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Arguably one of China's most international writers, Hong Ying published her third novel based on her life, The Little Girl, at the end of last year, after 1997's Daughter of the River and its 2009 sequel Good Children of the Flowers.
Resembling American writer Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, The Little Girl is a collection of 57 short stories about a little girl growing up in her rundown neighborhood on the southern bank of the Yangtze River in the 1960s and 1970s.
"The Little Girl is a supplement to Daughter of the River and Good Children of the Flowers," the 50-year-old writer says. "It tells the warm episodes of my childhood, which are absent in the previous two books."
Born to a sailor's family in Chongqing, Hong Ying is the sixth child in her family of eight. Her mother worked as a bricklayer to support the family, as her father was too ill to work.
"Little Six" endured great poverty and hunger and, worse still, felt she didn't belong to the family. Her mother was strangely indifferent and her siblings treated her like an outsider. A history teacher awakened her emerging womanhood.
During the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), she saw people arrested at school for writing big-character posters or being written into them.
"As a lonely girl, I was fascinated by the fact that you could draw people's attention just by writing a few words," she remembers. So she began to write, putting down her thoughts secretly in a notebook.
She finally discovered the truth of her birth on her 18th birthday - she was in fact the illegitimate daughter of a lover her mother took when her father was in prison. The history teacher committed suicide because of the persecution he suffered during the "cultural revolution" at almost the same time.
Determined to free herself from the past, she left home alone, swearing never to return. It was then that she changed her name from Chen Hongying (meaning "red hero") to Hong Ying (meaning "image of the rainbow") - inspired by lines from the ancient Chinese Book of Songs:
There is a rainbow in the east