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Beijing Coma

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Dai Wei has been unconscious for almost a decade. A medical student and a pro-democracy protestor in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, he was struck by a soldier’s bullet and fell into a deep coma. As soon as the hospital authorities discovered that he had been an activist, his mother was forced to take him home. She allowed pharmacists access to his body and sold his urine and his left kidney to fund special treatment from Master Yao, a member of the outlawed Falun Gong sect. But during a government crackdown, the Master was arrested, and Dai Wai’s mother—who had fallen in love with him—lost her mind.

As the millennium draws near, a sparrow flies through the window and lands on Dai Wei’s naked chest, a sign that he must emerge from his coma. But China has also undergone a massive transformation while Dai Wei lay unconscious. As he prepares to take leave of his old metal bed, Dai Wei realizes that the rich, imaginative world afforded to him as a coma patient is a startling contrast with the death-in-life of the world outside.

At once a powerful allegory of a rising China, racked by contradictions, and a seminal examination of the Tiananmen Square protests, Beijing Coma is Ma Jian’s masterpiece. Spiked with dark wit, poetic beauty, and deep rage, this extraordinary novel confirms his place as one of the world’s most significant living writers.

586 pages, Hardcover

First published May 27, 2008

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About the author

Ma Jian

23 books284 followers
Ma Jian was born in Qingdao,China on the 18th of August 1953. In 1986, Ma moved to Hong Kong after a clampdown by the Chinese government in which most of his works were banned.

He moved again in 1997 to Germany, but only stayed for two years; moving to England in 1999 where he now lives with his partner and translator Flora Drew.

Ma came to the attention of the English-speaking world with his story collection Stick Out Your Tongue Stories, translated into English in 2006.

His Beijing Coma tells the story of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 from the point of view of the fictional Dai Wei, a participant in the events left in a coma by the violent end of the protests. His most recent novel China Dream will be published in the US in May 2019.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 236 reviews
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,270 reviews695 followers
May 30, 2017
A REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT SHOULD LISTEN TO THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE. NOTHING SHOULD FRIGHTEN IT MORE THAN SILENCE.
In a little less than a week comes the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. It would be an interesting calculation to add the ones who want to remember and subtract the ones who want everyone to forget and divide all that by those who think it wasn't important and multiply by those who would die for the sake of continuing the aborted effort if they were only given the chance to know about it. This isn't the only government cover up, or the only slaughter of students by their own nation, or even the only novel written about such things, but the event and this book written about it might both be the most well known of their respective infamous categories. Irony, irony. History does it best.
Mou Sen had told me that if you didn't read Kafka, you'd never grasp the underlying principles of biology.

Just think: the literal meaning of the Chinese characters for "revolution" is "elimination of life".
Much as I love Les Misérables, in some parts it's merely an ancestor of the theatrics masquerading as social justice movements currently running through the aisles of young adult, new adult, and various movie theaters. If you compared Beijing Coma to LM on a superficial level, you could get away with listing out pages spend on methodologies on justice, the protagonist doing their own thing in a limited away outside of the main event of students versus the state, and the wide variety of examples of the brutality, corruption, and executions that a nation was capable of inflicting on its people. However, unlike the story that birthed a musical, there is no redemption here, and even less sentimentality. This isn't the first book of Jian's I've read, and where his first work of short stories threw me off due to a combination of incomprehension and a less than lush translated writing style, here the narrative's vitality is conveyed precisely because it does nothing to rise above the petty details that compose large scale moral action committed by the public.
He was in the library, reading up on the American Constitution.
'It's a bit late for that now, isn't it?'

This is Tiananmen Square. There are hundreds of thousands of students and residents here, fighting for democracy. It's reckless of you to speak like this.
Our narrator is a prime encapsulation of a less than gripping narrative: his noble moments are more than equaled by his usual banal thoughts about women, sex, opportunistic money making schemes, and the sort of wildly outlandish dream building characteristic of college students. However, the fact that he and the rest of the characters are rather nondescript in their squabbles over power and brief moments of revolutionary action does not merit what happens to them. Crushed by tanks, rendered comatose, slaughtered regardless of whether they are a molotov-toting radicals or ten-year old children: again, this is not the first time such an incident has occurred in history, and will not be the last if those who sit in the seats of power continue on their merry way,, and I'm not referring to those in non-White People lands. Nearly six-hundred pages of writing that is necessary rather than engaging takes its toll, but I'm pleased to see the rating is at a healthy level despite this.
The heaven you yearned for is no more an epitaph carved on a gravestone.

In these rooms, both life and death appear sordid and banal.
You could get angry, if you like. The situation hasn't been resolved within adequate ethical measures nearly three decades on, and reading this will do nothing but give you the intricacies if you're confident about parsing the nonfiction from the fiction (Jian was involved with the democracy movements around this time, but whether he was at Tiananmen Square at the moment of infamy is not something I'm willing to judge). However, if you bear in mind fellow unresolved issues such as repatriation of the land to the indigenous nations of the Americas, or reimbursement to descendants of slaves the world over, this one is much younger and involved far fewer lives. This isn't an attempt to smooth things over in any way, but a simple acknowledgment that the ways in which the world is fucked up are many, and getting attached to any one of them is exhausting. It's why The Hunger Games made bank and NoDAPL made squat and why being nice means shit to me. Criticize my tone when I'm deconstructing your bigoted hate, and I'll demand to know who's paying you.
Mabel said that when people march through the streets in America, no one bothers to stop and look. Perhaps living in a country like that would be even worse.
Profile Image for flaminia.
358 reviews76 followers
October 13, 2022
il racconto di un disfacimento generale: della cina, di una società inerme di fronte agli abusi di potere, del movimento studentesco, di una casa, di un corpo in coma.
ma jian non ci risparmia niente e, non pago, ci spiattella puzze, afrori, aliti pestilenziali, scagazzate di ratti e di uccelli, perché giustamente la merda e le puzze esistono e non si fa la rivoluzione da stitici profumati.
peccato per una certa ripetitività e pesantezza nelle pagine che raccontano la rivolta degli studenti che non mi fanno dare più di quattro stelle.
Profile Image for Emily.
63 reviews53 followers
November 10, 2021
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ATTENZIONE: la recensione contiente spoiler

« Chi l'avrebbe mai immaginato che sarebbe finito così? Quel giorno in piazza mi disse: 'Non pensare di essere invincibile. Ricordati: le pallottole non hanno occhi...' »

A Giugno il Book Club LettureMandarine 🍊 ha deciso di buttarsi nell'impresa eroica di leggere Pechino è in coma, tomo da 633 pagine scritto da Ma Jian e pubblicato da Feltrinelli nel 2009. Attualmente è fuori catalogo, ma i partecipanti hanno invaso le biblioteche o acquistato l'ebook per imbarcarsi in questa lettura.

Esordisco subito dicendo... CHE GRANDISSIMA DELUSIONE! Tante aspettative per un romanzo lodato a destra e a manca, ma per me è stata la peggior lettura del 2021 fino ad ora.

La storia è narrata dal punto di vista di Dai Wei, ragazzo in coma dopo essere stato colpito alla testa da un proiettile durante la notte del 4 Giugno 1989. Disteso sul letto in un sonno senza risveglio, si aggrappa ai ricordi e attraverso di essi ci racconta la sua vita: dai primi innamoramenti giovanili al padre etichettato come destroide e rinchiuso in un campo di lavoro, dalla vita universitaria fino alle prime manifestazioni in piazza.

Nel frattempo attorno a lui la vita continua: Il nuovo millennio si affaccia all'orizzonte, internet entra a far parte della vita di tutti e la Cina si muove velocemente verso la modernizzazione, cercando di dimenticare (o forse è meglio dire eliminando?) il ricordo del 4 Giugno 1989.

Il romanzo non è diviso in capitoli, ma è un alternarsi tra il presente che vive Da Wei in coma e il passato raccontato attraverso i suoi ricordi. Viviamo e scopriamo attraverso i suoi occhi la speranza, le idee, i motivi che hanno mosso tantissimi studenti a scendere in piazza a manifestare.
È uno sguardo vero, non idealizzato, umano. I manifestanti non sono perfetti, non vengono innalzati a martiri, bensì ci vengono mostrati come persone che commettono errori, che non sanno come muoversi, persone alle quali sfugge il controllo e cadono in panico di fronte a una situazione trasformatasi in qualcosa di troppo grande per loro.

Il problema principale del libro, però, è la sua prolissità. Un maggior lavoro di editing avrebbe reso giustizia ad un romanzo con un inizio promettente, ma che dopo 200/300 pagine inizia ad essere prolisso e ripetitivo.

La prima parte di Pechino è in coma è molto interessante. Dai Wei parla della sua infanzia e pre-adolescenza: il rapporto conflittuale con il padre, il primo arresto e notte in prigione, il tenero sentimento nei confronti dell'amica d'infanzia Lulu, i primi lavori e poi l'università.
Si parla di Rivoluzione Culturale, cosa succede alle famiglie in cui un membro viene etichettato come destroide, le difficoltà da superare, la volontà di affrancarsi dalla figura del padre, ma anche la scoperta di scomode verità che egli nascondeva alla famiglia.
Leggendo il diario del padre, Dai Wei riuscirà finalmente a fare pace con se stesso e soprattutto con la figura paterna tanto odiata e disprezzata.

Il libro inizia però a diventare ripetitivo nella seconda parte, una volta che iniziano ad essere descritte le giornate passate in Piazza Tian'anmen a manifestare. Giornate lunghe, monotone, con continue lotte intestine fra le varie organizzazioni studente che ogni giorno nascono da ogni dove. Gli studenti dimostrano spesso di non sapere bene cosa stanno facendo, per cosa stanno lottando, cos'è realmente la democrazia.

Oltre alla ripetitività, la storia risulta difficile e confusionaria perché Ma Jian decide di inserire numerosi personaggi, soprattutto studenti, amici e compagni di Dai Wei. Peccato che non andrà ad approfondire più di tanto la psicologia e il carattere di questi personaggi, lasciandoli bidimensionali e quasi delle macchiette difficili da distinguere uno dall'altro.

L'autore ha dato spazio soprattutto al protagonista della storia, Dai Wei, personaggio che non ho per nulla apprezzato. I suoi continui commenti sulle ragazze che lo circondano li ho trovati fuori luogo, soprattutto quando inseriti nei momenti più delicati o cruciali. Avrei capito se questi commenti fossero serviti a delinare il carattere di Dai Wei, ma in realtà non aggiungono nulla né alla sua caratterizzazione né alla storia.

Per esempio:

« Le belle ragazze sono abituate a essee guardate e muovono consapevolmente le gambe in modo da attirare gli sguardi maschili. » (pg. 128)

Oppure durante i giorni in Piazza Tian'anmen, Dai Wei non riesce a frenare la lingua e continua a condividere con il lettore commenti nei confronti di Nuwa, fidanzata di uno dei suoi amici. Dai Wei dimostra soprattutto una predilezione nei confronti dei piedi della ragazza.

« Nell'ombra Nuwa cominciò a muovere i fianchi avanti e indietro. Guardai un po' il suo sedere agitarsi nella stretta gonna di jeans, poi mi affrettai a spostare lo sguardo su Tian Yi. Quel giorno mi aveva detto di non approvare che Nuwa si dipingesse le unghie dei piedi di rosso. » (pg 426)

« Mi girai. Tian Yi e Nuwa dormivano sulla branda accanto alla mia, i piedi nudi che sporgevano dalla coperta. Era facile distinguerli. Quelli di Tian Yi avevano alluci molto particolari che si arricciavano all'estremità, mentre quelli di Nuwa erano più piccoli. Guardandoli pensai alle sue lunghe dita delicate. » (pg. 436)

« Non avevo voglia di parlare di Nuwa con lui. Mentalmente vedevo la sua stretta gonna di jeans ancheggiare, il sedere che sporgeva un po' ogni volta che spostava il peso del corpo da un piede all'altro. » (pg. 470)

« Nuwa, in piedi accanto a Mou Sen, traduceva in cinese il discorso di un ospite straniero. I sandali di pelle rossa con il tacco alto davano un tocco di eleganza alle sue gambe. » (pg. 578)


Anche quando la ragazza è in punto di morte, Dai Wei punta l'attenzione su un'unica cosa. Sì, I PIEDI.

« Il sangue usciva copioso dalla ferita nella coscia. Le dita dei piedi insaguinate erano serrate come gli artigli di un uccello. Un sandalo rosso penzolava dal piede attaccato a un sottile cinturino di pelle. » (pg. 600)

Inoltre l'inserimento da parte dell'autore di due scene di violenza sessuale perpetrate nei confronti di Dai Wei in coma mi hanno lasciata a dir poco senza parole.

Due scene inutili che secondo me potevano non essere inserite, in quanto non servono allo sviluppo della storia e non hanno un senso logico nell'esperienza post-1989 di Dai Wei. Sono pura e semplice violenza e mi dispiace che i due episodi non vengano trattati in tal modo.
Anzi la violenza mossa dall'infermiera Wen Niao viene dipinta, dal punto di vista di Dai Wei, come un atto d'amore in quanto egli è innamorato della donna. Nonostante l'episodio sia narrato da Dai Wei, il quale prova dei sentimenti nei confronti di Wen Niao, non cambia il fatto che esternamente l'azione sia una violenza nei confronti di una persona in coma che non ha la facoltà di dare consenso ad un rapporto sessuale.
Si potebbe pensare che Ma Jian con questi due episodi volesse portare luce riguardo al tema della violenza nei riguardi di persone disabili, ma entrambi gli episodi sono inseriti e dimenticati di lì a poco. Non se ne parlerà più né verranno citati andando avanti con la narrazione.
Quindi: a cosa è servito inserire queste due scene?

Come detto in precedenza, un maggior editing avrebbe giovato al romanzo o, addirittura, poteva essere una buona idea quella di dividerlo in due volumi (ad esempio il primo volume dove si racconta l'infanzia di Dai Wei e le prime manifestazioni, mentre nel secondo volume si racconta delle giornate più vicine al 4 Giugno 1989 e di tutto ciò che accade post 1989).

Ho trovato che l'autore abbia voluto mettere "troppa carne sulla brace": il tema principale dovrebbero essere le varie manifestazioni che hanno scosso la Cina negli anni '80, ma poi si aggiunge tutta la narrazione del padre destroide e dei campi, la repressione del Falun Gong, la demolizione delle zone periferiche di Pechino in vista della proposta come città ospitante le Olimpiadi.

Tanti, troppi argomenti buttati lì e che portano il romanzo a diventare un grande polpettone.

È il secondo romanzo che leggo dell'autore e la seconda delusione. Forse Ma Jian non è proprio adatto a me? O prima o poi troverò un suo romanzo che mi piace?
Profile Image for Tammy.
57 reviews12 followers
April 17, 2008
Ma Jian's epic masterpiece about the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests will be present in your mind long after you put the book down-- if you can do so. Dai Wei, a PhD student at Beijing University was struck by a bullet during the massacre that followed the student protests. As he lies in bed immobile for years, he lives in his memories of the past. He also silently observes everything around his big iron bed, trapped within his body. His mother, apartment, friends, and body break down around him while his mind remains unable to move or change. This is a metaphor for the natural incessant beauty of China that Dai Wei loves, which is unchanging amidst the country's political turmoil.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in Chinese culture. Ma Jian's exquisite style takes you to the rain forests of Yunnan, the sweaty southern provinces, busy Beijing, and explains the beauty of Hong Kongese women. You become embroiled in his circle of friends, and although there are MANY characters you feel as though they are your friends as well. There are a few too many characters for my liking. I believe that Jian tries to explain how vast the protests are, but by the end, you are a bit confused about all the minor characters.

All in all, I am a little too young to remember these protests first hand, and I am so glad that I learned about this era through this book. The writing is beautiful and moving, while still being historically accurate. China in my mind will forever be shaped by Ma Jian, and of course, Dai Wei.
Profile Image for Sunny.
716 reviews33 followers
May 31, 2016
A book told from the stundent's point of view of the tianenmen square massacre. It's told retrospectively from a comatose students point of view and slips between his life and mind in the coma and his fatelful tale of those last few weeks before the massacre took place. It gets a little boring in the middle i should say but is stunning in the last 200 pages. Ma Jian has a interesting way of describing things in a very minimilistic way but in a way that enables you to picture the whole scene. Worth a read.
Profile Image for Yigal Zur.
Author 9 books126 followers
May 28, 2019
i loved Ma Jain before this novel. but this one sorry to say i could not finish. with all my knowledge of China, with my curiosity towards what happened in tian an man in june 1989 and i was there few days after i got lost. Ma is a great writer, good critic of the wrongs in china but i found this novel to cumbersome.
Profile Image for Stephen Rowland.
1,112 reviews45 followers
July 22, 2018
An absolutely towering masterpiece -- painful, haunting, compelling, and profound. Original and never once dull over the course of 700 pages. I wish I could write some words that would do a work like this justice, that would make more people read it and experience it, but I finished the book about 10 minutes ago and my mind is still reeling. Don't allow the length and the grim subject matter to frighten you away. This is simply one of the best novels I've ever read.
Profile Image for Sotiris Karaiskos.
1,121 reviews79 followers
June 20, 2020
A staggering book about the Tiananmen Square uprising in Beijing in 1989. The author begins - through the story of our hero - with the way these students grew up who gave birth to their desire to claim something different from what was given to their parents, continuing with the situation in the universities and ending in the uprising and its bloody repression, creates a complete chronicle of this process, describing in detail each stage, putting us in the heart of events, transporting us next to the students who struggled and envisioned a different future for their country, while dreaming of their own personal happiness.

What makes this book special, though, is that it doesn't just have that. Along with the narration of the events of the uprising shows us the life of our hero after it, being in a coma after his serious head injury from a gunshot, he tries to reconstruct the past, while his mother is desperately trying to improve his condition. This sad second narrative forms the basis on which the first is built and until the end the one follows the other and slowly the intensity that leads to the very strong finale is build, where the violence of repression is paralleled by the equally violent genesis of the new China of the next century. In this way, the author manages to do two things at once, giving us, on the one hand, the history of the uprising with sensitivity and political insight and, on the other, a very strong allegorical commentary on modern China of enormous economic growth and non-existent progress in human rights issues. A really wonderful and very useful book.

Ένα συγκλονιστικό βιβλίο για την εξέγερση της πλατείας Τιενανμέν του Πεκίνου το 1989. Ο συγγραφέας ξεκινώντας - μέσα από την ιστορία του ήρωα μας - από τον τρόπο που μεγάλωσαν αυτοί οι φοιτητές που γέννησε την επιθυμία τους να διεκδικήσουν κάτι διαφορετικό από αυτό που δόθηκε στους γονείς τους, συνεχίζοντας με την κατάσταση στα πανεπιστήμια και καταλήγοντας στην εξέγερση και την αιματηρή καταστολή της, δημιουργεί ένα ολοκληρωμένο χρονικό αυτής της διαδικασίας, περιγράφοντας με λεπτομέρειες κάθε στάδιο, βάζοντας μας στην καρδιά των γεγονότων, μεταφέροντας μας δίπλα στους φοιτητές που αγωνίζονταν και οραματίζονται ένα διαφορετικό μέλλον κάνοντας παράλληλα όνειρα για τη δική τους προσωπική ευτυχία.

Αυτό που κάνει αυτό το βιβλίο ξεχωριστό όμως είναι το γεγονός ότι δεν έχει μόνο αυτό. Παράλληλα με την αφήγηση των γεγονότων της εξέγερσης μας δείχνει τη ζωή του ήρωα μας μετά από αυτήν καθώς, ευρισκόμενος σε κωματώδη κατάσταση μετά από τον σοβαρό τραυματισμό του στο κεφάλι από πυροβολισμό, προσπαθεί να ανασυνθέσει το παρελθόν, την ώρα που η μητέρα του απελπισμένα προσπαθεί να βελτιώσει την κατάστασή του. Αυτή η στενάχωρη δεύτερη αφήγηση δημιουργεί τη βάση πάνω στην οποία χτίζεται η πρώτη και μέχρι το τέλος η μία ακολουθεί την άλλη και σιγά σιγά χτίζεται η ένταση που οδηγεί στο πολύ δυνατό φινάλε, όπου η βιαιότητα της καταστολής παραλληλίζεται με την εξίσου βίαιη γένεση της νέας Κίνας του επόμενου αιώνα. Έτσι ο συγγραφέας καταφέρνει να κάνει δύο πράγματα ταυτόχρονα, δίνοντας μας, από τη μία, την ιστορία της εξέγερσης με ευαισθησία και πολιτική διορατικότητα και, από την άλλη, ένα πολύ δυνατό αλληγορικό σχόλιο για την σύγχρονη Κίνα της τεράστιας οικονομικής ανάπτυξης και της ανύπαρκτης προόδου στα θέματα των ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων. Ένα πραγματικά υπέροχο και ιδιαίτερα χρήσιμο βιβλίο.
Profile Image for Claire.
55 reviews
August 31, 2008
truly, this will induce coma, in beijing or anywhere else. i couldn't get through more than 35 pages.

one problem among others: there are no chapters. or sections. or breaks in the text at all. only a single, 586-page stream of multi-tensed consciousness. this book requires a reader with an unheard-of attention span. also, a reader with some knowledge of the history of the cultural revolution. which i do have, and still i was bored. references to the democracy wall movement do little to inspire excited moments of recognition when the dialogue reads like a history textbook. (note that i adore history textbooks!)
Profile Image for Vanda.
244 reviews22 followers
June 6, 2019
Další skutečně zvláštní, těžko uchopitelný, fascinující a děsivý zážitek s dílem z pera čínského autora v exilu Ma Ťiena. Hlavní hrdina jeho románu “Beijing Coma” Taj Wej schytal během masakru na náměstí Nebeského klidu kulku do hlavy. Zranění přežil, ale zůstává v kómatu a nikdo neví, jestli okolní svět vnímá nebo ne. Uvězněný ve svém těle, Taj Wej nám zprostředkovává svou minulost – dospívání v post-maoistické Číně, studentská léta a konečně protesty v Pekingu na jaře 1989, a v druhé linii i svou přítomnost – útržky hovorů návštěvníků, kteří za ním chodí a netuší, zda na komatózního mladíka má vůbec smysl mluvit, telefonáty jeho matky, sousedské drbání, matčinu samomluvu a další, které mu umožňují se dozvídat, jakými proměnami jeho vlast v letech po 4.6. 1989 procházela.

Ma Ťien se zárodků revoluce na jaře 1989 osobně účastnil, strávil šest týdnů se studenty na náměstí Nebeského klidu, na jejich kolejích, v ohnisku jejich hnutí, a jen shodou okolností unikl finálnímu masakru, když byl nucen odcestovat a postarat se o svého zraněného bratra (který, skutečně, upadl do kómatu). Když jsem tento román začínala číst, byla jsem doslova nadšená: konečně příběh z moderní Číny, který se nesoustředí na Veliký skok nebo Kulturní revoluci, ale vypovídá o tom, jak to v Číně chodilo později. Běžné momenty dospívajících protkané pronásledováním policií za nepovolené sexuální styky, drtivá politika jednoho dítěte, nespokojenost mládeže se stavem věcí ale zároveň nejistota, jak se situací naložit. A pak najednou, vlastně čirou shodou okolností, jakoby náhodou, organicky, vzniká studentské hnutí bojující za demokracii, nečekaně sílí, rozvíjí se a rozšiřuje po celé zemi. A právě zde jsem s románem začala nečekaně bojovat. Nejsem si úplně jistá, proč Ma Ťien zvolil zrovna tento způsob vyprávění o hnutí z 89., ale rozhodně nic čtenáři neusnadňuje. S téměř manickou pedantností zachycuje sebemenší podrobnost, která vznik a průběh protestů provázela – desítky a stovky jmen, nekonečné dohady, škorpení a boje o moc mezi studenty, každá záležitost vyžadovala vlastní výbor, komisi, organizaci, absolutně jsem nechápala, jak se tak absurdně a chaoticky vedené hnutí mohlo kamkoliv dostat a sami studenti leckdy působili jako malé děti, které se hrají na politiku a protože se “má” organizovat, tak vše podrobují až absurdnímu procesu rozškatulkování a prohlasovanosti. Po 150 stránkách podrobností o tom, kdo se s kým pohádal, kdo založil vysílací středisko a kdo mu v tom dělal konkurenci, kdo koho napadl a kdo jak hlasoval, když jsem začínala tušit, že mě čeká přinejmenším dalších 150 stran podobných popisů, jsem si začínala zoufat a raději než knize se věnovala snaze zjistit si o celé této události něco víc. A to bylo báječné, věčné díky Ma Ťienovi za toto nakopnutí, protože se záhy ukázalo, že mé povědomí o Tchien-an-menu bylo pouze povšechné a zcela neadekvátní. Zjištění, co se tehdy skutečně dělo, bylo zdrcující a rozhodně všem doporučuji shlédnout přinejmenším tento dokument . Ma Ťienova verze událostí se do jisté míry liší a soustředí se překvapivě na řadu malicherných sporů a zmatků plynoucích z nejednotnosti v názorech i metodách, nicméně červnové vyvrcholení zachycuje stejně jako dokumentární záběry – naprosto nepochopitelné a šokující násilí, ochromující a nemyslitelné, přesto reálné.

Necelých deset let po masakru se Čína připravuje na Olympijské hry, pronásleduje “sektu” Fa-lun-kung a v rámci rozvoje a rozkvětu se chystá zbourat řadu obytných domů, včetně toho, v němž Taj Wejova matka celá léta pečuje o nehybného syna. Groteskní a strašlivá paralela se smyčkou stahující se okolo demonstrantů na náměstí Nebeského klidu, kdy protestujícím je nyní samojediná stará žena a brání své poslední útočiště, zatímco jí dělníci nadávají, že okupuje státní majetek a protiví se rozhodnutí vlády, je už jen tečkou za celým tragickým příběhem.

Dokážu pochopit, že měl autor potřebu tehdejší dění zachytit do nejmenších podrobností tak, jak mu byl svědkem, protože v současné Číně se o všem mlčí, ale pro běžného čtenáře je to skutečně obtížné sousto, takže pozor. Pokud vás ale Čína jakkoliv zajímá, rozhodně doporučuji dát Pekingskému kómatu šanci.
Profile Image for Leon.
Author 15 books11 followers
June 9, 2009
From the first page on, life literally flashes by the protagonist. He is told: ‘This is a clear sign that now on you’re going to have to take life seriously.’

Dai Wei, a Beijing University student, has been shot in the head in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. The story proper begins as the narrator switches to Dai Wei, now in a coma.

We journey with Wei, from his birth, childhood and adulthood, to finality. We see him falling for his childhood love Lulu, who later betrays him; a Hongkongese A-Mei, who breaks his heart, is killed in Tiananmen Square and might have come back as a sparrow in his last days; and then Tian Yi, who escaped death and to the US. We read how he and his friends in Southern University in Guangzhou devour foreign literature, like Kafka’s, and ideas, like Freud’s. We follow him to Beijing University where he studies biology, and which is where he gets involved in student protests for government reforms. We experience his sensations while he lies in a coma, being cleaned and fed through a tube by a despairing mother, who even if she exhorts him to die soon still attempts to find him healers. Interspersed within Wei’s narrative is some rather clinical observation of his medical condition.

Life has never been easy for Wei, even at birth, when he fell out from his mother, into a ‘cold concrete floor’, his head splitting with pain. This is like a foretelling of his fate, of being shot in the head.

When he was a teenager, the police, interrogating him about a banned book he copied out and gave to Lulu, threatened him with boiling water from a flask. They told him: ‘If we don’t teach you a lesson now, you’ll end up with a bullet in your head.’ These words never took as he got shot later as an adult.

All that cannot compare to other horrors and turpitudes of a country’s regime. During the period of the one-child policy, birth control officers carried out forced abortions at family planning clinics, throwing foetuses into buckets, strangling new babies.

One kind of horror which traumatizes Wei was experienced by his father in internment camp: cannibalism. His father might have been eaten himself if he wasn’t moved out to Shandung. A doctor he talks to in Wuxuan, researching such atrocities, also adds that local citizens proved their loyalty to the Party by executing friends and neighbours. Wei learns that ‘revolution’ in Chinese characters is written as ‘elimination of life’.

Wei himself experiences cannibalization of a sort when his mother had to sell off one of his kidneys to fund his medical upkeep. Wei gives us a blow by blow account of how the doctors remove his kidney - without anaesthetics. The descriptions wouldn’t look amiss among cut-and-kill scenarios in American Psycho.

The reader can expect similar minute details throughout the entire novel, especially in the Tiananmen Square pages. Wei likens the scenes in the Square to some movie set. However the dialogue is not so much akin to a film as sometimes it can be a little stilted and formal. But, surprisingly, this works here, because the reader could be watching a Chinese opera, particularly one set on an immense stage with stage directions and asides aplenty, with a preponderance of characters. At best the writing can sometimes read like late 80’s New Journalism investigative articles you find in Rolling Stone and Esquire magazines.

However there are some moments of lyricism when, in love, Wei sees Tian Yi as a ‘celestial fairy about to take flight’. That aside, one of the most poignant passages can be found in a visit from Tian Yi when she touches comatose Wei’s foot, sending him into an almost erotic paroxysm.

Nearing the book’s end, things are looking bleak for Wei and his mother, who refuses to sign the demolition agreement to her house and receive a pittance of a compensation. She is slowly driven to insanity as she is persecuted for being a member of the Falun Gong; her electricity, water and phone cut off. Her neighborhood is being razed to the ground for a new shopping complex, whose chairman is none other than Lulu. Their house is the only one standing, bulldozed and rammed, just like Wei’s friends were by the Chinese army in Tiananmen Square. Nearing the end, Wei is now finally starting to see light behind his eye lids, when before, his entire Weltanschauung while in a coma has been through his ears and nose.

At the close of the book the reader encounters a déjà vu. Without disclosing the dénouement, suffice it to say, the reader may view this as Gestalt parallelism, yin yang, or karma - no matter which, all very similar and universal.

Also, Wei is finally told: ‘But once you’ve climbed out of this fleshy tomb, where is there left for you to go?’ Where indeed? If you believe in karma, when one does not have anywhere left to go, there is no cycles left to endure, one has reached the apex (just like Wei finally seeing himself in a public square with just one building standing, atop in an iron bed) – Nirvana.
Profile Image for Joey.
Author 3 books10 followers
January 26, 2013
It is so hard to properly review a book like this that is brilliant, descriptive and eye opening and at the same time chronicles atrocities too shocking to fully comprehend.
This is the story of the massacre of student protesters at Tiananmen Square. It is also the story of their fathers and grandfathers and the torture and injustice they suffered during Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution.

The narrator lies in a coma after taking a bullet to the head while fleeing from the crackdown on student activism in Beijing. As he lies unable to move or communicate the past leading up to getting shot is enmeshed with the world moving on without him, a world he can smell, hear and see in his mind, but cannot respond to. He travels back to his earliest memory of being forced to watch an elderly woman next door being tortured to death because the police believe she is a capitalist sympathizer. He remembers his violinist father coming home from a prison camp after being a musician is outlawed. Shortly after he returns home he dies, leaving his son his journal chronicling being reduced to cannibalism and digging through the feces of other inmates trying to find undigested food to keep from starving to death. As a teenager he watches his mother turn away a cousin who is pregnant for the second time. In trying to flee to the country to have her illegal baby, she is taken down at the train station by soldiers who cut the fetus from her belly as she lays bleeding on the train platform where no one dares stop them.

These are just a few of the memories that weave themselves in and out of the story side by side with narration of the comatose student's favorite book of Chinese myths.

Even though this is labeled "fiction" there is no doubt in my mind these things happened. Maybe not to a boy who lay in a coma but surely to either the author or someone he knew well.

I was never taught of the Cultural Revolution in school. All we were told was that Mao was a Communist and Communism was bad. I was eighteen when the first protests took place and twenty when the massacre occurred. I had no idea what happened to the students that survived, their families or even how many were killed.

If you are interested in activism, social justice, history or are just a Sinophile like myself, this book is required reading. It is not easy to read, it is beautiful and horrifying and unbearably sad and depressing, but it is worth the emotional ravaging you will take to learn the truth.
Profile Image for Meredith.
83 reviews6 followers
December 26, 2014
There are three major periods of Beijing upheaval in this amazing novel, and Dai Wei survives them all: first Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution, then the crackdown at Tiananmen Square, and finally the beautification of Beijing for its Olympic bid, which brings his mother's housing complex to rubble around him. Through all of this turmoil, Dai Wei is ever the observer, watching as the Cultural Revolution wreaks havoc on his parents' marriage, as his friends orchestrate the protests at Tiananmen Square, and as his mother struggles in vain to remain in her home. He is, in this regard, an omniscient third-person narrator, allowing us a snapshot of many characters' lives as he witnesses the conversations, deaths, romantic encounters, and psychological struggles that defined these periods in recent Chinese history.

We encounter characters who are of sound body and deadened mind, and vice versa. No one, however, escapes with both body and mind intact. Of particular interest is Dai Wei's mother, who devotes her entire life to caring for his comatose body. His mind, however, is sharp as he travels the neural pathways of his own history and somatic systems. Even with eyes closed and body immobilized, he can sense his mother's frustration and despair. After she is arrested for her participation in a peaceful Falun Gong demonstration and her would-be lover Master Yao is imprisoned, she returns as broken as Dai Wei's friends after Tiananmen. She wishes her comatose son dead so that she can have some semblance of a life, but ultimately finds herself echoing the student demonstrators she once so vehemently opposed: "Down with Fascism!" The inclination to be free, Ma Jian insinuates, is innate, regardless of ideology and generation.

Few novels have driven home for me the horrors of the Cultural Revolution as vividly as this one, despite its focus on Tiananmen Square. Ma slips in some harrowing, eye-popping anecdotes about Red Guard brutality and inhumanity. Of course, the main event in this book is the unjustifiable brutality against peaceful student demonstrators.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sephreadstoo.
470 reviews18 followers
July 22, 2021
Una storia potente che scava nei febbrili giorni dell'occupazione di piazza Tienamen e delle continue discussioni in seno agli studenti. Immobile giace in un letto Dai Wei, studente colpito durante la rivolta che nella sua prigione di carne ripercorre con i ricordi quegli avvenimenti.
Spettatore degli eventi post-Tienamen, Dai Wei assorbe la realtà circostante dalla madre che attraversa la storia della Cina fino ad arrivare agli anni 2000, ripercorre il suo passato, figlio di un destroide condannato, e gli orrori della rivoluzione culturale.

Purtroppo, seppur l'argomento mi interessi particolarmente, ha una grande pecca: la parte centrale è incredibilmente prolissa e ripetitiva e se quelle 200 pagine fossero state editate il libro sarebbe stato molto più d'impatto. Pur comprendendo la decisione dell'autore di rispecchiare l'immobilità della lotta con l'immobilità fisica di Dai Wei, quella parte centrale rende molto pesante il testo.
Ciò che emerge è un quadro di stallo sia tra gli studenti, bloccati da continue lotte intestine, e la situazione di Dai Wei, bloccato a letto ma vigile nei suoi pensieri, che subisce e osserva come il mondo circostante si approfitti, si disperi e si impietosisca di fronte al corpo studente e il proprio corpo fisico.

Mi ha colpito, come tutti i libri di Ma Jian, ma è quello che mi ha convinto di meno tra gli altri testi letti dell'autore.
Profile Image for Victoria.
Author 1 book2 followers
June 3, 2008
Ma Jian spent more than a decade writing this story of the events of Tiananmen Square prompted by his desire to force China to remember the tragic events of its past. He said of the novel: 'I wanted to write a book that would bear witness to recent history and help reclaim a people's right to remember.'

As someone who was in Tinanmen Square during the weeks leading up to the tragedy, Ma Jian is perfectly placed to reflect on his country's history. However, it is the way he frames his story that makes this novel so impressive.

The hero, Dai Wei, is in a coma after being shot in the head by a soldier on June 4, 1989. The story is told as he remembers what led up to the shooting, and also what he hears being discussed around him as he lies, rotting inside his prone body.

Truly a tour de force, this book should be read by everyone before the Olympic Games begins this year. I am far from a political animal, but the events of China's recent history cannot be ignored and must be acknowledged and remembered.
Profile Image for JimZ.
972 reviews425 followers
December 31, 2019
I read this in August.. I made a note after finishing it (and it took some time to finish it): Hard to describe. Too long but shows immaturity of the students. I worry about the Hong Kong protestors of August 2019. Today, 12.31.2019: I think I am less worried about the Hong Kong protestors as of today. They have many other people from different walks of life in Hong Kong on their side.
Profile Image for Kamila Kunda.
250 reviews194 followers
September 11, 2021
Ma Jian’s “Beijing Coma” talks about events which the Chinese government forbids their citizens to talk about. 4th of June 1989 - Tiananmen Square massacre, following weeks-long protests of students from Beijing and other provinces. Ma Jian writes with a surgeon’s precision, plenty of humour and sublime lyricism. His understanding of human nature moved me to tears.

Two narratives are intertwined, both told from the perspective of the narrator and main protagonist, Dai Wei. One narrative relates minute details of the weeks of protests, of which Dai Wei was one of the organisers. The other one consists in his ‘observations’ as he has been lying in a coma since he was shot in the head on the 4th of June. His body stopped functioning normally and he is called ‘a vegetable’ by everyone, yet his mind is sharp and perceptive. Years are passing and his life is filled with memories, grumbling of his mother - his sole carer, and occasional visits of friends who moved on with life. One of them jokes that Dai Wei must be the only Chinese citizen who is following Chairman Mao’s advice “to remain unchanging in changing circumstances”.

The novel reads like a documentary in which every event and conversation from weeks of protests is recorded. I took breaks for days and weeks and returned to the book as if to an old friend. To this day I find it heartbreaking that a million citizens failed to bring change. Wasted lives, ideas, potential. Dai Wei, alive, trapped in a decomposing body, at some point becomes useful only when his mother sells his urine for urinotherapy followers. Near the end, a sparrow which flew to the flat through the window finds a nest on Dai Wei’s chest. His body becomes a bed for a bird.

I loved how sensual this novel is. Ma Jian’s phenomenal use of language allowed me to visualise every smell and sound, touch and taste. Some parts of the book reminded me of the exuberance and enthusiasm of students I saw in excellent film from 2006, “Summer Palace” by Lou Ye. At the end of the book I realised that the tragedy of “Beijing Coma” lies in the realisation how easily ideals die. Human spirit is not unbreakable but how to live with a broken one?
Profile Image for Jorge.
12 reviews
September 12, 2008
Amazing account of China from the start of the Mao era, Mao's initiatives to detailed notes on the events of Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and the decade after the massacre. Truly captures the challenges of achieving democratic rights under a strong central government. The book is a fictional account of Dai Wei yet it captures the sentiment and many of the events of the 1989 massacre. The sad part for me is how many outside of China never received details of the incidents and possibly forgotten. The sadder part of the account is how many now in China may never really hear the bloody history of the Communist Party in China. Rather the past is glossed over, erased, forgotten and replaced, distracted by Olympics. Overall, impressive literature, political fuel, and romanticism.
Profile Image for Nancy.
44 reviews17 followers
May 7, 2009
Excellent fictionalisation of the tiananmen square incident in 1989. surprisingly un-romantic and it does a half decent job of showing that the demonstrations were a bit of a mess really but were a massive release of pent up emotion and hurting of a society. a refreshingly different style of book too with no chapters as such but lots of different length sections. much more like life. A really good read and so much more grown up than red dust.
Profile Image for Ricki.
93 reviews9 followers
June 16, 2009
absolutely brilliant - it was one to be savoured -not read quickly - as part of the interest of the book is the slow build up to 4 June '89 - the positioning for power within the students in the movement and the recollections of people, places and times through the fog of the coma. I loved every minute of this book but will also admit to putting it down several times whilst I digested what I had read. All in all, it took me about 3 weeks to read it.........don't miss it.
Profile Image for Edward.
21 reviews
July 23, 2008
WOW! Highly recommended by MICHIKO KAKUTANI from NY Times Book Review. Totally engaging, difficult to put down. A bit lengthy-- close to 600 pages with no chapter breaks but worth every smidgen. Just in time for the Olympics-- be informed. A lot of weighty stuff exposed accompanied by prolific prose.
Profile Image for Raully.
252 reviews11 followers
October 29, 2008
Dai Wei lies in a coma after the student protests of 1989 have been brutally shut down. The narrative combines what he observes now with his memories of his former life, allowing us to contrast the romantic dreams of his youthful friends with the compromised actualities of modern-day China. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Paola.
46 reviews20 followers
March 20, 2020
Abbandonato a 400 pagine, mi sono pure impegnata a leggerlo, ma non ne vale la pena. Nonostante i drammatici avvenimenti politici, avevo già perso l'interesse a pagina 200.
Profile Image for Matt.
5 reviews5 followers
June 22, 2016
A few months back, one of my students (a 19-or-so-year-old from China) happened to mention the Tiananmen Square massacre in the course of a discussion (hardly normal ESL classroom fare, but hell, I'm always willing to run with more interesting topics when they come up) as something he'd never heard of before coming to study abroad. What immediately struck me was that he--and many of my other students--was of course right around the age that many of the protesters would have been, given that such a large number of them were of college age, and would have been born just a few years after it happened. Another thing that struck me was that for many of us from different parts of the world, the 1989 protest (and the iconic image of the lone man standing in the path of the column of tanks bearing down on him) was probably what most shaped the view of modern China that people of my generation in "the West" (or at least America; I shan't make broad sweeping claims about them folks over in Europe) grew up with. Since I just so happened to have picked up this book on a whim not too long before that particular discussion took place, I decided to bump this one up my reading list and give it a whirl.

I often find that historical fiction is a good primer for reading actual history, as it helps put more of a human face on events that are so often depicted in more clinical and statistical terms in nonfiction, and in that regard I would say that Beijing Coma succeeds admirably. The story itself revolves around Dai Wei, a student protester who winds up in a coma after being shot in the head. His life unspools in flashback, starting with his childhood and eventually leading up to the moment he's shot, intercut with all the things happening around him while he's in the coma, of which he's perfectly aware but unable to do anything about. The book touches on other parts of Chinese history in the 20th century, not least of which is the Cultural Revolution and its attendant horrors, as Dai Wei's earlier memories deal with his childhood as the son of a "rightist" who'd spent a number of years in an internment camp. One of the more touching aspects of the plot was seeing how his feelings toward his father evolved. We also see a fair bit related to the few romantic involvements he has in his life (one of which is still going on at the time he is shot), as well as a great deal of his mother, For the author, Ma Jian, himself something of a dissident who left the country after having his books banned a couple of years before Tiananmen happened, the coma itself is a fairly obvious metaphor for the helplessness of watching things beyond your control from the outside. It is, nonetheless, an effective one.

The book is not without its share of flaws, however. Chief among these for me was, as another reviewer mentioned, the fact that it could have really done with a bit more editing. The amount of time dedicated to all of the infighting and backbiting among the students as they organized and carried out the protests was excessive. Not that this wasn't a necessary plot element, but there's just so damn much of it. Kudos to Ma Jian for not trying to lionize everyone involved in the protests and for simply portraying them as flawed human beings who were pissed about the state of things and tried to do something about it. But there was probably a good 50 pages or so worth of bickering that could have been taken out without having lost that element. After a while, he ran the very real risk of making the reader stop caring about them, which would have been a tragedy in itself in a book where the goal (at least in my mind) is to put a greater human element on what is for many readers likely to be a somewhat faceless chapter in history. And frankly, those sections just made the story itself drag. Some of the other historical asides were also introduced rather awkwardly, in hey-did-you-know-about-this-thing-that-happened style conversations that came across as unnatural and forced.

Where this book ended up earning its fourth star for me was in its portrayal of the actual massacre, which was fucking heartbreaking. Of course you know going in that some of the characters aren't going to make it but it's still a horrific and powerful bit of writing that makes you really envision what it would have been like to be there as the tanks rolled in and ground people you knew and cared about, friends and students, mere kids who just happened to have the courage to stand up to authority, into lifeless hunks of ground meat and bone. It's a tough read but that is where the book ultimately succeeds most admirably, because (much more than a great deal of other historical fiction, imho) it was so easy to see yourself in their place. In my case, my thoughts went unavoidably to my student, a slightly mischievous kid with a wry sense of humor, with dreams and aspirations that could have, had he been born at a different time, been crushed under those tank treads.
Profile Image for Frank Stein.
959 reviews122 followers
September 3, 2020
This book takes place in two places. One is Tianammen Square in 1989, where a handful of Beijing University students, such as, in this novel, the narrator Dai Wei, the female leader Bai Ling, her boyfriend Wang Fei, and others start a tiny protest movement that snowballs into an aborted revolution. The other location is Dai Wei's mother's decaying apartment complex, where the paralyzed but conscious Wei lives out the ten subsequent years of Chinese history, mainly through listening to reports on the radio or his mother's conversations with friends.

The problem is neither of these two locations can really sustain the 700-plus pages devoted to them. Barely a few dozen pages in you get the author's point that the Tiananmen students themselves were beset with power struggles and internecine battles over girls and fame. The Beijing Students Federation warred with the Hunger Strike Headquarters warred with the Provincial Students Federation warred with the Broadcasting headquarters warred with the marshal's protective system. It is interesting, just how much organization occurred amidst a spontaneous protest, and how much logistics it took to keep it working (somebody had to do financials and give receipts for donations and expenditures, marshals had to keep a "lifeline" for ambulances open, people had to organize regular broadcasts and keep up morale), but it's also tedious, and the characters themselves hardly develop at all. Obviously, the narration of a semi-comatose man stuck in an apartment can also get tiresome.

At the end, the writer does have a good eye for the drama and violence of the crackdown, and also for the narrator's early years, living in a family working for the national opera whose father was brutalized in the Cultural Revolution, but, like so many books, it would have been much better if it was much shorter.
Profile Image for Freca.
212 reviews4 followers
May 9, 2022
Mattoncino cinese sulla strage di piazza Tienanmen raccontato in modo estremamente particolare, che ho molto apprezzato: un flusso continuo nella mente di un ragazzo entrato in coma per un proiettile in testa durante la protesta, passato e presente si alternano, accavallandosi, separati solo da frasi che descrivono lo stato di sospensione fra vita e morte del protagonista. La storia recente della Cina è raccontata ripercorrendo la storia personale, e ci mostra tutte le limitazioni, contraddizioni, l'estrema politicizzazione del privato. Personalmente l'ho trovato un buon testo per immergersi in dettagli anche scabrosi, l'occasione per approfondire alcuni fatti salienti, l'evoluzione politica di uno stato sempre più fondamentale negli equilibri mondiali.
Lo stile però risulta un po' faraginoso, anche perché il testo è prolisso e ridondante, con tanti personaggi non tutti funzionali. Principalmente alcuni focus, lo stile descrittivo dei rapporti e della psicologia mi è risultato molto distante: sicuramente ho sofferto lo shock culturale, e se mi ha permesso di aprire lo sguardo su una realtà lontana immergendomi, e non solo cerebralmente con saggi, d'altro canto non mi ha permesso di apprezzarlo in pieno: chiaramente cose che rappresentano la forma mentis dell'autore, che pur critico verso il suo paese è figlio di quella modo di pensare, me lo hanno reso poco piacevole, affine e di difficile approccio perché lontano. Sicuramente mi mancavano alcuni strumenti per entrarci più in risonanza, e comprenderlo a un livello più profondo anche se non credo mi sia sfuggito dal punto di vista meramente intellettivo troppo, fortunatamente anche grazie ad internet: dato che i riferimenti storici e culturali sono abbastanza palesi.
Profile Image for Carmen.
1,937 reviews
November 9, 2021
When people are naked they say very little to each other. They are striped of their identities. Usually one can guess a person's status from their hairstyle, but in the bathhouse everyone's hair is slicked back. The only props they have are the identical white flannels in their hands and their variously sized bars of soap.
Profile Image for Jeff.
Author 3 books11 followers
May 12, 2022
Welp, I'm giving up on this one, 200 pages in. It's got some great things in it--the coma-point-of-view stuff is really great, and all the nuanced ins-and-outs of organizing against fascism ring true, but it just doesn't connect with me emotionally, and I can't do that for 700 pages. The connections between people feel stilted, hardly there, and they just don't resonate. I think I'm better off reading a history, or several histories, of the Tiananmen Square protests.

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