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Officials pen purple pulp fiction

  • Source: Global Times
  • [08:27 January 20 2011]
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The Mayor's Secretary

"The market fever towards such novels reflects deeper social problems in China," Liu Yingwu said.

In The Chief of the Beijing Liaison Office, for instance, Wang Xiaofang unveils the daily running of liaison offices as a breeding hub of corruption, feeding readers' insatiable curiosity.

By 2009, this new fiction genre - officialdom novels - was well established on the market.

At probably the biggest bookstore in China in the novel section on the second floor are two shelves packed with titles on officialdom.

In Xidan Book Mansion's recommended books counter at the center is Hou Weidong's Official Diary, which reaped 1.9 million yuan (US$287,000) in royalties since it hit the market in June last year. Using the pseudonym "Xiaoqiao Laoshu", meaning "Little Bridge, Old Tree", to keep his writing separate from his official job, the author is a deputy bureau chief in the Yongchuan district of Chongqing. 

As of the week of January 17, among the top 20 popular novels at www.sina.com.cn, China's largest news portal, four titles are novels on officialdom.

The popularity of officialdom novels occurs at a time when fiction and novels are experiencing a general decline in the publishing market. Officialdom novels can hardly rescue the sagging Chinese literature market, its critics say.

"Officialdom novels have little to do with literature," said Bai Ye. "They are practical writings, containing little literary value."

These writings meet the readers' practical needs, Bai explains. For thousands of years, reverence for officials has been deep-rooted and such books serve as a suitable manual for readers vying to enter the civil service.

In a perfect example of Bai's claim, in the Books section of www.sina.com.cn are "must-read" books on officialdom. Placed in four groups, there are novels for civil service entrants on how to get promoted, how to survive the intricate inter-personal relationships inside offices, and how to stay away from the temptations inside official circles. 

Although a self-made novelist, Wang Xiaofang felt strongly about some of the government-sponsored mainstream writers who look down on his work.

"Novels on Chinese officialdom are the only watchdog on our society," he said. "They represent the conscience of society."

In his much-acclaimed The Civil Servant's Notebook, a novel published in June 2009, Wang recorded his reflections on the unspoken rules governing Chinese society.  The lives of civil servants, he wrote, are like those living in a gigantic castle, following prescribed rules; and all citizens are equal under the law, but not everybody is a citizen.

"I'm a social critic type of novelist," he said.

Seeing the book's potential value on the international market, Penguin China recently set out translating the 350,000-word book into English.

"Bringing a story centered on Chinese politics to an English language readership is certainly a challenge, but we feel very strongly that the Civil Servant's Notebook is the best of its type," Jo Lusby, managing director of Penguin China, wrote in an e-mail interview. 

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