Authors: Qiu Xiaolong
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THE MAO CASE
First published in Great Britain in 2008 by Sceptre
An imprint of Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette Livre UK Company
First published in the United States of America in 2009 by St Martin‘s Press Inc.
Copyright © Qiu Xiaolong 2009
The right of Qiu Xiaolong 2009 to be identified as the Author
of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form
or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher,
nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other
than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance
to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
Book ISBN: 9780340979167
Epub ISBN: 9781848942486
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
For the people that suffered under Mao
I am indebted to many people for their support, particularly to Patricia Mirrlees, whose warm friendship thawed the frozen moments of writing; to Yang Xianyi, whose example of moral integrity inspired the characters in the story; and to Keith Kahla, whose brilliant editorial work helped to present it in its present form.
CHIEF INSPECTOR CHEN CAO
was in no mood to speak at the political studies meeting of the Shanghai Police Bureau’s Party committee.
His mood was due to the topic of the day — the urgency of building spiritual civilization in China. “Spiritual civilization” was a political catchphrase much emphasized in the Party newspapers starting in the mid-nineties.
had another editorial on the subject just that morning. In the same issue, however, yet another high-ranking Party official was exposed in a corruption scandal.
So where could the “spiritual civilization” come from? Surely, it wasn’t something that could be pulled out of thin air like a rabbit out of a magician’s hat. Still, Chen had to sit, stiff and serious, at the middle of the conference room table, nodding like a robot, while others talked.
You cannot connect nothing to nothing with broken fingernails…
Whether this bleak image came from a poem he had read long ago, while lying in the sun on some beach, was a detail he couldn’t recall.
In spite of the Party’s propaganda, materialism was sweeping over China. It was a well-known joke that the old political slogan “Look to the future” had become an even more popular maxim, “Look to the money,” for in Chinese, both “future” and “money” are pronounced as
, exactly the same. But that wasn’t a joke, not exactly. So where would the “spiritual civilization” come from?
“Nowadays, people look at nothing but their own feet,” Party Secretary Li Guohua, the top Party boss in the bureau, spoke, gravely, his heavy eye bags trembling in the afternoon light. “We have to reemphasize the glorious tradition of our Party. We have to rebuild the Communist value system. We have to reeducate people…”
Were people to blame for this? Chen lit a cigarette, rubbing the ridge of his nose with his forefinger and middle finger. After all the political movements under Mao, after the Cultural Revolution, after the eventful summer of 1989, after the numerous corruption cases within the Party system —
“People care for nothing but money,” Inspector Liao, the head of the homicide squad, chipped in loudly. “Let me give you an example. I went to a restaurant last week. An old Hunan restaurant that has been in business for many years, but all of a sudden, it’s a Mao restaurant. There are pictures of Mao, and of his bewitching personal secretaries, posted all over the walls. The menu is full of special dishes that were supposedly favorites of Mao. And so-called Xiang Sister Waitresses, clad in
-style bodices with Mao quotations printed on them, strutted around like hookers. The restaurant is shamelessly capitalizing on Mao, who would die from shock if he were resurrected today.”
“And there’s the joke,” Detective Jiang said, “about Mao walking into Tiananmen Square, where a shrewd businessman used him as an instant picture model for tourists, making tons of money. A crying shame —”
“Leave Mao alone,” Party Secretary Li cut in angrily.
A crying shame or not, a joke at the expense of Mao remained a political taboo, Chen observed, pulling over the ashtray. Still, the joke was a vivid illustration of present-day society. Mao had turned into a profitable brand name.
Retribution or karma
? Chen mused, watching the smoke rings spiral up in the conference room, when he became aware of Li’s fidgeting beside him. He had to say something.
“Economic basis and ideological superstructure.” Chen managed to come out with a couple of Marxist terms he had learned in his college years, but then he checked himself. According to Marx, there is a corresponding relation between the ideological superstructure and the economic basis. What marked the present-day “socialism of Chinese characteristics” was, however, the very incongruity between the two. With the market economy totally capitalistic — and at the “primitive accumulation stage,” to use another Marxist phrase — what kind of a communist superstructure or spiritual civilization could be expected?
Still, he’d better think of something fast. It was expected of him — not only as an “intellectual” having majored in English before being assigned by the state to the police bureau, but also as a chief inspector, and an emerging Party cadre.
“Come on, Chief Inspector Chen, you’re not just a police officer, but a published poet too,” Commissar Zhang urged. A “revolutionary of the older generation,” long retired, Zhang still attended the bureau’s political studies meetings, believing that the current problems were the result of insufficient political study. “Surely you have a lot to tell us about the necessity of rebuilding a spiritual civilization.”
What was behind Zhang’s remark, Chen could easily guess. It wasn’t just an implicit criticism of his being a poet, but also of his being, in Zhang’s eyes, too liberal.
“When I came in to work this morning on a crowded bus,” Chen started over again, clearing his throat, “an old man with a crutch struggled aboard. He fell hard when the bus lurched to a stop. No one got up to give him a seat. A young passenger, seated, commented that it’s no longer the age of Comrade Lei Feng, Mao’s selfless Communist role model —”
He left his sentence unfinished again. Perhaps it was coincidental that Mao kept coming up like a returning ghost. Chen ground out his cigarette, ready to finish his sentence when his cell phone rang shrilly. Without looking at the others in room, he answered it.
“Hi, this is Yong,” a woman’s voice said, clear and crisp, “I’m calling about Ling.”
Ling was Chen’s girlfriend in Beijing, or to be exact, ex-girlfriend, though they hadn’t exactly said so explicitly. Yong, a friend and former colleague of Ling’s, had tried to help during their prolonged off-and-on relationship, which went back as early as his college years.
“Oh? What’s happened to Ling?” he exclaimed, drawing surprised stares from his colleagues. He stood up in a hurry, saying to the room, “Sorry, I have to take this.”
“Ling got married,” Yong said.
“What?” he said, striding out into the corridor.
He really shouldn’t have been astonished. Their relationship had long been on the rocks, what with the insurmountable problem of her being an HCC — a high cadre’s child, her father was a top-ranking Party cadre, with his being unable to imagine himself becoming an HCC, because of her, even for her sake. The friction was intensified by his dislike of the social injustice, with the distance between Beijing and Shanghai, and by so many things between them …
Ling was not to blame, he had kept telling himself. Still, the news came as a shattering blow.
“He’s another HCC, but also a successful businessman and a Party official. She doesn’t really care for all that, you know …”
He listened, leaning into a corner, gazing at the opposite wall, which resembled a piece of blank paper. Somehow he felt like an audience, listening to a story about something that had happened to others.
“You should have tried harder,” Yong said, in Ling’s defense. “You can’t expect a woman to wait forever.”
“It may not be too late.” Yong delivered her Parthian shot. “She still cares so much for you. Come to Beijing, and I’ll tell you a lot of things. You’ve not been to Beijing for such a long time. I almost forget what you look like.”
So Yong wasn’t willing to give up even when Ling herself already had, having married somebody else. Yong, essentially, wanted him to make a trip to Beijing for a possible “salvage mission.”
How long the phone conversation in the corridor lasted, he didn’t know.
When he finally went back into the conference room, the political study was coming to a close. Commissar Zhang shook his head like a rattle drum. Li gave Chen a long inquiring look. Taking a seat next to the Party secretary, Chen refrained from saying anything until the session ended.
As people began to leave, Li drew Chen aside. “Is everything all right, Comrade Chief Inspector Chen?”
“Everything is fine,” Chen said, shifting back into his official role. “It’s an important issue that we discussed today.”
Afterward, instead of going back to his own apartment, Chen decided to pay a visit to his mother. It wasn’t a night that he would enjoy making dinner for himself.
As he turned onto Jiujiang Road, however, he slowed down. It was almost six. His mother lived alone in the old neighborhood, frail in her health, and frugal in her way. He’d better buy some cooked food for the unannounced visit. There was a small eatery around the corner, he recalled. In his elementary school years, he had passed by the place many times, peeping in curiously without ever stepping in.
A little boy was rolling a rusted iron hoop on a side street, a familiar scene yet one he hadn’t seen for a long time. It was as if the hoop was rolling back the memories from childhood in the gathering dusk. He was struck with a sense of déjà vu.
He had second thoughts about visiting his mother. He missed her, feeling bad for having not been able to take care of her as much as he would have liked. But an evening there could also mean another of her lectures about his continuing bachelorhood, where she quoted the Confucian statement, “
There are things that make a man unfilial, and to have no offspring is the most serious.”
It wasn’t the evening for that.
Casting a quick look at the front of the eatery, which appeared scruffy, sordid, and little changed from years ago, he walked into a shabby scene inside. There was a bare bulb dangling down from the water-and smoke-stained ceiling, shedding dim light on three or four smeared, dilapidated tables. Most of the customers looked as grungy as the place, having only cheap liquor and dishes of boiled peanuts.
A waitress, a plump and short woman in her mid-fifties, handed him a dirty menu in peevish silence. Ordering a Qingdao beer, two cold dishes — dried tofu in red sauce and a thousand-year egg in soy sauce — he asked her, “Any specials here?”
“The pork intestine, lung, heart, and whatnot, all steamed with distilled rice grain. Our chef still makes his own rice wine. It’s a specialty of the old Shanghai cuisine. I don’t think you’ll have it anywhere else.”
“Great. I’ll have that,” he said, closing the menu. “Oh, the smoked carp head too. A small one.”
She eyed him up and down in surprise — apparently, he was a big customer for this small place. He was no less surprised at himself, for still having such a good appetite this evening.
At a table near the back, one of the customers looked over his shoulder. Chen recognized him as Gang, from the old neighborhood. Gang had been a powerful leader of a Shanghai Red Guard organization in the early days of the Cultural Revolution, but he had since gone downhill, ending up as a jobless drunken loafer, muddling around the neighborhood. About the vicissitude of the legendary ex — Red Guard, Chen had heard from his mother.
Gang turned further around, clearing his throat and banging on the table dramatically. “Sages and scholars are solitary for thousands of years. Only a drunkard leaves his name behind.”
That sounded like a quote from Li Bai, a Tang-dynasty poet well-known for his passion for the cup.
“Do you know who I am?” Gang went on. “The commander in chief of the Third Red Guard Headquarters in Shanghai. A loyal soldier for Mao, leading millions of Red Guards to fight for him. In the end, he threw us to a pack of wolves.”
The waitress put the cold dishes and Qingdao beer on Chen’s table. “The noodles and the chef’s special will come shortly.”
The moment she walked away, Gang rose and shambled over, grinning from ear to ear and carrying a tiny bottle of liquor called a “small firecracker” among the drunkards.
“So you are a newcomer here, young man. I would like to give you a word or two of advice. Life is short, sixty or seventy years, no point worrying away your days till your hair turns white. Heartbroken for a woman? Come on. A woman is just like that smoked fish head. Not much meat but too many bones, staring at you with ghastly eyes on a white platter. If you’re not careful, you get a bone stuck in your throat. Think about Mao. Such a man, and yet he, too, was ruined by his woman — or women. He fucked his brains out in the end!”
Gang talked like a drunkard, hardly coherent with so many conversational leaps, but it was intriguing, even stunning, to Chen.
“So you had your day during the Cultural Revolution,” Chen said, gesturing for Gang to share the table with him.
“Revolution’s like a bitch. She seduces you, and she dumps you like a mop smeared with the shit and dirt from her ass.” Gang took his seat opposite Chen, picking up a piece of dried tofu with his fingers, sucking at his empty liquor bottle. “And a bitch is like revolution too, muddling your head and heart.”
“That’s how you ended up here — because of both women and revolution?”
“There’s nothing left — well, nothing but the cup for me. It never gives you up. When you are smashed, you dance with your own shadow, so loyal to you, so sweet, so patient, and never stepping on your toes. Life is short, like a drop of dew in the early morning. The black ravens are already circling, nearer and nearer, above your head. So cheers, I raise my cup.
“Since it’s your first time here, it’s for me to treat,” Gang said, taking a large gulp of the beer as Chen pushed his cup to him. “I have a mind to lead you down to the road of the world.”
Chen wondered at the prospect of Gang leading a cop down that road. Gang reached into his pants pocket. He came up with only a couple of pennies. He fumbled again. Still, the same pennies sat on the table. “I’m damned. This morning I changed my pants and left my wallet at home. Loan me ten yuan, young man. I’ll return it to you tomorrow.”
It was a trick, obviously, but Chen took a perverse delight in his company that evening and handed over two ten yuan bills.
“Auntie Yao, a bottle of Yang River Liquor, a dish of pork cheek meat, and a dozen chicken feet in hot sauce,” Gang shouted toward the kitchen, waving his hand like the Red Guard Commander he had once been.
Auntie Yao — the middle-aged waitress — emerged from the kitchen, taking Gang’s order and money as she examined him closely.
“You dirty rascal! Up to your old tricks again?”