I loved Alan Ginsberg’s Howl. When I was reading Ginsberg’s poems in English some years ago, I thought it was so interesting to think that what is going on in China now was going on in America 40 years ago. I thought: if I replace the word “America” in America with “China,” the poem would still work. I did a cover version myself when I had a band; it was called Sabotage Sister — three boys and me. I did a reading of the “China” version of Howl in different European clubs, and it worked. The poem is a big part of I Am China. In a way it’s a novel dedicated to Alan Ginsberg.
This discovery [of Jian's father's identity] resolves the plot, but is less important than Guo's picture of the dislocation that afflicts all the characters as they struggle through atomised lives, where the relative freedoms of exile are counted against cultural nostalgia and loss of certainty as once-cherished meaning is stripped away.
In an authoritarian state, is all art necessarily political? And if so, what is the artist's responsibility? How far should he or she push? How does an individual operate in a society that values collectivism above all? And is this intersection of art and politics worth the turmoil, chaos, and pain that it causes to those you love?
By the end, having seen the human story behind present political oppression, she resolves not to live "a trivial life".
Jian believes art should agitate for a freer society and argues: “Ideology is a slaughterhouse.” Mu, who’s tired of protest, wonders: “Where is the place for life?”