Category: China Page 1 of 3

Zou Jingzhi: 九栋 (Ninth Building)

The latest addition to my website is Zou Jingzhi‘s 九栋 (Ninth Building). This is an account by Zou Jingzhi of his life in China during the Cultural Revolution. We first meet him as a boy in 1966 when he and his friends form a Red Guard unit. In some respects they behave (and misbehave) like normal boys but, at the same time, they are rooting out class enemies, including their parents when appropriate, and regularly see older people physically abused and also see several dead bodies. As an educated person – his father is already imprisoned in a cowshed – Zou is sent to the Great Northern Waste where, for eight years, he has to carry out arduous agricultural work. Getting transferred, illness or injury (real or fake) and death are the three ways out. Zou survives and returns to Beijng to make a career as a writer. Though there are other works set in the Cultural Revolution, this one focusses on the life of an ordinary person and how he survives.

Xue Yiwei: 希拉里, 密和, 我 (Celia, Misoka, I)

The latest addition to my website is Xue Yiwei‘s 希拉里, 密和, 我 (Celia, Misoka, I). Our unnamed narrator is from China. He, his wife and daughter had migrated from China to Montreal, nominally to get a better education for the daughter. It had not worked out. The marriage was not happy and the wife could not get a decent job They ended up owning a convenience store. At the beginning of the novel, the wife had died of pancreatic cancer and the daughter wanted nothing to do with him. Neither he nor we know why. He takes up skating where he meets (separately) the two eponymous women. Celia is the older and a local. She is divorced. Misoka is in a wheelchair and is a French-speaking South-east Asian immigrant. Both women are fairly private but do soften during the book. Both women seem to have a keen interest in China. The book recounts their three-way relationship over the one winter period and how all three are affected by it. Xue Yiwei tells an excellent story about immigration, loneliness, failed relationships and how meeting random strangers can perhaps change you.

Lo Yi-Chin: 遠方 (Faraway)

The latest addition to my website is Lo Yi-Chin‘s 遠方 (Faraway). Our hero, also called Lo Yi-Chin, is a Taiwanese novelist. His father left China in 1949, abandoning his family, and fled to Taiwan where he started a new family. He has since been back and has now gone on a tour when he has a stroke. Lo Yi-Chin and his mother fly to Jiujiang (a fuckhole of a town, our author describes it), in what he considers very much a third world country. Much of the book is devoted to his dealing with the Chinese system (bribes obligatory) and trying to fly his father back to Taipei, where he can be treated properly, though he ruminates on many topics including novels and novel-writing, the other patients and, of course, father-son relationships. It could have been boring but Lo Yi-Chin writes so well that we never lose interest.

Sheng Keyi: 死亡賦格 (Death Fugue)

The latest addition to my website is Sheng Keyi‘s 死亡賦格 (Death Fugue). The novel is set in two fictitious countries – Dayang, clearly based on modern China, and Swan Valley, a seemingly idyllic country that becomes a sort of Brave New World. Our hero Mengliu was a successful poet and got involved in demonstrations against the authorities, prompted by the mysterious appearance of a huge pile of excrement in the main square, whose source the authorities tried to conceal. Eventually, the authorities crack down. Mengliu’s girlfriend,Qizi disappears and he becomes a surgeon but continues to look for Qizi, ending up in Swan Valley and seemingly unable to escape. This is a superb dystopian novel,complex and very well thought-out.

Yan Lianke: 堅硬如水 (Hard Like Water)

The latest addition to my website is Yan Lianke‘s 堅硬如水 (Hard Like Water). This story is set primarily in the village of Chenggang during the Cultural Revolution but this is not a serious Cultural Revolution novel but a mocking satire of it. Our hero, Gao Aijun, married with two children, meets Hongmei and decided he wants two things: mad passionate sex with her and, also with her, to bring revolution to their village. Inevitably there are stumbling blocks – from their respective spouses, from the old guard and from those who are less than enthusiastic about the idea of revolution. The fact that, at the beginning of the book, he seems to be about to be executed, shows that things do not go smoothly on either count. However, in its mocking of Mao, revolutionary and sexual fervour, often commingled, and the resistance of the old guard and peasants to change, it is a very funny novel.

Yan Ge: 异兽志 (Strange Beasts of China)

The latest addition to my website is Yan Ge‘s 异兽志 (Strange Beasts of China). The novel is narrated by a woman novelist and is set in Yong’an. The narrator is a writer and she writes about the strange and imaginary beasts that live in the city. These beasts generally look like humans and share many human characteristics but have their own idiosyncrasies. We have the sorrowful beast who can never smile, with the females able to mate with humans but the males unable to do so. There are the beasts that grow like plants but take human form, the beasts that can see a thousand years into the future and many more. Our narrator writes stories about each one but also gets involved with each one, sometimes emotionally, all the while having a love/hate relationship with her former zoology professor and gradually finding out that she, the professor and his assistant may not be quite who she thought they were. It is is a stunningly original and imaginative novel, whether you take the story literally or as symbolic of human foibles.

Shi Tiesheng: 我的丁一之旅 (My Travels in Ding Yi)

The latest addition to my website is Shi Tiesheng‘s 我的丁一之旅 (My Travels in Ding Yi). This was Shi Tiesheng’s final book and he packed a lot into it. The story is told by a spirit who inhabits the bodies of humans. He first started with Adam in the Garden of Eden and still loves Eve, for whom he is always on the look-out. However, he now spends most of his time in a Chinese boy (later man), Ding Yi, though he also flits in and out of or author, Shi Tiesheng, with whom he does not always agree. Ding Yi, as an adult, is very much into sex, something the spirit does not comprehend, except as a means of reproduction, though he does understand love. Not having a body himself, he does not understand humans’ greed for food either. Indeed, considering how long he has been inhabiting humans, he seems remarkably ignorant of their behaviour and foibles. Much of the book concerns the issue of sex and love. Ding Yi and others are influenced by the film Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Indeed, Ding Yi writes a play based on it. While this is certainly an interesting tale, I found it dragged a bit but you will certainly learn about how a non-human feels about sex and love.

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.

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