Book: I Love Dollars (and other stories of China)

Subversive. Porn. Trash.
240 pages, ★

I’m sorry. I just can’t like this book. It’s a grim slice of China’s history, written in an equally vulgar and unrefined style.

It’s the literary equivalent of THIS SONG (I Want It I Need It by Death Grips). Both are unbearable (but do listen).

This book only makes sense to Chinese-speaking sinophiles. It has subtle jokes and pinyin throughout.

I Love Dollars is first-person story of sex, money, violence and corruption. Most readers, including the legendary Jonathan Spence, have given this book flattering reviews and 5 stars. But it’s just too graphic for me: too much sex, too much disrespect, too much “hell”, “piss”, “fuck” and “shit” to make me care about any of the characters. This book is the opposite of the wise, ancient, spiritual China that I love.

It’s set in the morally-bankrupt China under Jiang Zemin’s rule. Here’s a brief history lesson: Mao died in 1976, but Maoism died in 1978/9 when exiled intellectuals returned to the cities to spark a mini-renaissance. They dreamed of democracy, reform, revolution, religion and free love. In 1984, protests against rampant corruption had been sparked in Tibet and were spreading rapidly Eastwards towards Beijing. In 1989, coupled with anti-Communist sentiments from the Soviet Union, the returned intellectuals catalysed protests in downtown Beijing until they escalated to immense proportions: think 2,000 Wall Street Protests happening in one place and lasting for four months…

From 1992 onwards, after the protests (and resulting confusion) had cleared up, Chinese people agreed to ‘ignore’ politics and pursue money and “modern culture” instead. The political buzzword, “wang qian zou” (“Look to the Future”) was interpreted by many people as, “Look for the Money” (a homophone). China became money-obsessed, which fuelled its recent economic boom. It’s in this spiritual vacuum that I Love Dollars was published.

I’m left asking, “was post-1989 China really as vulgar as depicted in this book? Or were new, free-market publishers encouraging authors to push boundaries as far as possible (provided they didn’t talk about politics) which resulted in blatant literary porn such as I Love Dollars?”

Reading this is like walking through pollution: you move quickly and try not to breathe. Instead of reading the whole book, just read the Translator’s Afterword for a level-headed historical analysis. Then listen to THIS SONG (I Want It I Need It by Death Grips) and you’ll no longer want to read the book: the song describes book’s sentiment exactly. ★

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