Running Through Beijing by Xu Zechen

Running Through Beijing by Xu Zechen

“The novel captures the taste and tension of Beijing better than any I’ve ever read.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

Americans mostly know Chinese literature as political literature—think Mo Yan, the Cultural Revolution, dissidents, and censorship—but there’s a whole other world of punk lit chronicling the harsh realities faced by the millions living in China’s mega-cities.

Meet Dunhuahg: just out of prison for selling fake IDs, he has barely enough money for a meal. He also has no place to stay, no friends to call on, and no prospects for earning more yuan. When he happens to meet a pretty woman selling pirated DVDs on the road, he falls into both an unexpected romance and a new business venture. But when her on-and-off boyfriend steps back into the picture, Dunhuahg is forced to make some tough decisions.

In Running Through Beijing, leading young Chinese author Xu Zechen draws on his actual experiences and real-life friends to guide us through an underworld of constant thievery, hard-core porn, cops (both real and impostors), prison, bribery, crazy landladies, rampant drinking, and the smothering, bone-dry dust storms that blanket one of the world’s largest cities in thick layers of grime. Like a literary Run Lola Run, it follows a hustling hero rushing at breakneck speed to stay just one step ahead of a world constantly fighting to drag him down. Full of action, surprises, heartfelt sentiment, and well-drawn, authentic citizens from the People’s Republic, Running Through Beijing is a masterful performance from a writer who knows underground China inside and out.

Running through Beijing is clean and fast, deeply felt and very smart: a profoundly engaging story about a certain kind of honor, and a certain kind of thief, and a life that feels hidden in plain sight.”
— Roy Kesey, author of Pacazo and Any Deadly Thing

Read our DVD playlist for Running through Beijing

Praise for Running Through Beijing:

“In this gritty, touching tale of love and urban survival, Xu Zechen has captured with colloquial grace the frenetic pace of a Beijing heartbeat where dust storms, crackdowns, pirated DVD porn, and double lives are the norm, along with the traditional values of loyalty, friendship, sex, and drinking. Eric Abrahamsen’s translation sparkles like a crystal bobblehead, masterfully conveying the unbearable lightness of being a young, broke delinquent Beijinger with spirited humor and verve.”

— Jeffrey Yang, author of An Aquarium and Vanishing-Line

“As the construction sites and desertification in surrounding areas raise dust storms in Beijing, the capital is covered in a haze of moral uncertainty. This is the setting of the story of Dunhuang, seller of fake IDs and pirated DVDs, but not all is unclear: there’s the clarity of Xu’s realistic treatment of life for the outcastes of China’s development, and of Abrahamsen’s exacting translation into English.”

— Lucas Klein, translator of Notes on the Mosquito




“A window onto Beijing’s seamy, crime-ridden underbelly . . . a vibrant story by one of China’s rising young writers. I’d check it out if I were you.” — Book Riot

“Uplifting, thrilling. . . . The novel itself, with its sharp, detailed prose and vivid storytelling, creates an exhilaration, a giddy hope in the reader . . .” — Numéro Cinq

“This novel’s style is sparse and direct, representing a divergence from traditional Chinese literature” — National Endowment for the Arts

“This is a fine novel. . . . It is likely to be enjoyed.” — Asian Review of Books

Xu Zechen is the author of the novels Midnight’s Door, Night Train, and Heaven on Earth. He was selected by People’s Literature as one of the “Future 20″ best Chinese writers under 41. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, he lives in Beijing.

Eric Abrahamsen is the recipient of translation grants from PEN and the NEA and has written for The New York Times, among others. In 2012 Penguin published his translation of The Civil Servant’s Notebook by Wang Xiaofang. He lives in Beijing where he hosts the acclaimed website on Chinese literature Paper Republic.