The exiled Chinese writer on the murder of dissidents, attacks on free speech and his new novel exposing the brutality of his homeland
In an era of growing political impunity, when dissidents are murdered on foreign soil and even the head of Interpol is not immune from being “disappeared”, Ma Jian seems almost recklessly brave. Could there be a more provocative title than that given by the exiled novelist to his latest satirical onslaught on the country of his birth? For, with China Dream, he co-opts the rhetoric of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping to tell the story of a politician who is driven mad by memories of his own corruption.
Xi first used the phrase shortly after becoming general secretary of the Communist party in 2012, and Ma has responded “in a rush of rage” with a short, ferocious novel about the way turbo-capitalism and authoritarianism have combined to inform a Chinese dream that excludes all but a chosen few. “I wanted to give myself the challenge of encapsulating everything in as few words as possible,” he says, wryly adding that it will be interesting to see how the Chinese authorities react to the novel, given that they’ve outlawed so many “key words” online – “even the name Winnie-the-Pooh is banned because people joked that Xi Jinping resembled him”.
Totalitarianism not only seeks to control the thought but also the body in which those thoughts are housed