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Death of a Red Heroine: Inspector Chen 1 (As…

Death of a Red Heroine: Inspector Chen 1 (As heard on Radio 4) (original 2000; edition 2006)

by Xiaolong Qiu (Author)

Series: Inspector Chen (1)

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1,2836815,045 (3.76)188
Qiu Xiaolong's Anthony Award-winning debut introduces Inspector Chen of the Shanghai Police. A young "national model worker," renowned for her adherence to the principles of the Communist Party, turns up dead in a Shanghai canal. As Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Special Cases Bureau struggles to trace the hidden threads of her past, he finds himself challenging the very political forces that have guided his life since birth. Chen must tiptoe around his superiors if he wants to get to the bottom of this crime, and risk his career-perhaps even his life-to see justice done.… (more)
Title:Death of a Red Heroine: Inspector Chen 1 (As heard on Radio 4)
Authors:Xiaolong Qiu (Author)
Info:Mulholland Books (2006)
Collections:Your library

Work Information

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong (2000)

  1. 01
    Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Klassiker der chinesischen Literatur. Wird gerne in den Romanen von Qiu Xiaolong zitiert. Ist das Lieblingsbuch der Frau des Assistenten von Inspector Chen. Unbedingt lesenswert - beide!
  2. 01
    The Flower Net by Lisa See (cbl_tn)
    cbl_tn: These books have a similar setting and time period and will probably appeal to the same readers.

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» See also 188 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
3.5 rounded up. Enjoyed the characters and details about life and politics in China in the early 90s. Will read the next book in the series. ( )
  mmcrawford | Dec 5, 2023 |
The mystery is good but the main appeal of this police procedural is seeing something of life in Shanghai China in 1990 for mid-level people. Chen & his poetry reminds me a bit of P.D. James’ Dalgliesh... ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 27, 2023 |
Okay, this one took some doing but I finished. ☑️ I had some difficulties with how rigid the language was, however, it makes some sense in the context of the story. Then there were sooo many random poems, couplets, and stanzas littered through out. ( )
  christyco125 | Jul 4, 2022 |
This book, ostensibly a murder mystery, deals with a surprising array of existential and societal issues. A police procedural mostly set in Shanghai, it also explores characters torn between their own priorities and those imposed on them by their government. We are also given a glimpse of how Western influences are starting to impact Chinese society. With a huge, culturally diverse cast of characters (nota bene: keep a list), we are provided a fascinating insight into the lives of people from a wide range of levels within the Communist Party. The Party is almost a character of its own as it pervades the story and impacts the characters’ decisions. Compelling and gritty. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jun 11, 2022 |
review of
Qiu Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 22, 2017

Read the full review here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/526626?chapter=1.

This is just the truncated review:

As I've probably written at least a few times elsewhere, I rejected crime fiction as a not-particularly literate populist genre for decades until I finally read writers such as Dashiell Hammett & Raymond Chandler. Now that I'm an enthusiast for the genre I'm discovering more & more of its practitioners to be both interesting writers & highly perspicacious political commentators & historians.

I'd noticed titles by Xiaolong at my local favorite used bookstore but hadn't pd them much mind. One day I realized that it'd be interesting to read Chinese crime fiction given my almost complete dearth of knowledge about Chinese literature at all. SO I got this bk w/o any particular high expectations for it - more just thinking it's about time I read something Chinese.

Whether that's what I've accomplished or not is somewhat ambiguous to me. While the novel heavily centers around Chinese politics in the 1990s, post the Tianamen Square suppression of protests in 1989:

"The Tiananmen Square Massacre, commonly known in China as the June Fourth Incident (六四事件)[a] were student-led demonstrations in Beijing in 1989. More broadly, it refers to the popular national movement inspired by the Beijing protests during that period, sometimes referred to as the '89 Democracy Movement (八九民运). The protests were forcibly suppressed after the government declared martial law. In what became widely known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, troops with assault rifles and tanks killed at least several hundred demonstrators trying to block the military's advance towards Tiananmen Square. The number of civilian deaths has been estimated at anywhere between the hundreds to the thousands." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989

its author moved to the United States around that same time. Therefore, while the descriptions of Chinese politics may be perfectly accurate there's always the doubt that they might also serve US propaganda purposes. In general, I choose to accept the novel's descriptions, largely b/c they're subtle enuf & true to my experience of human nature enuf to seem realistic. Nonetheless, perhaps a grain of salt from the Red Sea is appropriate.

In fact, I began to wonder if the novel had ever been read by a Chinese readership, ie: if it'd been translated from the original English into Chinese. This led to my finding an interesting article downloadable as a PDF online:

"Annali di Ca' Foscari, Serie orientale
Vol. 51 — Guigno 2015

"Qui Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine
in Chinese Translation

A Macro-Polysystemic Analysis

"Paolo Magagnin (Università Ca' Foscari Venezia, Italia)"

Rather than reproduce the entire 14pp, I choose a 2 paragraphs that're most politically to the point:

" 113, 184); critical, sarcastic or otherwise disrepsectful remakrs about Mao Zedung and his leadership (e.g. Qiu 2000, pp. 19, 61; omitted in Qiu 2003, pp 18, 59)"


"However, a certain number of references to other more or less sensitive socio-political issues are faithfully replicated in the metatext, such as the scars left by the Great Cultural Proletarian Revolution, the 1957 Anti-Rightist campaigns and other campaigns (e.g. Qiu 2000, pp. 93. 166, 248, 253, 264; preserved in Qiu 2003, pp 97, 160, 242, 246-247, 256 respectively)"

Magagnin goes on to deduce from these observations that:

"Our analysis shows the existence of a central political system that generally does not accept the discussion of sensitive issues, such as the status and authority of the governing party and its leadership, the decline of socialist ideology and the disillusion of the governed, media censorship, the repression of political protest and violation of human rights (such as the Tian'anmen crackdown), the presence of ubiquitous corruption in a Chinese metropolis (as the deletion of the name of the city seems to suggest: the actual setting, however, is an open secret, since reviewers and scholars overtly refer to Qiu's works as being set in Shanghai) etc.

"However, the same central political system seems to allow some forms of cautious criticism of the most disastrous political campaigns of the Maoist era (mainly the Cultural Revolution and the Anti-Rightist Campaign), the expression of moderate dissatisfaction with the old or the new political line of the Communist Party, as well as the denunciation of corruption — understood as an umbrella term for > (Kinkley 2007, p. 4) - provided that it addresses specific and localized instances of illicit behavior, and does not question the image of the Party as a whole." - edizionicafoscari.unive.it/...death-of-a-red-heroine.../art-10.14277-2385-3042-19p.pdf

Thank you, Paolo Magagnin. Magagnin's analysis about what happened to the Chinese translation more or less reinforces Qiu Xiaolong's political descriptions. Unfortunately, I don't read Chinese so I can't verify Magagnin's take on things. I've also never lived in China so it's quite possible that I'm entirely too prejudiced for my opinion to be of much 'objective' value.

The protagonist, Chief Inspector Chen, is a poet & a scholar whose State-directed path has led him into the police dept. Thru patronage he's advanced more rapidly than wd've ordinarily been the case & he's been fortunate enuf to receive a private apt:

"At the end of the Cultural Revolution, Chen entered Beijing Foreign Language College with a high English score on the entrance examination and then obtained a job at the Shanghai Police Bureau. And now there was another demonstration of Chen's good luck. In an overpopulated city like Shanghai, with more than thirteen million people, the housing shortage was acute. Still, he had been assigned a private apartment." - p 10

Still, considering that he's a Chief Inspector in a Special Case dept the apartment isn't much by 'Western' standards - even a drastically overpriced slum apt is NYC is probably better:

"It was not luxurious. There was no real kitchen, only a narrow corridor containing a couple of gas burners tucked into the corner, with a small cabinet hanging on the wall above. No real bathroom either: a cubicle large enough for just a toilet seat and a cement square with a stainless-steel shower head. Hot water was out of the question." - p 11

Still, w/in the Shanghai context, even such a minimal place wd usually be occupied by an entire family so Chen is envied.

An emphasis on culinary delights has become a recurring theme in some of the crime fiction I've been reading. In this case, Chen is making a meal for guests to celebrate getting the apt:

"For the main dishes, there were chunks of pork stomach on a bed of green napa, thin slices of smoked carp spread on fragile leaves of jicai, and steamed peeled shrimp with tomato sauce. There was also a platter of eels and scallions and ginger, which he had ordered from a restaurant. he had opened a can of Meiling steamed pork, and added some green vegetables to it to make another dish. On the side, he placed a small dish of sliced tomatoes, and another of cucumbers. When the guests arrived, a soup would be made from the juice of the canned pork and canned pickle." - p 12

Now, cf that to my review of Kyril Bonfiglioli's Something Nasty in the Woodshed:

"Is it largely peculiar to mysteries that the main character is obsessed w/ food? Or does such obsessiveness constitute a subgenre across all literature?

""How you deal with the tongue of an ox is as follows: you bid the butcher keep it in his pickle-tub for a fortnight, brushing aside his fanciful pleas that it should be taken out after eight days. Then you rinse it lovingly and thrust it into the very smallest casserole that will contain it, packing the interstices with many an onion, carrot and other pot-herb. Cover it with heel-taps of wine, beer, cider and, if your cook will let you, the ripe, rich jelly from the bottom of the dripping-pot. Let it ruminate in the back of your oven until you can bear it no longer; whip it out, transfix it to a chopping-board with a brace of forks and — offer up grateful prayers to Whomever gave tongues to the speechless ox." pp 127-128" - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/142504.Something_Nasty_in_the_Woodshed

Or to my review of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Buenos Aires Quintet:

"There seems to be a subgenre of crime fiction where the detectives are food connoisseurs. Agatha Christie's well-known Hercule Poirot," [..] "& Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's Pepe Carvalho:

""'I have several other alternatives already prepared: onion tortilla with cod; sweet and sour lamb with herbes de Provence, and figs in syrup.[']" - p 186

""[']I would like to draw your attention to what we are about to eat. Pantagruel potpourri!

""On the one hand, a vulgar anthology of all the meats we Argentines are so fond of; on the other, the glory of the first modern literary work devoted to the joys of pleasure and of culture: Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel.[']" - p 331" - "Don't Let Them Get Away - With It! - !": https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/382361-don-t-let-them-get-away?chapter=1

"They had first met on a professional level. She had been assigned to write about the "people's policemen," and his name had been mentioned by Party Secreatary Li of the Shanghai Police Bureau. As she talked with Chen in her office, she became more interested in how he spent his evenings than in how he did his day job. Chen had had several translations of Western mystery novels published. The reporter was not a fan of that particular genre, but she saw a fresh perspective for her article. And then the readers, too, responded favorably to the image of a young, well-educated police officer who "works late into night, translating books to enlarge the horizon of his professional expertise, when the city of Shanghai is asleep." the article caught the attention of a senior vice minister in Beijing, Comrade Zheng Zuoren, who believed he had discovered a new role model. It was in part due to Zheng's recommendation that Chen had been promoted to chief inspector.

"It was only partially true, however, that Chen had chosen to translate mysteries to enrich his professional knowledge. It was more because he, an entry-level police officer at the time, needed extra cash. He had also translated a collection of American imagist poetry, but the publishing house offered him only two hundred copies in lieu of royalties for that work." - pp 14-15

Ok, he has to live in a tiny underequipped apartment but he "only" gets "two hundred copies"?! I suspect there're some translators/poets in the US who'd be delighted to be pd that well. All in all, tho, Xiaolong's depiction of Communist China, while not dramatically oppressive, makes it seem like a place I'd find absolutely insufferable - except for the food, wch seems pretty tasty.

"During the Cultural Revolution, the only thing close to dancing for the Chinese people was the Loyal Character Dance. People would stamp their feet in unison, to show their loyalty to Chairman Mao. But it was said that even in those years, many fancy balls were held within the high walls of the Forbidden City. Chairman Mao, a dextrous dancer, was said to have had his legs still intertwined with his partner's even after the ball." Whether this tabloid tidbit was fictitious, no one could tell. It was true, however, that not until the mid-eighties could Chinese people dance without fear of being reported to the authorities." - p 19

Scratch China off the list of potentially nice places to live. I have a hard enuf time screening my own movies in the US@ but when an attempt was made on July 23/24, 2004 to screen my "Funny Farm Summit Meeting" at the BLOG Night of Experimental Cinema in the Blue House Art Center, Chengdu Museum of Modern Art, in Shanghai it was shut down by the police. If I can't screen nudist movies & I can't dance the whole country is going to have to change before I'll budge.

"The Shanghai Police Bureau was housed in a sixty-year-old brick building located on Fuzhou Road. The gray iron gate was guarded by two armed soldiers" - p 23

Xiaolong's descriptions are very matter-of-fact & ordinary, he doesn't appear to be sensationalizing. Still, to a person like myself, already aware of the police state aspects of my own country, the presence of 2 armed soldiers in front of a police station doesn't bode well. Soldiers coupled w/ police in the US more-or-less automatically means potentially fatal & definitely violent suppression of the populace.

A woman, a model worker, has been murdered & her body has been dumped in a remote body of water wrapped in a garbage bag. It's been discovered & Chen & his assistant detective Yu are discussing the likelihood of the body's having been carried to the water in a car:

""Well, not too many people have their own cars—except high cadres, and they would not have their chauffeurs drive them around on such an errand."

""It's true. There're not too many private cars in Shanghai, but the number is increasing rapidly. We cannot rule it out."" - p 28

The negative impact of the Cultural Revolution runs as a theme throughout Death of a Red Heroine. Here's a little background:

"The Cultural Revolution, formally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a sociopolitical movement that took place in China from 1966 until 1976. Set into motion by Mao Zedong, then Chairman of the Communist Party of China, its stated goal was to preserve 'true' Communist ideology in the country by purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society, and to re-impose Maoist thought as the dominant ideology within the Party."


"Millions of people were persecuted in the violent struggles that ensued across the country, and suffered a wide range of abuses including public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, sustained harassment, and seizure of property. A large segment of the population was forcibly displaced, most notably the transfer of urban youth to rural regions during the Down to the Countryside Movement." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Revolution

One of Chief Inspector Chen's friends is nicknamed "Overseas Chinese Lu":

"during the Cultural Revolution" [..] "Lu's father had owned a fur store before 1949, and was thus a capitalist. That had made Lu a "black kid." In the late sixties, "Overseas Chinese" was by no means a positive term, for it could be used to depict somebody as politically unreliable, connected with the Western world, or associated with an extravagant bourgeois life style. But Lu took an obstinate pride in cultivating his "decadent" image—brewing coffee, baking apple pie, tossing fruit salad, and of course, wearing a Western-style suit at the dinner table. Lu befriended Chen, whose father was a "bourgeois professor," another "black kid."" - p 33

I must be a moderate violent anarchist b/c I'm so fucking sick of people being persecuted. I don't think the nazis shd do it, I don't think the capitalists shd do it, I don't think the communists shd do it, I don't think religions shd do it, I don't think anarchists shd do it. By all means, assist w/ stopping persecutions but don't become a persecutor yourself. Sheesh.. Is that so fucking hard to understand?!

Chen's father had also been persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Chen finds a bk by his dad at a bookstore:

""You have an eye for books," the owner said, holding a bowl of rice covered with cabbage. "It's a hundred and twenty Yuan."

""What?" he gasped.

""It was once criticized as a rightist attack against the Party, out of print even in the fifties."

""Look," he said, grasping the book. "My father wrote this book, and the original price was less than two Yuan."

"Really," the owner studied him for a moment. "All right, fifty Yuan, with the poster free, for you." - p 35

Now, as a former bookstore owner, I can honestly say that I probably wd've given it to Chen for free if I'd been convinced of his story.. but my partners wdn't've. Then again, they wdn't've price-gouged like this either. It takes all kinds: wonderful people like myself.. & jerks. I just haven't figured out what the jerks are good for yet.

"The early chorus of the cicadas assaulted him in hot waves.

""Zhiliao, Zhiliao, Zhiliao . . . ."

"It was a homophone for "understanding" in Chinese." - p 47

I asked my Crystal Rectangle "What do cicadas sound like?" & chose to read the WordReference.com answers:

"Copyright", a "senior member", had this to say:

"I think you'll get many answers to this, for good reason. From Wiki, ... each species has its own distinctive song ... Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB (SPL)[8] "at close range", among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds. This is especially notable as their song is technically loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans, should the cicada sing just outside the listener's ear (unlikely). Conversely, some small species have songs so high in pitch that the noise is inaudible to humans.

So here's the inaudible sound ( ). And the Kansas cicada sounds like ooo-eee-ooo-eee. And the Thai coastal cicada sounds like a high-speed drill bit going through steel with no lubricant... a screech, in other words. So, maybe screech, scream, warble... and I look forward to others' cicada sounds."

Copyright elaborates:

"Checking Google, for what it's worth (not much, considering I didn't use quotation marks in the search):

cicada song: about 2,470,000 results
cicada noise: about 1,100,000 results
cicada scream: about 505,000 results
cicada screech: about 237,000 results
cicada chirp: about 219,000 results
cicada whine: about 188,000 results

Google results with quotation marks:

"cicada song": about 30,700 results
"cicada noise": about 5,170 results
"cicada chirp": about 1,130 results
"cicada scream": about 54 results
"cicada whine": about 34 results
"cicada screech": about 27 results"

"nzfauna", another "Senior Member", adds this:

"In entomology circles: Depending on the species, cicadas chirp or click, or a combination or both."

- https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/the-sound-a-cicada-makes.1860146/

Now, honestly, while I appreciate the effort that these folks put into their answers I find them inadequate both descriptively & for my purposes here. Given that homophones are "Words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. / For example: "there", "their", "they're"." ( http://www.homophone.com/ ), it looks like I'm going to have to choose "whine" from the above list even tho I don't think cicadas whine at all. I like the sound of cicadas &, as w/ the sounds of birds, I take them as indicative of there being peace around me. Still, the word "whine" gives me a chance to bring up its homophone, "wine", perhaps wine made w/ the chirrup, syrup of cicadas for understanding Chinese cicadas. Ahem. ( )
  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
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Qiu Xiaolongprimary authorall editionscalculated
Curtius, MattCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Deep as the Peach Blossom Lake can be,
it is not so deep as the song you sing for me.
— Li Bai
For Lijun
First words
The body was found at 4:40 P.M., on May 11, 1990, in Baili Canal, an out-of-the-way canal, about twenty miles to the west of Shanghai.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English


Qiu Xiaolong's Anthony Award-winning debut introduces Inspector Chen of the Shanghai Police. A young "national model worker," renowned for her adherence to the principles of the Communist Party, turns up dead in a Shanghai canal. As Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Special Cases Bureau struggles to trace the hidden threads of her past, he finds himself challenging the very political forces that have guided his life since birth. Chen must tiptoe around his superiors if he wants to get to the bottom of this crime, and risk his career-perhaps even his life-to see justice done.

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In this Anthony Award-winning debut, Inspector Chen of the Shanghai Police must find the murderer of a National Model worker, and then risk his own life and career to see that justice is done.
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