RAS Book Club

RAS Library

A DICTIONARY OF MAQIAO

Discussion Leader: Dagmar Borchard

From the daring imagination of one of China’s greatest living novelists comes a work of startling power and originality–the story of a young man “displaced” to a small village in rural China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Told in the format of a dictionary, with a series of vignettes disguised as entries, A Dictionary of Maqiao is a novel of bold invention–and a fascinating, comic, deeply moving journey through the dark heart of the Cultural Revolution.

Entries trace the wisdom and absurdities of the little village Maqiao: the petty squabbles, family grudges, poverty, infidelities, fantasies, lunatics, bullies, superstitions. Han Shaogong is especially fascinated by the odd logic in their use of language–where the word for “beginning” is the same as the word for “end”; “little big brother” means older sister; to be “scientific” means to be lazy; and “streetsickness” is a disease afflicting villagers visiting urban areas. Filled with colorful characters–from a weeping ox to a man so poisonous that snakes die when they bite him–A Dictionary of Maqiao is both an important work of Chinese literature and a probing inquiry into the extraordinary power of language.

Han Shaogong is one of the representative names of Chinese contemporary literature. During the mid-eighties, he led the development of a literary school called “Root-seeking literature,” (寻根文学) the practitioners of which sought to distill an independent, “Chinese” narrative from their rural backgrounds. A prolific writer, Han Shaogong is famous for his novellas Ba Ba BA and Woman Woman Woman, as well as for the full-length novel A Dictionary of Maqiao, first published in 1996 and translated by Julia Lovell into English in 2003. In 1987, he collaborated on a translation of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being into Chinese. Passionately interested (like Shen Congwen) in the mystical traditions that set Hunan and its people apart from the rest of China, he has long searched for an alternative to Han culture in Hunan’s ancient history.

*Please note that this is a book discussion, not a talk. The author will not be present.*

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