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China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh

China Mountain Zhang (original 1992; edition 1997)

by Maureen F. McHugh

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1,0613412,213 (4.03)59
I am Zhang, alone with my light, and in that light I think for a moment that I am free.' Imagine a world: a sinocentric world where Chinese Marxism has vanquished the values of capitalism and Lenin is the prophet of choice. A cybernetic world where the new charioteers are flyers, human-powered kites dancing in the skies over New York in a brief grab at glory. A world where the opulence of Beijing marks a new cultural imperialism, as wealthy urbanites flirt with interactive death in illegal speakeasies, and where Arctic research stations and communes on Mars are haunted by their own fragile dangers. A world of fear and hope, of global disaster and slow healing, where progress can only be found in the cracks of a crumbling hegemony. The world of Zhang. An anti-hero who's still finding his way, treading a path through a totalitarian order - a path that just might make a difference.… (more)
Title:China Mountain Zhang
Authors:Maureen F. McHugh
Info:Orb Books (1997), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:sf, firstnovel, unread

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China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh (1992)


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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
This novel was nominated for Nebula award for year 1992. The author describes its genre as anti-SF, meaning that it lacks the usual trope of a protagonist trying to change/affect their world. It can be viewed as a contemporary fiction, just set in the future.

So, what the future brought? Due to some events (briefly outlined closer to the end of the book) the US and China changed their political and technological places: China is a rich (possibly post-scarcity) society with best tech and education, center of the world, while the USA had a socialist revolution (helped by Chinese) and later its version of Cultural revolution (what it was like may SF readers may know from [b:The Three-Body Problem|20518872|The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)|Liu Cixin|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1415428227s/20518872.jpg|25696480]), named the Great Cleansing Winds campaign, making a lower middle income country.

The protagonist is a son of American born Chinese (ABC for short) father and Hispanic mother, the latter paid for his plastic surgery, so he looks Chinese. True ‘pureblood’ ABC have an advantage in theirs world, for they may go to China, which is a dream for many. However, there is a genetic test for ‘purity’ and our hero of cause will fail it. The higher position of Chinese (even in the US) causes a kind of racist hatred (maybe self-hatred) in our hero. His full Chinese name is Zhang Zhong Shan or China Mountain Zhang:

“Zhong Shan is the name of a famous Chinese revolutionary, the first president of the Republic; it is the Mandarin version of the Cantonese name Sun Yat-sen. To be named Zhang Zhong Shan is like being named George Washington Jones.”

He works on the construction and he is gay. The latter is a crime under Chinese and US law, but I the USA it is close to ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy. Each uneven chapter of the novel is from Zhang’s point of view, as he grows both physically and emotionally. Each even chapter is a story of other people, loosely connected to Zhang, such as a kite flyer (a dangerous new sport/entertainment, similar to the early 20th century plane pilots, with similarly high rate of death/traumas); a woman and a man in new Martian colony; a Chinese girl in the US.

Mars maybe the most SF part of the story – it is heavily reminiscent of [b:The Dispossessed|13651|The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle #6)|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1353467455s/13651.jpg|2684122], (struggling poor society, which try to govern itself via root democracy) but takes a more cynical look at it, showing the problems of equality. Another SF element from then popular cyberpunk – people can jack-in to computers (only passive connection i.e. w/o a feedback is legal, but of course, where is a tech, there are people to use it). A new concept is Daoist engineering – making the perfect, intuitively approachable system, e.g. a construction system. To some extent it is what all designers mean under friendly user interface, but broader.

The novel is written in a very solid prose style, but I cannot say I greatly enjoyed it: there are a lot of high quality contemporary fiction and when I read SF I expect more interesting ideas and what if situations.
( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
This book follows four characters in a future where China has taken over most (all?) of Earth, and humans have colonized Mars. The characters are occupy various fringes: a gay man in a culture where homosexuality is illegal, an ugly woman whose parents couldn't afford plastic surgery, a middle-aged loner who has a farm on Mars, and a young athlete in the sport of kite racing.

The four stories only barely intersect: all of the characters are acquaintances of the gay man, China Mountain Zhang. Other than that, there is no connection between them, and you could remove any one of the story lines without affecting the others. I found this frustrating. The stories also didn't really seem to go anywhere, except for China's but even his didn't really have a satisfying arc. I was particularly disturbed by the storyline of the ugly woman: there is a long, detailed, and predictable chapter about her date rape, which is totally gratuitous.

The world building is pretty interesting, but there's a paradox here: I think the main point of the book is that people strive and struggle to find happiness in connections to other humans, and that people on the margins of society have to swim upstream to find their way. In other words, the point is that people are the same in any time and place. That makes the world-building totally incidental - if people are the same everywhere, then it doesn't matter what the world is, which means that the world is just background and doesn't really play a role in the story. This made the world-building unsatisfying.

I found this book very engaging while I was reading it, but then it was over and it was unsatisfying. ( )
1 vote Gwendydd | Nov 19, 2018 |
This book was on one of the featured theme endcaps at the library and caught my eye. I've been wanting to read more female authored scifi, and the list of awards on the back -- Tiptree, Lambda Literary, Hugo, & Nebula? Some awards, some only nominated, but seriously? The Chinese influence, which I've become more interested in as my kids learn the language, was just icing.

And then! The whole passage on Baffin Island! Totally polar fiction!

(mild spoilers ahead)
This book shifts narrative focus between loosely connected characters -- Zhang - a construction tech engineer who struggles with his in-between status as an American Born Chinese, Angel - a flyer in the kite races Zhang loves to watch, Martine - a military vet who has settled on Mars, raising goats and bees, Alexi - a single father at the bottom of Mars' hierarchy, San-xiang - an unattractive girl whose father tried to match her to Zhang (not knowing Zhang is "bent" or gay), whose life changes when her face is reconstructed. (Her story was physically painful for me to read. She has no idea how to handle the new ways people treat her, I wanted to scream at her through the pages.)

This is such an interesting world to live in through this book. I loved immersing myself in corner after corner of it, it was so well imagined. I kept expecting, though, for all the characters to come crashing together somehow in some crisis. In the final third of the book, I kept racing, faster and faster, turning pages expecting the crisis to come at any moment. It never did.

As I turned the final page, I exclaimed both, "What the holy crap was that?" and "Oh, dear Lord, I loved it!" Hugging the book to myself, even as it had defied so many of my expectations of what an sf novel should be, I was calculating and weighing whether I could bear to return this book to the library without buying a copy of my own.

The perfect mesh of literary fiction and speculative fiction. I adore. ( )
1 vote greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
This novel is phenomenal. McHugh has crafted an incredibly convincing future - China has become the leading power, resulting in social and cultural dynamics that work in interesting ways - and uses this to tell a very human story. It mostly follows Zhang, a gay ABC (American-Born Chinese) man with a Hispanic mother. His identity alone makes him a target for discrimination - ABCs are seen as lesser than domestic Chinese people (when in China for school, he has to sit in a certain area of the public transport) - and he must be careful to hide his orientation from most, because being gay is punishable by death. The main plot of this book is no epic space opera conflict or dystopian conquest - it is instead about Zhang and a few peripheral characters trying to make their way in the world - taking Zhang from his New York City home in now socialist America to a research base in the Arctic to China and back again. What stood out to me the most about this novel was the excellent character development. McHugh writes these characters so convincingly that it didn't take long for me to deeply care about them and their lives. Interactions between Zhang and those he meets, from colleagues to friends to lovers, are written excellently and feel organic and emotional. The society Zhang must navigate is interesting and fresh - while a socialist state controlled by China, this future America is flawed, yet technologically advanced. People are able to "jack in" to devices, allowing for a type of augmented reality that feels feasible and real. I didn't know what to expect going into this novel - and what I got was something moving and beautiful. ( )
1 vote jameschatham | Apr 6, 2017 |

#89 – 2013#

“Dao ke dao, fei chang dao” = “The way that can be spoken is not the way” (page 220).

This simple aphorism exemplifies the tone of this novel. Lots of things left unsaid, but at the same time, because of that, conveying lots of meaning.

I’ve just finished this astonishing novel and I’m still trying to deal how it made feel.

One of the things that impressed me the most was McHugh’s refusal to let her secondary characters remain two dimensional pictures in the novel. It included several parallel stories apart from Zhang’s story, each one of them quite above average writing-wise.

China Mountain Zhang is a quiet, and beautiful novel. Although it’s not about heroes, it tells stories of ordinary, everyday fortitude, the kind we need to get out of bed and live our lives. McHugh impregnates each of Zhang’s decisions and actions with significance, reminding us of the momentousness of day-to-day life.

China Mountain Zhang is a clear example of speculative fiction (SF) that particularly interests me. It’s one of the few types of SF I have much interest in reading these days, ie, the story of ordinary people doing ordinary things in an imagined world.

My love for it was due to the fact that most SF plots required heroes and villains to commit actions that affected many people, and sometimes entire worlds and universes. This has always been one of weakest characteristics for Speculative Fiction. But maybe its lack of character depth is also its strength. Truth be told at the beginning I didn’t read SF because of the characters, but because of the worlds they inhabited. That was what fascinated me. Later as grew old, my interests started to shift.

China Mountain Zhang’s main accomplishment that so impressed me was its ability to portray a sense of intimacy, of merging this reader's consciousness with the imagined consciousness of the characters (Zhang,San-xiang, Martine, Alexys, etc) and allowing me a rapport that is impossible in reality. This is certainly not the only thing that above-average-SF can do, but it is one of the few things it can do better than any other type of genre literature I know of (I’m thinking “mainstream” literature here).

What a way to finish 2013. This novel is going to be everlasting in my mind… It transcended SF and worked on many levels.
" ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maureen F. McHughprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barlowe, WayneCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riffel, HannesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Romero, Pedro JorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salwowski, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Windgassen, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A simple way to get to know more about a town is to see how the people work, how they love and how they die. - Albert Camus, The Plague
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The foreman chatters in Meihua, the beautiful tongue, Singapore English.
She is very religious and she believes in Marx and Mao Zedong. Do not make the mistake of thinking her stupid; she has to juggle a lot of Kierkegaard and Heiler to explain but she manages a full wipe.
Legally everyone is equal, but even here at the other end of the world in the Socialist Union of American States we all know better than that.
I don't believe in socialism but I don't believe in capitalism either. We are small, governments are large, we survive in the cracks.
I feel inadequate. I know that politics is important, I just don't like to think about it. I don't know what my opinions are, I just know that very little I hear ever seems to have much to do with me, or with my life.
But I am only free in small places. Government is big, we are small. We are only free when we slip through the cracks.
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