Book review: China Dream

19 Jun 2019 / 11:05 H.

EXILE author Ma Jian tells a compelling story of buried dreams, brainwashing and past betrayals that took place in Communist China, from the times of Mao Zedong to the present.

The phrase, ‘Chinese dream’, was coined by President Xi Jinping in 2012 to describe “the great rejuvenation” of the nation.

Ironically, both Ma and Xi were born in 1953. While Ma witnessed the shaming, exile and loss of family members during Mao’s political campaigns, Xi rose to become the president.

In 2018, Xi changed the limit to a president’s term in office, thus extending his rule indefinitely, while Ma, who is barred from even entering China, has to write from the outside.

As the story’s protagonist, Ma Daode is the director of the China Dream Bureau (such a body exists and has been tasked with promoting Xi’s ‘China Dream of National Rejuvenation’).

However, the author has taken this concept one step further by turning Daode’s work into that of developing a neural implant – a tiny microchip called the ‘China Dream Device’ – which is to be inserted into all citizens’ brains to delete memories and dreams.

Written in Ma’s incisive style, China Dream can be funny, brutally implicit and gut-wrenching.

The book was ably translated into English by Flora Drew, who’s married to Ma.

In the novel, all events come to us in the present tense. Ma also has a sharp eye for the contradictions of his country and his generation, as well as the responsibilities and buried dreams that they carry.

These messages come across vividly in his writing, redefining life under Communist China.

His perceptiveness, combined with the ability for capturing people from all classes, backgrounds and beliefs as well as identifying the comedy and despair of living in absurd times, has allowed Ma to write about the lost dreams of many Chinese people.

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