Dream of Ding Village

What a dilemma Yan Lianke must pose to his government. He's one of China's most celebrated writers, and among its most censored. In a career that spans 30 years, he's endured the repeated whipsaw of populist praise followed by official penalty. The publication in 2004 of The Joy of Living earned him both his nation's prestigious Lao She literary prize, and his ouster from the Chinese army. Now his scathing novel, Dream of Ding Village, which was banned just weeks after its publication in 2005, has come roaring onto the American marketplace in a vibrant translation by Cindy Carter.


Dream of Ding Village begins as Ding Hui, the ambitious son of a local school teacher, persuades the people of tiny Ding village to follow the lead of the other towns in Henan Province and sell their blood for cash. Hui soon becomes a successful "bloodhead," with so many collection stations that when he runs short of supplies, he simply re-uses the needles and cotton swabs. The people of Ding village sell enough blood that they get wealthy. And then they get AIDS.


Grotesque as it sounds, the set-up is rooted in the Chinese blood-selling scandal of the mid-1990s. In a government-sanctioned scheme, hundreds of thousands of residents in rural Henan Province sold their blood for eventual resale to international pharmaceutical companies. Unsafe medical practices led to an AIDS epidemic, unofficially estimated at close to one million cases.


Lianke, a native of Henan Province, plays with farce and satire and allegory as he spins his dark tale. His description of what has been lost is as mesmerizing as his critique of those to blame is merciless.

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