As you might or might not have guessed from the stupid title, the main plot arc revolves around the SARS outbreak, which Ru Yan gets an early handle on because a family member of hers in the south has come down with the mysterious disease. Eager to warn her new friends on the internet, she posts about SARS on the forum, and people who remember the SARS outbreak can probably guess how things go from there. Her posts are deleted, she receives odd threats, others step in to her defense, and ultimately a war of sorts breaks out. Political agendas are being pushed on both sides, but Ru Yan doesn’t see herself as political at all, she simply thinks people ought to be warned about the disease.
Against this backdrop, Ru Yan’s offline life is expanding. A coworker has introduced her to the city’s most eligible bachelor, who happens to be a high official in charge of public health. And a meet-up of internet friends offline has connected her with Damo and his circle of intellectuals, which now includes as CASS professor, an overworked lawyer, and several overseas Chinese.
There are several conversations about China’s future and overseas Chinese in the book that I think should be required reading for the entire comments section of this blog. In fact, the book as a whole contains honest and open political discussions of the sort that are far too lacking these days whether we’re talking about China or any other country. By setting these arguments as mostly between friends, Hu is able to portray both perspectives fairly and honestly, although it is clear where his own feelings lie.
Read also a review of the book from Peking Duck.