Dream of Ding Village

Yan Lianke, Cindy Carter

Dream of Ding Village
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Dream of Ding Village

Yan Lianke, Cindy Carter

The life and death of an entire community is told by a dead boy. His story reveals the moral vacuum at the heart of Communist-capitalist China. During a blood-contamination scandal in Henan province, villagers sell their blood, their coffins, and then arrange marriages for their own dead family members in the afterlife. Dream of Ding Village will make you laugh out loud just as you are gasping in horror. Yan Lianke is a genius storyteller of the moving and absurd antics of people forced to live under an inhuman regime. `I come from the bottom of society. All my relatives live in Henan, one of the poorest areas of China. When I think of people’s situation there, it is impossible not to feel angry and emotional. Anger and passion are the soul of my work.‘ Yan Lianke

Review

Based on the recent history of Henan Province in central China, Yan Lianke’s fifth novel – the third to be banned in his home country – charts the gradual decline and death of a rural community in the wake of corruption and official neglect. When the Communist Party’s local cadre asks the people of Ding Village to sell their blood, the community enjoys an unprecedented level of prosperity, and the villagers use their newfound wealth to acquire all the accoutrements of Western lifestyles. The profiteer, Ding Hui, gradually corners the blood market and buys status and favour within the Party, despite the trepidations of his schoolteacher father; Ding has been re-using needles to improve his margins, and slowly the people of Ding Village succumb to AIDS. Told through the eyes of Ding’s murdered son, the story follows Ding’s efforts to wash his hands of the situation, hoarding aid intended for the stricken community and rationing it to his neighbours at a profit, while presenting his misdeeds as noble charity.

Yan’s novel joins a growing list of recent films and literature (Jia Zhangke’s Still Life, Chen Guanzong’s China 2013) criticising the foundations of China’s economic ascendancy – in this case the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping and the corruption that has in turn flourished under regional Party officials. What separates Yan’s from his contemporaries is the incisiveness and breadth of his scope, rightfully earning plaudits which compare Ding Village to Orwell at his finest. With amazing elegance and brevity, he reveals the glaring void at the heart of the country’s new consumer culture, the petty mendacity with which it turns family members against each other, and the way in which China’s entire political edifice has rendered itself both deaf to the human cost of its actions and invulnerable to popular resentment. Lianke has resurrected the lost art of literary satire, at its tragic best.

Sean Gleeson is a freelance reviewer

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