant to thumb its nose at China's often classical approach to literature. "I just used a very simple way to explain what are deep ideas, and why can't that be literature?" Of how people will probably approach her new novel, she says: "They will need time, time to understand what this book is because they are going to be expecting lots of sex, lust, drugs, and my complaints -- such as men are horrible, they treat me like dirt, suicide. "But I don't have this inside me anymore." (Agencies)