Red Hot Read

Rare is the occasion on which I read things that don't have ads, but I'm excerpting an actual book for you today because Chinese repression and forbidden love (oh, also, existential torment!) are in the news, and Serve The People, newly out in paperback, was banned there with the warning, THIS NOVEL SLANDERS MAO ZEDONG, THE ARMY, AND IS OVERFLOWING WITH SEX. It tells the story of Wu Dawang, a soldier who finds himself working as a sort of slave boy in the house of a powerful division commander who happens to be impotent and his bored wife, who points at a propaganda sign that says "Serve The People" whenever she wants him to come upstairs and fuck her. They have a lot of sex and eat a lot of food and deface a lot of Cultural Revolution propaganda in a very short time, but it can't last, and Wu ends up a defeated, broken, bad-skinned shell of a man living in a place where the odds of a single dude getting laid are sort of like mine in New York. It's supposed to be some sort of satirical takedown of China under Mao, and while it's hard not to think Wu would have been better off never having all this hot counterrevolutionary sex, at least, in a free society, when we are hard up we can read trashy novels. Click the pic for some passages.

As Wu Dawang wheeled his bike around to the back door, some of this new complacency that must have shown on his face and in his manner, unwittingly triggering a startling new turn to their affair. Throwing his purchases into the kitchen, he glimpsed Liu Lian dcoming in the front door, carrying a few everyday toiletries — toothpaste, soap, powder, face cream, and so on. When she reached the doorway to the dining room, she glanced over at the Serve the People! sign on the dining table. But, just as she opened her mouth to speak, Wu Dawang tugged off his sweaty uniform and held it out to her. 'Go and give that a wash.'

She stared at him. 'What did you just say?'

'I'm boiling hot,' he said. 'Wash my clothes.'

His tone was precisely the one he would have used with his wife, expecting her to wash and cook for him when he came in from the fields. He was not, however, speaking to his wife. Displeasure flashed across Liu Lian's face. Ignoring the uniform, she pointed silently at the Serve the People! sign, a faint jeer about her mouth. She then turned toward the shower rom, her toiletries still cradled in her arms.

From the kitchen, Wu Dawang had an uninterrupted view of the sign. Though its text and images had been tarnished by cooking smoke, its message still chimed across at Wu dawang like an alarm bell, reminding him of the role he'd been assigned to play in Compound Number One, of the inferior status that a peasant soldier could shake off only in his fantasies.

He slowly retracted his hand and uniform. Squatting down onto his heels like a deflated leather ball, he let his clothes fall to the ground. He gazed out of the back door, into the vegetable garden. At one side stood a small copse of poplars, their trunks cracked open into fissured knots that stared back at him. The color drained from his face, he turned back to the Serve the People! sign, then sprang up and ran to the shower room. No Liu Lian. He pounded up the stairs to the bathroom where he discovered her dabbing her face with some of the powder she'd just bought. Charging in, he gathered her up in his arms and began staggering off with her toward the bedroom. In the confusion of this hasty maneuver, as she was struggling to free herself, she knocked a framed scarlet and yellow quotation by the Chairman off the wall. A second later, he accidentally trod on it, shattering the glass and embellishing the Great Truth beneath ('Without a People's Army, the People Have Nothing') with a large, dusty footprint.

A stunned silence fell.

He put her down. They looked at the smashed quotation, then at each other.

'What the hell have you done?' she demanded.

'You were the one who knocked it off the wall.'

She looked down at his footprint. 'One call to security and you're a dead man.'

'Is that what you're going to do?'

She glanced at his stricken face. 'I might. And I might not.'

His voice became more cajoling. 'You were the one who made me come upstairs. If you hadn't, it wouldn't have fallen off the wall, would it?'

Liu Lian looked at him like a mother would a son who'd just slapped her. As she stared hard at him, her expression of startled uncertainty changed into shocked indignation. 'What did you just say?'

'I said, it was you who made me come upstairs.'

'When?'
'Just now, in the kitchen, when you pointed at the Serve The People!' sign.'
She laughed drily. She had meant to remind him of the sign's literal meaning, of his real status in the house, but he had chosen to understand only the private sexual code they had devised for it; to serve her according to less conventional Communist principles. She had no idea what had passed through Wu Dawang's head as he'd squatted, staring out at the garden, that a long-hidden resentment at the rigid hierarchy all around him was about to burst forth. As she contemplated his simple, honest face, compassion welled up inside her. She felt she'd treated him unfairly. she placed his hand on her breast, as if to comfort him, and traced her own, slender finger across the back of it. this familiar, affectionate gesture offered Wu Dawang first sexual encouragement, then opened the floodgates to his suppressed, unarticulated feelings of discontent. With reckless abandon, he scooped her up in his arms — further trampling the Chairman quotation underfoot — threw her down on it and began roughly undressing her. She lay on her back, both legs in the air, submitting to his unceremonious treatment. As he entered her, he was overcome by a new kind of happiness — a triumphant sense of taking revenge for some past wrong, of getting better of an oppressor.


All was if Heaven itself had willed it. And, true to this Heaven-sent opportunity, for the first two and a half days they remained inside the house, enslaving themselves to their most basic desires. In the end, though, their weary bodies let them down, refusing them more of the same delirious happiness. Even though they tried the exact position that had worked so ecstatically well — her lying on her back on the bed, him standing at its foot — success eluded them. They considered endless permutations and variations of arrangement and mood: none had the desired effect.

And then, basically, they go break some shit and fuck again.

They searched out every single item— every picture, bowl, vessel, cabinet or chair—that had any link to Mao Zedong and the Great Men of the Revolution, and destroyed or defaced them all. After making sure the sitting room had been stripped bare of its revolutionary memorabilia, Liu Lian ran into the kitchen and smashed every rice bowl decorated with images of Mao.

Wu Dawang broke a brand-new aluminum pot covered in the Chairman's quotations.

When the cupboards refused to yield up any more holy objects for desecration, she proceeded into the dining room and seized the talismanic Serve The People! sign that had borne near-constant witness to their affair. However, as she lifted it up to smash it, he strode over, wrested it from her and placed it carefully back on the table.

'What are you doing?' she asked

'I want to keep it.'

'What for?'

'I just do.'

'First you have to admit that I am the greatest counterrevolutionary the world has ever known, a poisonous viper hidden in the breast of the Party and a devastating time bomb ticking away deep in the ranks of the Revolution. And finally, that I love you a hundred times more than you love me.'

'Do I have to?'

'I'll smash it if you don't.'

'All right, I admit it.'

'Say it three times.'

Three times he admitted she was the greatest counterrevolutionary the world has ever known, a poisonous viper hidden in the breast of the Party and a devastating time bomb ticking away deep in the ranks of the Revolution. He then went on to say, again three times, that her love for him exceeded his for her a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times.

They gazed at each other, tears shining in their eyes.

He's emo like that; she fucks him again anyway.