The Atlantic

Desiring the Unattainable in Shanghai

Te-Ping Chen discusses the gift of imagining alternative realities in a society divided by class.
Source: Lucas Foglia / The Atlantic

Editor’s Note: Read Te-Ping Chen’s new short story “Shanghai Murmur.”

“Shanghai Murmur” is taken from Te-Ping Chen’s forthcoming debut collection of stories, Land of Big Numbers (available on February 2). To mark the story’s publication in The Atlantic, Chen and Oliver Munday, a senior art director of the magazine, discussed the story over email. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.


Oliver Munday: “Shanghai Murmur” opens with a morbid scene: Xiaolei, the protagonist, considers the death of an upstairs neighbor in her apartment complex. In your process of writing the story, did the narrative always proceed from this point?

Not exactly. Often in my short stories I begin with an impulse—a stray image or idea—and feel wonderfully unburdened when I start. Only after I’ve written my way through the piece does it become clear where the story is heading. In this case, I’d written several hundred words

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