Magazine article The Spectator

The Hell Known as Heaven Jonathan Mirsky the Dark Road by Ma Jian - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

The Hell Known as Heaven Jonathan Mirsky the Dark Road by Ma Jian - Review

Article excerpt

The hell known as Heaven Jonathan Mirsky The Dark Road by Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew Chatto, �16.99, pp. 260, ISBN 9780701187538 If you are considering adopting - that is, buying - a Chinese baby girl, recycling a television or computer, or buying a Vuiton bag, think again. Ma Jian, author of the startling Beijing Coma, prepared for this evocative and sometimes horrifying novel by travelling through Chinese regions few tourists see. There he encountered some of the millions of women who had just given birth to babies declared illegal by the one-child family laws, which were taken away and sold by corrupt officials to rich foreigners eager to adopt. He saw, too, the effects on the poor migrants who disassemble our unwanted televisions and computers and poison themselves by handling the toxic parts. And he saw the shops manufacturing fake Western luxury goods and pasting 'Made in France' labels on them.

But this is a novel, set about the year 2000 and eloquently translated by Flora Drew, and there is much to learn about China from the story of Meili and her husband Kongzi, the 76th descendant of Confucius, on the run with their daughter to save their next child from the state's babysnatchers. On land and by boat they head for a town called Heaven where, they mistakenly believe, the authorities don't care about women giving birth to an illegal second child.

Meili is a poor peasant with movie-star looks. She dreams of being rich, with chic western clothes, jewellery and hairstyle, and a glamorous job as a hotel receptionist or part of a girls' singing group. She tries to be a good wife to Kongzi who above all wants a male heir, the 77th heir to Confucius and a credit to the family. But along the dark road Meili becomes a thinker. 'Men control our vaginas; the State controls our wombs. You can try to lock up your body, but the government still holds the key.'

Even her chauvinist husband admits, 'Not even the most evil emperor in China's history would have contemplated developing the economy by massacring unborn children. But today's tyrants murder millions of babies a year without batting an eyelid.' (A Sinological note: the one-child family policy is now on the verge of being revoked, having damaged the economy for years by reducing the number of potential young workers. …

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