Take the Money (RMB) and Run…. Deng’s Feckless Entrepreneurs

investor flight edited

HUMAN CAPITAL FRIGHT/ OR THE 5 MINUTE OUTLAY AND STASHING PROFITS ABROAD
The Ugly Side of the Deng era Sino-Capitalists: or Mo Yan’s Dalan “Birds”

Perhaps the most vivid image overlay in Mo Yan’s Big Breasts (and Liquorland) is the fly-by-night pair of tourism-geared local “development” projects that rise the burst like bubbles as the Dalan story comes to its end.

Of the two, the more allegorically provocative is the Eastern Bird Sanctuary (Park), by definition a temporary roosting spot of migrating birds who will soon move on, to return only in rota or not at all.

(Chinese Text 5051
东方鸟类中心 Eastern Bird Sanctuary
大型游乐场。around the Daoist pagoda Grand Scale Theme/Amusement Park by appropriation, the original pagoda as a “landmark”

It is the denouement with its very realistic but depressing revelations that
places the misadventure in its proper context: the hyper-velocity both of private (Chinese+Overseas Chinese) investment retrieval and of the pipelining “capitalists” themselves, who are as Houdini-like as the Mo Yan capo banditi (Sima Ku, Yu Zhan’ao), masters of “take the money and run”, only here more flagrantly: they emigrate or reemigrate. Or more still: green cards for the children to study in the US, stashed bonds and stocks bought with Chinese onshore j/v enterprise profits, ferreted in foreign accounts, even the odd getaway or golfcourse investment in the Offshore: fun and of course real estate bubble profits.

Perhaps constrained by internal pressures, Mo Yan never labels his bogus investors as “foreign” or “on-the-hoof” Chinese, though their attachment to (and superabundant access to Philippine cigars, French perfumes, Italian and Cardin suits/ties, and of course German “limos” (a Hong Kong obsession) tells us unmistakably that they are rooted offshore in every regard.

“Heroes of the Marshes” (caomang yingxiong) and – or “Life on the Run” (jianghu liumang)in Moyan-land

In post-1930s Sino-cinematia, the bandit-hoodlum of chuanqi folk literature changes faces and becomes a martial arts expert – better, virtuoso. Without whose presence and performance skills the kungfu film would never have gained its current massive following. Or Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger filmed. Or Bruce Lee a first “Chinese” then global sensation.

Of course there never was such a thing as a stock-character tough or hoodlum: the category includes grades of evil running (on the sadistic end) from jailers and torturers wearing heavy silver-studded belts and no shirts, to, on the more sympathetic side, the self-employed freebooter, who tends to make his living by kidnapping and ransom – ideally a bloodless crime victimizing the rich (thus in a sense a punishment for slack patriarchies).

Even more positive is the culture of the wuxia “knight-errant”, whose star seems if anything to be rising as a idealized alternative to the totally amoral world of wealth and power in the new “open” China, where (even if corrupted) class justice had originally offered a degree of resistance to sheer brutality, a culture of greed unstemmed.

But these “takes” are or have been based on abstract, film-enacted roles, and take up tales from wuxia fiction which are ultimately (by intent) surreal or magical.

One of the more remarkable features of Mo Yan’s fictional chronicles is that this modal personality is historically real, not simply the stuff of storytellers: he moves front stage and is anchored within the bounds of a rural underclass occasionally even rising to community organizer in chief This at the same time that the best known of these heroic predators (so-called) were it seems ALWAYS on the run or in hiding, even or especially when they drifted back to the villages that had spawned them. Though that is not as much a contradiction as it might seem: for though brother of the (same) soil could rise further in their native places (where they were best known and respected) than elsewhere, the connectedness of being (back) among neighbors and kin also made them that much more vulnerable to betrayal for cash, or by members of rival gangs or even patrilineages. Mo Yan’s lengthy NE Gaomi chronicles (RSF and BBWH) richly characterize 2 such “star” wanderers-cum-local-heroes: Yu Zhanao (b. ca 1900, place unknown) and Sima Ku (b. ca 1910, Dalan) with seeming admiration for their ability to disappear for very lengthy periods of time (Yu is supposed to have retreated into a family cellar on the eve of the Rev and not re-emerged until 1957).

A Mo Yan (管谟业) Fact and Fiction Gallery

Random pieces from the NE Gaomi Jigsaw puzzle

Since late last year and surely for some time to come, Mo Yan has been and will be a creature known mainly through the literary and Party press, in both “entertainment” and “lit-crit” modalities.

This kind of coverage is famous for distortion, plagiarism, lack of corroboration, and often simply viciousness. As we all know.

But given Mo Yan’s not necessarily humble reticence about his early (pre-1985) days, and in particular about his transformation from a PLA propaganda unit trainee into a Faulkner-influenced dream-narrator in 1985 (but about much else as well, later on), this flow of off-the-cuff material needs to be registered. Though the truth-yield is always low (or worse), there is quite often something of value, a glimpse of soul perhaps not even deliberate or intended.

All the more so since (in my read) a very large element in his (later) “hallucinorealist” style fiction reassembles as self-liberating narrative a host of searing psychological experiences from his first 22 years, all lived in his very very “postage stamp” (微地) sized village community, a community whose history is still largely unrecorded, and doomed to remain so. (It was “moved” and the old lodgings ploughed under in the early 1990s)

Where is N.E. Gaomi?

The “make-believe” postage stamp sized county called “Gaomi NE” appears in Mo Yan’s writings from end 1984, after a quick reading (in Chinese translation) of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929), in which that (latter) author launches his “imagined/invented” storyland Yoknapatawpha County, a setting Faulkner created based on Lafayette County, Mississippi. Mo was then enrolled in a (new) literature dept. (program) at the PLA Lib Arts College (grad. 1986), which was at the time playing translation/interpretation catchup with the huge inventory of more or less “new” world fiction – meaning both works published “offshore” after the GPCR shut-down, AND a number of much older overseas works/writers who had been passed over or banned during the “17 years” because rejected by Soviet mainstream critics.

Whatever and whenever the specific inspiration came, there can be no doubt that his home township (Dalan/Ping’an/Shakouzi cun), became the never-never-land of almost all his fiction, starting with Red Sorghum (Mar. 1985 publ.).

Mo Yan’s “Republic of Wine”: Satiric Allegory of Deng Era Liberalization or Confessions of a Nightmare Dreamer

an age of pygmiesJiuguo, or “Liquorland”

(GB “Republic of Wine), 1992, may be regarded as Mo Yan’s first venture into the tradition of Swiftian satiric travel-allegory, though (as ever) no advertisement of this kinship appears anywhere. The structure is that of a journey to and back out of a never-never-land insulated from conventional norms and outside scrutiny. As perhaps a reference to the Fijian indigenes “discovered” in one or another 18th century “travelogues”, the narrator lands in a “country” where cannibalism is a major – and privileged – entertainment of the Party elite, who feast on carefully prepared “meat children” (routong) at state banquets.

The excursion into a never-land-land has of course a very deep history in Chinese “pulp” fiction of the post-1880s (or perhaps even further back, in Xiyouji or “Monkey”, rerversals (satires) of the clericological travel-narratives sparked by the transfer of Mahayana Buddhism to Tang China.

What is presented is “quasi” caprice hiding under the canopy of reportage, a strategy of epistemological “play” that was both useful and “safe” as a means of popularizing trans-oceanic societies and their hardware (at once miraculous and frightening). “Believe it or not, dear reader… but this was what we have seen…”. All this of course is radical tension with the unambiguous run downs on “why the West is strong” and how to redress the balance (fuguo qiangbing and lifa/lixian) pamphlets – filled with alarm and predictions of doom – that poured in mainly as translations of Japanese reformist tracts.

(A helpful introduction to the whimsical or even sci-fi-like travelogues that poured from the pen of Wang Tao appears in Fogel, ed. Traditions of East Asian Travel, (2006), esp. Emma Jinhua Teng, “The West as a Kingdom of Women: Women and Occidentalism in Wang Tao’s Tales of Travel”. )

So far, “merely” grotesque, or gruesome, though (since the venue is beyond the map- again Swiftian) the claim must be taken as a kind of second-hand rumor, possibly a hallucination or folk-fiction. (Local “peasants” are described as selling their boy children to a Culinary Institute by weight and quality of flesh – but these referents allude to abortion and the (still?) actual sale of children into prostitution or servitude by pauperized peasants – something nervously described in BBWH.

Much closer to the heart of the narrative is the pictorial rendering of the “new” business class. Both victims (the children) and those who corruptly extract profits for this and other exchanges are configured in terms of height, bodily height: actually (seemingly) a correlative of aggressive energy, not of inertia or evasion.

In fact, the central “actor”, Yu Yichi 余一尺 “12 inch Yu -actually 17)”, proprietor 老板 of the “town’s” most successful “new style” businesses 一尺餐厅 (12-inch Tavern) is but one third the height of the average “outsider”, and limits his hiring to (mainly) female dwarfs.

Mo Yan’s Folkhistorical Chronicle of NE Gaomi (1) : The (Real-life) Bandit-heroes of Red Sorghum Family

rEsd sorgh collage apr 9 2013

Header Illustrations: (upper right clockwise)
1. 江湖郎中的“祖传神方江湖郎中的“祖传神方
“mountebank” in marketplace, often a guerrilla spy (ditto for street martial arts entertainers and wedding/funeral “escorts”, monks and litter-bearers)
2. Chinese (Daoist) God of Intoxication, Dukang (+/- Bacchus). Sometimes claimed as the inventor of “alcohol”
3. Japanese truck-bearing bridge over 蛟龙河 Flood Dragon River: aka Sunjiakou Crossing 14-arch Bridge/Qingshakou (roadway)
built 1937-8
4. Japanese truck-bearing bridge over 蛟龙河 Flood Dragon River: aka Sunjiakou 14-arch Bridge, side view
5. Dukang (“wine god”, vendor’s advertisement)

***

Folk-history as Dream and Nightmare: Origin of the Red Sorghum Quintet

Mo Yan’s Nobel-crowned success – or impress – as a writer of metafiction (abstract or symbolic philosophical discourse embedded in subjective fictional narrative – my own term) – has moved critical interest away from his first success d’estime, Red Sorghum Family (Taiwan ed. 1988). A work which is unmistakably historically sequenced narrative, as is also its companion novel, Big Breasts and Wide Hips. (1996). Though the recurrent return to “NE Gaomi” (i.e. Dalan township) – reminiscent of Faulkneresque Yoknapatawpha County- creates and expands a fictional space about which more and more detail accumulates, the sense of intermittent superhumanity and magic embedded in the “NE Gaomi” chronicles drops away with the (clearly defined) mid-life coming-into- adulthood of the subject-narrator, Sima Jintong (GB 459, age “42” upon return to 76-8 Dalan), a place literally ploughed over for the construction of a hideous “new town” of ferroconcrete by typical “Deng” era predator capitalists. Though surreality and grotesqueness – what I shall call “graffiti” realism – persist across the divide (time-in-motion vs time-as-present), and the stageset remains Dalan (fictionalized “Northeast Gaomi County”), a major change in shape nevertheless occurs. Bloodline history simply ceases: the events first capturing attention, starting more or less in 1938 when the tides of guerrilla war first (literally) overflow the terrain, come to an abrupt halt with the 1993 (un-calendered) death of the writer/narrator’s mother, the super-stalwart Shangguan Lu, the novel’s unmistakable (and Christianity-converted) hero. We are at the very end left with a stage populated by two extra-maritally conceived stepbrothers, both fathered by a “Swedish” missionary-priest (Mallory). Leaving the door open to Deng Xiaoping-era capitalists to run wild and eradicate all still extant markers of the town itself.