Satirical novel of love during the Cultural Revolution.
“Serve the people,” a slogan taken from a speech Mao Zedong gave in 1944, plays a paradoxical role in the life of Wu Dawang, an orderly assigned to garden and cook for the Party’s Division Commander in 1967. It’s emblazoned on a sign that decorates the Division Commander’s dinner table, defining the path to advancement in the People’s Liberation Army and in the Party. But then the Division Commander’s wife, Liu Lian, tells Wu Dawang that whenever the sign has been moved from its usual place, he is to stop performing his usual duties and attend to her very specific, very personal needs upstairs. Wu Dawang knows that Liu Lian has the power to destroy his hopes for advancement, and he has also been told—again and again—that to serve the Division Commander and his family is to serve the people. Nor is he unaware that Liu Lian is gorgeous, glamorous and passionate in ways that his peasant wife is not. So naturally, Wu Dawang decides to serve the people by serving Liu Lian. Their affair comes to a terrible end, but before it does the lovers indulge in an orgy that allows them to express long-suppressed physical and emotional needs, including the need to exorcise the exigencies of class in a society where inequality does not officially exist. Lianke’s protagonists bring their debauchery to a climax in a contest to determine which is the greater counterrevolutionary: They rampage through the Division Commander’s house destroying all the Mao-emblazoned furnishings, crockery, cookware and decorative bric-a-brac they can find. There’s no reason to believe, however, that love can triumph over the Party.
The Chinese Central Propaganda Bureau banned the book in China because it “slanders Mao Zedong…and is overflowing with sex”: You couldn’t ask for a better blurb than that.