A fascinating collection of vignettes based on the author’s life in China during the Cultural Revolution.

Revisiting his experiences as a boy in Beijing and then as a teenager exiled to the countryside, Zou captures a side of the Cultural Revolution that is seldom talked about - the sheer tedium and waste of young life under the regime, as well as the gallows humour that accompanies such desperate situations. 

Ninth Building was longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, announced on March 14 2023.

The International Booker Prize 2023
Published by
Honford Star
Publication date

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Zou Jingzhi

Zou Jingzhi

About the Author

Zou Jingzhi is highly regarded in China as a fiction writer, poet, essayist, screenwriter and playwright.
More about Zou Jingzhi
Jeremy Tiang

Jeremy Tiang

About the Translator

Jeremy Tiang is a novelist, playwright, literary translator and former International Booker Prize judge.
More about Jeremy Tiang

Zou Jingzhi on Ninth Building

‘There’s an ancient Chinese saying, about a child who has lost their mother: ‘I dream of mother, she was like a gust of wind’. A lonely child sees his mother in a dream at night; everything returns to normal in the daylight. He thought his mother came to see him.  

‘In the early 1990s, my childhood felt like it had been a gust of wind behind the trees. I used to spend my days being lost: What should I write? Whatever I wrote was wrong. It was impossible to get rid of my childhood back then. So I just wrote like that. I wrote for myself. I wrote to let go of my childhood.’  

Read the full interview here.

Zou Jingzhi

What the judges said

‘A kaleidoscopic and understated collection of interlocking tales of life in an apartment building under the Cultural Revolution – the daily tedium of its inhabitants, lit by brief and tenuous moments of shared humanity.’

What the critics said

Kiran Gill, Open Letters Review

‘One might expect the text to dabble in the sentimental, yet Jingzhi and Taing maintain a prose style that is sparse and distant. These childhood and early adulthood memories are repackaged as a collection of dream-like vignettes that underlie the everyday tedium of life during the Cultural Revolution. Ninth Building is not a straightforward, linear novel nor is it a memoir; it sits somewhere in between.’ 

Rónán Hession, Irish Times

‘It took me a while to figure out what was missing from this series of vignettes about growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution, and then I realised: a childhood. This was an era of forced youth labour in freezing wildernesses. A time when a boy could compel a grandmother to crawl on all fours on a ping-pong table with her legs bound. This is a memoir about purging the unwanted memories of a time when simply being there meant being implicated. And yet, in this limpid translation by Jeremy Tiang, there is an observational richness to the stories that humanises them and defeats the regime’s attempt to depersonalise lived experience. A fine book that stands with other quality works about the Cultural Revolution by writers such as Yan Lianke and Zhang Xianliang.’

Reading in Translation

‘The mesmerizing power of Ninth Building comes from the mixture of the quotidian, run-of-the-mill activities humans undertake and the violent, absurd practices promoted by political propaganda during the Revolution. Described from a passive, observant, sometimes sarcastic perspective, suicide, beatings, permanently damaging diseases, fatal accidents, and pangs of loss, guilt, and regret bleed into the mundane activities of a child playing, card games, pranks, harvest, lumber, brigade duties, and composing and performing music. The sheer brutality of the political catastrophe is detailed: Red Guards and children modeling themselves after the Red Guards publicly humiliate and torture their teachers, parents, the neighborhood elderly, and those that are arbitrarily labeled as the capitalist class. Such brutality is recalled as the backdrops of the narrator’s (in both the child and adult versions) navigation of friendship, communal relationship, and comradeship.’

Ninth Building