书评作者：麦克*考迈克 By mike cormack
In the night garden
The fearless tenderness of Mu Cao's In The Face of Death We Are Equal
By mike cormack
ainland China still has a problem with gay men and women. Though the Chinese Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a pathological condition in 2001, the gay community still has a very tough time of it, and even in the megacities of Beijing and Shanghai, gay bars are regularly raided and gay community events cancelled at the last minute on specious safety grounds. Xi Jinping demands that artists proclaim the greatness of China, but his vision strictly precludes sexual variety or ambiguity. In a world where male pop stars are criticized for “feminizing” young Chinese men, a Chinese author explicitly concerned with gay life is important, both critically and politically.
In the Face of Death We Are Equal (Qi’er, 2003), set largely in the early 1990s, is for the most part an earthy but tender examination of life for gay men at the bottom of the social ladder, in and around Mu’s home city of Zhengzhou in central China. It is a place of outdoor job markets, day rates, thieving bosses, indifferent police, hard nights in cold shelters and even human slavery. It is also one of public toilets, night-time parks, “money-boys” and transactional sex. Salty transgressive scenes are peppered throughout, including a rather stomach-turning incident involving deworming. Mu’s rendering of this world has the smack of authenticity – at least at the start. Although the book begins with an episode of a black farce, involving a crematorium and necrophilia, it continues in a mostly realistic manner until moments of ever greater absurdity or surrealism encroach. By the middle, any realism begins to fade entirely, taking us from the precision of Down and Out in Paris and London to the fever dreams of William Burroughs. This gives it an entirely new energy, but the characters behave so illogically that they can become caricatures.
The narrative frequently moves between the first, second and third person. The character Old He, with whom it begins, emerges as a framing device, introducing the reader, in the first person, to his partners and “comrades” (as Chinese slang has it) and their tales of youth and experience. The ordering of the stories of Ah Qing, Little Jade, Little Orchid, Seventh Brother and others gradually becomes more disjointed, as they merge and split again. The interlacing is playful and deft, though readers who prefer more straightforward narratives may tire of it. Scott E. Myers’s translation is good though it could have benefited from some light annotation: not everyone will know, for example, that the Guomintang (or Kuomintang) is the Nationalist Party of Chiang Kai-shek.
The most remarkable thing about In The Face of Death is not its subject or formal experiments. It is that its author is unafraid. Mu Cao neither apologizes nor equivocates. He writes as he sees and as he wants. And while he never explicitly addresses political matters, this fearlessness – especially with the book circulating today, under the party’s renewed assault on civil society and free expression – is a political statement in itself.
Mike Cormack is a writer and reviewer. He lived in China between 2007 and 2014