To Serve the People, a satire by Yan Lianke

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To Serve the People, a satire by Yan Lianke

In Brief: A biting satire in which the small longings of each person are exposed as the inevitable substratum on which great ideals, such as «serving the people» are built.

The censorship of a Chinese work is a powerful magnet that seems to ensure its immediate publication in major Western languages. As this publication in turn becomes the basis for further interdisciplinary studies, which logically can only be based on the published materials, it is the basis for an imaginary construction of China that has little to do with reality.

If censorship is the certificate of quality that any literary work needs, the Cultural Revolution is that primordial time from which all myths start.

As «Serving the People» has these ingredients, it is not surprising that it has been translated into several Western languages.

The work is a simple novel that describes with some ease the atmosphere in a military detachment, where characters are pushed by the harsh circumstances of life waiting for a chance to improve their family situation.

«Serve the people», the motto that presides over all military installations in China, which emanates at the beginning of the work from an idealism imbued with communist doctrines unfolds throughout the work as an amalgam of small objectives that preside over every human work.

The love story of the two protagonists, explosively idealizing this reality, serves as a reminder that, even in the most manifestly egalitarian stages, social classes always exist, as does the constant interference of the private affairs of the rulers in the public life of China.

Although the repeated desecration of the most sacred communist symbols throughout the work would have been enough to justify its prohibition in China, there is no doubt that Yuan Lianke’s great sin is to deconstruct that «serving the people» on which the military regime that runs China is based, in the myriad of human passions, interests, and hopes that compose it.

Unveiling before our eyes what is happening and what we are unable to see, entangling us in idealized analyses, is undoubtedly one of the functions of art, and in that sense, this work can be considered as such.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "To Serve the People, a satire by Yan Lianke," in Ethnic China, 27 mayo 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/to-serve-the-people-a-satire-by-yan-lianke/.

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