Writers from China's diaspora Pregnant with her second child, novelist Liu Hong is feeling off-colour. Nonetheless, she suggests we talk on central London's picturesque - if windy - Primrose Hill, which is near where she and her husband, cathedral expert Jon Cannon, are staying. Her thick hair afloat in the wind, Liu Hong - she prefers using her full name - chatters with an impish gleam in her eye, hedging her age as somewhere in her 30s. She then mock-neurotically fingers her face for crow's feet before coming clean and saying, 'Thirty-eight! And I'm proud if it.' Liu Hong seems to be what the British would call 'a laugh'. But the author, who grew up near the Korean border in Manchuria, is sensitive about the way the citizens of her adopted country see China. Stereotypes needle Liu Hong. Her debut novel, Startling Moon, which views the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a child, was an attempt to challenge the view that all Chinese feel oppressed. But the assumption persists. Detractors ask Liu Hong, who holds a University of London master's degree in social anthropology, whether Chinese women 'still wrap their tiny feet'. 'I just find that really ignorant,' she says, condemning the western take on China as simplistic. Suffering is not unique to the Chinese, she says, asking why commentators insist on portraying the nation in purely political terms. 'I find that really hard. I want to think of China just as a country of people.' Given that she emigrated to Britain in the wake of Tiananmen, her distaste for viewing China politically may seem peculiar. Her latest novel, The Magpie Bridge (Headline Review), is an old-fashioned ghost story about a student, Jiao Mei, whose dead grandmother appears in her London bedroom to break some news. 'Jiaojiao, wake up. I need to talk to you,' whispers the ghost, which is described as being 'dressed in a long creamy silk robe, glistening with golden threads, which looked heavy on her fragile frame. It was odd, the contrast between her authoritative voice and her ethereal body: she had the furtive look of someone on the run ...' Liu Hong says she doesn't swallow the idea of the conventional ghost - a departed spirit that returns because of unfinished business. All the same, she says: 'On a spiritual level, I believe that we probably leave something behind ... I still have an open mind.' And a sharp one. She says she's one of the only British-based Anglo-Chinese who writes in English. She may well be right. From agony aunt Xinran Xue to the metaphysical poet Yang Lian, all write in Chinese. Liu Hong is one of only a few authors who write in English as a second language. London's Independent newspaper praised Startling Moon as 'fascinating and very sympathetically presented'. BBC Radio 4 literary programme Open Book described it as 'absolutely extraordinary'. Liu Hong says she writes in English because it makes her feel 'more liberated' than using Chinese. 'I am almost a different person in English,' she says. 'I say things in English I would never dare to say in Chinese.' What kind of things? Liu Hong, who was raised strictly by an engineer father and teacher mother, laughs. 'Like rude words.' Not that The Magpie Bridge is exactly awash with obscenities or salaciousness a la Shanghai Baby. The reprimand, 'You naughty girl', is about as strong as it gets. Such sobriety could, perhaps, be construed as archetypal Chinese. Not that Liu Hong would probably agree. Like almost all British-based diaspora writers, she deprecates the idea of a Chinese perspective. 'I think individuals are more important than nationality and culture,' she says. Even so, she has a definite sense of being Chinese. The craggy European island she inhabits is not entirely her home country. 'I wasn't born here ... There is something special about being born in a country.' Then again, England feels more and more like home - and is preferable to China for one major reason. 'People here leave me alone,' she says. 'In China, people are really curious. You have to fit in. You have to be part of the bigger network.' She says she finds the traditional Chinese emphasis on family claustrophobic, and prefers the English lifestyle of mixing with friends. Liu Hong appears to have adapted to Britain as well or better than many other diaspora writers, despite her impatience with those determined to depict her mother country as locked in the Dark Ages.