Author Wang Xiaofang has written a novel about corruption and the inner workings of Chinese bureaucracy that is not so loosely based on his experience working as secretary to Ma Xiangdong, deputy mayor of Shenyang who was executed in a major corruption case that engulfed the city. The Guardian profiles Wang:
Wang was reluctant to rake over the past and indignant when asked about Chinese reports of a gang leader tossing him an envelope for his boss one evening – only for him to learn, much later, that it had contained 200,000 yuan.
“They are just writing stuff from the internet, not what I said,” he complained. Later, he added: “It was US$20,000.”
But he acknowledged that the scandal shocked him into confronting the ubiquity of corruption. His books offer sympathetic portrayals of officials struggling – and often failing – to maintain integrity. Many of his characters “hate corruption but don’t have the courage to fight against it, because that is costly”, he said. The righteous can seem austere to their peers; less scrupulous colleagues endear themselves with gifts, favours and the lure of an easier lifestyle.
“It’s the tragedy of the system … The price of power is too great. The more control the government imposes, the worse corruption is.”
He prefers to talk art, not politics, dropping in references to Goethe and Italo Calvino and comparing himself to last year’s Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. “He created some new literary structures and so did I. He talks about corrupt officials and so do I. I don’t feel he is any better than me,” Wang observed.
English readers will be able to judge when Penguin publishes A Civil Servant’s Notebook in translation later this year.