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Sunday, 4 November 2018
Ma Jian's China Dream: "We have to remain constantly vigilant"
There is a great profile and interview with Ma Jian, in this weekend's Guardian on the need for fearlessness in writing, on not being co-opted, on standing hard in the face of state violence, and not surrendering to it. I don't think many of us can be this brave, but it's always worth recognising and admiring those who can. And letting their stand against corruption, cruelty and violence (at huge costs to their own lives) influence us just a little bit.
Ma Jian, who wrote Beijing Coma, has a new book coming out called China Dream, a phrase first coined by Xi Jinping but now turned on its head by Ma in a novel that is about a leader who is driven mad by memories of his own corruption.
Here are a few snippets.
'Ma has responded “in a rush of rage” with a short, ferocious novel about the way turbo-capitalism and authoritarianism have combined to inform a Chinese dream that excludes all but a chosen few. “I wanted to give myself the challenge of encapsulating everything in as few words as possible,” he says, wryly adding that it will be interesting to see how the Chinese authorities react to the novel, given that they’ve outlawed so many “key words” online – “even the name Winnie-the-Pooh is banned because people joked that Xi Jinping resembled him”.
“Living in the west allows me to see through the fog of lies that shrouds my homeland,” he writes in the foreword to China Dream. During the interview, he invokes Dante’s Divine Comedy: “It’s only through being expelled that the poet gets to see heaven and hell and purgatory.”
Everyone thought we could ignore what happened in 1989 [the Tiananmen Square massacre] and that economic expansion meant it would become increasingly like the west, but that has been a catastrophic miscalculation. China might have draped itself in a coat of prosperity, but inside it’s become more brutal than ever, and it’s this venomous combination of extreme authoritarianism and extreme capitalism which has infected countries around the world.”
“The disregard for truth is infectious. It also explains the rise of Trump. We need to protect concepts of humanity, and freedom can’t be taken for granted. We have to remain constantly vigilant. The more you buckle under these pressures, the huger the monster becomes. One’s responsibility as a writer is to be fearless.”