Quick quiz: what do the following six things have in common?
Clockwise from top-left they are: Brad Pitt, Cuntbook, the memory of June 4th, Winnie the Pooh, Party Members and The Big Bang Theory.
If you had guessed that they were all mediocre symbols of a decadent civilisation in irreversible moral decline, you would have been right (except the June 4th which admittedly can be a mixed bag. I had a very pleasant day-trip to Dorset once on June 4th 2009).
However, the real answer I’m looking for is that they are all banned in China.
Yep, Party Members seems to have joined that long and ever-growing illustrious list just like probably anybody with tits and a fanny in Hollywood joins the list of Harvey Weinstein’s victims.
According to my publisher Camphor Press, copies of Party Members don’t seem to be getting past customs in China anymore, so are advising any China-based readers to buy the digital version instead. This comes with the added bonus of not only being cheaper, but you’ll also be able to put your foot through your Kindle and send me the bill if you get angry while reading it.
Apologies to all of you who were planning on reading it with Brad Pitt on June 4th while dressed as Winnie the Pooh and then posting it on Facebook in your favourite “Books and Big Big Bang Theory” chat group. You’ll have to find a whore on WeChat instead. Apparently that’s still legal.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members– a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.
I’m pretty cynical when it comes to the boldness of China’s expat magazines, so I almost fell off my chair when I saw that Party Members was featured in Shanghai Talk Magazine’s Top Three China Books for 2016.
I have now pulled myself up off the floor and sat back down again.
Wonderful to be sharing the honour with two other books that I have mentioned and rate highly: Isham Cook’s At The Teahouse Cafeand JFK Miller’s Trickle-Down Censorship (both reviewed here previously). They both make fantastic Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa gifts (choose as appropriate) for loved ones in the CCP.
You can see an image of the magazine reviews here on imgur, though you’ll have to grab a copy of Shanghai Talk’s December issue in order to hold the review in your own blessed hands. It’s available from all good Element Fresh outlets and coffee shops across the city. It also may appear on their website in the future. The reviews are written by none other than Tom Carter – editor of the acclaimed Unsavoury Elements (a book I was nearly included in but I threw a hissy fit at the time and watched all the Rocky films back-to-back instead).
Personally, it is refreshing to see one of China’s expat magazines has the boldness to not only feature books that are less than positive about certain aspects of China, but also has the foresight to highlight innovative works from small independent publishers that are otherwise ignored by most media outlets. I have no idea how Shanghai Talk got it past the censors, but I take my hat off to them for doing so. Except I don’t wear a hat. I lost it when I fell off my chair. I’ll raise a glass then.
The Nanfang also ran a review of Party Members recently, though I am sad to say that the announcement was a bittersweet one. At the same time The Nanfang announced that they were closing after seven years of being in the business. I always had a soft spot for The Nanfang – especially when compared to the abysmal Shanghaiist – and I’ll miss its news, views and reviews (good name for a magazine).
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members– a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.
As well as being named after an assassinated President, JFK is also the author of the tell-all tale of his time at that’s Shanghai and his challenges with government censorship. It’s called Trickle-down Censorship and I’m currently about three chapters in and enjoying myself immensely. Review to come soon.
In the meantime, here is the Q&A from whyiwrite:
Why I write
Primarily: self-amusement. I don’t believe that my opinion particularly matters, and the world would be a better place if a lot more people realised that as well, so I’m not trying to shove my point of view down somebody’s throat. Like other non-bestselling/non-celebrity writers, money is not my prime motivation either. I write whatever amuses me or is especially latched within my head on any given day, regardless of whether other people find it interesting or not. Just take a look at my blog: it’s a hotchpotch of stories involving talking penises, scripts about children’s TV shows involving dead bonobo monkeys or pastiches of obscure 1980s Victoria Wood songs. I find that if I don’t write then these weird ideas tend to remain in my brain and fuck me up, so the only release is to get them out on paper.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
Oh, if only I could write everyday – and I don’t just mean Excel spreadsheets or TPS reports. Not being born into a rich family who could succour me with a trust fund for a few years, and not being born good-looking enough to exchange rent money for an hour every evening on my back, I unfortunately have to spend the vast majority of my day at the grindstone. Those precious few moments of free time that aren’t filled by preparing my lunch (for work), ironing my shirts (for work) or standing on a train (for work), might just might give me a moment or two to write something down. And that’s only if I don’t have a new game for my Xbox at the time.
Describe the physicality of your writing domain…
This is a very middle-class question directed towards someone whose family never even used to own a dining table (it was TV dinners on our laps in front of CBBC). My “writing domain” is generally wherever I am with a notebook or laptop when the writing mood takes me—normally the sofa. One place I can definitely NOT write though is in a hipster coffee shop. Probably because I’m not a bearded pretentious twat.
Worst source of distraction from writing?
Real life, work, and the dog licking my face.
Best source of inspiration for writing?
When I was younger I used to write a lot of typically emo poetry that is a rite-of-passage for any tortured writer who considers themselves a budding artiste. I noticed that there was a correlation between the depth of my poetry’s nihilism with the number of empty bottles of super-strength cider that almost magically used to accumulate around me. In these more enlightened times it is now somewhat-frowned upon for a man over a certain age to drink himself senseless with dubious brands like “White Lightning” or “Scrumpy Jack”, hence my main source of inspiration in 2016 is predominantly gin.
How often do you get writers’ block and/or doubt your own ability?
Considering how little time I get to partake in my favourite past time, I have never experienced writer’s’ block. That doesn’t mean that the things I write are any good, but if I had more time than I could certainly produce more of it—kind of like sticking a more powerful generator onto an industrial muckspreader.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
I don’t read a lot of contemporary writers as it is my firm belief that nothing of worth has been produced since 1987, but there are two writers whose work I always make a point of reading. The first is the French depressive-extraordinaire Michel Houellebecq and the other is obscure writer of nihilistic horror Thomas Ligotti. They are more or less the only writers I enjoy who aren’t dead—though considering how depressed both of them are it surely won’t be long.
Favorite Chinese writer?
It’s a cliche to say Lu Xun as it is normally the choice of readers who haven’t read anyone else, but he really is the best. He combined the best of the Russian and French literature trends that were prevalent in his day with his own unique Chinese style. Some of his best work is in his more obscure collection of final essays: Wild Grass. It was written when he had basically given up on life. The Communist Party likes to quote Lu Xun’s famous works like Ah Q and Kong Yiji when it suits them, but they never quote any of his stories from Wild Grass as it would probably result in either Zhongnanhai getting burnt down or a mass gangbang.
Best book about China? Ways that are Dark by Ralph Townsend. It’s amazing. It’s a semi-racist diatribe about China in the 1930s written by an American diplomat, but it’s worth reading thanks to the density of his prose and the almost Lovecraftian horror he assigns to what he sees as a contemporary Malthusian dystopia.
Favorite book? The Stranger by Albert Camus.
Publicly: George Orwell. Privately: HP Lovecraft.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
I quote Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra several times in my book Party Members, but I must confess that I’ve never actually been able to finish it. Still, it isn’t as bad as—oooh, let me think—absolutely ANYTHING written by James Joyce. James Joyce writes books that are not only hard-going, but also makes you question why you did it afterwards. A little bit like sex with a horse.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
It was a short story about a homosexual in World War One who gets his life saved by the spirits of his dead comrades who return as angel-children. Then he meets God. It won a national youth writing contest, but when I think back to it I can’t help but be grateful that it was written before the widespread use of the internet and that it has DISAPPEARED ENTIRELY FROM THE FACE OF THIS WORLD.
Does writing change anything?
On a social basis: writing can change everything. On an individual basis: it can keep you sane.
What are you working on now and when is it out?
I recently had my first book published—Party Members. It’s a dark comedy about corruption in contemporary China. I’m now trying to finish a compilation of short stories that I’ve been working on-and-off with for about two years. Not sure what the final name will be, but I can tell you that the stories written so far include tales of dumplings being made out of foreskins, an underground milk farm and a sci-fi story set in the future where women have designer abortions.
So far it is yet to find a publisher.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members– a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.
Party Members by Arthur Meursault is an intense, ugly, gruesome work of fiction that will leave most feeling nauseous. It’s also a page-turner that is kind of essential reading for China observers. Reader discretion is advised, be aware that this one may offend many if not all…
Basically, the novel is a satire which viciously critiques the excesses of contemporary post-economic reform China. As titled Party Members, it stars a low-level Communist party member who lives in a third-rate polluted city and decides to indulge in the very worst of corruption. It is incredible how far it goes, which is a testament to author Meursault’s mind in both imagination and depravity.
The protagonist, who is certainly no hero of the story, is Yang Wei. He starts out as a very unremarkable Chinese man. “Not one in a billion, but one of a billion,” exceptional in his mediocrity. The story starts out critiquing how dull and quaint the average Chinese citizen can be in their complacency, but soon Yang Wei stands out indeed as being a particularly shameless party member.
To be specific, one day Yang Wei’s penis starts talking to him and pushes him to literally act like a dick in order to get what he wants. So begins an series of progressively worse moral failings, from familiar disrespect to copious descriptions of prostitution and shallow consumerism. The literary critic in me ponders whether hearing of voices represents schizophrenia, or if an unreliable narrator device is at play. Although later scenes seem to indicate that it is ‘true’ in the world of the story, for reasons unknown his penis seems to gain the ability to speak and thereafter instructs him to be a terrible person.
Comparisons of Irvine Welsh’s Filth come to mind, which was about a corrupt police officer who had a tapeworm that could talk. Somehow, Meursault is even able to outdo the famed Welsh in writing vulgarities.
Despite whether or not the particulars of the story will appeal to all readers, Party Members is mostly well-written by technical standards and stays interesting one way or another. However, the descriptions can get too dense, and there are far too many adjectives. Even several long-winded speeches, satirical as they are, can come across as whiney nihilistic teenage rants. “The only way to be successful is to be a complete and utter dick… Just shit all over it!” More often than not the novel descends into telling not showing, with plenty of words such as “scumbag” thrown around in the narrative, unnecessarily reminding the reader how to judge the various scenarios.
Subtle, Party Members is not. Crass and disgusting, it still can’t be denied that it reads fast. It’s also hilarious at times, with ridiculous situations one can’t help but laugh at. In a sick sort of way. From toilet humor (there is actual drinking of piss as part of a scam marketing campaign), to the recurring theme of copiously describing greasy KFC food.
Yet, as the plot goes on it gets uncomfortably worse. Once the chapter about the child named Shanshan comes—which is about a terrible urban legend in China concerning car accidents and homicides—it becomes very hard to read.
The ending is legitimately horrifying. The question remains though, is this strange China tale supposed to be classified as horror?
Most unlikable protagonist ever. Which is of course the point.
It must be said that China is an enormous and complex country, with major problems but it may not be fair to look at it through the lens that Party Members embraces. The most cynical possible interpretation of Chinese society is a point-of-view worth exploring through this book, but there is a bigger picture and hopefully this isn’t the last word when it comes to China fiction. Meursault is certainly very knowledgeable about China issues and a talented wordsmith, but it just doesn’t seem healthy to focus that intently on the worst of the worst with no solutions whatsoever. Perhaps the genre is dystopia, in that case? Dystopia which takes place in the present.
All in all, reading this will leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. And being able to do that is something of a literary feat, in a way.
Thank you Ray.
Ray likes to review books. He also likes MDMA, but he likes to review books more.
Sometimes Ray writes books too. He has a new one out called This Modern Love which is published through the world’s largest publisher – Amazon CreateSpace. It has MDMA in it. And a man who masturbates over online fanfiction after eating a baloney and mustard sandwich.
Do you like baloney and mustard sandwiches, children?
It’s been almost two months since my book Party Members has been out on the market. You won’t have seen it reviewed in any mainstream blog, expat rag or literature publication though as everybody I’ve spoken to is shit-scared about reviewing a book that savages the CCP (and is a little bit naughty). I’ll post more on this another time, but today I wanted to share some reviews written by you – good old Joe Public. Generally, reviews have been quite favourable.
The legendary author Isham Cookwrote a long and detailed review of Party Members. Isham writes beautiful book reviews worthy of his profession as a fully-credentialed English Professor. Rather than detract from his blog by pasting the review here, I’d urge you to go and take a look at his website. Have a read at some of his other work while you’re there too.
Reddit user and mod extraordinaire /u/tan_guan also wrote a great and well-written review on the /r/China reddit. I’d copy and post it on here but unfortunately reddit is blocked on my work computer in case I use it to access pictures of scantily clad young women with manjaws and hairy bush. Hence, you’ll have to click here to read it.
There’s a cutely named little blog called Balancing Frogs that hails straight outta the renegade province of Taiwan that also wrote a balanced but non-froggy review. Again, I’d like to direct any web traffic back to the blog where it came from so should you be interested you can read the Frog Balancer’s review on his site.
Troy Parfitt, author of Why China Will Never Rule The World:
It’s difficult to review this novel without giving too much away, so I’ll keep it relatively short. Party Members by Arthur Meursault is a dark comic novel about China’s (ahem, what’s a phrase that’s diplomatic?) sociopolitical issues. It tracks the life of Yang Wei, a low level cadre who wants to, for reasons I won’t go into, lest it spoil the fun, climb the rickety social ladder. To get rich is glorious and all that Deng Xiaoping jazz. And so Yang Wei sets about screwing people over, in every conceivable sense. But this is not your typical anti-hero novel. It’s not one of those novelized morality tests where the protagonist is pure sleaze, but pure sleaze with a grand plan and the writer wants you to examine your soul and ask, ‘Do I cheer him on or hope he fails?’ No, no, it’s a cultural expose. A dark and twisted cultural expose – extremely dark and seriously twisted – but it reveals more truth about China than you’ll find in a dozen volumes of non-fiction. All the glorious themes are present and it’s lavishly clear that the author has spent (done?) time in the Middle Kingdom. Meursault captures China’s exoticism precisely and by exoticism I mean rot. Oh, and the names. Yang Wei lives in a city called Huaishi (which probably means “Bad Affairs”), an expensive section of town is Taigui (“Too Expensive”), etc. The novel is hilarious, the writing solid, but the story is also tragic, a parody of China’s oppressive kleptocracy, where state officials are often little better than gangsters and where laobaixing, or common people, are powerless to redress their excesses. Party Members had me gripped from beginning to end. The detail is exceptional and little things that don’t seem significant come back into play. Plotlines thicken and overlap and by the final paragraph even the meaning of the title has expanded. In sum, this is a novel I wish I’d written. It deserves a large readership. Five stars.
I enjoyed this satirical novel, written under the Camusesque pen-name ‘Meursault’, which mercilessly rips into Chinese society with the cynicism and jadedness that betrays a long-time resident. It epitomises a negative attitude a lot of us have struggled with, and at times I wonder if the author really shares it or is just sending it up. Either way, the book works as a biting and funny satire, and there is real knowledge of the country between the lines. The writing is compelling, and it’s a page-turner even if sometimes you don’t want to turn the page. I’ll echo all the trigger warnings below, there’s lots of explicit content and it’s not for the faint of heart. But that’s what makes it so fun.
Quincy Carroll, author of the overly long-titled Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside:
I went into this novel not really knowing what to expect. Starting with the positives, Party Members is well written, and the author (Arthur), clearly had a unique vision, which he was able to execute successfully for his purposes. As far as I know, there’s no other book currently on the market quite like it.
As someone who has lived abroad in China, I was intrigued by the angle Meursault chose to take in writing this story about a power-hungry mid-level bureaucrat in the country’s interior (a satirical lambasting of the CCP/Chinese materialism/me culture), but I will admit that I entered with reservations about the fact that it was written by a Westerner. There are those who will say that I’m being unduly sensitive with that last comment, but the problem is one of representation—that and the fact that any perceived hypocrisy on the part of the author (whether warranted or not) will only serve to detract from the central message of the story.
That’s not to say that Meursault is off-base with his criticism; on the contrary, the topics he addresses (corruption, misogyny, etc.) are all scourges on contemporary China, but they’re scourges elsewhere, too. This could easily have been a novel about the Trump/Clinton/Boris machine or bankers on Wall Street (to be sure, Yang Wei, the main character, puts the term “big swinging dick” in an entirely different light), and I felt myself being pulled out of the narrative constantly because of these doubts. While it is easy for outsiders to focus on the absurdities of the Chinese government, I think that I would have found it more interesting and effective if Meursault had provided a more nuanced portrayal of Chinese society, since in my opinion, that’s closer to the truth. That was clearly never the writer’s intention, however. If you’re searching for something provocative, or you’re simply an old China hand who needs an opportunity to vent, then look no further: this is the book for you.
(Quincy’s review is the only critical one I’ve received so far. I respect Quincy and enjoyed his book – I’m not typing that bloody name again – but I 100% disagree with the points he raises here. Westerners absolutely can have valid and valuable opinions about China that simply cannot be expressed by Chinese due to their political constraints or cultural upbringing. I find Quincy’s argument that Westerners shouldn’t be critical of China or the CCP because of the “Trump/Clinton” machine or Wall Street to be the same empty whataboutist argument used by Chinese when they say “You cannot understand China – you’re a foreigner!” or “If you don’t like it – go home!”.)
J.Summers had this to say:
Kafka crossed with Tom Sharpe
This is an astounding book. It’s about the most no-holds barred take-down of the CCP and Chinese materialism you will ever read. It’s dark, with more dark humour laced on top – a cross between Kafka and Tom Sharpe. It’s packed full of laughs, plus incredible insight and humanity. Some of it’s very sad and filled with pathos. I read it cover to cover in a day. Trigger warning: it’s quite rude! Second Trigger warning: those enamoured by the mystique of China and the ancient, respectable, inscrutable oriental may get their PC dreams shattered.
I honestly feel this is an important work. It’s easy to overlook it because of its dark humour and filthy jokes but it is a deep and brutal shivving of all that is wrong with modern China delivered with stunning effectiveness by a shockingly talented writer. Those who don’t know China may blanche. Those who do, and who have gotten out with their sanity, will read it and shudder.RECOMMENDED.
The Real Story
Party Members focuses on the day-to-day goings on in China. It is full of explanatory stories and examples of many cultural traditions that exist there and how the CCP has manipulated these cultural traditions to suit its’ party doctrine. Chinaphiles and those wanting a “clean view” of Chinese culture will not be pleased – but those seeking the truth about what Chinese ( and much of Taiwanese) culture is truly about will find many previously closed doors opened. The books complexity may confuse some at first, but the interwoven plot will carry the message well. Examples right from present day news are mixed in with “traditional” culture examples to provide a rich context.
It is not a book for prudes> This must be made clear. It is quite graphic in topics that may “Offend” the sensitive SJWs. But these examples are deeply relevant to the book and are really at the base of much of Chinese culture.
Reading it is/was an exciting journey that explained a lot about the current situation in China, and by extension, Taiwan.
Highly recommended for the open-minded and those wanting a view of what China is and where the present day facade came from.I received an early copy for reading and review – Thank You Camphor Press.
Humorous and entertaining read
Disclaimer: I was given an advanced copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review. The author of this book is a talented writer. I enjoyed his humorous take on modern day China, and he clearly knows China very well. Overall, I found the book quite entertaining, but many readers may be put off by the graphic sexual content throughout the last two-thirds of the book. I think I would have enjoyed the book more with extra China-related humor and fewer penis references, but the penis-references make up a key part of the story. Overall, I’d give the book 3.5 stars, but I don’t think that’s an option on Amazon.
Gerard Manogue (I really enjoyed this review):
This book had three main strong points: Firstly, I thought that Arthur Meursault, whom I assume is a foreigner, was very ambitious to write an all-Chinese cast. Some will obviously question the authenticity of that but I respect the author’s boldness, and he pulls this off well for satiric purposes. Also, the book was very well written stylistically, unlike many other books about China (looking at you Tom Olden) that are written by foreigners. Lastly, I will not comment on whether or not the China depicted in this book is representative of the “real” China (whatever that means) but I did think that Meursault’s vision, in all of it’s darkness, squalor, and sordidness, was quite unique. Some scenes brought about a very uncomfortable, visceral reaction, and even the most optimistic foreigners wouldn’t be able to deny some of the scary truths within these pages.
However, I did think that Meursault’s attempts to humanize some of the characters made the societal criticisms less effective, mainly because the book is more of an allegory (as satire usually is) and less of a character-study. For example, the first few chapters give an exposition of the protagonist Yang Wei, a sort of Chinese Everyman, and this exposition isn’t much more than a cataloging of everything that is wrong with modern China: the education system, government policies, societal expectations, filial piety, bad manners, terrible hygiene, etc., and how Yang Wei is the average product of all these flaws. Yang Wei acquires an insignificant government post, marries a woman with no personality, and spawns a typical “little Emperor” technology-addicted son, he is essentially pre-engineered into a world where one has to aspire to be mediocre. I didn’t think that this was bad, I actually thought it was well done and quite funny, and brutally honest in the best way. The jaded foreigner within me was rooting for Meursault to continue on. The story for the most part afterwards is cast underneath this satiric light. Later on though, we see the characterization and short-lived entrance of little Shanshan, and this snippet is probably the most hopeful, human portrait in the book. Moments of two-sidedness like this one are rare, and thus I found these moments to be a little out of place with the rest of the book, as Meursault is mostly railing on China for a comedic, seemingly black-and-white effect. While both Yang Wei and Shanshan are both portrayed as victims of a system much bigger than the both of them, Shanshan is meant to be sympathized with, whereas Yang Wei, and most of the other characters, are mostly meant to disgust, repulse, and as a result humor the reader. There is a noticeable lack of balance. Considering my overall impression of the book, something wants me to think that if Shanshan’s character was allowed to survive and develop further, she would have become like one of the many prostitutes that Yang Wei indulges in throughout the narrative, or more ambitiously, another government official’s wife with no personality. How is Shanshan any different from the child s***ing into the bucket of KFC? I understand that the book is meant to be about the darker effects of power and money, and how these things take people down terrible paths, but when the book is always so focused on the negatives, these little attempts at humanization don’t seem genuine.
I do also lurk on r/China from time to time and I am familiar with the whole “Rainy” archetype, which I find hilarious, and while I was really excited to see Meursault’s take on this phenomenon, I didn’t think the potential humor of this idea was fully capitalized on. Mainly this is because I think the whole idea of a Rainy must exist within a “foreigner male – Chinese female” dynamic, to put it roughly. Basically, I think that if Meursault wanted to have a Rainy in the book, he should have written a foreign character. The materialistic, iPhone-toting side of the Rainy was captured well enough, but the bad English, poor social skills, stalking, culture clashes with whatever English teacher unlucky enough to get involved with Rainy, etc., these vital elements of “Rainyness” were just not present. Another thing that I thought was a little inconsistent, if all of the characters are Chinese, and it is evident from the text that the characters are speaking Chinese together, then why on earth would Yang Wei or any other character in the book refer to her as Rainy? Maybe a little pedantic of a complaint, but nonetheless I did question the logic of this. Maybe I am trying to say that only a foreigner can see the “Rainy” in a Chinese girl. The character Bella in Quincy Carroll’s ‘Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside’ in my opinion was a more accurate caricature.
Though I did find this novel to be a tad mean-spirited in some parts, it is still a very fun and insightful read, while not being too heavy. It does play up to “ultra-unreal” tendencies seen these days in modern Chinese literature. Unfortunately the sexually explicit content, shock, violence, and descriptions of Yang Wei’s penis (that are borderline homoerotic at times) will probably prevent the book from being taken seriously in more “highbrow” circles. Overall though I did enjoy this book, and I do recommend it, especially if one currently lives or has spent time in China. Meursault does indeed have a valid and valuable perspective.
An astonishing book. I could not put it down. The writing is beautiful even though it is talking about the most horrific things and the plot is gripping.
This book is dark as hell. It describes the life of a minor Chinese Communist Party official and his ascent up the social ladder. On the way the author shows all aspects of modern Chinese life, as well as a few gross inventions of his own.
There are some stand out scenes in the book that are as hilarious as they are disgusting. The small boy relieving himself in the KFC. The main character pleasuring himself in an Audi A6. The invention of a drink called F-Max that is made of human urine. You won’t forget these scenes in a hurry.
There’s a lot going on behind the disgusting scenes. The book really gets under the skin of life in China and goes even deeper than that. A few plot threads get very nihilistic and readers of Nietzsche and Kafka will recognise many references to their thinking.
I only heard of this book because a friend showed me a copy. It deserves to be more widely known but probably won’t because of its rudeness.
I bought this book because it was recommended to me on reddit.com/r/china which is an internet forum well known for China bashing. I am very critical of the Chinese regime and have experienced much frustration living in China.
While I am not anti Chinese per say I think satire is sometimes the best medicine and this book really lays bare the s*** show that is life in modern China under the CCP. It is laugh out loud funny in places. It’s definitely a must read for foreigners who have spend some time and frustrations living and working in China however if you are in any way sensitive please be aware that this book is not a politically correct book. It will offend and in some ways goes a bit too far but you can’t help but know that the author is really on the money and his portrayal of modern China is very accurate.
One reason it loses a star is I feel it is too long.
The sections where Yang Wei is talking to his penis are a bit tedious and childish however the talking penis is an important metaphor. It just feels like the delivery mechanism for the metaphor could have been delivered differently.
Having lived in China and Taiwan for more than 16 years I thoroughly enjoyed this book
Disclaimer: I was also given an advanced copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review. Having lived in China and Taiwan for more than 16 years I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author displays a very keen understanding of Chinese officialdom! From getting married in China and trying to organize my parents in law pension I think I’ve met all the characters in the book. For those not so familiar with China I’m not sure how many of the “in” jokes will be noticed but anyone having spent time there will definitely appreciate it, I read it in a couple of days and long nights when I should have been sleeping. Highly recommend.
Director Liang (a good contrast to Quincy Carroll’s review):
Foreigners who have lived in China for several years, upon returning home discover that curiously, nobody really believes even the tamest tales of what happened while they were there, as if they are telling war stories at the breakfast table. The squeaky clean Chinese media, the language barrier and preconceived expectations create a “you wouldn’t believe it if I told you” resignation that only those who have been there could really understand. This book brings you all those stories, wrapped in a fanciful, somewhat sexualized and fanciful narrative, perhaps with the hope that after you suspend disbelief of the absurd, you might believe the merely strangely Chinese parts more easily.
It may seem Meursault is criticising Chinese people. But he actually shows us a world of government officials gone wild. He shows us the crushing matrix of servitude and indebtedness that curses all Chinese from birth. The actors of his world are powerful but inhabit a world of powerless, cowering extras who are used, abused, killed or robbed without concern or care – in other worlds the Everyday Chinese whose best hope in life is to have a boring existence. This is a country where dating sites will list sleeping as a hobby.
Yang Wei is one of the powerless (his name is literally “impotent” and “mediocrity was his to enjoy”) who discovers the secret of rising above the meaningless masses. His rise is interwoven with real incidents of abuse, both everyday and straight from Chinese newspapers. It’s as if he is “EveryOfficial”, an amalgam of all the mid tier officials in forgettable smog ridden cities of only 15 million people or so, nursing off the third rate teats of China’s less lucrative scams. And his journey is the 1990s and 2000s journey of China itself, a kind of Midnights Children with less chutney and more KFC.
And, as such, as a part of the lost majority of China, he’s least in touch with the actual meaning of the world he lives in. Is KFC foreign? Why is driving an Audi so important? Does he really need a Mistress on the side, given he has KTV girls and hookers? Why was he so powerless? How far should he go now he knows how to abuse the society he lives in? Does anybody care to stop him? What exact motive will actually drive someone to stand up to him? If you know none of the answers to these questions, are you truly powerful? Or just lucky enough to act in such a way that you ride the crest of a wave?
There are fun Chinese names to enjoy if you are an insider, but as very very few foreigners can read Chinese, Meursalt has not belabored these, they are just Easter eggs for fun. The book walks the line between entertaining you, but also reminding the reader of many issues and questions that beg for redress but you may have accepted (if you lived in China) or assumed incorrectly about (if not). One learns as much from what the characters in the book don’t care about and ignore or concrete over (history, culture, truth, justice) as what they do.
Some have said – how can a Westerner write about China? The author has lived in China for many years, speaks and reads near perfectly in Chinese, has studied classics and appeared in Chinese media. He has spent more adult years in China than many Chinese writers or artists. Is this all there is to China? Of course not. Do bad things happen in other countries? Yes read all about it on any newsstand. Is this a story a Chinese book seller would publish? As of the 2016, the year of publication of this book, they are a bit busy confessing their crimes on television.
As such, expatriate literature on China is an important viewpoint.
Even if it still probably won’t be believed.
If you ever wondered how Kafka’s “The Castle” would read if narrated from the point of view of it’s bureaucrats, or how much ass-kissing O’Brien had to do to obtain his position in Room 101, and would love to read a book about that, written in a Pynchon-esque, absurdist style, then this is the one for you.
Alternatively, if you have a familiarity with the murkier, dingier depths of China, outside of the shiny facades of Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen, then this will definitely evoke a rueful laugh or two.
Although perhaps a bit too unrelenting in it’s criticism of the wonderfully harmonious communist party,this book is clearly inspired by experience of the China that not many outsiders are acquainted with. It’s obviously written with a real passion for the Chinese people, but utter contempt for their government (something that many are unfortunately unable to separate in their mind)
DO NOT READ IF EASILY OFFENDED
However I would say this is probably the best thing to have come out of Xi Jinping’s China so far, except for, of course, his own cascading, erudite and unparalleled magnum opus: The Governance of China. The two books are perfect companions for each other.
laugh out loud moments. A must read for anyone who has spent time frustrated in China. An unfortunately accurate portrayal of modern day China.
Loses one star for being a bit too long. The Penis metaphor was initially funny but too many pages are dedicated to it.
A grim, pessimistic (and often gross) view of how to get ahead in China and the party. I’m not sure if enjoyable would be the right word for this book, but it was a ‘good’ read. I laughed, I winced and got angry as this ‘fictional’ story feels to be very close to the truth. Along with the main narrative about “how to be a dick!”, you learn about the different aspects of living in China, from the pressure exerted on sons to produce heirs, mistress culture, showing off/losing face and the ever elaborate Lunar New Year ritual, which are all instantly recognisable to those of us who live in Asia and resulted in many laugh out loud moments for myself. Be warned this novel is at times very graphic (remember it is a novel about a guy who listens to his penis on how to step on others to get ahead)!
And some anonymous reviews:
Anyone who has lived or spent serious time in China will appreciate so many aspects of the novel. It’s impossible to put down and really gives the reader pause to think throughout. It’s entertaining and serious, and daily life in China has been captured perfectly within the greater story line. A book you will remember reading and be thankful that you did.
Party Members will genuinely frighten anyone who has ever considered China as a viable travel destination
Deeply disturbing, slightly unnerving and pretty much the stuff of nightmares having said that this is a book that both exploits and entertains in equal measures. I had an advance copy of this book back in 2012-13 (that period of my life remains a bai jiu infused blur) and I distinctly remember reading the novel in one setting. I also remember needing to call home and tell my parents how much I loved them and looked forward to seeing them at Christmas. This book reads like one part American Pyscho (if he tried harder), one part Kafka’s The Transformation and one part dark thoughts. If you’re considering China as a viable carrier option, are currently in China and beginning to second guess your recent decisions to ‘see it out till Easter’, or if you’re simply unnerved by how well you’re life is going, then this is the book for you. Absolutely NSFW but if you get through a few chapters during your lunch hour, you’ll never look at KFC in the same light.
Brilliantly Twisted Stuff
I couldn’t put the book down. It was like a hybrid of a David Cronenberg movie/American Psycho with a character from Viz in there. Having spent a little bit of time in China, the many digs at Chinese culture had me laughing out loud. There are some hilarious parts in the book, some are genuinely sad, the ending will leave you aghast.
Rarely in my insignificant lifetime have I hated a book more than this fucking waste of a rainforest. Trees died for this rubbish. It has haunted me for the last four years and I am sick of even the sight of it. If it was a person and I met it in the street, I would knock it down and spit on its back. Then laugh at its mother. It really is an enormous waste of time for everybody involved, which others agree with since nobody will buy or review the fucker.
Everything about the creation of this book annoyed me. Far too many nights were spent hunched over a Macbook like some pretentious wannabe journalist sipping his or her’s frappucino in the Beijing fucking Bookworm. At least those guys might build a career out of the 2,000 word essays on Hunan’s sustainable solar-powered revolution that they copy and paste and send over to the Huffington Post. What the fuck was I thinking? I wrote a 286-page book that is largely one long dick joke. The only writing job that is going to win me is possible part-time work writing erotic fiction for The Gay Times.
Do you know how annoying Microsoft Word is once you want to do more than write a memo? That fucking paperclip mascot laughs at me in my dreams at night. I swear one time his eyes glowed red and he whispered that he was going to kill my sister. Every time you make some slight tweak in the comments it crashes and you lose 20 minutes of work. “Oh, you should use Autosave,” you say. Fuck you. I didn’t even use a PC till I was eighteen and that was mainly to check out the fledgling website http://www.shit-city.com. These habits aren’t ingrained. You fix one thing in Word and it finds, rapes and murders ten other things. At one point I considered paying somebody to type the whole thing for me until I realised I didn’t know how to enunciate the use of semi-colons. Also, do you know how many semi-colons are in this thing? Hundreds of the cunts – and I still don’t understand what they do. I just thought they looked cute.
What a fucking joke. Garbage. Zero stars if Amazon will allow me to do so – and that’s generous. A relentless innuendo-filled rant about the oldest and greatest civilisation in the world. Do you know that China has 5,000 years of history? 5,000 years! That’s just a level of deepness and profundity that my simple brain cannot even begin to understand, even if I tried, which I didn’t. The great nation of China invented paper, and yet I had the audacity to pen a criticism of their culture on their own bloody invention. I’m not fit to even hold a piece of paper; let alone a pink one with a picture of Chairman Mao on it. I should be ashamed.
What the hell was I thinking? Literally more people will read the safety signs discarded at the bottom of a disused and unlit North Korean mineshaft then will read this piece of crap. If I did it for the money than I’m even more of a fool than I am for writing the bastard. If I’d put more hours into my job than I did with this fucking glorified paperweight I might have accumulated more than a dollar – which right now is 100x more money than I’ve earned off this trash. A writing career? I would have been better off freelancing myself to tramps and offering to write their begging signs in exchange for free blowjobs. Those guys suck more than my book.
Buy the book if you want. I wouldn’t, but you might enjoy giving it as a gift to somebody you don’t like. Annoy your neighbours. It’d be like sending them a dogshit in the post, but you won’t get shit stains on your hands. I do have stains on my hands however – the stains of shame that I have incurred by insulting the glorious Chinese Communist Party. Chairman Mao got over a billion people to stand up. I shouldn’t even be able to bend over after the ass-raping I deserve for writing this filth.
In short: don’t buy or even read Party Members. You’ll be better off reading Peter Hessler’s River Town. His book even had a chapter where he wrote about juggling baozi. Baozi! That’s the level of understanding Hessler had about China – right to the core. Not like me. I hang my head in shame and apologise to everybody involved in this whole sorry affair. My publishers should have known better. Let’s hope they learn their lesson when they see the shitty sales figures.
Deep within the heart of China, far from the glamour of Shanghai and Beijing, lies the Chinese every-city of Huaishi. This worker’s paradise of smog and concrete is home to Party Member Yang Wei, a mediocre man in a mediocre job. His content life of bureaucratic monotony is shattered by an encounter with the advanced consumer goods he has long been deprived of. Aided by the cynical and malicious advice of an unlikely mentor, Yang Wei embarks on a journey of greed, corruption, and murder that takes him to the diseased underbelly of Chinese society.
Will Yang Wei achieve his ambition of promotion to the mysterious eighth floor? Will he win the love of his beautiful but materialistic colleague, Rainy? And will his penis stop telling him to eat at fast-food restaurants? Just how far will Yang Wei go to achieve his pursuit of wealth, glory, and a better car?
Party Members is a bleak and black comedic fantasy about a world where to get rich is glorious, no matter who gets hurt in the process. Designer handbags, sex, karaoke, and shady property deals combine to paint a picture of modern China unlike anything seen before.
In just one week’s time it will be August 17th which can only mean one thing: the glorious release of Party Members – the greatest book ever written since the novelisation of Driving Miss Daisy.
You can pre-order your copy now, but to get you all excited, our team of dedicated researchers travelled around China recently to interview a few people and understand more about what the average Zhou on the street is feeling about the release. We handed out review copies to eleven people and here is what they had to say…
Zhang Xianfei – 26 – Professional League of Legends Player
“I don’t know much about Party Members or Arthur Meursault, but I do know about our glorious hero Sun Yang and that Australian bastard Mack Horton. He should apologise to China. Australia is a savage nation. #apologisetosunyang”
Yu Landuo – 33 – “Customer Service”
“What? What do you want? I’m busy. I don’t have what you want. No. I don’t understand. Try that counter over there.”
Elyse Ribbons – 37 – Fempat and coffee enthusiast
“Party Members could be improved by adding in more mentions of Elyse Ribbons. Do you know that she wrote her own play called “I Heart Beijing” and is a strong, independent and empowered young woman who is destined for great things? Check out my blog where I review the most AMAZING dumplings I found this one time. Please pay attention to me. Please.”
Chen Sanmei – 88 – Peasant
“Was that a book you gave me? I can’t remember what I did with it. I think I fed it to the pigs or wiped my grandson’s arse with it when we ran out of copies of the Global Times.”
Timothy Budong – 31 – Educator
“Dude, this book was a bit harsh on China. I carried it around inside my green backpack during an EPIC 3 hour bus ride. China is so amazing and has 5000 years of history, I don’t know why this Arthur Meursault has such a beef with the place. Now you will have to excuse me – my Foreign Liaison Teacher has promised me that if I do some free extra classes this afternoon then they might renew my contract this September! A-B-C-D-E…..”
Lan Yang – 25 – Global Times Journalist
“Party Members is brimming with scathing insults and mocking stories. If Arthur Meursault doesn’t like China, he should go back to where he came from.”
Wang Shanshan – 29 – Former English student
“You know Arthur Meursault? Do you have his number? He is a bad man. He promised me free English classes if I came to his apartment to watch some DVDs and then I never saw him again.”
Ernest Hemingway – Dead – Author and wannabe alcoholic
“Party Members is the best book I’ve ever read. It shits all over anything that I wrote and makes The Sun Also Rises look like an entry in a kid’s composition contest. Now pass me a drink please, I’m parched. Oh shit, I’m dead. It’s raining outside.”
In what is probably the most narcissistic post ever to appear on this blog (and there’s been more than a few of them, let’s face it, anybody who keeps a blog or writes a book is more than inclined to narcissism), today I am featuring an interview with yours truly that first appeared on the website Bookish.asia. Bookish.asia is a website that features book reviews and author interviews with a specific Asia focus. For the sake of full disclosure, it is also managed by the good people at Camphor Press who published my book, so they pretty much HAVE to interview me. Also, I have their kids chained up in a basement.
I can’t possibly imagine who would be interested in reading about me. I’m certainly not. I’m one of the most boring people I know – and that’s coming from a man who has been to Milton Keynes. The whole thing reminds me of Alan Partridge organising his own “An Afternoon with Alan Partridge” deep within the bowels of the Linton Travel Tavern to a group of bored pensioners.
Anyway, don’t say you haven’t been warned. Here you go…
Author Interview: Arthur Meursault
Arthur Meursault is the author of the dark comedy Party Members (due out in August). Set in the fictional Chinese city of Huaishi, it follows the exploits of Yang Wei, a mid-level government official led astray by greed and corruption.
Meursault left his native England as a teenager, throwing himself into the zeitgeist of China in the 2000s. He quickly became fluent in Mandarin, so much so that it earned him appearances on Chinese national television. With over seventeen years of China experience, he has a deep understanding of the country but a faded passion. Now he has decided to share his views in a novel that he isn’t expecting to be shortlisted for the Communist Party’s Book of the Month Club.
What first drew you to Chinese culture and made you want to study the language?
I’ve analysed myself and thought about this a lot over the years and I’ve reached the conclusion that it was just pure escapism. I was born in a rough and impoverished area of northern England that would be termed as “working-class” if anybody was still working. Either through a milk deficiency or some genetic throwback to a more effete ancestor, I was a little bit too soft, too small and too sensitive to really fit into that type of environment. When you’re a teenager growing up in that kind of area it’s natural to seek somewhere far away to escape to and “prove yourself”. In retrospect, it could have been anywhere – I might have developed a teenage obsession with Russia and be now speaking to you about my book set in Vladivostok – but China for one reason or another was the one I set my sights on. I quickly grew obsessed with the place and moved there as soon as I left school. If a lot of people are honest with themselves, a large percentage of young people in Asia are there for the same reason. If I’d been bigger and better-looking as a teen then some kind soul might have agreed to sleep with me and I probably would have stayed at home and got a job in a supermarket instead.
Did you enjoy your time in China?
This relates to the reasons for originally going to China. At first China is great for those lost souls who want to feel “different” and “special”: standing out from the crowd and the superficial false praise that the Chinese are so very good at doling out can fuel a wounded ego for ages. I had a great time for several years but was woefully naive: there are even videos of me on the internet of when I threw myself into Chinese Opera for a couple of years and won a national contest. I’d love to go back in time and punch my previous dancing monkey self right in his painted face. However, gradually as I matured and tried to do more than just get patronising pats on the head, I realised that the “specialness” and “difference” were not only false but a double-edged sword and that trying to be accepted for purely who you are is impossible as a foreigner in China. The disappointment and resentment kicks in soon after that. Learning the language well only exasperates the problem. It’s all downhill from there.
What was the inspiration for Party Members?
At one point I had an idea for a book called “China has Many Hells” that was going to be a Catch-22 type book featuring a gazillion characters, all miserable in their unique way. I wrote a few scenes and one of the ones I wrote was about an obnoxious Chinese dinner party where the guests are constantly trying to one-up one another with their latest iPhones. I’ve been in that situation in real life more times than I care to count and I didn’t even have an iPhone. Anyway, I enjoyed that scene so much that I wrote more and more into it, until I decided to just run with that story and dump the original idea for “China has Many Hells”.
The book is also heavily inspired by the obscure 1980s British comedy film starring Richard E. Grant called How to Get Ahead in Advertising. I might as well say that now before someone on Goodreads realises and awards me only one star.
To what extent are Yang Wei, Rainy, Pangpang and other characters based on real-life people?
They’re all based on real people, though only Pangpang is based on a single individual while Yang Wei and Rainy are composites. Yang Wei is basically a composite of every single nasty small-minded little person I ever met in China rolled into one. You can find him in every city in every province in China. Next time you read a news story about some corrupt official: that’s Yang Wei. Ditto for Rainy, but female.
Pangpang was a real life guy who worked at a factory in Shandong. He was a sales coordinator and terrible at his job. The guy was the fattest Chinese man I have ever met in my life: he could had been his own Special Administrative Region. At first I thought he was clumsy and likeable as he was always bullied remorselessly at the factory, but I later learnt he was also very corrupt and greedy, albeit not very competently. I actually got him fired when he stole a digital camera from my house and asked me for US$5,000 to give it back. The camera was probably only worth $200. After he was fired, he telephoned me once at 2am to invite me to a “party” at some bar on the outskirts of town. I politely declined. He then got a job in a pizza shop. I think he was much happier then.
How did you decide on names for your main characters?
Without revealing some of the twists in the book, it’s very important to know that Yang Wei’s name means “impotence”. When the book begins he is an impotent figure with no power over his own destiny: his rage stems from that fact.
Nobody gets any prizes for guessing why the fat character is called Pangpang.
Rainy is an interesting character (Christ, the narcissism of saying your own creations are “interesting”) and her name went through some changes. At first she was called Little Jade, which is a fairly common name throughout China. However, during the editing process I stumbled across a section on Reddit called the China Circle Jerk (or CCJ for short). I found it absolutely hilarious, especially their running jokes about stereotypical naive young Chinese girls who they would call “Rainy”. This was a much much better name than Little Jade, so Rainy got a makeover.
let’s be clear, it’s not just poor English that constitutes a rainy, it’s the meandering thoughts that go nowhere and a preoccupation with the lives of laowai and how they might be ensnared into marriage that’s a hallmark of rainy behavior.
Rainy has just enough self-awareness to know how odd her behavior is (“maybe there are some persons thought me is a crazy girl”) but she rationalizes it away. Fueled by all the bullshit expats have told her about life back home, she’ll do anything to get that ticket to waiguo, husband in tow and mix baby on the way.
The novel is set in a “third-tier city.” What does this mean?
A third-tier city has a KFC, but no McDonalds. It will also have a branch of Dicos. There won’t be a Starbucks, but there will be knock-offs like Moonbucks or elaborately designed independent coffee shops that serve Blue Mountain coffee for 88 RMB and are AWFUL. Everybody will say that the city is “very world-famous” for a certain dish that you’ve never heard of and on inspection resembles a smashed clam. There will be four foreigners living in the city. All four will be English teachers, and at least three of them will be alcoholics. Somewhere in the centre of town will be a “Tourist Heritage Site” of a Ming Dynasty temple that was built in 2007.
Is the city of Huaishi based on a real place?
Oh, hell yes. It’s an amalgamation of two cities in Shandong Province that I spent a lot of time in: Linyi and Dezhou. Eagle-eyed readers might recognise the braised chicken that Huaishi claims as its specialty dish to be one and the same as Dezhou’s “Paji” chicken dish. Linyi is the main influence though. Wikipedia tells me that every year Linyi produces three million tons of compound fertilisers, which should tell you how shit it is. When I was in Linyi it really was a shining example of the worst of Chinese society: there was a scandal involving women being forced into undergoing unwanted abortions that resulted in the human rights activist Chen Guangcheng getting jailed. I used to get plainclothes policemen following me in case I was an undercover journalist. I would ask them for cigarettes when I was short.
It’s rare to get such accomplished writing in a first novel. Had you done much writing before Party Members?
Good Lord, what delicious flattery. Thank you. I’ve had blogs in the mid-2000s, which were fairly popular (Yellow Wings and Sinocidal) and I wrote for a few expat rags, though I wouldn’t call paid advertorials for all-you-can-eat buffets at the Hangzhou Marriott proper journalism. I wanted to be a journalist for many years, but soon realised I wasn’t middle-class enough and couldn’t afford to intern for a decade. I seem to remember winning a national youth writing contest in the UK back when I was a teenager. It was a short story about a homosexual in World War One. No wonder I was bullied.
Party Members is a hard book to fit into a genre. How would you categorize it?
There was a wonderful article recently by a Chinese author called Ning Ken which called for a new literary genre in China called the “Ultra-Unreal”. I think that description fits the book perfectly: honest descriptions of a crazy society that would be considered unreal in other countries. You can read more on it here.
Personally, I like to think of my book as a kind of horror. When you think about everything that’s in the book – rape, murder, corruption – there’s no other way of classifying it other than horror. I do throw quite a few jokes in though, so I suppose “Dark Comedy” is more apt. Oh, there’s a talking penis too, so maybe it should be “Dark Comic Fantasy”.
The book cover is outstanding. Can you tell us something about it?
It’s great, isn’t it? Even if you don’t like my writing, you should still buy the book for the cover art. How’s that for a sales tactic? It’s by the dissident Chinese artist Badiucao, who is based in Australia and features his unique subversive style. I’m wondering who will get kidnapped first and dragged back to China to read a forced confession: him or me? I hope it’s not me; I’ve already booked a holiday to the Maldives for next year and getting kidnapped will be extremely inconvenient.
What messages do you hope readers will come away with?
Let’s be honest: not everybody is going to like this book, and I’m not just talking Chinese. When I was trying to get the book published it was shown to somebody quite senior in a large publishing house who dismissed it as a “rape fantasy” (even though there’s only one rape in the book at the very end, and she didn’t know that).
I hope that people will appreciate that the book is a criticism of certain elements of China and the Chinese and not meant as a diatribe against an entire people. I didn’t write Party Members in a Munich cell after a failed beer hall putsch (that’s my next book). I want people to be angry and horrified after reading the book. It’s pretty relentless, I admit that, but that’s why there’s also a lot of humour in the book too. There is absurdity in many many things about China and its system. Most of all I hope that readers will agree with me that unchecked greed can only end in one result: death and destruction.
Party Members is a damning indictment of the corruption and greed in China. Is that your personal take on China?
Absolutely. Anybody who says otherwise is either a liar or a journalist for The Economist. In fairness, some of the greed is due to historical circumstances and a pendulum swing-back from the austerity of the full-on Communist years, but there is a Chinese tendency towards greed and vulgar displays of wealth. I don’t begrudge people taking the capitalist road and earning as much money as possible, but more often than not in China that money is accumulated through corrupt means. Any honest person just gets stamped down.
Your book is extremely controversial. Are you afraid of any personal repercussions?
I wouldn’t mind a bit of excitement in my personal life: it can’t be any worse than going to the same office for 12 hours every day. Being kidnapped and placed under house arrest holds a certain appeal as it’ll give me time to write my next book. Salman Rushdie’s career only really took off after the fatwa and I’d love to be invited to all those posh literary parties with canapés and fizzy wine. However, friends, family and my publisher disagreed, which is why I keep a low profile and use a pseudonym. Still, getting my book to a stage where there are personal repercussions will at least mean it’s been a success, so I guess it’s a mixed bag. Hopefully Xi Jinping holds a rally to burn the book in cities across China. I don’t mind as long as they buy the book first. Oh shit, it’s China, they’ll be burning pirated PDFs of the book instead. Damn.
Why did you choose the name Arthur Meursault as your pseudonym?
Meursault was the name I used to use when blogging and commenting on blogs back in the mid-2000s. As mentioned earlier, I have a bit of a soft, sensitive side so I quite like French existential literature. Meursault comes from the Camus novel L’etranger (The Outsider) and it is one of my favourite books. I’ve occasionally seen it translated into Chinese as 外人. That’s only a single character away from 外国人 (foreigner) and an apt description on how I felt about my status in China. Hence, Meursault was born. Also, I once shot an Arab dead on an Algerian beach. That’s a literary joke by the way; please don’t report me to Interpol.
There are passages of Party Members which reminded me of Lu Xun. Are you a fan of his writing?
Very much so. I’m prone to cynical and nihilistic thoughts and I appreciate the darkness in Lu Xun’s work. His Diary of a Madman is one of the finest pieces ever written about China, and borrowed heavily from the 19th century Russian literature that I think represents some of the greatest literature ever created. I also have a soft spot for his last collection of short stories – Wild Grass – when he basically gave up on trying to raise political points and instead wrote these wonderfully misanthropic poems and stories full of total poetic despair.
What are some of your favorite fiction titles?
As much as I consider the French a country of degenerate cheese-eating poseurs, I love their literature. L’etranger by Camus, Mémoires d’un fou by Flaubert and Houellebecq’s Platform and The Possibility of an Island.
Any recommendations for China books?
Anybody who has an interest in China should at some point read Ralph Townsend’s Ways That Are Dark. It was written in the 1930s by an American diplomat in China and is the most shocking and damning account of China ever written. It’s over-the-top in many many ways and undeniably has some racist undertones; however, it is written in this beautiful flowing prose that modern writers just can’t emulate. His whole account of what he thinks of China is relentlessly dark: it reads almost like an example of Lovecraftian cosmic horror when he despairs over the futility of hope. It chokes you.
On a lighter note, I got much joy as a teenager reading the Kai Lung books written by Ernest Bramah at the end of the 19th century. They were collections of short stories set in Imperial China as related by a wandering storyteller. They’re largely forgotten now, which is a crying shame, as they were creative, funny, whimsical and had a unique way of portraying the classical Chinese language into English that I’ve never seen bettered.
Who are your favorite authors?
I’m the complete opposite of a modern-day US university course on English literature in that I generally like my authors dead, white and male. I devour classics. At one point in my life I refused to read anything by anybody who wasn’t dead by 1935. I’ve softened on that stance since then though. Party Members has some obvious inspiration from Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. H.P. Lovecraft never ceases to amaze me, though if I had to choose a favourite living writer it would either be Thomas Ligotti or Michel Houellebecq.
You have a blog (arthurmeursault.com) with some rather incendiary posts. Can you tell us something about it?
It’s a mix of some of my old and new writings on China, but primarily a vehicle to flog a few extra books. I don’t take it very seriously, except when I’m taking down CCP apologists like Mark Zuckerberg. Then I really put the boot in. The primary purpose is to entertain, so readers shouldn’t take anything on there too seriously. I’d rather write jokes than facts: I wish I could be a TV sitcom writer in Hollywood but I don’t know enough Yiddish slang. Occasionally I write book reviews of other China-focused book where I drop the sarcastic tone. I expect at some point I’ll run out of things to say about China and then I’ll either stop blogging or write about other things that interest me like 1940s Bugs Bunny cartoons or sniffing glue.
Your blog has a series of Yang Wei cartoons. How do these fit in with the novel?
They’re not connected in any way at all to the book except featuring the main character Yang Wei. Obviously, he’s more two-dimensional and cartoonish in the cartoons, plus he hasn’t undergone the transformation yet that happens to him in the book. And on that bombshell, it’s time for me to conclude this interview. Good night.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members– a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.