Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Fat Years

Concluded reading The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung, an amazing work of fiction that eerily alludes to modern China and the nation's "harmonious" growth. Part mystery novel, part history lesson, part inner-look into a dystopian few-years-into-the-future China, Koonchung's novel is banned in mainland China and after reading the book it's not surprising. The plot focuses on a collective amnesia that has gripped China (set in 2013 after the fall of the US economy and China's "Golden Rise of Ascendancy") and a set of characters aiming to uncover 28 days that have gone missing from the public memory. The novel asks the question, based on the literary works of Lu Xun, plaguing the protagonist (Lao Chen): is it better to live in a good hell or a counterfeit paradise?

One of the novel's main characters, Little Xi, is a middle-aged Chinese woman who spends her time as an online activist, arguing via web forums and hiding behind anonymous user names throughout the novel. Whether Koonchung meant it or not, Little Xi turned out to be a great portrayal of the issues over anonymity on the web that are hitting China today, and how anonymity is one of the main means for Chinese to protest and speak out while living in the mainland. On page 178 Little Xi argues this point when she makes the claim that "the Internet is the people's Central Discipline Committee and virtual Public Security authorities."

"...The power of Western governments is given to them by the people, while in China the people's freedom is given to them by the government. Is this distinction really that important?" (146) The novel brought out many issues and had one liners that really forced the reader to contemplate China's future and stability. A theme that permeates the novel is whether or not Chinese should continue to remember the struggles of the past in the effort to move forward. The protagonist Lao Chen continually brings China's past political struggles to the reader's attention, particularly the Cultural Revolution and the Democracy Movement and economic openness of the decade following. One line in the book attributes these major events in China's political system to the changing personalities of its citizenry: "...he says that China's mentality transforms itself every few years" (122). The character who spoke this refers also to the return of Hong Kong (1997), SARS (2003), the Olympics (2008), among others.

The theme of increased freedoms (or lack thereof) brought to the reader's attention from this novel nicely compliments the editorial released yesterday by Ai Weiwei.

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