In 2007, after being shocked by the news of child slaves in illegal brickyards, I put aside my work as a novelist and swiftly wrote the article “China Will Never Need Novels Again.” I’ve been writing about current events for the eight years since that day. There are few intellectuals from that period who haven’t read that first article of mine, but readers may not know that there are some secrets hidden in that piece.
The following passage is from “China Will Never Need Novels Again”:
I’ve tried to write several novels reflecting corruption on the mainland, and several have actually been finished. I thought that I had fully displayed my powers of imagination, and that this would frighten the corrupt. But that wasn’t what happened.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
One day while I was in Macau, I met two beautiful women from the mainland, and I couldn’t help giving them my novels to read. After looking at the books, they just set them aside, dashing my hopes. But later, when we were chatting, they told me something about officials from Guangdong province. Each time these officials came to Macau, they bring a different mistress, and they spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of yuan buying presents for these mistresses.
This story was so interesting that I was deeply impressed. And unlike my novels, their tale didn’t depend on imaginary events. What they told me was fact, including the real names of officials. But one of the women misunderstood my stupefied and overwhelmed expression. She thought I doubted their story. So she leaned forward and showed me her diamond Rolex, worth 200,000 Hong Kong dollars ($25,000), which she said had been given to her a few days earlier by the vice director of the Organization Department in Guangdong!
Since then, not only have I stopped writing novels about corruption, I have not even dared to read my finished novels. Compared with the real events told by these two high-level mistresses, my novels, the product of my imagination, seem more naive than an elementary school student’s work…
This piece was my first influential commentary. Before that, my writings were all fiction. Thus many readers naturally believed that this piece was also fiction. But I want to tell you that every word above is real. To protect the people concerned (the two women), I changed the position title of the official involved. He was actually a bureau director!
Not long after the blog piece was published, a “special department” in China found one of the two women. After offering their evidence, they told her that “relevant departments” were investigating Yang Hengjun, who had recently returned from abroad, because of his malicious use of fiction to reveal corruption. They ordered the woman not to tell me that they had spoken to her. She went home and cried, thinking that I was about to be arrested. Three months later, after seeing that I still didn’t recognize the danger, she screwed up her courage, quietly found me and said: “Run! You are in danger.”
I told her: “I know whether or not I’m in danger, trust me. Those working for the country and the nation won’t be put at risk. It is the corrupt who are in danger. You don’t have to worry about me. But I need to tell you — leave that official who so casually gave you a 200,000 HKD watch. Those people are the true enemies of the PRC and the people. One day you will realize that it’s them, not me, in danger!”
Although it’s been years since this happened, I can still remember saying roughly those words. At the time, the girl was staring at me as though I were an alien. Who was actually in danger – a bureau director and a “special department” or a wandering writer who had just returned from abroad? In this wonderful land, the answer goes without saying.
After writing this far, many people are probably wondering why I’m revisiting this old story. After all, the “special department” didn’t lift a hand toward me, even after a few years of following and investigating me. Although the woman never again dared to contact me, I kept track of her – I even know when her bureau director (who later became a city leader) dumped her for a younger woman.
A few days ago, I returned to Guangzhou and saw a report in the newspaper saying that that bureau director of years ago had been dismissed and was facing charges for corruption, including keeping a mistress. I was stunned when I saw this. For eight years, I have been using humble words to fight corruption and they have been deleting my words, even wanting to delete me. Meanwhile that corrupt official was being promoted ever higher, taking on ever-younger mistresses, and keeping to his corrupt ways… Someone might ask, if you knew he was corrupt, why didn’t you report him? How naïve! If I ever find a bureau director who isn’t corrupt, that would be worth reporting, in the hopes that the Central Committee would give him an important position. But this type of corrupt official is everywhere!
Looking at this blog article from 2007, I can’t help but feel my heart rise. Aside from some remaining worry about the girl who took trouble to reach out to me in secret, I mostly remember what I told her that day. A writer who is truly working for the nation and the public welfare will not and should not be in danger. As for those who rely on their power to be corrupt and keep mistresses, and those “special departments” who secretly spy on and oppress others – if they’re not in danger, then the whole country is at risk.
It’s been many years, and I sometimes can’t stand to look back at my old blog pieces. But today I’d encourage people to look them over – they represent my past, but perhaps they also contain our future. I hope that our leaders can learn from this story, and give netizens space for commenting – this is good for the country, the nation, and yes, even the rulers.
This piece originally appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog. The original post can be found here.