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The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung

The Fat Years (edition 2011)

by Chan Koonchung, Michael Duke (Translator)

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2021058,111 (3.26)13
Title:The Fat Years
Authors:Chan Koonchung
Other authors:Michael Duke (Translator)
Info:Doubleday (2011), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, Goodreads
Tags:fiction, read, politics, economics, China, LibrariesWest, #not-mzn, #not-wrd

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The Fat Years by Koon Chung Chan



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» See also 13 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
This book was labelled, here and at my local library, as science fiction. It is not; it's set in a present-day China that is only distinguished from our reality by some economic and political events, and an unorthodox method of behavioural control. If you're interested in the workings of the Chinese authoritarian state, this is definitely an interesting book, but it's certainly not what some claim it to be! ( )
  miken32 | Jan 22, 2017 |

This is a fascinating book, by a writer who was born in Shanghai, educated in Hong Kong and now lives in Beijing. The book itself has been published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but is not officially available on the mainland (though a fascinating foreword by Julia Lovell refers to Beijing's "chic party-hostesses slipp[ing] copies of the book into guests’ take-home bags"). It came out in 2009 and is set in the very near future of 2013, after a further financial crisis has wrecked the world economy apart from China, which has now become Top Nation, and yet everyone - or all but a very few - appears to have completely forgotten the crucial month of February 2011, in which the world changed.

There's a lot in here, including Christianity as a weird foreign religion, state drugging of the population a la Blake's 7, and using sfnal themes as a metaphor for the erasure of June 1989 from official memory; I can see why official China may feel it cuts a bit close to the bone - the protagonist, contrasting the West and China, suggests that:

"The only disparity is that, theoretically, the power of Western governments is given to them by the people, while in China the people’s freedom is given to them by the government. Is this distinction really that important?"

Readers may give their own answer to the question, taking into account when and where the book was written and published.

Anyway, I now appreciate the depth of my own ignorance about China even more. ( )
  nwhyte | Apr 11, 2015 |
Things are going well in China, so well that people refer to it as China's Golden Age of Ascendancy. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is in economic crisis, triggered by the recession of 2008. This is the premise of Chan Koonchung's novel The Fat Years. Written in 2009, it pictures a China in the near future of 2013. In this world, there had been an even greater financial crisis in 2011, one in which the dollar lost one third of its value in a day, leaving lots of room for global shifts of power.

Miraculously, the Chinese seem to have escaped the repercussions of the fallout from this second crisis. The citizens are happy and content, well fed and able to buy the material goods that reenforce these feelings of happiness and contentment. Things are so good, that Lao Chen, the protagonist, had moved from HongKong to Beijing for all it has to offer.

One day, however, Lao Chen met a character from his past on the street. Fang Caodi insisted that the month of February was missing from the year 2011. A doubting Lao Chen reflected Every day I read the papers and checked the Internet news sites; every night I watched CCTV and the Phoenix Channel, and I hung around with intelligent people. I didn't think that any major event had escaped my notice. I believed in myself -- my knowledge, my wisdom and my independent judgement.
The increase in personal happiness was the only thing that struck him as noteworthy. Then another person from his past appeared: Little Xi, an old girlfriend. She too hinted things might not be quite right. Other characters emerge. Zhang Dou had been a child labourer in the illegal market for such workers. Dong Niang, the prostitute Lao Chen visits periodically suggests that the general air of well being is off kilter.

In a manner somewhat reminiscent of the bumbling in Candide or Don Quixote, the characters spread out into the local countryside and reunite in what seems like a happy ending.

This is the PRC though, not story time, so Chan has added a long Epilogue. What made Dong Niang, Zhang Dou, Fang Caodi and Little Xi unusual was that they did not experience the same level of happiness that others enjoyed. They even had vague memories of that missing month. Dong had left Beijing, but the other three and Lao Chen banded together to find out what really happened. The truth is revealed under unusual circumstances by a member of the Politburo, He Dongsheng.

He delivers an all night impromptu combination of speech and lecture on Party politics, economic reform, the role of ideology, the workings of one party dictatorships, control of information and control of social unrest. The difference between the impact of forgetting and not knowing is made clear, using the example of the year 1989, rarely discussed: One year was not to be mentioned. Had it disappeared?
For some people that year was an indelible memory. It was just like the title of a book commemorating the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Massacre by the Hong Kong Journalists' Association:
The People Will Never Forget.
But will the people really never forget?
For the great majority of young mainland Chinese, the events of the Tienanmen Massacre have never entered their consciousness; they have never seen the photographs and news reports about it, and even fewer have had it explained by their family or teachers. They have not forgotten it; they have never
known anything about it. In theory, after a period of time has elapsed, an entire year can indeed disappear from history -- because no one says anything about it.
The generation of leaders involved in 1989 had been replaced by He Dongsheng and his cohort. Although they knew of the turmoil, other more recent events stood out in their minds. They all pointed to one conclusion though; there needed to be plans in place for dealing with large scale disturbances. He managed to link such crisis plans with the hope that their implementation ...would allow the government to take full advantage of the opportunity to bring order out of chaos, and complete all the unfinished business of the last thirty plus years of 'Reform and Opening'.

At first He Dongsheng's lecture seemed overblown. He articulated a horrifyingly pragmatic approach to natural and manmade disasters that is completely logical if you are a Politburo member in a country with well over one billion people. As his listeners debated various points with him, and he put twentieth century events in an economic context, it all became quite intriguing. Michael Duke says in his Translator's Note "Reality has already caught up with He Dongsheng's monologue, and many of the plans he describes have already been fulfilled, especially China's buying up of much of the world's natural resources to fuel its economic behemoth... All these plans are intended to fulfill the goals of a China that its leaders and many of its people believe is in ascendance and destined to become the main power in the world."

The Fat Years has been banned in China, although it does circulate there. In a regime that practises such levels of censorship, one of the important questions the book raises is whether the vast majority of people really care about what's happening as long as they themselves are comfortable. This isn't just a question for the Chinese; it's a question for all of us.
3 vote SassyLassy | Jan 29, 2015 |
A political essay cloaked as a dystopia. Very reminiscent of the Goldstein book of 1984. Very eerie and prescient examination of the power and possible ends of the shadowy CCP. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
A novel set in near-future Beijing follows the widespread disappearance of a month from official records and human memory that is disregarded by everyone except a small circle of friends who kidnap a high-ranking official to expose the truth. Summary BPL

“Between a good hell and a fake paradise-which one would you choose?”

Started out reading this one then moving to the audiobook. I couldn’t keep the names straight and it was a huge help to hear them pronounced properly.

The Fat Years is a lightly fictionalized commentary on China’s current collective amnesia about its past, particularly Tiananmen Square in 1989. The author says that the Chinese people would rather enjoy their Starbucks and shopping malls (the fake paradise) than question the regime that does not permit mention of government leaders, that controls internet parameters (even Google gave in!), what citizens read and watch, that spies on and harrasses its own people…. It has been compared to 1984 and Brave New World.

I listened to the audiobook twice—that was long!—as I found it difficult to follow the different points of view, and what I was to infer from them. This book will appeal to readers who are interested in the political scene in China and China’s role in the global economy or those, like myself, who want to get caught up on it.

7 out of 10. Serious readers only. ( )
  julie10reads | Apr 7, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Koon Chung Chanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Duke, Michael S.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hansen, Poul BratbjergTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lovell, Juliasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Menheere, YvesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Zhongguancun, China's Silicon Valley in northwest Beijing, is a fine place to visit these days. (Preface)
One whole month is missing.
The Fat Years is a unique combination of a mystery novel with a realistic exposé of the political, economic, and social system of China as it is today, and will be for the foreseeable future. (Translator's Note)
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In near-future Beijing, a month is missing from all official records, mass amnesia has wiped it from collective memory, and people are possessed with an unnatural cheerfulness. A small group of friends will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the mystery.… (more)

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