A remarkable first novel that chronicles the emotional and psychological awakening of a tragically disaffected Chinese girl during the turbulent years that led up to the Tiananmen Uprising. As a teenager growing up during the Cultural Revolution, Lili is forced to leave Beijing when her parents, music professors, are relocated to a peasant village to be re-educated. Raped by one of the Communist party leaders in the village, Lili flees to Beijing. Seeking comfort and a sense of community, she becomes a gang member only to be branded by society as a petty criminal and a street hooligan. Whatever youthful enthusiasm Lili may have had is thwarted by the arbitrary oppression of daily life, and she is paralyzed by cynicism, indifference, and, above all, self-loathing. But when she meets an American journalist named Roy and is given the opportunity to see China through his eyes, Lili gradually relinquishes her indifference and self-loathing. She is eventually able to comprehend the magnitude of the changes that are sweeping across her country and to appreciate being a part of something greater than herself. And as the decades of smoldering anger and resentment borne by ordinary people ignite to culminate in a powerful movement, Lili comes startlingly awake to a political and personal understanding she might never have been able to attain otherwise. Written with a bracing rawness and immediacy, Lili is a book of undeniable authenticity. It is both a sharp-eyed witness to historical events and a story whose psychological and emotional veracity is not only irrefutable, but also utterly compelling.
"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 labeled corrupt bourgeois," muses bad girl Lili Lin, in the wake of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The antiheroine of this debut English-language novel by Chinese-American writer Wang struggles through life in Communist China, finding her way toward the tragedy of Tiananmen Square. Busted for "hooliganism" in her early 20s, Lili is sentenced to three months of rehabilitation through labor. Returning home to her music teaching parents, who teeter on the edge of official disgrace, she has a hard time finding work and enjoys confusing the "Confucians" to whom she is a "fox spirit." Lili decides to embrace unemployment as a Taoist "Great Void" spiritual experience, but the direction of her life changes when she meets Roy Goldstein, an American journalist and friend of her childhood friend Yuan. Through Roy's appreciation of classical Chinese culture, Lili experiences a reawakening of faith in her heritage, while remaining clear-sighted about the present political horrors. In a schizophrenic social atmosphere in which she is at once an emerging cosmopolitan artist and the concubine of a white devil, she arrives, along with others, to witness the revolt of students in Tiananmen in Beijing. Like Thornton Wilder in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Wang develops an engaging novel of fate exploring what draws an individual toward large happenings on a social stage. Her version, set in a China at once convincing and utterly foreign, both attracts and terrifies. (June)Forecast: Wang was a prodigy in China, beginning her career as writer and radio host in her teens. She now works for the Washington Post in Beijing; this is her first book in English, and she will embark on a five-city author tour. Her background and her sharp, unsparing perspective should attract attention and translate into solid sales.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 10, 2002
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Excerpt from Lili by Annie Wang
One Beijing always launches a crackdown on crime just before the annual convention of the national Communist Party.
Before my buddies and I can get wind of it, we are busted at Chou-Chou's. Chou-Chou is the son of two diplomats who work in Sydney; their house has become our hangout. We are thrown in jail. Eight of us. I am booked on charges of having a corrupt lifestyle and hooliganism, and sentenced to three months of rehabilitation through labor. There is no trial.
Each morning we learn revolutionary songs while marching in the jail's courtyard. During the day we make matchboxes. We have to work ten or twelve hours a day. But that's better than attending political study sessions: at least we don't have to confess or lie.
There is a guard named Erniu. She is in her late forties or early fifties, a short-tempered spinster who has probably just reached menopause. Her job is to conduct "thought reform" on female inmates. Liu Hulan will be our role model. Liu Hulan was beheaded during the Civil War because she refused to disclose Communist Party secrets.
"Look at Liu Hulan, she was so young, yet she had the courage to die for her beliefs. What revolutionary consciousness she has at only fifteen! Don't you feel ashamed of yourselves? Look at yourselves, a bunch of female hooligans, a pack of scumbags! Our party gives you enough to eat and keep you warm, but you still can't keep your pants on!"
Erniu's words don't bother me. Mama says that my skin is thicker than the city wall.
Erniu wants us to write reports about one another's behavior. Those who want to buy her favor report every small thing to her.
"I suppose you all know why you're here behind bars, right?" She looks at us seated in a circle around her.
"Yes," we all answer at the top of our lungs.
"That's good." She walks among us, points at one of us, Ding Ding, and asks, "Tell me, why are you here?"
Ding Ding recites, "I'm here to absolve myself of and atone for my past misbehavior, get rid of my dirty and unhealthy thoughts, and become a new woman for the new age."
Erniu nods with satisfaction and then raises her voice, saying, "You're here because you are wanton. Time spent here doing labor should clear your minds of filth. Yet I hear that one of you just cannot get rid of her wanton thoughts. I am told she likes to play with herself almost every night. She even uses corncobs." Erniu is staring at the country girl, Chunni. Chunni is in jail because she was caught fucking the master of the house where she worked as a nanny. His wife reported them to the police. The man was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Chunni doesn't wash, and she smells. Her feet smell like soy sauce. She steals little things like hairpins or key chains from others. Once she even used her cellmate's toothbrush to brush her teeth.
Chunni lowers her head, her whole body trembling. I see bean-size drops of water on the floor. It's a hot day. I can't tell whether they're tears or sweat. All of us have this naive look in our eyes, as if none of us had ever played with herself.
"Shall we punish her?" Erniu asks.
"Yes," we yell.
"Suggestions are welcome." Erniu sits back and sips tea from her old enamel mug. There's an illustration of a scene from an erotic novel, A Dream of Red Mansions, on the side of the mug.
Inmates raise their hands.
"Since she has such excessive energy, she should have a higher matchbox quota."
"She should carry thermoses of hot water for the guards."
"She should sweep the floors as well as making matchboxes."
I keep silent. I can't help Chunni, nor do I want to. She's doomed. But I can't throw stones at someone who's drowning in a well. I don't want my conscience to be eaten by dogs.
Chunni is transferred; nothing more is heard of her. She isn't the only one Erniu picks on. Erniu always looks for targets on whom to vent her sexual frustration. She makes sure that our hair is short enough and that we wear plain uniforms all the time.
New girls are also unlucky. The day Xiu Xiu arrives, Erniu slaps her face at lunchtime in front of everyone and snarls, "Do you know where you are, you whore? How dare you wear lipstick? Do you intend to poison more revolutionary comrades even in jail? You cheap, evil slut!"
Xiu Xiu blushes, bites her lower lip, opens her mouth, and musters, "The color of my lips is natural. I've never used lipstick."
Erniu slaps the girl's face again, on the same side. Xiu Xiu's cheek turns puffy, like a red bean pancake.
"Talking back to me, are you? Just ask everyone here, who dares do this to me?" Erniu turns to the rest of us.
"There is no way out unless you wash off your old faces and become new women."
Erniu is killing chickens to intimidate monkeys. We listen with heads lowered and finish our lunch quickly and in silence.
The red-lipped girl is sent to a solitary cell, forced to work sixteen hours a day, and not allowed to go out to exercise.