(cross-posted at the Paper Tiger)
Set in 1967 – at the peak of the Mao cult during the Cultural Revolution – the novel tells the story of the bored wife of a military commander who takes advantage of her husband’s absence to seduce a young peasant soldier. As a signal that the orderly’s services are desired in the bedroom, she leaves the slogan Serve the People on the kitchen table.
“Serve the People” is one of Mao’s best known sayings (through the Cultural Revolution, Premier Zhou Enlai wore only one small Mao button, with this slogan on it), so we are already entering dangerous territory here…
After three days and nights together (the Commander is elsewhere, probably chairing a struggle session or something), the two lovers are exhausted and spent, unsure of their feelings, irritated with each other. The wife, Liu Lian, puts a plaster statue of Mao underneath soldier Wu’s uniform, and when he starts to dress, the statue breaks. Liu threatens to call the Security Detail; Wu has committed the ultimate Cultural Revolution sin – he’s defaced an image of the Great Helmsman.
This is all a ruse to reignite Wu’s passion, and it works, in spades. Soon the two engage in a literal orgy of lovemaking and smashing Mao memorabilia, ripping up his posters, pissing on his epigrams, each declaring to be the bigger counter-revolutionary who loves the other more:
He found four copies of books by Chairman Mao, ripped the books up, urinated on them and then threw them into the wastebasket in the toilet.
She took out all the chopsticks that had the highest directive printed on them, broke them and threw them into the garbage bin.
He took all the MSG bottles that had Chairman Mao heads printed on them, poured the contents into a bowl and put grey ashes into the bottles instead.
I don’t know how all of this comes across if you aren’t familiar with recent Chinese history, but I found it shocking, albeit from a distance (after all, it’s not my history), and pretty damn funny. I think the humor is intentional, and I also think the author has some pretty serious intentions. During the Cultural Revolution, there was nothing more important, at least in one’s public conduct, than loyalty to the Great Helmsman. Placing love, or at least passion above that loyalty, smashing the icons that embody it, is an embrace of individualism over the bonds of the state and of the community, a piss in the eye of both Mao worship and Confucian fealty.
The novella may be banned but is apparently readily available on the internet.
Thanks to ESNW for providing the translation and links – do check out his site. There are a multitude of great posts and links, as usual…