Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

锦灰 (lit. Vestiges)

Novel by Sheng Keyi.

This book is being referred to as The Metaphor Detox Center in English

(Synopsis courtesy of Andrew Nurnberg Associates)

Yao Minzhu is a female journalist, always in pursuit of truth. In her articles, she frequently employs sharp metaphors as a means of criticizing the government, until she is apprehended under the suspicion that she is suffering from a new disease known as metaphor. She is admitted to the Metaphor Detox Centre, where she is held along with lawyers and other public intellectuals, injected with mind-control fluids and forced to copy out and recite the writings of successive national leaders.

The "patients" are also used as guinea pigs in trials to try and find a way to suppress the imagination. Yao Minzhu meets Gu Xiang, a lawyer who is at the centre after deploying too many metaphors in his defense of native Evangelicals to worship freely. In another experiment, Yao Minzhu and Gu Xiang are given aphrodisiac drugs that make them fall for one another. Their lovemaking is observed by specialists at the centre, who reflect on the animalistic nature of their union.

When Gu Xiang mysteriously disappears from the centre, Yao Minzhu becomes confused and distressed and is subsequently executed. Her spirit searches for Gu, taking her to his hometown of Gospel (Fuyin), a town with a population of 30,000 and a horrifying past. All the town's spirits, living things, animals, and plants are eager to share their experiences with her.

The discovery of golden sand in the mountains during the digging of a grave site propels the town of Gospel into prosperity. Thanks to a booming mining industry, the town soon becomes a beautiful paradise. At the same time, twelve ethnic groups come together, destroying the town's churches and bodhisattva – the whole town uniting as Buddhists. Everyone lives believing in the absolute altruism of their own spirit. They experience a transient stage of communism, followed by a period of starvation in which they eat only wild vegetables. This prevalent starvation eventually leads to a phase of cannibalism.

The Mayor of Gospel keeps the town under his tight control. He makes laws, distorts what the villagers say, and encourages conflicts between them. In order to raise a large pig, he lets a bull and a sow mate; in order to fertilise the fields, he asks that all women cut their hair and donate it, and if the women don't obey, they face prosecution. In order to control the villagers' thoughts, he hires international dream catchers to train their local counterparts and people are persecuted on the basis of their dreams.

After numerous deaths among the townspeople, in order to reinvigorate the economy as quickly as possible, the town leaders decide to accelerate the growth of its population. They devise a population growth plan, monitoring women of childbearing age, keeping track of their menstrual cycles and the time of their ovulation to ensure effective and rapid pregnancies. Young girls must reproduce as soon as they start menstruating, while postmenopausal women are forced to ingest hormones, even borrowing the uteruses of female ghosts from the underworld.

At this point, Yao Minzhu’s ghost overhears the lawyer from Gospel in negotiation with the town’s leaders, and realises that he is now a successful businessman who cooperates with the government and is therefore implicated in the many terrible things that have happened. She opens her mouth to speak, but her spirit disintegrates, becoming a mass of grey ashes.