Few writers lived a life like Xiao Jun (1907-1988) in tumultuous China in the past century. From the war with Japan to the Cultural Revolution, and from Chairman Mao Zedong to ill-fated novelist Xiao Hong, Xiao Jun had first-person experiences of them all. And he recorded it all in voluminous diaries. Now, for the first time, those diaries have been published in their entirety, documenting the inner world of a renowned writer living through decades of war and revolution. Danny Xiao, editor of the diaries, tells Oliver Chou about the value of his grandfather's private notes. What prompted you to publish the diaries? As his eldest grandson, I was very close to grandfather during my first 22 years. We in the family knew he had kept a large set of diaries. With his sons and daughters - my uncles and aunts - getting old, we put our heads together to sort out handwritten notes of some two million Chinese characters and put them into print. We believe this is a genuine account by an eyewitness who personally encountered major personalities and events of 20th-century China. This is different from a memoir which is written years after the fact, and is subject to hearsay or distorted impressions. These diaries contain the day-to-day accounts as things happened. What were the challenges of publishing the diaries? The copyright belongs to the entire family, and it was not easy to reach a consensus at first. Some, especially those who still lived in China, were concerned the contents could cause trouble. But once we agreed to go ahead, the project unified the family. It was very moving to see my elderly relatives working day and night over the tiny words the old man left behind. But the biggest hurdle was an emotional one: we made public something that was not meant to be. Grandfather intended to burn his notes. "My diaries are for no one, not even my wife," he testified during the Cultural Revolution when the diaries were seized and exposed. With a heavy heart, I put the printed copies on my grandfather's tomb and begged for his understanding. At that moment came a breeze that rattled the pine trees, causing a chorus of leaves. I took that as his consent. What is the response so far? The response to the two volumes of Yanan Diaries 1940-1945 exceeded our expectations and Oxford University Press had to roll extra editions shortly after the first print run. I think the success lies in the many famous political characters mentioned in the diaries, including Mao Zedong, Zhu De, Zhang Wentian, Peng Zhen, etc. His numerous late-night conversations with Mao were especially valuable. What about the latest and ? Those two volumes conclude the project. The Northeast Diaries 1946-1950 offers the untold story of how grandfather's life went from heaven to hell. He left Yanan for northeast China, his home place, as a celebrity. There he was invited to give speeches as chairman of Lu Xun Academy of Arts. All of a sudden his stardom nosedived when the party launched a public criticism against him, a practice to be repeated nationwide for decades ahead. How do the diaries portray Xiao Jun as a literary figure? Well, you can read the lines as prose. True, there are quite a few poems there but I can't be sure whether they had been published before. The contemporary to a league of legendary writers such as Lao She, Guo Moruo, Ai Qing (father of artist Ai Weiwei), Ding Ling, etc, grandfather had very sharp observations about his literary colleagues. He wrote in 1939 that Lao She's wish to be a kind-hearted man would only render him a tragic figure. That turned out to be true in 1966 when Lao killed himself after suffering abuse by the Red Guards. He and grandfather had been beaten up together the night before. As they were escorted away, they passed by each other and grandfather saw there was blood in Lao's mouth. He knew that was the end of the great writer. What about woman writer Xiao Hong? You know Ann Hui On-wah's movie about her, The Golden Era , will be screened on October 1. When Xiao Hong died in Hong Kong in 1942, she was not yet 31. So her six years with grandfather before they broke up in 1938 were really her best years. The numerous references in the diaries about her, including poems, reflect that special relationship. Xiao Hong was never a taboo in my family. Grandfather often mentioned her and answered reporters' queries about her. He even edited her works and in his old age went all the way to Harbin for her posthumous 70th birthday in 1981. What will the young generation get from these old diaries? I hope these records will serve as a reference for young people to appreciate what actually happened. However unimaginable it might be, the things that happened were not really far away from us. There are official versions of the recent past. Now there is a genuine version which previously was for the writer's eyes only.