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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  • First Published:
    Nov 2006, 320 pages
    Oct 2007, 320 pages

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Chapter One

Chief Inspector Chen Cao, of the Shanghai Police Bureau, was invited to a mega bathhouse, Birds Flying, Fishes Jumping, on a May afternoon.

According to Lei Zhenren, editor of Shanghai Morning, they would have all their worries luxuriously washed away there. “How much concern do you have? / It is like spring flood / of a long river flowing east. This ultramodern bathhouse is really unique. Characteristics of the Chinese brand of socialism. You won’t see anything else like it in the world.”

Lei knew how to persuade, having quoted for the poetry-liking chief inspector three lines from Li Yu, the Southern Tang emperor poet. “Characteristics of the Chinese brand of socialism” was a political catchphrase, which carried a discordant connotation, especially in the context of the unprecedented materialistic transformation sweeping over the city of Shanghai. As it happened, Chen had just read about the bathhouse in an English publication:

Every weekend night, about two thousand Chinese and several dozen foreigners gather together naked at Niaofei Yuyao—a gigantic bathhouse, where the masses soak in tubs of milk, sweat in the “fire jade heat room,” watch movies, and swim in the pool. It’s public and legal. After a round of miniature golf (clothing required), you can get a massage (clothing removed) and watch a Vegas-style show (the audience in pajamas, the performers in less than pajamas) . . .

It took Chen two or three minutes to figure out the exact wording from the Chinese phonetics niaofei yuyao—“birds flying and fishes jumping.” The name of the bathhouse actually came from an ancient proverb: The sea so wide for fishes to jump, the sky so high for birds to fly, which meant figuratively “infinite possibilities.” Perhaps too pompous a name for a bathhouse, yet a plausible allusion to its size and service. So he responded, “Such a bath may be too luxurious, Lei. I now have a hot shower in my own apartment, you know.”

“Come on, Comrade Chief Inspector Chen. If you flash your business card, the owner of the bathhouse will come rushing over, barefoot, to welcome you in. A high-flying Party cadre, and a well-published poet to boot, you deserve a good break. Health is the capital for making socialist revolution, as Chairman Mao said long ago.”

Chen had known Lei for years, first through the Writers’ Association, to which both had belonged. Lei had majored in Chinese literature, and Chen, in Western literature. But early on, they had both been state-assigned to their respective jobs, regardless of their own interests. Starting out as an entry-level business reporter, Lei had since enjoyed a steady rise. When Shanghai Morning was founded the previous year, he was appointed the editor-in-chief. Like other newspapers, Shaghai Morning was still under the ideological control of the government but responsible for its own financial welfare. So Lei made every effort to turn the newspaper into a more readable one, instead of one simply full of polished political clichés. The efforts had paid off, and the newspaper grew rapidly popular, almost catching up with the Wenhui Daily in its circulation.

Lei talked about treating Chen—in celebration of the newspaper’s success. It was an invitation Chen found difficult to decline. For all these years, Lei had made a point of publishing Chen’s poems in his newspapers.

But he could not be too cautious, Chen thought, in his position, in the days of guanxi—connections spreading all over the city like a gigantic web. “My treat, Lei,” he said. “Last time you bought me a great lunch at Xinya. It should be my turn now.”

Copyright © 2006 by Qiu Xiaolong. All rights reserved.

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