Thursday, May 10, 2012

Five top works of Chinese dissident literature

Ma Jian's novels include Beijing Coma, set during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and The Noodle Maker.

With Alec Ash of the The Browser, he discussed five notable examples of Chinese dissident literature, including:
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
by Luo Guanzhong

Your next choice is the famous Romance of the Three Kingdoms, set in the 3rd century.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms only became a book a thousand years after the events which it describes. You could say that its story is the story of all China, passed down from father to son. It is one of China’s four great classical novels, which also include the Journey to the West. But only with Romance of the Three Kingdoms did old Chinese stories really become Chinese literature. It’s also beautifully written.

A reader can harvest a lot of history and knowledge from this book, because it chronicles all aspects of China. You can discover in it the entirety of the Chinese character, ancient and modern. All Chinese people today can find themselves in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, whether you are rich or poor, old or young. For example Cao Cao, an important character in the book, was originally a low official, but later [became a warlord and] had everything under heaven – just like Mao Zedong.

Mao Zedong carried this book with him everywhere. In Communist Party meetings, he would ask his comrades if they had read Romance of the Three Kingdoms – he thought that reading it showed how to overcome all problems in China. I think the connection between Mao Zedong and Cao Cao is very close. Another character, Zhuge Liang, a very good chancellor and strategist who was faithful to his ruler and worked himself to death, is similar to [current Chinese premier] Wen Jiabao.

Are Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping in there as well?

That’s right! They’re all in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Read about another entry on the list.

Ma Jian's Beijing Coma is among Colin Thubron's 6 favorite books about Asia and Catherine Sampson's top 10 books on Beijing; it made the Wall Street Journal's list of Asia's best books of 2008.

--Marshal Zeringue