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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Medical Emergencies and Epistemological Ruptures: Epidemics and Their Cultural Legacies in China in the 20th and 21st Century
2: The State-Sponsored Epidemic: AIDS Narrated by a Chinese Novelist
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Wittenberg University, United States
This paper focuses on Dream of Ding Village (2006), the Chinese version of The Plague and a macabre story filled with death caused by AIDS, by the award-winning yet controversial writer Yan Lianke. I discuss how the daring novel shows concern for the biopolitical situation of the Chinese people, and how it spearheads its criticism on the “blood economy” that encouraged people to sell blood in central China in the 1990s. Intending to make “the people rich and the nation strong,” this policy ended up to be a “blood disaster” and “national calamity,” in the words of Dr. Gao Yaojie, China’s most outspoken AIDS activist. By blaming the shortsighted and irresponsible policy makers and practitioners, the novel makes it clear that many HIV carriers in China at that time were victims of the “Blood Economy” rather than sufferers of a “moral disease” as a result of their own immoral life style. Through studying the unconventional narrative voice and the experimental structure of the novel, I examine the thanatopolics characteristic of the story; it also demonstrates how the novel makes parts of the real illusory and imaginary, and how this technique serves to create a wider and deeper blurred space between reality and unreality to highlight the irrational and crazy materialistic desire of human beings, which leads to an absurd and ill-practiced modernization. At the same time, this paper analyzes the possibility of the author’s self-censorship, and how the practice of self-censorship affects the narrative in the artistic and realistic dimensions.