Academic journal article China Perspectives

Le Rêve Du Village Des Ding

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Le Rêve Du Village Des Ding

Article excerpt

Yan Lianke, Le Rêve du Village des Ding, trans. Claude Payen, Arles, Philippe Picquier, 2007, 330 pp.; paperback edition 2009,396 pp.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic that spread in Henan Province (and beyond) in the 1990s through unsafe blood collection represented - in many ways - a watershed for Chinese society in its interaction with the state. While official attitudes did not change perceptibly before the SARS outbreak of 2003, and remained reticent even after that (no senior official in Henan has been held to account; two of the provincial secretaries concerned, Li Changchun and Li Keqiang, hold Politburo standing committee positions today(l)), the perceived legitimacy of non-governmental organisations was greatly enhanced. Similarly, in a post-Tiananmen context in which writers and intellectuals were reluctant to embrace political agendas in the public arena, the type of social activism that grew out of the AIDS crisis offered a model of how to go about "changing mindsets" in a bottom-up manner, rather than offering the theoretical blueprints for démocratisation for which the 1989 activists were so strongly criticised. Gao Yaojie played a central role in raising awareness among China's independent intellectuals and journalists, in particular Ai Xiaoming, who has made several documentaries about AIDS: The Epic of Central Plains (Zhongyuan ji shi, 2006) deals specifically with Henan; her more recent film, made together with Hu Jie, Care and Love (Guan al zhijia, 2007) is dedicated to a village near Xingtai (Southern Hebei), where a woman who has been infected with HIV in a hospital sues the authorities for compensation. This social interest in the "underprivileged" (ruoshi qunti or weak groups), and its unrebuttable political legitimacy in holding the state to account, generated a new style of intellectual and social engagement.

Yan Lianke, the first fiction writer to become interested in the subject, also read Gao Yaojie's early accounts of the situation in Henan in the mid1990s, and as a native of the province himself, he decided to pursue research on the matter. As he stated in an interview published in Southern Weekend in 2006, when Gao Yaojie explained in detail how "blood heads" would go around the fields to collect blood, using slightly bigger pouches to trick the peasants and making them lie down so as to feel less dizzy, "I felt that I had to write something."(2)

Reportage literature (baogao wenxue) is a strong tradition in modern Chinese writing, with roots both in May Fourth (Mao Dun) and in the 1980s (Liu Binyan(3) and Dai Qing), but it seems that Yan Lianke was determined to use the fictional genre from the very beginning, forming the project of writing both a novel and a "document" in which he would record all the "unheard, unimaginable, and shocking matters" that are too terrifying to be used directly in fiction (he still plans to do so).(4) In another interview he refers to Ba Jin's injunction that literature must "tell the truth" jiang zhen hua). The French translation discussed in the present review, first published in 2007 and recently released in paperback, remains the only translation to date, and is therefore important in bringing Yan's work to a wider audience, despite some shortcomings discussed below.

Yan, born in 1958 in Song County (near Luoyang), was originally a writer in the propaganda depart1. ment of the People's Liberation Army (like Mo Yan). He began writing satirical fiction in the 1990s, attracting attention with The Summer Sun Sets (Xia ri luo, 1994), which depicts career jostling within the PLA (a young army cook commits suicide, ruining his superiors' prospects of advancement). The Joy of Living (Shou huo, 2004) portrays local officials bent on making money out of anything, even the remnants of Communism: a local cadre organises a group of disabled people into a travelling circus in order to make enough money to buy Lenin's corpse.(5) After this publication, Yan was asked to resign from the PLA and became an employee of the Writers' Association, which remains his "work unit" today. …

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