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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Wang in Love and Bondage

Wang Xiaobo

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To purchase Wang in Love and Bondage

Title: Wang in Love and Bondage
Author: Wang Xiaobo
Genre: Fiction
Written: (Eng. 2007)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: Wang in Love and Bondage - US
Wang in Love and Bondage - UK
Wang in Love and Bondage - Canada
  • Three Novellas by Wang Xiaobo: 2015, The Golden Age, and East Palace, West Palace
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Hongling Zhang and Jason Sommer

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly well done accounts of life in China

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Wang in Love and Bondage is perhaps too ambitious a title for this collection of novellas. True, two of the stories do feature a 'Wang Er' (and variations on love and at least types of bondage), and the third at least has similar themes (while doing without a Wang-character), but it's hard for the stories to live up to the title.
       Though the first story, 2015, is ostensibly written in that year, Wang's fiction is a stylized account of the China of his times (he died in 1997). In 2015 the narrator is a writer, and he tells the story of his uncle, Wang Er, a painter who is sent to an Art Reeducation Institute because he insists on continuing to paint despite not having the necessary permit. At the institute they are supposed to be reeducated so they can work at socially useful jobs; not surprisingly, many of the artists are hard to convince to change their ways -- even with the help of a "custom-made measuring apparatus", used to test their IQs but doubling as "an electric torture machine." Eventually, Wang gets into a relationship with one of the guards, a domineering woman who won't let love interfere with her duty, at one point carting Wang off to a labor camp.
       In The Golden Age the narrator is sent for reeducation to Yunnan (as was author Wang), and gets into a relationship with Chen Qingyang. From when he first gets to know her she is deeply concerned about being perceived as "damaged goods" (i.e. having cheated on her husband, who is in prison). Her relationship with the narrator turns her into damaged goods, as well as causing problems with the authorities (with their demands for confessions and denouncements).
       In East Palace, West Palace the sadistic policeman Xiao Shi gets involved in a relationship with the homosexual masochistic writer Ah-Lan. Here again, love is not between equals -- in all these stories one partner tends to be very dominant -- and barely recognised as such. In The Golden Age love was seen as even more dangerous than being 'damaged goods', and here Xiao Shi also finds himself caught up in something perceived as dangerous and wrong -- and something he is unfamiliar with:

He never had these feelings. Xiao Shi tells himself: This might be what people call "love."
       The world Wang describes is often cruel but also widely accepted; there's only limited resistance (the uncle shoves his nephew ahead at the Art Reeductation Institute, hoping they'll take him instead; Chen Qingyang and Wang Er go on the run) and eventually everyone more or less does try to play by the rules. (Some resistance always remains, however: the painter in 2015 is rehabilitated and gets his permit, but never picks it up, for example.) The absurdities are amusingly described, in a tone that suggests the horrors and futility are simply a given that it serves little purpose to get very outraged about.
       The novellas move along at a good pace, and there's quite a bit of humour here -- as in the authorities taking advantage of Wang Er's officially disapproved of painting style while he's institutionalised:
Later these drawings were used as the engravings on paper money because they were impossible to counterfeit. The paper money in our country used to be designed by painters with permits, whose drawings could be faked by peasants who had a little training in Chinese folk art. But the work of the students at the institute all looked very strange, blurred with lots of faint stains that no one could forge unless his head and hands were also locked into stocks on a drafting table.
       The novellas are fairly good and certainly of some interest, but it's a peculiar mix -- making the book useful enough as an introduction to the author, but feeling very incomplete.

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Wang in Love and Bondage: Reviews: Wang Xiaobo: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author Wang Xiaobo (王小波) lived 1952 to 1997.

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© 2007-2021 the complete review

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