Arranging to meet Yan Lianke a few weeks ago was like walking into one of his allegorical novels, where magical accidents portend nation-changing shifts. While trying to organise our encounter, Covid-19 swept across China. Restaurants closed. Only some e-mails to Yan arrived, while others couldn’t be sent at all. Was this government censorship of a well-known and politically sensitive writer, or electric pulses straying on the frenzied internet? Neither of us could tell. Eventually we agreed to meet in his local park to discuss just how we might do our Lunch with the FT.

His home is close to Renmin University in Beijing, where he sometimes teaches a creative-writing class. He has lived there for eight years; but in the park, every few turns the 61-year-old exclaims, “Oh. We’re here,” as if the paths were shifting under our feet.

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