Stick Out Your Tongue Stories

Ma Jian; Translated by Flora Drew; Afterword by the author




Trade Paperback

104 Pages


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Shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize

In this work of fiction, a Chinese writer whose marriage has fallen apart travels to Tibet. As he wanders through the countryside, he witnesses the sky burial of a Tibetan woman who died during childbirth, shares a tent with a nomad who is walking to a sacred mountain to seek forgiveness for sleeping with his daughter, meets a silversmith who has hung the wind-dried corpse of his lover on the walls of his cave, and hears the story of a young female lama who died during a Buddhist initiation rite. In the thin air of the high plateau, the divide between dream and reality becomes confused.

When Stick Out Your Tongue was published in Chinese in 1997, the government accused Ma Jian of "harming the fraternal solidarity of the national minorities," and a blanket ban was placed on his future work. With its publication in English, including a new afterword by the author that sets the book in its personal and political context, readers get a rare glimpse of Tibet through Chinese eyes—and a window on the imagination of one of China's foremost writers.


Praise for Stick Out Your Tongue

"Extraordinary . . . Ma Jian has burned through the fog of fantasy that clouds our vision of Tibet: He has shown us how poverty and political repression have deformed its once rich and vibrant culture."—Francine Prose, People

"The author describes everything, no matter how horrible, with unnerving calmness, whether it's eating congealed animal blood or almost touching the dried-out, wafer-thin body of a woman hung like a piece of parchment on the wall of a hut . . . In the afterword to this English translation—which doesn't read like a translation at all, thanks to Flora Drew—the author tells us that, back in 1985, Stick Out Your Tongue was banned by the Chinese government 'as a vulgar and obscene book that defames the image of our Tibetan compatriots.' The announcement then went on to say that 'Ma Jian fails to depict the great strides the Tibetan people have made in building a united, prosperous and civilised Socialist Tibet.' As usual, the censors got it wrong. If anything, Ma Jian reveals the harshness of all too ordinary Tibetan life and, quite simply, how 'dehumanising extreme hardship can be' . . . These powerful pages, so convincing in what appears an unflinching naturalism, are hard to shake from one's memory and remain, if nothing else, testimony to the storytelling artistry of Ma Jian."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"The people Ma Jian transfigures, the images of a Tibet where the living and the dead seem to mingle with beauty and unease, all this becomes quite a striking souvenir of our own high altitude pilgrimage through these exotic pages."—NPR's All Things Considered

"Given its history of Chinese domination, the Tibet that Ma exposes in this mesmerizing five-story collection is filled with images of loss, violence and death so disturbingly vivid as to make a reader almost thankful for the book's brevity . . . Stick Out Your Tongue is a rare glimpse into a mostly unfamiliar part of the world . . . Ma bears witness to the effects of Chinese brutalization: ‘Tibet was a land whose spiritual heart had been ripped out.'"—Terry Hong, The Bloomsbury Review

"As a whole [these stories] create an imaginative and disturbing vision of life at its most oppressive."—Rodney Welch, Freetimes

"A thinly fictionalized account of the Chinese dissident's travels in Tibet, first published in the journal People's Literature in 1987. In 1985, memoirist and novelist Ma Jian headed for Tibet, a land and culture he had long romanticized. He found a country in ruins, 'a land whose spiritual heart had been ripped out' after years of Chinese domination. Upon his return to Beijing, Ma Jian wrote the five stories collected here, and sent them off for publication without considering the repercussions. In short order, the print run of the journal was confiscated, the stories were banned and Ma Jian was forced into exile . . . The bleak settings and spare language work well together, thanks to translator Drew. Powerful, disturbing and complex."—Kirkus Reviews

"Written nearly 20 years ago, this latest offering from Ma Jian to be translated into English consists of five loosely connected stories related by an unnamed Chinese narrator who is traveling in Tibet. The opening piece, 'Woman and the Blue Sky,' describes the narrator's search to photograph a traditional Tibetan sky burial, in which the body of the deceased is offered up to vultures. In a stroke of luck, he encounters a soldier who invites him to witness the ceremonial burial of his lover, Myima. Tragically, Myima was sold off at the age of six, sexually abused by her adoptive father, married to a pair of brothers, and died as a result of hemorrhaging during childbirth. The stories of tragedy and abuse continue in 'Eight-Fanged Roach,' where an old man tells of his incestuous relationship with his mother, resulting in the birth of his daughter, Metok. Though he searches for absolution for his sins, he sleeps with his daughter just prior to her running off with a local trader, and she descends into madness. In an afterword, the author notes that his work is controversial among both Tibetans and Chinese. Given their dark and explicitly disturbing nature, these stories will not be appreciated by all readers. But those who have read Xinran's Sky Burial will recognize the irony of hardship placed upon the human spirit set against the striking beauty offered by the Tibetan landscape."—Library Journal

"Ma's five evocative stories concern a young Chinese journalist's travels to the wild plateaus of occupied Tibet in the late 1980s. In the first story, 'The Woman and the Blue Sky,' the spiritually curious journalist, whose marriage has collapsed, hopes to witness a sky burial, in which a corpse is hacked up and fed to vultures; he meets a Sichuan soldier who invites him to the imminent burial of a 17-year-old pregnant woman, the soldier's lover as well as the wife of two local brothers. Incest and sexual violence figure in some of the stories, such as 'The Eight-Fanged Roach,' in which the journalist, seeking shelter in a tent at the edge of the Changtang Plateau, hears the awful confession of a nomad obsessed with the daughter he has sired by his mother and drunkenly raped. 'The Final Initiation' is the account of a chosen Living Buddha, a 15-year-old girl whose yogic skills desert her after the monastery's sanctioned ritual rape and who dies during her last ceremony—immersion for three days in an icy river. Ma has a keen sense for both the feral and the deeply spiritual in his characters. The book was published in China in 1997; all of Ma's subsequent work has been banned there."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Ma Jian; Translated by Flora Drew; Afterword by the author

  • Ma Jian left Beijing for Hong Kong in 1987. After the hand-over of Hong Kong he moved to Germany and then London, where he now lives. His acclaimed book Red Dust won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 2002. In 2004 Chatto published his novel, The Noodle Maker.

  • Ma Jian Copyright Flora Drew
    Ma Jian