‘The Dark Road’ and Ma Jian on Censorship

Following the UK release of his latest novel, The Dark Road, the Index on Censorship talks to exiled writer Ma Jian about his career, Beijing’s longstanding ban on his work, the value of free expression, the legacy of Tiananmen, nationalism, and dissent amid strict censorship:

A review of the The Dark Road from The Guardian gives a brief introduction to Ma and his previous work:

Although best known as an exiled dissident defined by his head-on opposition to virtually every aspect of mainstream Chinese politics, Ma Jian is a writer of rare originality whose work effortlessly combines a sense of the avant garde with uncomfortable humour, underpinned at all times by rage at the social changes that have affected China over the past 30 years. The brilliance of his 2008 masterpiece, Beijing Coma, was already anticipated in Red Dust, his atmospheric travel memoir, which recounted the young intellectual’s spiritual and political escape from the capital to the west of China in the 1980s. Subsequent fiction such as The Noodle Maker and Stick Out Your Tongue developed a style that blended internal landscapes with flashes of magic realism and surreal comedy.

The Dark Road is an angrier, more openly confrontational novel than its predecessors. Set in the river towns and vast waste sites that line the banks of the Yangtze in Guangdong province, it tackles the grim issue of forced abortions and sterilisations with a prolonged and unflinching gaze.[...]

The Telegraph’s review explains how Ma was able to gather research on the sensitive topics dealt with in The Dark Road:

[...]When researching The Dark Road, Ma posed as an official reporter to witness the forced sterilisations and abortions carried out by the government, and as a vagrant, living among the fugitives of China’s one-child policy.

And yet one does not need to read a biography to determine the authenticity of Ma’s writing, which sings out through in this translation (by his wife, the talented Flora Drew). The Dark Road is a long, explicit account of the depredations endured by both a people and a mother forced to flee from her home merely because of a second pregnancy.[...]

The Independent summarizes The Dark Road‘s context and characters:

Set in rural China, notionally about a decade ago, Ma Jian’s compelling but distinctly uncomfortable new novel presents a hellish depiction of the human impact of China’s one child policy.

Kongzi is a peasant schoolteacher, proud of his direct lineage back to the great Confucius. His dutiful young bride Meili soon produces a daughter but Kongzi, obsessed by his perceived duty to sire a male heir, penetrates her nightly until she conceives again. Brief exultation is routed by panic when the Family Planning squad raids their village, rounding women up and tethering them like cattle, forcibly sterilising and aborting with a sickening zeal. Meili and Kongzi abandon their home to flee down the Yangtze, becoming criminal outcasts to protect their unborn but illegal son.[...]