Review: The Dark Road – Ma Jian’s devastating attack on Chinese oppression

Shafts of humour help to illuminate this brilliantly bleak satire on the ‘one family, one child’ policy: The Guardian

Ma_JianIf a criticism must be made of Ma Jian’s devastating and powerful attack on contemporary Chinese oppression, elegantly translated by his wife Flora Drew, it lies less in the writing and more in the society described. Jian, who researched the novel while posing as an official reporter in the backwaters of China, depicts a terrifyingly random world in which the “one family, one child” policy of population engineering is stuck to with such rigid adherence that mothers-to-be can be seized, taken to down-at-heel makeshift clinics and forcibly aborted, often at extremely late stages in pregnancy.

The-Dark-RoadA matter-of-fact depiction of such an event occurring to the protagonist Meili, a young teacher pregnant with her second child, early on is one of the most distressing and horrendous scenes in recent literature, and the shock is all the greater for the cool detachment with which Jian describes it; the punchline, in which a weak and bleeding Meili, foetus dying in front of her, is informed that she has been given a half-price discount on the fees that the compulsory abortion would cost is worthy of Swift or Orwell in its bracingly bleak satire.

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