Serve the People

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 September, 2007, 12:00am

Serve the People

by Yan Lianke

Constable, HK$115

Having their books banned in China is often a blessing for mainland novelists these days because of the increase in interest the status brings. This is why Serve the People advertises its prohibition on its cover, including the promise the novel is a 'sexy, satirical sensation'. The more readers these boasts attract, the better. Serve the People (a famous Mao Zedong slogan) is a wry poke at the cult of the Chairman that makes its point by engaging readers rather than force-feeding them the message. Written by Yan Lianke, the novella is set during the Cultural Revolution and revolves around two comrades in arms (literally): Wu Dawang, a cook, and Liu Lian, the beautiful wife of an elderly and impotent divisional commander. Soon after Wu is assigned to their home, Liu tells Wu that when the 'Serve the People' sign is on the kitchen table he is required in her bedroom. Serving her and her husband, after all, is to serve the people. What follows is a prolonged romp during the divisional commander's absence, culminating in a three-day love fest in which the couple destroy Mao paraphernalia to heighten their sexual excitement. Yan's book is a quirky satire that offers more heft than its slender form suggests.