“You’re stepping on my shadow, please back off,” she said.

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

石榴树上结樱桃 (lit. Cherry On a Pomegranate Tree)

Novel by Li Er.

Li Er's second novel, Shiliushu Shang Jie Yingtao 石榴树上结樱桃 (Cherry On a Pomegranate Tree) tells the story of a female village mayor attempting to enforce family planning quotas in the midst of a local re-election campaign. The title of the book is derived from diandaohua (颠倒话), a brand of doggerel poetry or singsong rhyme popular among schoolchildren. In an interview, Li Er commented that he saw these sorts of folk rhymes as socio-political commentary, a slightly roundabout and humorous way for the common people to express their true opinions. Satirical and sympathetic by turns, the novel pokes fun at the narrow scope of village life and the vagaries of local politics, yet also holds out some hope for a more representative and humane system of governance. The protagonist, mayor Kong Fanhua, is one of the most complex female characters I have encountered in contemporary Chinese literature. It is so refreshing to find a female character that doesn't seem straight out of CCTV central casting: she is neither saint nor sinner, martyr nor villain; nor is she a long-suffering peasant wife, disenchanted revolutionary, emigre intellectual or hooker with a heart of gold. Rather, she is a well-rounded and intelligent woman as ambitious, confusing and contradictory as the country in which she lives. In the words of Li Er, "Is there any real-life character who can be summed up in a single sentence? Any book that purports to express one of its characters in a line or two is destined to be a failure."