Translating into Chinese of the following article

The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke review – boomtime in rural China


In February 2013, hundreds of dead pigs were found floating down China’s Huangpu River. The scandal of Shanghai’s contaminated water supplies made international headlines, though the absurdist nature of the incident seemed so impossibly bizarre it left writers of fiction struggling to keep up. As Yan Lianke observes in the afterword to his novel: “Contemporary China is currently hurtling past a series of economic and developmental milestones that took Europe over two centuries to achieve ... Incidents that appear at first glance utterly illogical and unreal have become increasingly common.”
The river of pigs is referred to in the epic sweep of this mock-dynastic history, which documents the extraordinary development of the town of Explosion from an insignificant village in Henan province to a populous, economic powerhouse in under 50 years. The narrative elsewhere alludes to a disgraced village elder drowned in a basin of spittle, and to the introduction of a policy of compulsory cremations that causes a number of elderly people to take their own lives in order to be buried before the deadline. These are also incidents from recent Chinese history that actually happened – needless to say, it becomes difficult in Yan’s work to separate fiction from reality.
The book takes the form of a parodic gazette compiled, in the kind of meta-textual twist Yan frequently employs, by “a world-famous author from Beijing named Yan Lianke” who is commissioned by the city authorities to document the settlement’s “great leap forward”. The fictitious Yan agrees to abandon the novel he has been working on and accepts the commission on the grounds that he is a native of the region and has been tempted by the fee: “I hope readers will forgive me, but I really needed the money.”
The prelude not only ironises the novel’s central theme of the egregious scramble for money, it also characterises his precarious relationship with the authorities. Though Yan is domiciled in Beijing and feted abroad, the majority of his work remains banned in mainland China. He has an eye for the kind of outrageous scams that explain the miracle of modern China. In his previous novel, Dream of Deng Village, a community achieved unsustainable prosperity by draining its blood for the international transfusion trade. Lenin’s Kisses featured a government-sponsored travelling freak show raising funds for a communist theme park. But Yan’s work further incorporates a beguiling thread of what he terms “mythorealism”. This was particularly apparent in his great satire of the Cultural Revolution, Four Books, in which an author, as part of his re-education, is required to make a tiny plot of land yield an impossible quota of wheat.
The miracle worker at the heart of The Explosion Chronicles is an ambitious young man named Kong Mingliang, who assumes the leadership of the village after becoming the first to establish a “ten thousand yuan household” (a state-sponsored incentive scheme introduced by the Chinese authorities in the early 1980s). He achieves this through stealing coal from goods trains as they round the bend of the mountain: “By summer the grass along the train tracks was completely black from coal dust but Kong Mingliang had become the first person in Explosion to save up ten thousand yuan, thereby making himself a nationally acclaimed model.”
Mingliang’s meteoric rise is predicated on political nous, flexible morals and personal charisma, though he also exerts a mythorealistic power over the natural world: “Even the insects and sparrows listened to him.” Throughout the book, the flora and climate of Explosion undergo strange convulsions in accordance with the Kong family’s fortunes. A dead fern springs back to life when Mingliang receives the document confirming Explosion’s elevation to municipal status: “It was winter, but given that the village was being changed into a town, the climate had no choice but to change as well.”
The translation, by Yan’s regular English collaborator Carlos Rojas, is a model of clarity with a dry, ironic tone that just about matches the extraordinary sequence of events. In the latter stages of the book an effigy of President Clinton is burned in protest at the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999; though only a few pages later, Mingliang’s brother, who has become head of the army, sets off in a rowing boat for a week-long round of diplomatic meetings with President Obama, David Cameron and Angela Merkel. It is not entirely clear if the completed chronicle is scheduled to be delivered some time in the future, as the narrative ends seemingly in the present day, with all the clocks and watches having stopped and the megalopolis subsumed by a poisonous smog: “When the haze receded 30 years later, Explosion no longer had any birds or insects left.”
Whatever the case, the authorities are not amused, having been denied the hagiographic celebration of glorious leadership they were expecting. The postscript presents a further aside to the author’s career, as the committee forbids the publication of the report. “I gazed at the mayor’s livid face, then smiled and said, ‘Thank you, Mayor Kong. You are this book’s first reader and your response reassures me that I have written a pretty good work.’”