Masters of Subservience: NYT on Bureaucracy Lit
In China, “bureaucracy lit” is a hot genre, far outselling spy stories and whodunits as the airport novel of choice. In these tales of overweening ambition, the plot devices that set readers’ pulses racing are underhanded power plays, hidden alliances and devious sexual favors . . .
“I never thought I would drink urine for a full five years,” reflects one unfortunate flunky on his attempts to ingratiate himself with his boss in the opening scene of Wang Xiaofang’s “Civil Servant’s Notebook,” which has sold more than 100,000 copies in China since its publication in 2009 and has just been published as an e-book in English [translated by Eric Abrahamsen]. “Urine is a metaphor for the culture of officialdom that has existed in China for thousands of years,” Wang told me. “Urine is the garbage excreted from people’s bodies. And this book is an attack on the culture of officialdom.” Bribery, he explained, is ingrained in every aspect of Chinese culture. “When devotees go to worship Buddha, they don’t cleanse their souls, like Christians confessing their sins in church,” he said. “They kneel down and donate money to the collection box, to bribe the Buddha.”