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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Book: Collective Amnesia

August 4, 2010

Claude Arpi Blog
July 30, 2010

"2013 Them and Us"
Book Review of Koon-chung Chan's "Shengshi"
Paul Mooney
South China Morning Post
February 7, 2010

Chan Koon-chung's new book is making waves among
mainland intellectuals for its eerily realistic
fictional account of a modern, prosperous China -
and its veiled criticism of those who buy into it

It's the year 2013 and China is stronger and
richer than ever before, while the rest of the
world is still reeling from a huge economic
tsunami that struck a year earlier. Starbucks is
now owned by the Wang Wang Group, and the hottest
new drink around the world is longane dragon well tea latte.

The authoritarian, and often ruthless, Communist
Party faces no serious opposition and is patting
itself on the back for not following the path of
the West. Capitalism with Chinese characteristics
is thriving and foreigners who once lambasted
China over human rights are now afraid to offend
China. Most interesting, the majority of the
Chinese people, at least the residents of major
cities, are enjoying unprecedented fat times, and couldn't be happier.

This is China's future as described in The Golden
Age, a new novel by Hong Kong writer Chan
Koon-chung, who has lived on the mainland since
2000, spending the last nine years gathering string for this book.

The Chinese title, Shengshi Zhongguo 2013, which
can be translated as a prosperous and grand
period, has been used to describe the two apogees
of imperial history, the Han and Tang dynasties.
It's also a term that is appearing more and more
frequently in the Chinese media today and which
is becoming a daily part of conversations - as a
giddy description of present-day China.

While the book was released in recent months in
Hong Kong and Taiwan (it's too sensitive to be
released on the mainland), it's creating an
increasingly loud buzz among mainland
intellectuals in China for it's realistic
description of contemporary China and its veiled
criticism of the growing number of Chinese who
have either bought into the system or have been bought by it.

The story is told through the eyes of Lao Chen, a
Taiwanese writer who has lived in Beijing for
many years, and who shares the strange mass
happiness that has smitten the majority of
China's population. Or at least he seems quite
complacent until he accidentally runs into two
long-lost friends, Xiao Xi and Fang Caodi - the
only discontented people he's encountered in a long while.

Xiao is a 1980s activist who is frustrated
because her former intellectual friends have
abandoned the fight against repression in
exchange for more comfortable living. "They've
changed ..." she tells Lao when they meet. "They've all become so satisfied."

Fang, the son of an early Communist defector, and
a drifter, is on a quiet mission to prove that an
entire month has been erased from the collective
memory of China's 1.3 billion people, with the
exception of a small number who seem to have
retained their memories -including both Fang and Xiao.

Lao, a successful writer, is a bit disconcerted
by the strange claims of his former friends, and
he has little sympathy for their cause, until
they involve him in the kidnapping of a senior
official who spits out the truth about what the government has been doing.

As He Dongsheng comes out of his drugged state,
Lao, Fang and Xiao begin to interrogate the
official, who is tied to a chair. He willingly
describes how trouble broke out in a few places
around China following the economic crisis of
2012, and how, according to a secret party plan,
the People's Liberation Army, People's Armed
Police and police purposely hold back, except in
Tibet and Xinjiang , waiting for the chaos to
reach a point where the frightened population
becomes afraid of anarchy and begs for the
government to step in. When the PLA eventually
marches into one city to restore order, the
people line the streets to welcome it. In an
ensuing "strike hard" campaign, the party takes
advantage of its popular mandate to wipe out all its foes.

The campaign is so vicious that the government
decides to place a new drug into the water system
and all beverages, which has the effect of
putting the country on a collective high. An
unintended plus is that the vast majority of the
population has had its memory of the three weeks
of chaos completely erased. To be safe, the
government has taken advantage of its good
fortune - no one honestly knows how this happened
- to destroy books and newspapers and to rewrite
what's available on the internet.

When Lao visits a book store and asks for books
by several famous authors, a search of the store
computer indicates the books don't exist. When he
confronts the manager and asks about books by
Yang Jiang, a famous writer, the manager stares
at him, confused, and says, "Which Yang Jiang?"

The Golden Age represents the frustrations of
many intellectuals, who previously had high hopes
for reform. Chan says that while the party
launched huge economic reforms over the past
three decades, politically not much has changed.

"In the 1980s there were hopes for constitutional
democracy but it's now very obvious that's not
the way to go for China," he says, recognising
the reality. "A new Chinese-style governance has
been established and is accepted."
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