"If a panda gets pregnant, the entire nation celebrates. But if a woman gets pregnant she's treated like a criminal. What kind of country is this?"
Meili, a young peasant woman is married to Kongzi, a village school teacher, and a distant descendant of the great sage Confucius. They have a daughter, but desperate to carry on his illustrious line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant without waiting for official permission. When family planning officers storm into the village to arrest violators of the population control policy, mother, father and daughter are forced to make a fugitive life on the river.
Meili dreams of reaching a place called Heaven, a vast stinking wilderness of toxic waste, where the men eventually turn infertile and the family planning officers don't dare to go. But as their troubled quest to give birth to a son continues, it becomes clear that Kongzi and Meili are not just raging against the state -- they are at war with one another.
MA JIAN was born in Qingdao, China in 1953. He worked as a watch-mender and a painter of propaganda boards and was assigned a job as a photojournalist for a state-run magazine. At the age of thirty, Ma Jian left work and travelled for three years across China, a journey he later described in his book Red Dust, winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award 2002. He left Beijing for Hong Kong in 1987 but continued to travel to China, notably to support the pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989. After the hand-over of Hong Kong he moved to Germany and then London, where he now lives. Books by Ma Jian translated in English include his novel, The Noodle Maker, and his short story collection about Tibet, Stick Out Your Tongue, the book which prompted the Chinese government to ban Ma Jian's work and which set him on the road to exile.
FLORA DREW is Ma Jian's English-language translator and interpreter. She studied Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and worked in television and film. She lives in west London with Ma Jian, and their four children.
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