Ma Jian, Author of Beijing Coma

Review_chatfield In Prospect (UK), Tom Chatfield talks to the author:

Beijing Coma is a novel of oppositions; of seasonal and generational changes; of the fraught relationship between hope and experience. The build-up to protest and destruction inches forward within it alongside a narrative of present squalor and defeat—[the narrator] Dai Wei’s immobile body, and the hounding of his mother by the authorities. The protestors of 1989 are painted not as revolutionaries or anarchists but, overwhelmingly, patriots fighting for what they saw as the true legacy of communism: democratic reforms. Their biggest banner, hung from the roof of the Museum of Chinese History, simply reads “honest dialogue”; other slogans include “I love democracy more than bread!” and “I can endure hunger, but not a life without liberty!” As relationships and alliances are made and broken, however, the protests take on a life of their own. At one point, the personal appearance of Zhao Ziyang, the reformist general secretary of the Communist party, offers the tantalising possibility of salvation. But even his words prove unable to break the deadlock: the political will simply doesn’t exist among the party’s elite. A day after his visit to the students, Zhao is stripped of all his positions, martial law is declared, and the final act begins: the forceful dismantling of the crowd into assaulted, isolated bodies. “Like deer gathering at a lakeside to drink,” Dai Wei recalls, “the students gathered at the Monument [at the centre of Tiananmen Square], unaware that the square was a hunting ground and the Monument was the snare.” The protestors are trapped and gunned down.