Corruption and Realism in Late Socialist China: The Return of the Political Novel

Corruption and Realism in Late Socialist China: The Return of the Political Novel

Corruption and Realism in Late Socialist China: The Return of the Political Novel

Corruption and Realism in Late Socialist China: The Return of the Political Novel

Synopsis

As China's centrally planned economy and welfare state have given way to a more loosely controlled version of "late socialism," public concern about economic reform's downside has found expression in epic novels about official corruption and its effects. While the media shied away from dealing with these issues, novelists stepped in to fill the void. "Anti-corruption fiction" exploded onto the marketplace and into public consciousness, spawning popular films and television series until a clampdown after 2002 that ended China's first substantial realist fiction since the 1989 Beijing massacre. With frankness and imagination seldom allowed journalists, novelists have depicted the death of China's rust-belt industries, the gap between rich and poor, "social unrest"- i.e., riots- and the questionable new practices of entrenched communist party rulers.

Corruption and Realism examines this rebirth of the Chinese political novel and its media adaptations, explaining how the works reflect contemporary Chinese life and how they embody Chinese traditions of social criticism, literary realism, and contemplation of taboo subjects. This is the first book to investigate such novels and includes excerpts from personal interviews with China's three most famous anticorruption novelists.

Excerpt

“Almost invariably, every book on contemporary China is about corruption.” A scholar writing in squeaky-clean Singapore invented that bit of hyperbole to open his review of a book printed in America. In fact, China itself, from 1995 until the inevitable clampdown in 2002, published an extraordinary number of books “exposing” its corruption. However, most of the Chinese books, or at least those trying to put all the pieces together rather than just point a finger at crime rings or flaws in the system, necessarily took the form of novels. They were a short course in corruption and its politics for the Chinese public. This book draws inspiration from the major novelist-instructors, while subjecting their observations and imaginings to critical analysis and real-world verifications. I contend that some of the novels and their mass media adaptations deserve to be examined both as social commentary and as art, or at least as popular entertainment that engages real social and moral problems. The works' historical and literary reverberations are many.

Transparency International (TI), known to be less waggish than the reviewer writing from Singapore, likewise gives China low marks in its oft-cited “Corruption Perceptions Index.” In 1996, when Chinese fiction about corruption was just getting a toehold, China ranked 50th among the 54 nations TI rated (above Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan, and Nige-

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