Ma Jian: 中国梦 (China Dream)

The latest addition to my website is Ma Jian‘s 中国梦 (China Dream). This is a satire of modern Chinese officialdom but, in particular, of President Xi’s China Dream project, which is a plan for Chinese domination, both internationally and domestically. Ma Daode, our hero, for want of a better word, is in charge of the China Dream project in Ziyang. His staff are developing a microchip to be implanted into everyone, which will replace their private dreams with the China Dream. His immediate problem is that his past life is now flooding back into his present life and he did some very unpleasant things in the Cultural Revolution (as did several of his colleagues). Indeed, these past dreams seem to be taking over and are more concern to him than his many mistresses and the continual bribes he receives. Gradually ,they get worse and he has to find a cure. Ma Jian has great fun mocking Chinese officialdom, hypocrisy, corruption and lasciviousness.

Mo Yan: 蛙 (Frog)

The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 蛙 (Frog). The basic theme of this novel is family planning and, in particular, the Chinese one-child policy. As usual the novel is set in Northeast Gaomi Township, the fictionalised version of Mo Yan’s hometown. We follow the narrator, Wan Zu, also known as Xiaopiao and as Tadpole, and, more particularly, his aunt, known as Gugu. She is a midwife – Wan Zu was the second child she delivered – and she delivers over nine thousand babies. However, she is also an enthusiastic supporter of the one-child policy and much of the novel involves her attempts to get people to adhere to it and their attempts to evade it. We also follow Wan Zu’s attempts to have a son as well as the usual multiple side stories about the inhabitants of Northeast Gaomi Township, including Gugu’s own less than successful romantic life. Given the subject matter, it is somewhat more serious than Mo Yan’s usual novels but it certainly is an eye-opener about the One-Child policy and the effect it had on people.

Mo Yan: 四十一炮 (Pow!)

The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 四十一炮 (Pow!). This story follows Mo Yan’s usual style – conflict in his small town. In this case, our narrator, the meat-obsessed Luo Xiaotong lives with his parents. His father, Luo Tong, runs off with another woman. His mother, Yang Yuzhen, is determined to succeed without him and soon runs a flourishing recycling business. When a contrite Luo Tong returns, with a young daughter, after the death of his mistress, he is reluctantly accepted back. He is even appointed manager of the new meat packing business by his former enemy, Luo Lan, the village headman, though it is his now twelve-year old son who shows the most creativity at the plant. However, it is not going to go well and we get lots of blood, guts and gore, and not just from the animals at the meat plant. As always, it is funny, a good story and often unpredictable as to where it is going.

Mo Yan: 檀香刑 (Sandalwood Death)

The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 檀香刑 (Sandalwood Death). This is another fine tale from Mo Yan, about the people of Mo Yan’s home town, Northern Gaomi Township, during the Boxer Rebellion, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Instead of just being oppressed by their Chinese overlords, there is a new peril. The Germans are building a railway to Gaomi and they are behaving very badly. When the people revolt, after German high-handedness and when the leader of an opera troupe finds a group of Germans sexually assaulting his wife, the authorities take the side of the Germans and arrest the leader. His daughter, who is having an affair with the local bigwig does what she can to help her father. She feels she can count on the aid of her father-in-law, whom she had never met but who has suddenly turned up, as he was the official executioner of the Emperor. It is a fine story but particularly gruesome as we get detailed descriptions of the executioner’s work.

Mo Yan: 天堂蒜薹之歌 (The Garlic Ballads)

The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 天堂蒜薹之歌 (The Garlic Ballads). This is a thoroughly grim tale set in Mo Yan’s usual Northeast Gaorni Township. We follow two main characters. Gao Ma is in love with Jinju but her family is determined she will marry a 45-year old wreck and do everything to stop Gao Ma marrying her, including resorting to brutal violence (on both of them) and influence in high places. Gao Ma and Gao Yang get caught up in a riot when the peasants cannot sell their garlic, despite having been exhorted to grow only garlic by the government, and both end up in prison, and both are subject to brutality. Several of the main characters end up dying a violent death, while the others end up far worse off than they were, with no-one living happily ever after.

Mo Yan: 酒国 (The Republic of Wine)

The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 酒国 (The Republic of Wine). This is a chaotic, alcohol-fuelled story about excesses in China, particularly alcohol and sex. We follow two stories, which will merge. The first involves crack investigator Ding Gou’er of the Higher Procuratorate, who is sent to investigate allegations that local mine officials are eating young boys. Drink and sex will be his downfall. At the same time, we are following an exchange of correspondence between Li Yudou, a doctor of liquor studies and would-be writer, who is writing to the famous writer, Mo Yan, submitting stories to him. Mo Yan is not terribly impressed with the stories, though does try to get them published. The stories tend to recount episodes from life in Liquorland, where he lives, including stories about the rearing and eating of young boys as well as the writer’s sexual obsession with his mother-in-law. Gradually, the two sets of stories merge, with a cast of characters obsessed with food, alcohol and sex and a plot that tends towards chaos.

Christoph Ransmayr: Cox oder Der Lauf der Zeit [Cox or the Course of Time]

The latest addition to my website is Christoph Ransmayr‘s Cox oder Der Lauf der Zeit [Cox or the Course of Time]. The hero of this book is Alister Cox, based on the very real James Cox. Unlike James Cox, Alister Cox travels to China to build clocks for the Chinese Emperor Qianlong. Qianlong is not particularly interested in the clocks and automata that they bring with them but wants a clock that can tell variable time – the time of a child or a lover or a man condemned to death. They work on those clocks and make some progress but the Emperor still seems less than impressed. Then the Emperor says he wants an eternal clock – a clock that works eternally. Cox feels he cam make such a clock but he is warned by Joseph Kiang, his interpreter, that to do so would be to challenge the Emperor, who has sole control of time, and to challenge the Emperor can only end one way – badly. I found this book less interesting than Ransmayr’s other work as it did not seem to really take off but was almost mundane, despite its exotic location and fascinating theme. It has been translated into four other languages but not English.

Mo Yan: 红高粱家族 (Red Sorghum)

The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 红高粱家族 (Red Sorghum). This is a very colourful novel, set in Mo Yan’s home town, from the late 1920s to the late 1940s. Much of the story tells of the various groups fighting the Japanese, led by the narrator’s grandfather. While they do put up a good fight, despite inferior weaponry, they spend almost as much time fighting rival Chinese groups, though the three groups do combine when faced by the Japanese. We also a lot about about the narrator’s grandmother, a strong-minded woman, widowed three days after marriage (though glad of it). Grandma and grandfather have a lively marriage, with ups and downs, while grandfather becomes something of a bandit, but a good bandit, of course. Mo Yan tells an exciting, action-packed story, which was made into a highly successful film.

Yan Lianke: 日熄 (The Day the Sun Died)

The latest addition to my website is Yan Lianke‘s 日熄 (The Day the Sun Died). This tells the story of the village of Gaotian, which happens to be the village of the writer Yan Lianke, who has written books whose titles are similar to but not identical with the real Yan Lianke. It is narrated by Li Niannian, the fourteen-year old son of the couple who sell funerary objects. Li Niannian’s maternal grandfather owns the local crematorium which does good business as burial is forbidden and only cremation allowed, though many of the villagers try to secretly bury their dead. One night (the story is told during this night), a large number of the inhabitants start dreamwalking , i.e. sleepwalking. Sometimes, they are not aware that they are sleepwalking. They lose their inhibitions and carry on doing what they were doing while awake in a more intense manner (which means that some of those who were walking walk straight into the canal). In particular, the dreamwalkers steal, while those not dreamwalking steal from houses and shops that are no longer guarded, till massive violence breaks out. The story gives rather a negative view of people – nearly all behave badly – and it is easy to see why it has not been published in mainland China.

Dong Xi: 后悔录 (Record of Regret)

The latest addition to my website is Dong Xi‘s 后悔录 (Record of Regret). This is fascinating novel set primarily in the Cultural Revolution and follows the story of Ceng Guangxian, a young man who makes a succession of poor judgements, as regards the opposite sex but also in all aspects of his life. This is partially because he has a big mouth, not a good idea in the Cultural Revolution, which gets him and many others into trouble, but also because he simply does not know to deal with people or, indeed, with life. He nearly marries three different women but ends up messing up their lives and his own, not least because he does not understand women at all. The whole novel is summed up by the fact that he is narrating the novel to a person whose identity is not revealed until the end but who is unconscious for the entire narration.