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The Four Books

The Four Books

Translated by Carlos Rojas

Published by Vintage, Chatto & Windus

In the ninety-ninth district of a sprawling labour camp, the Author, Musician, Scholar, Theologian and Technician are undergoing Re-education, to restore their revolutionary zeal and credentials. In charge of this process is the Child, who delights in draconian rules, monitoring behaviour and confiscating treasured books. The inmates – and hundreds of intellectuals just like them - must meet challenges set by the higher-ups: to grow an ever-spiralling amount of wheat, and to smelt vast quantities of steel. The stakes are high: they can win their freedom if they are awarded enough of the small red blossoms. Medium red blossoms and pentagonal stars are given out for effort, obedience, and informing on others. But when bad weather arrives, followed by the ‘three bitter years’ of The Great Famine, the intellectuals are abandoned by the regime and left on their own to survive. Divided into four narratives, echoing the texts of Confucianism and the four Gospels of the New Testament, The Four Books tells the story of one of China’s most controversial periods. It shows us the power of camaraderie, love and faith against oppression and the darkest odds. 

Yan Lianke was born in 1958 in Henan Province, China. He is the author of numerous novels and short-story collections, including Serve the People!, Dream of Ding Village and Lenin's Kisses. The winner of multiple literary awards in China, including the Lao She, Lu Xun and Hua Zhong World Chinese Literature Prize, he was also awarded the Franz Kafka Prize in 2014, and has been previously shortlisted for both the Man Booker International Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. He currently lives and writes in Beijing.

Carlos Rojas is the author of The Naked Gaze: Reflections on Chinese Modernity, The Great Wall: A Cultural History, and Homesickness: Culture, Contagions, and National Reform in Modern China, which looks at Chinese discourses of corporeality and infection over the long 20th century. He is the co-editor, with David Der-wei Wang, of Writing Taiwan: A New Literary History, with Eileen Cheng-yin Chow, of both Rethinking Chinese Popular Culture: Cannibalizations of the Canon and the The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas, and, with Andrea Bachner, of The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures. He also co-translated, again with Eileen Chow, Yu Hua’s two-volume novel Brothers, and is the translator of Yan Lianke’s novels Lenin's Kisses and The Four Books. He teaches on a variety of topics ranging from prostitutes and vampires to cities, migration, and disease.

About the Author

Yan Lianke

The Chinese writer, Yan Lianke, lives in Beijing but says his heart belongs in central Henan province, where he was born in 1958.

Over a 30-year career, he has not only been translated and honoured abroad, he has also won two of China’s top literary awards, the Lu Xun Literary Prize and the Lao She Literary Award.

Born into a poor family, he began writing fiction at the same time as he joined the Chinese army at the age of 20. His first novel, called The Sun Goes Down in an unofficial English translation, was about two soldier-heroes who destroy their reputations and the friendship between them when they blame each other for the suicide of a young army cook.

To Serve the People, which might bring to mind D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, is about a young woman who takes an older lover who can be aroused only when she smashes portraits and statues of Chairman Mao. Dream of Ding Village exposes the AIDS blood-contamination in Henan province. Both books were banned.

Dream of Ding Village was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Asia Literary Prize and the 2012  Independent Foreign Fiction Award. Reviewing it for the Independent, Clarissa Sebag Montefiore described it as a “giddily surreal and ultimately nihilistic depiction of a society.”