Bangkok Post 10/19/01

Insight into China

Bernard Trink

Lili
by Annie Wang
309 pp, 2001 Macmillan paperback
Available at Asia Books and leading book stores, 500 baht

The volume of books I've been receiving of late to review by Chinese about China outnumbers all such works sent to me over the years. This reviewer assumes that the Commissar of Propaganda, or whatever his title, is allowing some criticism of Chairman Mao to see print.

To be sure Annie Wang, born in Beijing in 1972, has been living in the States since 1993. Yet work with the Washington Post and the US State Department indicates that she kept her hand in the changes and trends in her native land. The blurb informs us that she published several books in China, Lili her first in English.

How much of the heroine is Wang I have no way of knowing, but Lili is 10 years older. So much is quotable here, it is difficult to resist using them (e.g. ``The only difference between feudal times and our own is that back then `bad women' were seen as amoral fox spirits, whereas now they are labelled corrupt bourgeois'').

Her parents are teachers at a music school in Beijing, automatically regarded as class enemies during the Cultural Revolution. In fact they'd been imbued with Marxist-Leninist ideals of a classless society when younger. But tainted by capitalist forebears, they weren't permitted to join the Communist Party and were looked upon with contempt.

Lili was a preteen when she was sent with mum and dad to the countryside for re-education. Even had the local party boss not raped her at 12, she would still have been disgusted by the people there. They fawn on those they think higher than they are, abuse those they think lower and are chronic wife-beaters (``Peasants can be like animals with no mercy'').

Running away to Beijing and becoming an urchin, Lili hung around with young roughnecks As she filled out and became comely, she was either being passed around or fought over. By the time she was arrested for hooliganism, she'd had two abortions. At 24, she was released.

With little education, speaking no English but street-smart, she meets an American journalist. We are asked to believe his Chinese is fluent, he has an open mind and doesn't want for money. Lili soon accepts Roy's offer to move into his $1,000 a mouth apartment.

Lili quickly realises that while Roy comprehends the language, he doesn't understand her countrymen. Much of the book has her setting him straight. Nevertheless the truth lies in-between his optimism re China's future and her pessimism.

Both become caught up in the democracy demonstrations in 1989 in Tiananmen Square.Lili loses her cynicism acting as a nurse to the students geninely endeavouring to replace corruption and repression with honesty and free speech. Roy loses his naivete when the tanks are sent in.

The author has a love-hate relationship with China. Perhaps the oldest country in the world, certainly the most populous, it carries a lot of baggage. Scholars and philosophers, emperors and soldiers invariably die, but never fade away. The Communists will become a chapter in history, like the once feared Mongols.

Lili offers insight into the Chinese psyche.

Copyright 2001 Bangkok Post Inc.

 



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