Reading Works from East Asia

By Jenny Hor

When my friend expressed her disdain towards reading Hemmingway’s works in prose-writing workshops and classes, I agreed with her viewpoint. No matter how many Creative Writing classes I have attended, Hemmingway and other Caucasian authors would always serve as the sole prose-writing examples. With this blog, my purpose is not to dissuade anyone from reading works of white Anglophone writers but to encourage learning writing techniques beyond the Eurocentric literary canons.

Works from Asian writers tend to get overlooked by the West, especially when they have themes and narrative structures that do not conform to Western conventions. To me, they are equally valuable as a form of knowledge for readers and writers to learn about perspectives outside of their own worldviews.

Whether it is in the original language or translated, here are a few recommendations.

Lu Xun

Going by his pen name Lu Xun, Zhou Shuren was an early 20th century Chinese writer and literary critic. He is known as the Father of modern Chinese literature and one of the prominent figures in the ‘May-Fourth’ Movement, a socio-political revolution in China (Guo, 2019). Many of his works criticise the feudal society and the negative aspects of Chinese culture, with influences from Marxist political theory (Guo, 2019; Murthy, 2016).

The first Lu Xun short story I read is Kong Yiji, which was a part of the reading list for the Chinese Literature module during my high school years. Through this short fiction, Lu Xun aimed to criticise the imperial examination system, which caused many failed scholars to fall into poverty. The titular character is a scholar who could not support himself financially after failing the examination many times. Through the first-person peripheral point-of-view, Kong Yiji is presented as a sympathetic and tragic character. This story became a model for one of my unpublished short stories, Crazy Boon, in terms of the narrative perspective and its purpose as a social critique.

Sukegawa Durian

Although there are few sources on Sukegawa Durian’s writing career, I still want to put him into this list for his novel Sweet Bean Paste. This underrated writer deserves to be a part of this list for his meticulous description of the emotional journey in his work.

The novel’s central theme on human’s relationship with food moved me. Readers follow the journey of Sentaro, an ex-convict, forming a friendship with the elderly Touke, who is suffering from a medical condition called Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Their tender relationship transcends their society’s prejudiced view on people with incurable illnesses. Another highlight of this novel is the sweet bean paste, which connects Hajime and Touke. Food in Asian culture conveys a symbolic meaning of close relationships. This moving novel inspired me to write my debut short story Laksa Uncle.

I am grateful towards the English translator Alison Watts, who introduced this beautiful prose to the world. In an interview, Watts recalled her experience with the author to understand his creative process. Sukegawa’s life experience as an underdog pushes him to write the voices of the marginalised people in Japan, especially the Hansen’s disease patients who are still discriminated against in Japanese society.

I also recommend watching the 2015 film starring Nagase Masatoshi and the late Kiki Kirin. Remember to prepare a box of tissues before viewing the film. 

Murakami Haruki

Some might think Murakami is overrated, but reading his work from a writer’s perspective allows me to explore a different form of narrative. Japanese Literature expert Strecher (2017) categorises his works as a form of ‘empty narrative’ that creates open-endings and invites participation in the narrative through reading. Many of his stories, such as Kafka on the Shore and A Wild Sheep Chase, juxtapose ‘the fantastic’ and ‘the mundane’.

My first Murakami work was South of the Border, West of the Sun, thanks to a friend’s recommendation. It is the story of Hajime, a successful jazz club owner. Despite his fame, he feels constantly empty and is haunted by the memories of his first crush and first love. Hajime’s uncertainty and unsettlement in his life reflects Murakami’s vision on ‘the mundane’, or normal people in everyday life. When his first crush, Shimamoto, visits him in his club unexpectedly, Hajime’s life comes to a turning point. Shimamoto’s apparition-like appearance adds an element of ‘the fantastic’, or magical realism, into the novel.

Most Murakami’s works in the international market are translated. I wish I could understand the novels’ raw, unfiltered narration.

Guo Xiaolu

Guo Xiaolu’s (internationally known as Xiaolu Guo) writing brings in a fresh perspective on the West through the eyes of a migrant. I learned of her name from one of the Creative Writing MA modules. She tackles the transnational identity and cross-cultural experiences in Western countries from an Asian lens. Although she had published several works in Mandarin, Guo decided to write in English, her second language, due to censorship in her country (Guo, X. 2018).

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers narrates the story of Z, a student from Mainland China who takes a one-year English course in London. In the beginning, she struggles with the language and feels frustrated at the various communication barriers. Throughout the story, readers can see how the language shifts from broken English to a more complex, poetic language. Guo captures the experience of a foreigner living in a land 12-hours away from home, and I relate to many of Z’s struggles.

Currently, I am reading A Lover’s Discourse which revolves around an Anthropology PhD student from China. The novel’s theme is isolation, which most international students can relate to when they are just fresh off the boat.

Reading stories from all around the world is like eating a balanced diet. A diverse knowledge and wisdom allow writers to be more introspective in their writing.

We would love to hear about your favourite Asian author and how their writings inspire you. Let us know in the comments below!


For Asian names placement, the surname comes in front of their given names. 


Guo, Y. (2019) “A General Analysis of Lu Xun’s Short Stories,” Sino-US English Teaching, 16(8), pp.321-328. Available at: (Accessed 6 May 2023)

Iwabuchi, D. (2022) ‘The Saga of Sweet Bean paste: A conversation with Alison Watts’ SCBWI Japan Translation Group. Available at: (Accessed: 6 May 2023).

Murthy, V. (2016) “Reading Lu Xun’s Early Essays in Relation to Marxism,” The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures. Edited by Rojas, C. and Bachner, A. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 683–701.

Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination(2018)(2018)(2018) ‘Xiaolu Guo: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman (December 12, 2018) | Mercredis de l’Institut  Available at: (Accessed: 7 May 2023).

Strecher, M.C. (2018) “The celebrity of Haruki Murakami and the ‘empty’ narrative: A new model for the age of global literature,” Celebrity Studies, 9(2), pp. 255–263. Available at:


Hailing from Malaysia, Jenny Hor is currently studying MA in Creative Writing at the University of Surrey. Her works reflect on her knowledge, observations, and reflections, especially when it comes to society’s flaws and human experiences. ‘Laksa Uncle’ marked her debut as a published writer in Asian Anthology: New Writings Vol. 1. She also runs the travel blog Jenny’s Binoculars, trying her best to update it as frequently as possible. 

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