His new novel, Beijing Coma (translated by Flora Drew; Chatto & Windus, £17.99), does much more than that. Its appearance, just as the giant propaganda juggernaut built in preparation for the Olympic Games looks liable to topple over in the face of global anger over Beijing's record of repression, is an event that should, and will, resonate around the world. It establishes Ma Jian, already the author of three free-spirited books about the post-Mao country which he finally left in 1997, as the Solzhenitsyn of China's amnesiac surge towards superpower status. "When history is erased, people's moral values are also erased," he says. "It was from a sense of rage at this whitewashing of history that I felt the need to bear witness." In dictatorships, there must be "a constant struggle between the authorities who want to control history and the writers who want to grab hold of it and reclaim it."