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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“In Mao’s time, corruption was hardly a serious issue in that sense,” Lei said nodding. “In the stagnant state economy, everybody earned about the same, in accordance to the old Marxist principle: to each according to his need, from each according to his capability. But after the Cultural Revolution, people have become disillusioned with all the ideological propaganda.”

“A spiritual vacuum. That worries me.”

“Let’s see things in a different perspective,” Lei said, stepping out of the pool. “After all, China’s been making great progress. Those two big-mouthed bathers, for instance, could have talked themselves into prison during the Cultural Revolution.”

“You can say that again,” Chen said, aware of something he and Lei had in common. They, too, could be cynical about or critical of the system, but in the last analysis, they were rather defensive of it.

Lei called his attention to the shower rooms lined along one side, each with an outlandish name: Pistol, Needle, Five-Element, Yin/Yang, Chain, Mist . . .

“I’m like Granny Liu walking into the Grand View Garden,” Chen said. In the classic Chinese novel, The Dream of the Red Chamber, Granny Liu was a country bumpkin, totally awestruck by the splendor of the garden. “Look at the Jade and Fire Sauna Room.”

“Today you can do everything with money.”

“We cops are really in trouble, then.”

Lei did not answer, perhaps too busy experimenting something called Zhou-Heaven-Circulation: he sat on a steel stool with an iron bar cage hanging overhead. The showerhead jerked out a spray of water, and he jumped out like a monkey in the Pilgrim to the West.

They then filed through a “dry up room,” where they were wiped by attendants with large towels and invited to change into the special red-and-white-striped pajamas before taking the elevator.

“The fourth floor is the recreation area—billiards, Ping-Pong, basketball, and a fishing pool, too, with a lot of golden carps—”

“Let’s skip that, Lei.”

“Fine. I’m hungry today. Let’s eat first.”

The third floor entrance led into a marketlike place, where stood rows of large water tanks with swimming fishes and jumping shrimps. Large shelves displayed a variety of dishes and pots wrapped in plastic, vivid in color and shape. A sort of live menu. A waitress, also in red-and-white-striped pajamas, came over. At her recommendation, they ordered pork rib soup with tulips in a stainless-steel pot over a liquid gas stove, steamed live bass with ginger and green onion scattered over a blue and white platter, water-immersed beef covered with red pepper in a large bowl, tomato cups with peeled shrimp, and chunks of fried rice-paddy eel on bamboo sticks. They also requested two bottles of ice beer.

The waitress led them to a table, her wooden slippers clacking pleasant notes on the hardwood floor. The dining hall had a uniform atmosphere, probably the result of the identical red-and-white-striped pajamas worn by everyone there.

“We have realized communism here, or the appearance of it. Everybody looks the same—at least in clothing,” Lei said, raising his chopsticks. “But look at that large table, the so-called Complete Manchurian and Han Banquet. The name, if you were wondering, originated from the need for a united front during the Qing dynasty. To demonstrate his solidarity, the Manchurian emperor had delicacies from various ethnic cuisines served on one table in the Forbidden City. Camel dome, bear paw, swallow’s nest, monkey brains . . .”

“Every rare and expensive item imaginable under the sun,” Chen said, glancing toward the impressive table. “Those upstarts show off like anything.”

Copyright © 2006 by Qiu Xiaolong. All rights reserved.

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