Serve the People!
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Serve the People!

3.31 of 5 stars 3.31  ·  rating details  ·  345 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Set in 1967, at the peak of the Mao cult, "Serve the People! "is a beautifully told, wickedly daring story about the forbidden love affair between Liu Lian, the young, pretty wife of a powerful Division Commander in Communist China, and her household's lowly servant, Wu Dawang. When Liu Lian establishes a rule for her orderly that he is to attend to her needs whenever the...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published March 1st 2008 by Grove Press (first published 2005)
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Steve
Yan Lianke is a simile machine, some of which may get lost in translation, but I wish I had kept a list from the very beginning, because there are some killers.

Check out this shamefully condescending, Euro-centric quote from the NYTimes review of this book:

"His story is memorable and strange, but it feels particular, not universal. Yan Lianke was born during China’s catastrophic Great Leap Forward and came of age during the Cultural Revolution. Did he have the opportunity to read Flaubert and Fi...more
Larou
Satire does not criticise; indeed, the best satire is the very opposite of criticism: It is relentless, unflinching affirmation. Satire embraces the way things are with boundless enthusiasm, joyfully relishes in the state of the world, perceives every bit of propaganda as the truth it claims to be, takes every pretense at face value and thus makes them shine in all their utter absurdity.

This makes the Good Soldier Svejk the ultimate satirist, and “the People’s Liberation Army’s three rules of th...more
Maja
I was really surprised to see how low a rating this book has on here. Especially since I muself really enjoyed it. So I started wondering, "Why don't more people like this book same as I did?" And I think I might have the answer; I don't think all that many people are used to the flowery and slightly melancholic writing style that most Chinese authors use. The writing is filled with metaphors, most of them industrial or homely, and the tone is sorrowful. The telling of the story is indirect and...more
William
One trait of dystopian novels - We, Anthem, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale - is the idea that certain behavior is out of bounds in a dictatorship. Certain images, words, books become sacred, and there is a corresponding need to outlaw other images, words and books. In the era of politics as a surrogate for religion, such a thing becomes even more vital. To control the behavior of its citizens, the state has to control thought - and since the mass production of information began, images sta...more
Gangstabytch2 1
I love this book. Love it, love it, love it. The writing is beautiful and simple, the story is intense and troubling yet sexy all at the same time. It's a small book but again the writing is gorgeous. I got so into the book that I would forget where I was. Communist China and a fucked up love story, what else could you ask for?
Garry
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Gerund
When a book is marketed as "Banned in China", you know you can expect a huge dose of satire and rebellion. Chinese novelist Yan Lianke, who got his start writing propaganda fiction to keep up troop morale in the 1970s -- he has since been kicked out of the army -- has created a fun and sexy read for the hipster crowd that enjoys wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the mug of Chairman Mao.

Translated by Julia Lovell, this is the first of his four novels to be translated into English. The political sl...more
Daniel
A funny thing about this book, I can see it receive disapproval from Communists in China for it's defamatory imagery and satire of The Cultural Revolution while also receiving disapproval from people in America for it's sexual imagery. There's just so much for the ignorant to hate in this book and that is why I loved it so.

Also, it tells a very human story of two people trapped in marriages that are loveless and based on power/performance who find themselves drawn together if only for a short ti...more
Rowena
I was captivated already when I read in a review that Yan Lianke's novel Serve the People had been banned in China because it 'Slanders Mao Zedong, the army, and is overflowing with sex ... Do not distribute, pass around, comment on, excerpt from it or report on it.'

Set in 1967, Serve the People is about Wu Dawang, a low-ranking soldier who works in the house of the powerful Division Commander. While the Division Commander is away, his wife Liu Lian seduces Wu Dawang by leaving a sign for him on...more
Seán Hudson
A brilliant premise is put forward and leads to some captivating moments near the start of this short book, such as when the protagonist is striving to compliment his soon-to-be lover, but the only passionate phrases he can muster are regurgitations of revolutionary rhetoric that have been drilled into his mind. Desiring to express himself sincerely using his own words, our hero is distressed to find that he draws a blank: passion has only been allowed one outlet in this society. Lianke takes th...more
Sara
I'm over halfway through and so far the pace is interesting and the sentences energetic. The only thing that's bothersome is the author's tendency to pull out of the narrative into a self-conscious critique of the action-- this is either post-modern or very traditional (19th century), depending how you look at it. Whatever you call it, it comes off as slightly smug and therefore annoying.

But all the Communist stuff and the descriptions are worth it! There's some kind of really strong Japanese ey...more
Brian
This was a fun book. Though the writing was a little flat (possibly due to poor translation), I never imagined a book about the Cultural Revolution could give me such a boner. Mao, his little red book of quotations, the Cultural Revolution, and lots of steamy sex created an interesting voyeuristic peek into this oft told historical moment in China. This is not your standard Cultural Revolution book. The best scene is where the two main characters try to outdo themselves to prove how counter-revo...more
Mircalla64 (free Liu Xiaobo)
la pornografia ai tempi del Grande Timoniere

"Togliti la camicia, per servire il popolo...
togli anche la maglietta, non hai detto che vuoi servire il popolo?...
servi il popolo, ora lo puoi fare"

le icone del potere, elette a simbolo sacro, vengono calpestate dai due amanti in un impeto di passione, a dimostrazione del reciproco amore revisionista e borghese
pornografia in senso ideologico, si immagina che la cosa più trasgressiva che si potesse fare allore fosse calpestare un busto in gesso di...more
Paula Balea
"Yan Lianke a realizat o comedie de limbaj si de moravuri atat de bine tintita impotriva sistemului, incat Biroul Central al Propagandei a fost primul care s-a grabit sa-i scrie o cronica." Financial Times
Joshua
Very enjoyable satire that can boast a blurb from the Chinese Ministry of Propaganda (or other some such group) about how the book insults Mao, insults the army, has too much sex and shouldn't be mentioned, copied or given to anyone. What better recommendation can a satire of the Chinese cultural revolution have?

I really liked this book set in 1967 as a pair begin a heated and dangerous affair. Simply told with satire that doesn't really hit you over the head--good satire always avoids that over...more
Alex Sarll
"This novella slanders Mao Tse Tung, the army, and is overflowing with sex. Do not distribute, pass around, comment on, excerpt from or report on it." So said China's censors in 2005, and who could ask for a finer recommendation? But beyond the obvious charm of a book which updates the venerable sex/blasphemy crossover for the newer religion of Cultural Revolution-era Maoism, it's also works on the simple level of that even older theme, the love affair ground down by society.
Chenyee
Banned in China! That's what the back of the cover says.

Well, i suppose it must be a good book. Can't wait to read more from this author.
But the translation wasn't very good. Idioms were translated word for word. It sounded clumsy and awkward. Guess that's the problem. Maybe i should get a copy of it in chinese. Hahaha!

But definitely not bad. Filled with strong symbolism and imagery.

Would give it 4 stars if not marred by the translation.
Lucia Sehnsucht
"Se non ci fosse di mezzo il partito, sarebbe un harmony." (S.P.)
Jen
What an interesting novel. I can see why the author is concerned about his safety. This is so subversive and tongue in cheeck about the very essence of Mao's China and the Chinese Revolution, but written in such a gentle way. It was so easy to read that I finished it in a day. It tells of the forbidden affair between the Commander's wife and his Orderly, who both spout Maoisms as they make love. Quite delicious.
Susan
Depressing love story about an orderly and a military leader's wife--both married to other people--during the height of Mao mania that was the Cultural Revolution. I really enjoyed this book and can see some parallels between the conditions that led to this story and contemporary China with its huge disparity in wealth and its housing shortage. Yan Lianke is a beautiful writer and it's a shame this book is banned in China.
Jonfaith
A few years back I elected to weigh my vast ignorance of Chinese literature. (funny how that hasn't changed or improved since) and went to University to remedy this. Serve The People! was the first book I read on that expedition and far from the best. I thought Ju Dou was an adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice: this was yet another channeled through the little red book.
Anne
Quirky story about a love affair between a soldier who is a personal cook for a high ranking official and the latter's wife. Lots of commentary on the strange bureaucracy of the People's Army and life in general in China during the Cultural Revolution. Some steamy scenes. In the end a lowly ranked person manages to destroy an entire unit through a personal involvement.
George Richard
Interesting novel. I haven't read much romance and even less Chinese romance but despite some very strong passages this book missed it for me. Maybe it's a cultural literacy thing, more likely the Chinese view of passion and romance is more subdued than American. Took me about 3 months to read off & on and it's a small book, interesting but not really a grabber.
Rene
In terms of Chinese novels set around the time of the Cultural Revolution, this one is fairly unique in that the events of the revolution play very little role. Politics mostly stays out; it's limited to ephemera such as a sign, which ends up playing a leading role. That's a nice touch. I also like the 4th-wall breaking and the non-ending.
Erin Panjer
I'm not usually one for 'romance novels' but every now and then the author would actually break from the story and defend the style of his writing. A Romance set in Communist China, and it certainly wasn't lacking in unique metaphors, observations and situations. Good read, hard time putting it down once I got into it.
Christopher Mcgurr
A scandalous story of a love affair that was too hot for the Chinese Government. The write (possibly translator?) weaves some interesting metaphors. Not bad overall, though there is foreshadowing in the book that doesn't really come to fruition at the end. I'll keep myself spoiler free, but I was a bit disappointed.
Megan
I understood it from a satirical point, but this isn't the first time where I just couldn't fully connect with Chinese writing. The thing is, I try. I make it a point to look for Chinese authors because I know that Americans don't read enough of them. Maybe something was lost in the translation, I don't know...
Anthony
Banned in China as counter-revolutionary, Serve the People! is a playful pie in the face of the Chinese military establishment, Mao-worship, and Socialist doctrine. A fun read with delicious romance.
Janice
Really fascinating account about an illicit affair between an army orderly and the wife of a high-ranking Communist official. A terrific translation that conveys the nuances of passionate feeling. Very funny in some moments -- and then heartbreaking.
Marina
Just the line, "plump autumn sun" really stuck in my head. Otherwise, it was a nice read, interesting character dynamics, and, of course, very counterrevolutionary. It was a quick read, and enjoyable, but not very deep, although that isn't a criticism.
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Yan Lianke (Chinese: 阎连科), born 1958, is a Chinese writer.
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“For complexity does not inevitably heighten a story's verisimilitude, or its power to convince; sometimes simplicity and economy make for a more vigorous exposition, propelling the drama forward.” 3 likes
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