'This article examines how the ancient tradition of biji notebook writing has been applied and appropriated in the 21st century by authors working in the English language. It traces the journey the biji, a traditional Chinese written form with origins in the third century, has taken and examines how it has been transformed in its contemporary use. Through a critical reading of three such biji collections – Douglas Coupland’s Survivor, a creative non-fiction hybrid that appeared in an anthology of new takes on old forms titled Vikings, Monks, Philosophers, Whores: Old Forms, Unearthed; Owen Kelly’s Sexton Blake & the Virtual Culture of Rosario: A Biji, a fractured academic essay; and Ouyang Yu’s On the Smell of an Oily Rag: Speaking English, thinking Chinese and living Australian, which he defines as biji feixaoshuo or ‘pen-notes non-fiction’ – the evolution of the biji form beyond China will be traced and examined.
While there is distant tradition of biji for these contemporary authors to draw upon, there remain historical, cultural, and/or linguistic barriers between that tradition and their current practice. In this sense, they are pioneers, working to re-establish those characteristics in a radically different written world.' (Author's abstract)