Excerpt from A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Case of Two Cities

An Inspector Chen novel

By Qiu Xiaolong

A Case of Two Cities
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2006,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2007,
    320 pages.

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“What are you thinking, Chen?”

“Nothing—my mind is relaxing in a total blank, as you suggested.”

“Take it easy, Chen, with your new position in the city congress, and with your name as a best-selling poet.”

To all appearances, Chen had been moving up steadily. His new membership in the Shanghai People’s Congress was seen as another step toward his succeeding Party Secretary Li Guohua in the police bureau. But Chen was not so sure about it. The congress was known as a political rubber stamp, and thus city congressman was more of an honorary title. Possibly a compromise more than anything else, Chen knew, for quite a few hard-liners in the Party opposed his further promotion in the bureau, on the ground of his being too liberal.

It was true, however, that his poetry collection had enjoyed unexpected success. Poetry makes no money and, in a money-oriented age, its publication was nothing short of a miracle. And it was actually selling well.

His thoughts were interrupted by two new bathers flopping down into the water, one short with gray hair and beady eyes, one tall with an aquiline nose and beer-bottle-thick glasses. Apparently, they were continuing an earlier argument.

“Socialism is going to the dogs. These greedy, unscrupulous dogs of the Party officials! They’re crunching everything to pieces, and devouring all the bones,” the short one declared in indignation. “Our state-run company is like a gigantic fat goose, and everyone must take a bite or pluck a feather or two from it. Did you know that the head of the City Export Office demands a five percent bonus in exchange for his export quota approval?”

“What can you do, man?” the tall one said sarcastically. “Communism echoes only in nostalgia songs. It’s capitalism that’s practiced here—with the Communist Party sitting on the top, sucking a red lollipop. So what can you expect of these Party cadres?”

“Corrupt throughout. They don’t believe in anything except doing everything in their own interest—in the name of China’s brand of socialism.”

“What is capitalism? Everybody grabs for his or her money—in spite of all the communist propaganda in our newspapers. They’re just like the beer froth in the tub.”

“The cops should have bang-banged a few of those rotten eggs!”

“Cops?” the tall one said, splashing the water with his big feet. “They’re jackals out of one and the same den as those wolves.”

Chen frowned. Complaints about the widespread corruption were not surprising, but some of the specifics did not sound too pleasant to a naked cop, or to a naked editor either.

“Chinese is still an evolving language. Corruption—fubai—literally means ‘rotten,’ ” Chen said in a quiet voice to Lei, “in reference to bad meat or fish. Now it refers exclusively to the abuse of power by the Party cadres.”

“Yes, things go bad easily,” Lei said. “You can put Yellow River carps into the refrigerator, but you can’t put in the Party cadres.”

It was intriguing to think about the linguistic evolution. In the sixties, corruption meant the rotten bourgeois way of life, in reference to something like extramarital sex. A young “corrupt” teacher in Chen’s school was fired for engaging in prenuptial sex. In a more general sense, the word could also have referred to bourgeois extravagancy—even to such a bath, whose entrance fee alone cost more than the monthly income for an ordinary worker. In the last few years, however, the word took on an exclusive target—the Party officials.

Copyright © 2006 by Qiu Xiaolong. All rights reserved.

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