Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Eye of Jade

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The Eye of Jade

A Mei Wang Mystery

by Diane Wei Liang

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2008, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2009, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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Background to The Eye of Jade
Most of the novel takes place in China's capital city, Beijing. Diane Wei Liang emphasizes the contrasting and competing influences molding modern day Beijing in her descriptions of its districts, transportation structure and architecture. A 2008 issue of WIRED magazine featured an example of the innovative and population-dense construction that has sprung up in the ancient city in just the last few years.

The events in The Eye of Jade occur just prior to the culturally significant transition of the colony of Hong Kong (which means "fragrant harbor") from British control to Chinese rule. In the novel, Hong Kong not only appears as the most convenient neighbor for illegally smuggling and selling valuable antiques, but also as one of many references to China’s emerging blend of capitalism with communism. Hong Kong, a geographic area consisting of a peninsula off of mainland China as well as over 200 islands, was handed back to China at midnight on June 30, 1997*.

Conditions regulating this melding of a capitalist colony and a communist nation were stated in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. One of the stipulations of the Declaration was that Hong Kong would retain its capitalist economy for at least 50 years. At the time of the transfer, according to the World Book Online Reference Center, Hong Kong was the world's busiest container port and fell under only New York and London as a world financial center. The BBC describes the ceremony surrounding the official transition.

*Hong Kong had been in British hands since the 1840s when the land was ceded to Britain (or more accurately, the British East India Company) following the First Opium War, which was brought about when the Qing Dynasty authorities, alarmed by the drain on their economy and the estimated 2 million Chinese who had become addicted, enforced their ban on the import of opium - a ban the British had chosen to ignore in their desire to find a way to balance the trade deficit with China.


About the Author
Diane Wei Liang previously published a memoir about her participation in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. She fled China that same year, living, studying and teaching in the United States for a time. She now lives in London with her husband and children, but has returned to China each year since 1996. Her memoir, The Lake with No Name, was published in the UK in 2003 and will be published in the USA for the first time in June 2009.


Interesting Link:
A BBC interview from April 2007.

Article by Stacey Brownlie

This article was originally published in February 2008, and has been updated for the April 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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