Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (Translated by Flora Drew); I Love Dollars: And Other Stories of China by Zhu Wen (Translated by Julia Lovell) - review by Caroline Moorehead

Caroline Moorehead

Changing China

Beijing Coma


Chatto & Windus 586pp £17.99

I Love Dollars: And Other Stories of China


Penguin Books 256pp £7.99

No one knows precisely how many students and their supporters were killed when, on 4 June 1989, the Chinese security forces opened fire in Tiananmen Square. The figures usually quoted range between 1,000 and 7,000. Though Ma Jian, author of Beijing Coma, was no longer living in Beijing at the time, having been driven out of China to Hong Kong as a dissident guilty of ‘spiritual pollution’, he was in the square with the students for much of the six weeks of the demonstration. Later, in exile, what haunted him was the amnesia about the events that seemed to settle not only on China but on the rest of the world. ‘This whole period in Chinese history has been completely erased’, he told an interviewer not long ago. ‘I wanted to chronicle these events, to hammer them down like nails in a piece of wood, so no one would be able to forget them.’

Beijing Coma, his 586-page novel covering the Tiananmen Square events, took him ten years to write. He tells the story through the eyes of a postgraduate student in biology, Dai Wei, whose parents, both musicians, had been persecuted under Mao. As the confrontations reach their climax on 4 June, Dai

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March