Since November last year, Murong Xuecun has becoming increasingly vocal about China’s political situation. If you haven’t read his works, now is a good time to catch up. His only book available in English, “Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu” (excerpt) focuses on individual struggles in modern China, and while it is a gritty look at life, it is not specifically political in nature. The turning point seems to have come when his visit to Chen Guangcheng ended in getting thrown to the ground and beaten by hired thugs. The riveting account of that trip helped focus the spotlight on Dongshigu and the abuse of human rights there.
Since then he has published a number of biting works that are worth reading (in addition to those two other pieces linked above):
Caging a monster – This speech was given in Oslo, and makes what I consider one of the strongest arguments I have seen against the Communist Party. The scope of it is breathtaking, and leaves the reader wondering how it is this country can possibly survive. Murong’s speech begins:
I am a Chinese writer. Allow me to say a few words about my country. Everyone knows that in the past thirty years China has built countless skyscrapers, commissioned countless airports, and paved countless freeways. My country’s GDP is the world’s second largest and her products are sold in every corner of the planet. My compatriots can be seen on tour in London, New York and Tokyo wearing expensive clothes, chattering raucously. My compatriots also fill up casinos and line up to buy LV bags. People exclaim in amazement:China is rising, the Chinese are rich! But behind this facade of power and prosperity there are details of which many people are unaware, and it is precisely these details that make my country a very strange place.
Living in China is like watching a play in a giant theatre. The plots are absurd and the scenarios are unbelievable—so absurd, so unbelievable that they are beyond any writer’s imagination.
A few months after this speech, with Bo Xilai’s down fall, we had a chance to glimpse just a fraction of what is happening behind the scenes. Murong was absolutely correct, the plots are beyond any writer’s imagination.
No Roads Are Straight Here – One of my first memories of China, was driving from Guangzhou to Shaoguan. The trip took over 4 hours, and the entire way a new massive freeway was under construction. It was more ambitious than anything I had ever seen in the States, and yet it wasn’t even worth commenting on for my local friends. In this personal account from Murong Xuecun, he details how corruption inflates the price of every project.
My favorite quote from this piece is:
“No one stays clean when traveling along these sparkling, yet tainted roads. Corruption is the norm, it has become the unwritten law, an article of faith. It is everywhere. You don’t have to engage corruption, corruption engages you. It follows you, no matter where you go. No one can stay clean.”
The Accident – A dark description of how “justice” works in China. Told from the perspective of the driver of a car that has just hit a pedestrian, it shows how money and connections override the rule of law. From chats I have had with co-workers, this kind of accident with a well connected person is one of their greatest fears. For one friend, this is her main reason for wanting to leave China.
It’s a rather short piece, but if you don’t have time to read it, I want you to remember this moment in the story:
The crowd was growing and a lengthy queue of cars had built up behind us. I could hear police sirens in the distance. I didn’t like the look of this and quickly rang Hu Caoxing. He was very businesslike and asked me a few questions about where the incident had taken place and the general situation, and then promised to find help.
I’d just hung up when the cops arrived and one of them asked for my documents. I said in a small voice, ‘I am friends with your Commissar.’
He stared at me. ‘Don’t talk rubbish, get your documents out.’
The old farmer was slowly coming round, and breathing heavily. He said ‘You weren’t …’ I was getting more and more worried, but then I heard the cop’s radio crackle into life. If this was Hu Caoxing, he was really on his game. The cop listened for a while and then gave me a hard look before walking away from the crowd to continue the conversation. He came back less than two minutes later with a totally different attitude.