Melissa Holbrook Pierson: Strong Medicine

From The Nation:

In a 2004 piece by the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, recently exhibited at the Guggenheim, a pack of life-size tigers writhe in midair, bristling with scores of arrows. They should be dead, with all those wounds. Yet they still live–or appear to. There is no more perfect emblem of China, or so might agree Ma Jian, on the basis of his new novel, Beijing Coma, in which the country is portrayed as “a vast graveyard” with “a gruesome history.”

Detailing just how gruesome is part of Ma’s project, and it takes nearly 600 pages to record a mere slice of the brutality and carnage wreaked by a government bent on controlling every aspect of its people’s lives, from the way they profess their love (only recently could anything more direct than “You’re nice” be uttered out loud) to their reproductive fulfillment. Then, whenever a soldier shot a civilian, “the victim’s family was made to pay for the bullet.”

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