For commercial rather than political reasons, Mr. Zhou’s literary agent here also made changes in the English-language version of the book, translated by Zac Haluza. The action now takes place in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, not Yangzhou or nearby Nanjing, the cities Mr. Zhou said he had in the back of his mind when crafting the story. The assumption was that Chengdu, which is best known for pandas and spicy food, would be recognizable to foreign readers and give the drama a more visceral feel, Michael Goldsmith, a publicist at Doubleday, the American publisher, said in an email.
When asked about the change, Mr. Zhou laughed and said he, too, had wondered why they did that.
Doubleday has options for the second and third parts of the trilogy, called in Chinese “Fate” and “Farewell Song,” but has not yet committed to them — perhaps because Mr. Zhou’s first foray into English, a novel called “Valley of Terror,” published by Amazon Crossing last year, did not take off.
Yangzhou, where Mr. Zhou grew up, is renowned for its literary history, especially a 9th century poet, Du Mu. One poem lamenting the whereabouts of a friend is so well known that Mr. Zhou’s colleagues recited it in unison during an excursion to Slender West Lake, a World Heritage Site in the city. (Mao Zedong’s handwritten transcription of Du Mu’s poem is carved into a stone monument beside the lake.)
Mr. Zhou remembers playing in the park as a child — when there was no entrance fee — but literary inspiration came to him much later.