Synopses & Reviews
When it was written in 2005, Yan Lianke's Serve the People was deemed unpublishable by China's state-run publishing houses. Despite the ban, Serve the People found an underground audience via excerpts and in chat rooms on the Internet, where commentators praised its subversive critique of the hypocrisy and madness of the Cultural Revolution. Set in 1967, at the peak of the Mao cult, Serve the People is a beautifully told, wickedly daring story about the forbidden love affair between Liu Lian, the young, pretty wife of a powerful Division Commander in Communist China, and her household's lowly servant, Wu Dawang. Left to idle at home while her husband furthers the revolution, Liu Lian establishes a rule for her orderly: that whenever the household's wooden Serve the People sign is removed from its usual place on the dinner table and placed elsewhere, Wu Dawang is to stop what he is doing and attend to her needs upstairs. The orderly, an exemplary soldier, vows to obey. As life is breathed into the illicit sexual affair, Yan Lianke brilliantly captures how the Model Soldier Wu Dawang becomes an eager collaborator with the restless and demanding Liu Lian, their actions inspired by primitive passions that they are only just discovering. The two-month sexual affair culminates in three days of ravenous lovemaking, the peak of which is an evening in which the lovers compete to see who can prove themselves the most counterrevolutionary by destroying the compound's most sacred Communist icons. Lianke tramples on the sacrosanct taboos of the army, the revolution, sexuality, and political etiquette in this funny, subversive critique of official corruption, the hypocrisy of leadership, and theinsanity of the Cultural Revolution. His first work to be translated into English, Serve the People brings us the debut of one of the most important authors writing from inside China today.
"This spare, enigmatic novella of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution tells the story of the brief love affair between Wu Dawang, general orderly for a local division commander, and Liu Lian, the commander's bored wife. An ambitious model soldier of peasant origin, eager to move his family to the city, Wu Dawang is repeatedly instructed by his superiors that 'to serve the Division Commander and his family is to Serve the People.' While the commander is away in Beijing for a two-month conference, Liu Lian initiates the affair with Wu Dawang through her subversive take on that Maoist slogan: whenever a sign saying 'Serve the People' is moved from its accustomed place in the household, Wu Dawang is to attend to her needs immediately. Their delirious sexual liaison culminates in an orgiastic desecration of the images and words of Chairman Mao. Yan's satire brilliantly exposes the emptiness of Maoist ideals and the fraudulent ends for which they were used, but also relates a sorrowful tale of compromised relationships and modest hopes left unfulfilled. It was banned in China in 2005 for slander and for 'overflowing' depictions of sex." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Yan Lianke's "Serve the People!" is a scathing sendup of life in 1960s China during the chaos of the country's Cultural Revolution. Serialized in the Chinese literary magazine Hua Cheng in 2005 and then banned by the Central Propaganda Bureau, Lianke's novel takes aim at one and all, from impotent leaders and their scandalous wives to amoral People's Liberation Army soldiers scheming their way up the ranks, peasant farmers plagued by drought, and even the great Mao himself. Lianke spares no one . . . "Serve the People!" is a wonderfully biting satire, brimming with absurdity, humor and wit . . .the novel is exuberantly drawn in several shades of revolutionary (or should that be Revlon?) red." LA Times
This passionate satire of clandestine, intimate privilege in an ostensibly classless, egalitarian society is exceedingly carefully written, so that it is at once funny, sad, and bitterly ironic on nearly every page. Oh, and sensual, too.” Ray Olson, Booklist (starred review)
Yans work certainly contains its share of double entendres and may even be perceived as comedic at times, but on a deeper level, it offers a sociopolitical commentary on a way of life generally unfamiliar to Westerners.” Library Journal
Yans satire brilliantly exposes the emptiness of Maoist ideals and the fraudulent ends for which they were used, but also relates a sorrowful tale of compromised relationships and modest hopes left unfulfilled.” Publishers Weekly
Steamy and subversive . . . Lianke [is] one of Chinas greatest living authors and fiercest satirists.” Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
Yan Liankes slim novel drips with the kind of satire that can only come from deep within the machinery of Chinese communism. Eschewing broad comedy, Yan barbs the text with enough social criticism to receive a priceless blurb from the Central Propaganda Bureau.” Craig Taylor, Financial Times
Not just sexy, but also tender . . . Lianke peppers the book with useful passages on the art of writing itself, and makes his readers aware of semantic manipulation and the power of words, their ability to brainwash and erase thoughts.” Waterstones Books Quarterly (UK)
An exhilarating comedy of misunderstandings . . . Yan Lianke is one of the most popular and controversial writers of his generation.” La Repubblica (Italy)
It is Ionesco in full. And the last pages of the book, melancholy and mysterious, make it possible to measure the variety of the talent of the novelist.” Le Figaro (Paris)
Set in 1967, at the peak of the Mao cult, Serve the People! is a beautifully told, wickedly daring story about the forbidden love affair between Liu Lian, the young, pretty wife of a powerful Division Commander in Communist China, and her households lowly servant, Wu Dawang. When Liu Lian establishes a rule for her orderly that he is to attend to her needs whenever the households wooden Serve the People! sign is removed from its usual place, the orderly vows to obey. What follows is a remarkable love story and a profound and deliciously comic satire on Maos famous slogan and the political and sexual taboos of his regime. As life is breathed into the illicit sexual affair, Yan Lianke brilliantly captures how the Model Soldier Wu Dawang becomes an eager collaborator with the restless and demanding Liu Lian, their actions inspired by primitive passions that they are only just discovering. Originally banned in China, and the first work from Yan Lianke to be translated into English, Serve the People! brings us the debut of one of the most important authors writing from inside China today.