This book can only be fully appreciated by Chinese readers. It is a realistic portrait of the transformation of the whole Chinese society generated by the policies of Deng Xiaoping. As Julia Lovell writes astutely in her excellent introduction, `Deng was convinced that Communist China's stability depended on the spread of material prosperity. To the ever-pragmatic Deng, it was irrelevant whether the means were capitalist or socialist, provided that the end of preserving party rule was achieved.'
The impact on Chinese society was nothing less than tremendous on all levels: family life, generation conflicts, sex, art (literature), human relations or working conditions.
The generation clash is preponderant in `I Love Dollars': the current generation is `greedy for everything, everywhere, smashing, grabbing, swearing.' Or, in `Pounds, Ounces, Meat': `You, youth of today! You can't cook; you can't convert pounds into metric! You treat your family like dirt. You're all useless.' In `A Hospital Night', a young man is pestered nearly into a nervous breakdown by older people. Sex is purely business: `As long as we're paying for the genuine article at a fair price, into the shopping cart it goes, just like everything else.' Prostitutes are `businesswomen controlled, like we all are, by macroeconomic price regulations.' (I Love Dollars) Art (literature): `they write for money. `Commercial and popular success becomes paramount. For the older generation, `a writer ought to offer people something positive, ideals, aspirations, democracy, freedom.' (I Love Dollars) In `Wheels', a bike incident turns into a violent extortion. In `Ah, Xiao Xie', a pastiche of the centrally planned `Soviet' system, you cannot leave your factory unless you have a long arm. In the best story of the bundle `A Boat Crossing', a Kafkaesque haunting nightmare, everything is for sale, even a young lady, in a corrupt mini-society (boat = country) under the spell of mysterious powers. Where can people go?
Zhu Wen's fluently written brilliant stories show a China and its population at crossroads. Highly recommended.