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[10] Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch – Dai Sijie

The novel is a modern fairy tale under the disguise of a political allegory, the elements of which still bears the shadows if the Cultural Revolution. Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch represents a conscience – a poignant pang of conscience for social injustice. After years of studying Freud in Paris, a 40-year-old man returns to China to liberate his college sweetheart, who had taken pictures of people being tortured by police and syndicated them to foreign media, under the pretext of interpreting dreams. A corrupted judge mandated virginity of a girl in exchange for clemency from the Communist on her case. So the obsession of a greedy magistrate ensued the psychoanalyst’s journey to find a virgin. The quest took him to a rural panda habitat, brought him to close encounter with the marauding hill tribe, and costed him his own virginity!

What strikes me the most about the novel is not Mr. Muo’s unswerving solicitude to rescue his love from the menacing cuffs. Nor are the depiction of life and the injustice to which people are subjected during Cultural Revolution more hairsplitting than what is already known. Almost every piece of late-20th century Chinese fiction lives in the shadow of this dark period that pervades the life of Chinese people. The heart of the novel is a man’s self-transformation without his knowing it. As a sense of futility hovers over every step of Muo’s scheme, his tight grip on his idealism imperceptibly loosened. A reflection on his return to China that has seemed to be rueful at the first thought opened up new perspective to his life. His once unshakable faith in psychoanalytic insight began to crumble as he smugly relished the prospect of a new love. Filled with snatches of somnambulistic musings and exuberant imagination, Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch beholds the power of suggestion that enlarges one’s imagination. The surface of the writing is more than a reflection of the concealed depths.

8 Responses

  1. Sounds like an interesting novel,a nd I will probably add it to my reading list. I haven’t read much Chinese literature and need to start adding more to my mix of books.

  2. You might want to read his debut, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Also to get you on a bearing of modern Chinese lit, try Ha Jin’s Waiting.

  3. Oh, wow, I had no idea this was out in the US! I loved “Balzac” and will definately read this. I’m with Greg, I want to read MUCH more Eastern lit.

  4. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was made into a motion picture couple years ago. I wasn’t a big hit but you can find the VCD.

    Modern Chinese lit lives in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution – so you will find a lot of bitterness, rage, and anger.

    A noteworthy piece is One Man Bible by Gao Xingjian, who also wrote Soul Mountain. These belong to a new genre of modern Chinese literature that evokes historical scar in a detached voice.

  5. Can you post the Chinese titles of these books for those who might prefer to find them in the original? Your blog is a great resource for advanced Chinese students who want to read something interesting but don’t know what to choose!

  6. Anonymous,

    Dai Sijie is an expatriate in France who published almost all his works in French. His dbut, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, is now made into motion picture. I don’t think any of his works of fiction are yet to be translated into Chinese.

  7. […] like what happens in the novel Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by exiled Chinese novelist Sijie Dai and many historical fiction based on personal experiences during the full swing of Cultural […]

  8. A brief comment: I read the same book two years ago. You make it sound too serious. I think the book was also funny. While it did shed light on the adverse side of present China’s following of the Capitalist road and the realities of State repression, this was done in a comic manner. Mr. Muo moving around rural China in a traveling couch looking for a virgin and encountering all sorts of misadventures has often been compared to Don Quixote’s own ridiculous romp through the Andalusian countryside. Of course, there is an underlying depth and I admire how you put it in your well written overview of the book. But that aside, Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch’s satirical touch is very amusing and one for not a few hearty laughs.

    –An Occasional Reader

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