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Don’t Miss, Tonight: Murong Xuecun Makes a Rare Public Appearance

Murong Xuecun

“I still live in fear,” Murong Xuecun wrote in a New York Times op-ed last summer. “I visited many Chinese prisons for a novel I wrote about the legal world — I know they aren’t pleasant places. Could I cope with a life behind bars? How would I face my devastated family and friends if I were jailed? I still don’t know.”

That novel “about the legal world” is Dancing Through Red Dust, originally published in 2008, an English translation of which has just appeared (translation by Harvey Thomlinson). Murong will be at The Bookworm tonight to talk about it, along with other issues regarding writing and expression in China.

During his 12 months researching Dancing Through Red Dust, Murong uncovered real-life corruption and brutality that became the basis for several of the novel’s more unforgettable scenes. A synopsis from the publisher:

Described as a “panoramic novel of patchwork brilliance, relentless energy and dark humour,” Dancing Through Red Dust tells the story of lawyer Wei Da, who is forced to go on the run after an accident leaves his girlfriend’s blackmailing ex-lover dead.

He destroys evidence, hides his assets and plans to flee China but his desperate bid for freedom ends in anguish when he is arrested and sent to the notorious Cao River Remand Centre.

The worst of human nature is exhibited here, both behind bars and in court, and it isn’t long before Wei is exposed to all manner of lowlifes including corrupt lawyers using bribes to clear their wealthy clients and deviant judges demanding sexual favours, while the rich rape and murder without fear of punishment.

During his trial, Wei is shocked to discover the true extent of corruption within China’s legal system as judges and lawyers scam and scheme before sentencing him to death. Forced to live out the rest of his days behind bars, Wei must atone for his errors while contending with the harsh realities of prison survival.

The novel, prior to publication in Chinese, was extensively cut. But Murong is no stranger to censorship. At an award ceremony in 2010, he was forbidden to give an acceptance speech for his first literary prize. As described in a 2011 New York Times profile written by Edward Wong, Murong “made a zipping motion across his mouth and left without a word.”

Wong — now the New York Times Beijing Bureau Chief — will moderate tonight’s talk, which begins at 7:30 pm.

You can purchase tickets at The Bookworm or online. You can also reserve tickets via email — order@beijingbookworm.com — or phone: 6503 2050.

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