Mao Badges and Rocket Parts
- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, translated by Ina Rilke
Chatto, 208 pp, £10.00, June 2001, ISBN 0 7011 6982 6
- The Drink and Dream Teahouse by Justin Hill
Weidenfeld, 344 pp, £12.99, March 2001, ISBN 0 297 64697 4
It was said that The Little Red Book had ‘supplied the breath of life to soldiers gasping in the thin air of the Tibetan plateau; enabled workers to raise the sinking city of Shanghai three-quarters of an inch; inspired a million people to subdue a tidal wave in 1969, a group of housewives to reinvent shoe polish, and surgeons to sew back severed fingers and remove a 99 pound tumour as big as a football’. Mao and his men rated the power of words higher than most, and this may explain why they went to such lengths to suppress non-aligned literature in China. From the early 1960s until the mid-1980s almost all Western books were prohibited and the printing presses clattered away producing agitprop: multi-volume hagiographies of Enver Hoxha and Stalin, tendentious political parables and the fiction of pre-1949 Chinese writers such as Lu Xun in editions that provided the correct ideological spin.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.