The English Class


ISBN: 978-0-9805717-8-3 Format: Trade paperback 400pp Rights: All rights: Transit Lounge Release / Publication Date: 01 /09 /2010

This project has been assisted by the Australian government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.


‘an utterly authentic story which deepens our understanding of both Chinese and Australian culture, an epic journey across languages and cultures, recounted with all Ouyang Yu’s compelling honesty and passion.’ Alex Miller

‘The English Class gives us a vividly remembered China that has changed beyond recognition and a protagonist whose life is equally full of twists and turns. But more than that it’s a book of language, creatively used, explored, challenged. How do we make sense of things, how do we live, how do we express ourselves, in this unruly, unreliable, irrepressible medium? Ouyang Yu asks those questions like no one else, and the experience is surprising, exhilarating and moving.’ Nicholas Jose

At the end of the Cultural Revolution in China in the late 1970s Jing, an educated youth (zhishi qingnian) who has spent a few years as a peasant in the countryside, becomes a truck driver in a provincial shipyard. He manages to teach himself English in adverse circumstances while driving his truck, eventually passing the examination to get into the English Class at Donghu University. There, he meets with classmates from vastly different cultural backgrounds and falls in love with Deirdre, the estranged partner of Dr Wagner the English teacher. This engaging and masterful novel explores the aspiration of many to migrate to English speaking countries. Like much of Ouyang’s work it subtly deconstructs the mechanisms of colonialism against an increasingly vibrant Chinese economy. The vivid fictional life of a Chinese truck driver who aspires to the western life is beautifully and evocatively realised.

The English Class is a triumph, a novel at once wise, brave and entertaining.

Ouyang Yu came to Australia in mid-April 1991 and has since published books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, literary translation and criticism in both English and Chinese, including his award-winning novels The Eastern Slope Chronicle (2002) and The English Class (2010), his collection of poetry Songs of the Last Chinese Poet (1997) and his poetry book Terminally Poetic (2020), which won the Judith Wright Calanthe Award for a Poetry Book in the 2021 Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. He was shortlisted for the Writer’s Prize in the 2021 Melbourne Prize for Literature and received a Fellowship from the Australia Council in the same year. His sixth novel, All the Rivers Run South, was published in late 2023.

The English Class is more than a well-crafted novel; it is a work of art.

Sandy McCutcheon, Courier Mail, September 2010 

Gene’s cultural crisis, searingly yet sympathetically imagined by Ouyang Yu, is “to hate the China within me”; to have run away from China only to discover that “the language I ran into never accepts me”. Thus – true to its subject – the final part of The English Class is structurally and temporally discordant with what has gone before, yet Ouyang Yu takes that risk fearlessly, abrasively, eloquently.

Peter Pierce, The Age, 25 September, 2010