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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Pekinger Passion

Jürg Amann

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To purchase Pekinger Passion

Title: Pekinger Passion
Author: Jürg Amann
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008
Length: 126 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Pekinger Passion - Deutschland
  • Kriminalnovelle
  • Pekinger Passion has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-done murder-mystery variation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 16/4/2008 Sibylle Saxer

  From the Reviews:
  • "Was als inhaltliche Formel in Plattheit abzugleiten und zum Mosaiksteinchen in einem allgemeinen Opferdiskurs zu verkommen droht, überzeugt durch die erzählerische Umsetzung: Kaleidoskopartig liefern die protokollierten Ausführungen des angeblichen Täters Teng, der Mutter Shis, eines Forensikers, eines Polizisten und schliesslich des vermeintlichen Opfers Shi selbst Aufschluss darüber, was geschehen war oder vielmehr: was geschehen sein könnte. Doch diese verschiedenen Variationen ergeben in ihrer Summe kein schlüssiges Total. (...) Das sind nicht einfach manieristische Sprachspielereien, das ist anschauliches Gleiten von Signifikanten. Das ist lesbare Dekonstruktion -- lesenswert." - Sibylle Saxer, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: Pekinger Passion has not yet been translated into English, and this review is based on the German original; all translations are mine.]

       Pekinger Passion was inspired by real-life events, author Jürg Amann taking the story from a short AP report that he came across, describing how eighteen years after Teng Xingshan was executed for the murder and dismemberment of Shi Xiaorong (to which he had confessed) the supposed victim reäppeared, very much alive. (This is a fairly well-known case of miscarriage of justice in China, and while Amann did change some of the details -- relocating the story from Hunan Province to Beijing, and making Teng Xingshan a student rather than the butcher he actually was and Shi Xiaorong a teacher -- he did use the names of the real-life counterparts for his characters; see, for example, this Xinhua report.)
       The novel is presented in five parts, each an account by a different party involved in the case. It begins with Teng Xingshan's confession, from when he was arrested, followed by present-day accounts by Shi Xiaorong's mother, by one of those handling the investigation of the murder, by the public prosecutor who handled the case, and finally by Shi Xiaorong herself. In other words, all of them give their accounts with the knowledge that Teng Xingshan did not actually murder Shi Xiaorong -- though only the alleged murderer and the apparent victim knew that for certain from the beginning.
       Teng Xingshan is twenty when he makes his confession to the police, freely admitting to Shi Xiaorong's murder. He describes how he was uprooted by the family's move the Beijing, and the only thing he could cling to was his infatuation with a teacher at his school, Shi Xiaorong. Though never in any of her classes, he lived for the brief sightings and encounters with the woman, nine years older than him, and basically -- if also very cautiously -- stalked her; he also wrote her letters and even a few poems. Meanwhile, he turned aside the attentions of a classmate who was actually interested in him.
       Eventually, he sees that Shi Xiaorong has begun regularly meeting an older man -- with an 'exotic, foreign look' -- and, seeing how close they were, assumes she plans to marry him. In his desperation he first turns to thoughts of suicide but then finally decides to act against her -- attacking her, trying to rape her, killing her, and then dismembering her, cutting her into so many small pieces that she was unrecognizable. So he confesses -- of his own free will, he says.
       Shi Xiaorong's mother adds some additional background and information, and explains why she was willing to believe that the dead woman was her daughter. (Only parts of her were found, but the general markers -- from blood type to height -- matched Shi Xiaorong's, and DNA testing was barely used in China at the time, and wasn't in this case.) Teng Xingshan's behavior also spoke for accepting the prevailing story: 'He seemed almost happy that he was discovered and convicted so quickly', she recalls. She also found the letters Teng Xingshan had written to her daughter -- some of them with the threat that he would go to to the school authorities and accuse her of seducing him, a minor.
       The mother's account also reveals the identity of the older man Teng Xingshan saw Shi Xiaorong with, and the nature of their relationship -- as well as the explanation for Shi Xiaorong's disappearance, coïnciding so unfortunately-neatly with the discovery of the (pieces of the) corpse (because someone was definitely murdered and chopped up into bits).
       The police investigator and the prosecutor are naturally both somewhat defensive in their accounts, noting that the evidence pointed so strongly to Teng Xingshan, and the fact that he had freely confessed to the crime. They admit some of the things didn't quite square with the facts, but there seemed no reason to investigate more closely; each was just doing their jobs. The prosecutor even suggests that maybe, in the darkness, Teng Xingshan mistook the actual victim for Shi Xiaorong, and thought that he had actually killed her, rather than someone else .....
       Shi Xiaorong begins her account: 'I am here again. So now I can clear everything up' -- but she doesn't quite. She gives her side of much of the story, throwing yet another different light on how Teng Xingshan's infatuation with and pursuit of her played out, as well as the reason for her disappearance (and also for her return). And, in her explanation, presents a slightly different variation on what (might have) happened, suggesting that, indeed, the timing -- of her disappearance, and the discovery of a body (and Teng Xingshan being such an obvious suspect) -- were not quite as coïncidental as they might seem.
       Concluding her account of what happened those many years ago she says:

     Ja, so war es. So ist es vielleicht gewesen. So ungefähr wird es gewesen sein.

[Yes, that's how it was. Maybe that's how it was. It must have been something like that.]
       She equivocates -- in contrast to Teng Xingshan's so certain-sounding confession (even though we know it is not, strictly speaking, *true*). With rumors swirling around when she returns, she withholds certainty -- a tease that her account suggests she might also have subjected Teng Xingshan to .....
       The novella's closing words sum up what Amann has been exploring here all along, Shi Xiaorong wondering:
Was ist schon Unschuld, was ist schon Schuld ? In Wahrheit habe ich Teng Xingshan gar nicht gekannt. Aber was ist schon Wahrheit ?

[What is innocence, what is guilt anyway ? In truth, I didn't know Teng Xingshan at all. But what is truth anyway ?]
       It's nicely and cleverly done, a plausible story -- in all its variations -- with Amann then making the most of its ambiguities.
       A creative take on the murder-mystery, Pekinger Passion is a worthwhile little read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 November 2023

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Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Jürg Amann lived 1947 to 2013.

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© 2023 the complete review

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