The four books by Yan Lianke


The four books by Yan Lianke

Chinese fiction

Original title – 创建“四书

Translator – Carlos Rojas

Source – Library book

Well I have mentioned before my struggle with Modern Chinese fiction a country so large and growing huge megacities that seems to lack at the moment books capturing the Zeitgeist of these cities and the madness of the growth. That aside this is the second book by Yan Lianke I have reviewed and both have been on the longlist for a prize the Last Dreams of Ding Village was on the old IFFP longlist and this is on the First Man booker. I maybe enjoyed Dream of Ding village than my fellow jurors a few years ago so had high hopes of a book that the writer himself had been working 20 years on and took two year to write. He want to write a true account of the Mao sent people for re-education.As Tony and I say there has to be an Issue book on the longlist and this is this years.

I recommend that the Higher-ups would be well served if they carefully monitor the Musician’s capitalist behaviour and tendencies. A single ant hole can cause an entire dike to collapse.We can not permit the Musician’s petty bourgeois feminine sensibility to infect our Re-Ed district.

Part of the sections called Criminal records, which is written by The Kid as he found a french novel in her poscket.Which he will later burn.

As I said in the intro The book follows a group of  intellectuals  that have in the late fifties been sent to one of Mao’s notorious re-education class.An author , Musician ,Scholar, Theologian and Technician all at area 99. In charge of these men is a younger man called the child part of the book is made up of his observations and how he punishes the prisoners that break the rules.This is all in the part called criminal records. Then there is bits of the Authors novel and two other books that could be described as works of philosophy. What we see is how These clever people,  have to bend and try to avoid being broken in a camp run by a teen that has been given to much power and has gone slightly crazy with it the horrors he inflicts are terrible to our eyes but in his is maybe like a modern kid playing some brutal video game.

the child was delighted, and even sang a little song. He turned around and waved, saying” hurry up! Now that we have produced a hundred tons of steel, we’ll finally be able to eat meat tonight ”

And in fact, they did have meat to eat. They weighted the steel, recorded the weight in a notebook, then used an abacus to add it all up. The accountant shouted in delight.”Ah you are the first to reach a hundred tons!” He grabbed the ledger and rushed into the building whereupon the higher-up took the ledger and walked back out smiling, he shook the child’s hand and said “Congratulations, this is wonderful.You are the first to reach One hundred tons”

They make Steel which they all hate but the child drives them to make himself look good .

I felt this book was better in its overall feel than dream of ding village. Yan Lianke has tried to tackle Mao’s great leap forward in a fresh honest way. I see it took more than 20 publishers to look at the book before he found someone willing to publish this book and it is still banned in the mainland of China. The men in the camp show how easy ir is to lose ones identity just been called by a name the way the camp is run remind me of the way Stanford prison experiment showed how people easily fit into the roles of prisoner being just a number or in this case a Job and then The guard shown by The kid that shows how easily power can take over a person in control. Yan Lianke has managed to life the lid on the brutal years of the Mao regime and the way the great leap forward broke and in many ways set the country back and maybe lead the country to the events in the country of the early 90’s .I expect this to make actual shortlist as Boyd seems to be a huge Chinese lit fan.

Have you a favourite Chinese writer


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. A Little Blog of Books
    Mar 28, 2016 @ 12:27:26

    I think this is a strong contender for the shortlist (and possibly the shadow panel shortlist too…)


  2. Bellezza
    Mar 28, 2016 @ 14:39:26

    Like The Dark Road from the IFFP a few years ago, this novel will stay with me a very long time. The images are so graphic, the portrayal of a government gone awry so powerful. Surely this will make the short list, as some of the others look trivial in comparison.


  3. SpaceCadet
    Mar 28, 2016 @ 15:47:22

    Well carved but definitely written with the western reader in mind. Although I did not apreciate that book (due to it’s heinous feel), I predict it will make the shortlist.


  4. Anokatony
    Mar 28, 2016 @ 16:22:48

    I am reading ‘The Four Books by Yan Lianke now and find it a powerful, powerful work and learned a lot I did not know about the Great Leap Forward. This is probably the first Chinese novel I’ve read. I can see why the Chinese leadership would try to ban it, but it is a good sign for the Chinese future that it did get published and translated.


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  6. 1streading
    Mar 28, 2016 @ 18:33:37

    I’m about two thirds of the way through this and agree it must be a strong contender for the short list. The way it is written allows it to be both a chronicle of historical events but also to be transferable to other instances of ‘re-education.’


  7. Lisa Hill
    Mar 28, 2016 @ 23:53:15

    Yes, indeed, Stu, you have nailed it. This is a very powerful book indeed, but it’s good reading too. Space Cadet, you may be right about the target audience being western readers, making the incomprehensible comprehensible to us, but maybe also for younger Chinese who need to penetrate the veil of silence over these Mao years. That’s if they can access it, of course, but more of them can travel now, and get hold of it when they’re outside China.


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March 2016


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