Meili, a young peasant woman born in the remote heart of China, is married to Kongzi, a village school teacher, and a distant descendant of Confucius. They have a daughter, but desperate for a son to carry on his illustrious family line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant again without waiting for official permission. When family planning officers storm the village to arrest violators of the population control policy, mother, father and daughter escape to the Yangtze River and begin a fugitive life.
For years they drift south through the poisoned waterways and ruined landscapes of China, picking up work as they go along, scavenging for necessities and flying from police detection. As Meili’s body continues to be invaded by her husband and assaulted by the state, she fights to regain control of her fate and that of her unborn child.
Dai Wei lies in his bedroom, a prisoner in his body, after he was shot in the head at the Tiananmen Square protest ten years earlier and left in a coma. As his mother tends to him, and his friends bring news of their lives in an almost unrecognisable China, Dai Wei escapes into his memories, weaving together the events that took him from his harsh childhood in the last years of the Cultural Revolution to his time as a microbiology student at Beijing University.
As the minute-by-minute chronicling of the lead-up to his shooting becomes ever more intense, the reader is caught in a gripping, emotional journey where the boundaries between life and death are increasingly blurred.
A Chinese writer whose marriage has fallen apart travels to Tibet. As he wanders through the countryside, he witnesses the sky burial of a Tibetan woman who died during childbirth, shares a tent with a nomad who is walking to a sacred mountain to seek forgiveness for sleeping with his daughter, meets a silversmith who has hung the wind-dried corpse of his lover to the walls of his cave, and hears the story of a young female incarnate lama who died during a Buddhist initiation rite. In the thin air of the high plateau, the divide between fact and fiction becomes confused and the man is drawn deep into an alien culture he knew nothing about, and which haunts his dreams.
Banned in China in 1987, Stick Out Your Tongue, is the hugely influential book that set Ma Jian on the road to exile.
Every week, a writer of political propaganda and a professional blood donor meet for dinner. They are unlikely friends - one of them tortured by his 'art', the other fat and wealthy from the earthy business of providing spare blood for the citizens of China.
Over the course of one especially gastronomic evening, the writer starts to complain about his latest Party commission: the story of an ordinary soldier who sacrifices his life to the revolutionary cause. This is not the novel he wants to write, he tells his friend. Inside his head lives an unwritten book about the people he knows or sees everyday on the streets - people who lives are far more representative of the world in which he lives...
In 1983, Ma Jian turned 30 and was overwhelmed by the desire to escape the confines of his life in Beijing. With his long hair, jeans and artistic friends, Ma Jian was under surveillance from his work unit and the police, as Deng Xiaoping clamped down on 'Spiritual Pollution'. His ex-wife was seeking custody of their daughter; his girlfriend was sleeping with another man; and he could no longer find the inspiration to write or paint. One day he bought a train ticket to the westernmost border of China and set off in search of himself.
Ma Jian's journey would last three years and take him to deserts and overpopulated cities, from scenes of barbarity to havens of tranquillity and beauty. The result is an utterly unique insight into the teeming contradictions of China that only a man who was both an insider and an outsider in his own country could have written.
MA JIAN was born in Qingdao, China, in 1953. He is the author of Stick Out Your Tongue, his debut novel which in 1987 led to the permanent banning of his books in China; Red Dust, winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; four collections of short stories and essays; and six further novels, including Beijing Coma, winner of the Index on Censorship Book Award and the Athens Prize for Literature. His last book, The Dark Road, nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, saw him barred from returning to China. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. He now lives in exile in London.