A Dictionary of Maqiao by Han Shaogong

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One of the most-talked about works of fiction to emerge from China in recent years, this novel about an urban youth "displaced" to a small village in rural China during the Cultural Revolution is a fictionalized portrait of the author's own experience as a young man. Han Shaogong was one of millions of students relocated from cities and towns to live and work alongside peasant farmers in an effort to create a classless society. Translated into English for the first time, Han's novel is an exciting experiment in form--structured as a dictionary of the Maqiao dialect--through which he seeks to understand and translate the local life and customs of his strange new home.

Han encounters an upside-down world among the people of Maqiao: a con man dupes his neighbors into thinking that he has found the fountain of youth by convincing them that his father is in fact his son; to be scientific" is to be lazy; time and relationships are understood using the language of food and its preparation; and to die young is considered "sweet," while the aged reckon their lives to be "cheap."

As entries build one upon another, Han meditates on the ability of a waidi ren (outsider) to represent the ways of life of another community. In this light, the Communist effort to control the language and history of a people whose words and past are bound together in ineluctably local ways emerges as an often comical, sometimes tragic exercise in miscommunication.


About Han Shaogong

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Lorraine Daston is director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and honorary professor at the Humboldt-Universität, Berlin.Gregg Mitman is William Coleman Professor of the History of Science and professor of medical history and science and technology studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Published August 15, 2003 by Columbia University Press. 400 pages
Genres: Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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The entries include regurgitated directives preaching the tenets of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, analyses of common words recharged with official meanings (e.g., “brutal” is both a pejorative and a compliment), analyses of the fictional village of Maqiao’s socioeconomic features and history of bloo...

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Publishers Weekly

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Maqiao, a fictitious rural village lost in the vitals of Mao's Communist empire, is to Han's magical novel what Macondo is to One Hundred Years of Solitude—a place in which the various brutalities and advances of contemporary history are transformed within the "fossil seams" of popular myth.

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A novel in dictionary form illustrates the absurdities

Apr 01 2013 | Read Full Review of A Dictionary of Maqiao

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