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.
Thanks for sharing his writing! I have just read his Oslo speech and I am stunned at how eloquently and concisely he summarized the struggles and faults of contemporary China.
MRXC, his Oslo speech, and several other prominent Chinese writers have played no small part in my life this past year. To start with his speech; I found it online also on a blog, and printed it out and posted it on my school’s “free speech” board (a graduate school in China where Chinese and American students study and live together for two years, from which I graduated yesterday). The reactions from other students were mostly focused on my nationality; the first question anyone had when seeing the speech was who posted it; seeing it was an American, the reactions were mostly negative. Some Americans told me I was tactless and that you don’t convince Chinese people of anything by lighting fire under asses (agreed, though I didn’t see myself as lighting fires). Some Chinese said his opinion was “too extreme” or “too negative”. I got some positive feedback … but for the most part, people would see it posted there, have a knee-jerk reaction to the context rather than content, then move along.
I worked with the famous writer Bei Dao this year in the completion of my graduate thesis. If you can read Chinese and want to see quality “freedom discourse” (as I call it) writing, see Bei Dao’s works (and his contemporaries). Xi Chuan is more up-to-date and also high-quality, but he doesn’t tend to get into obvious human rights things. What sets MRXC apart is his specific address of these problems. He is asking to be exiled — like Bei Dao and Gu Cheng and many others before him who didn’t even ask for it. At the Oslo conference, one older writer told him [in private] that his style would certainly change in the next few years; that to be so specifically critical — even iconic — so young would take its toll on him quickly. My best prediction is that he will indeed be exiled, and like other exiled writers, lose the influence he had for a brief moment over China’s progressive, educated, and concerned youth.
As for his writing, it translates into English very well. He’s a great recommendation for English-speakers who want to read dissident literature in China. If you’re looking for something more sophisticated and that is not a specific declaration of discontent, but rather utilizes the “freedom discourse” more subtly, then see Bei Dao, Mang Ke, Shu Ting, Gu Cheng, Xi Chuan, Haizi, etc.
Just a modestly informed opinion.
Oh also this piece was in the NYT in April, and it is great: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/21/opinion/the-year-of-the-stray-dog.html?_r=1
Could you list the Chinese names of the authors you mentioned? I’d like to look into their works, but most of the names aren’t ringing any bells yet.
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