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A gigantic talent (2)

By Chitralekha Basu and Zhao Ruixue (China Daily)

10:40, May 09, 2012

Even as the excitement over You Are on the Highland refuses to subside, Zhang has quietly produced a series for young readers, which he supposedly "wrote on the side". Based on his memories of growing up in the ambrosial Jiaodong Peninsula in coastal Shandong province, On the Halihaqi Peninsula, published earlier this year, is a five-volume book about the adventures of a teenage hero, discovering the thrills of unmediated communion with nature.

When we ask Zhang about the secret of his energy, he attributes it to his roots. "I was born in the coastal area at Qixia, Longkou city of Shandong, which is surrounded by mountains. I have the gift of stamina. Once I start something, I will see it to the end."

We catch up with him at the plush office of the Shandong Writers' Association, which he heads, in the provincial capital Jinan, between back-to-back meetings. He manages to squeeze out an hour and a half for us - a rare privilege, given Zhang prefers to be left to himself, even when he is not writing.

"My inspiration comes from traveling and being alone, thinking," says Zhang who, religiously, reads at least 50,000 words a day. "Previously I would read a lot of European, Russian and American authors in Chinese translation but now it's mostly Chinese classics, especially works by Lu Xun and the ancient poets, such as Qu Yuan, Li Bai, Du Fu and Su Dongpo."

He speaks in a soft but distinct voice, getting lost in his own thoughts from time to time. There is a faraway look in his eyes that seems to travel far beyond the Chinese water color paintings and the heavy mahogany furniture that lends the conference room we are sitting in a thoroughly business-like ambience - a world apart from the almost prelapsarian landscapes that often figure in his work.

"My parents and I moved to live in an isolated place near a forest when I was a boy," he tells us. "The forests and the sea were what I saw most of during my childhood. I began traveling in Jiaodong Peninsula at 16. The sea is my most precious memory and remains a perennial inspiration."

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