NOVEL APPROACH: Searching for the light

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First Posted: 6/24/2013

Imagine a world where the government controls your body. No matter how honorable or innocent your intentions, the authorities can decide your fate and the fate of all those you bring into this world. In “The Dark Road,” Chinese author and dissident, Ma Jian, gives readers a work of fiction frighteningly resonant with reality.

Jian, who originally published the work last year, has since translated the novel alongside Flora Drew. The novel follows Meili, a provincial young woman, who is married to Kongzi, a local teacher said to be a distant relative of Confucius, and Nannan, their daughter. Unfortunately, without first obtaining government permission, Meili becomes pregnant. Together, the couple must make an immediate and equally dangerous choice to flee their home and journey through the dark road.

“The whole country is in revolt. But we must leave today, or the baby won’t survive. The officers are prowling the village with bloodshot eyes, carrying out abortions in broad daylight. I’ve just been told about Yuanyuan. She left our dugout last night and went to hide near the reservoir, but the family planning officers hunted her down. They pushed her against the bank, pinned her arms down with their knees and injected her belly with disinfectant.”

China’s one-child regulation, otherwise known as the family planning policy, restricts couples to having one child per household. While the policy differs with regard to area, it also gives consideration to such matters as natural twin births and families with only a female child. Unfortunately, the methodology associated with the system more often induces fear, taking control of a woman’s body and choices, as Meili expresses: “Men control our vaginas; the State controls our wombs.”

Meili is by far one of the strongest characters. She, in many ways, epitomizes Confucian teachings: benevolence, propriety, righteousness, reverence, and moral wisdom. In fleeing, both she and Kongzi understand they are going against authority, but continue ahead out of safety for their unborn child.

Translations can often prove troublesome, losing vigor in its finality. However, Drew has captured the novel in an impeccably unforgettable way. The novel is terrifying for not only the story, but also the truth behind much of China’s family planning policies. While there are hints of deeply reflective and charming passages throughout the work, it is impossible to be indifferent to the rest of the brutality within. There is certainly a lesson to be learned in all of this: try as we might, not all dark roads lead to light.

‘The Dark Road’ by Mia Jian Rating: W W W W W