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China Mountain Zhang (1992)

by Maureen F. McHugh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,2284012,291 (4.01)65
'I am Zhang, alone with my light, and in that light I think for a moment that I am free.' Imagine a 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. This is 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)
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» See also 65 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
A science-fictional gen-X late 20's crisis. Zhang "China Mountain" Zhong Shan is an American Born Chinese (ABC) in New York City in a future where the USA has had a socialist revolution and China is the number one country in the world. It's rich and everyone wants to live there or work there. Zhang looks the part -- he appears Chinese and speaks Mandarin. But he is a diffident gay American who tries to conceal parts of his identity daily. Gradually he fumbles his way towards realising what to do with his life. Zhang is the main narrator, but the book is interspersed with perspectives from others in this world. A shy Chinese girl, a cybernetic kite flyer and some homesteaders from a Martian colony are all linked tangentially to Zhang. The Martian connection is the most tenuous, though their stories are still interesting. ( )
  questbird | Jan 13, 2022 |
I really enjoyed this book. I started it without knowing anything about it, and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a dystopian set in a distant future where China is the dominant power in the world, and humans have also begun to colonize Mars. The story starts off in New York, but we visit a few other places, including China and Mars.

There are multiple POV characters, but we spend the most time with the titular character, Zhang Zhong Shan. His name means “China Mountain”, which explains the title. The different POVs are only loosely connected. I was confused for a while because whenever there are multiple POVs in a book, I try to predict what will happen in the story to bring those POVs together by the end since that’s what usually happens. I even thought I’d figured that out at one point, but nope. :) There isn’t a strong driving plot either, we’re just following these people through their lives and the difficulties they face.

I looked forward to having time to read it each evening and finding out what the characters would do or have happen to them next. I didn’t strongly identify with any of them, but I cared about them and was engrossed by their stories. There were a couple really horrible things that happened, and the author telegraphed them so strongly that it was sometimes a little difficult to understand how the characters didn’t pick up on them. I can better understand how San-xiang ended up in her situation. She was so sheltered and inexperienced, combined with her fear of being impolite, and she wasn’t practiced in standing up for herself. But I really thought Zhang should have seen what was coming with Haitao and I was so disappointed that he didn’t. If he had though, I suspect things would not have turned out well for either of them.

This is at times a bleak and depressing book, but there is also some humor and also some hope. Dystopian books often end in ways I don’t care for, but I was satisfied with this one. In Zhang’s first lecture near the end of the book, he concludes that “You cannot predict the future”, an idea that is dangerous in the setting of this book. I saw that as a hopeful note. Sure, maybe sometimes things will be worse than you predict, but they might be better too if people do things to make a difference. Maybe Zhang’s subversive comments to his students will be the butterfly wings that change the course of society for the better in this fictional world. I thought the book mirrored the idea of not being able to predict the future with an unpredictable (at least to me) end. I was afraid we were headed toward a more depressing finish. Instead, it ended on a hopeful note, at least for Zhang. He made choices that might not always result in an easy life, but they held out a lot of promise for a better and happier life doing things he actually enjoyed, with people around him that he could trust and feel comfortable with. I did want a little more closure for the other characters, though.

I’ve decided to rate this at 4.5 stars and round down to 4 on Goodreads. I’m kind of sad that I can’t spend any more time with Zhang; I’ve enjoyed these last few days following him around. ( )
1 vote YouKneeK | Nov 12, 2021 |
It won a bunch of awards and was out on the Librarian Recommended end cap at the library. So I knew it was supposed to be good. Knowing that made me leave it alone for a while in my perverse fashion. But I finally read a chapter and I was off. There is a lot of light in the book, descriptions that I enjoyed, they were not tedious or repetitious. The narrative voice has a reserved tone that I liked. Very satisfying ending. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
Aimless outsider
bleak opportunity knocks
can't coast forever. ( )
2 vote Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
This book is one that's brilliant on multiple levels, but first, you have to manage your expectations. What do I mean?

This came out in 1990 but it resembles the more modern trend of literary SF in that most of the focus is on characterization and social interactions but in my opinion, it is superior to those because McHugh's wild worldbuilding is detailed, pervasive, and devoted to a fundamental conclusion. Or several conclusions. Interesting ones. In this respect, it's more like Samuel Delany's work.

Stand out features: Post-American revolution where China takes it over. The MC and the focus are on the LGBT community, including a very dystopian view of living conditions, especially in China. Revisionist history, it also has complicated things to say about how history is made that breaks away from most older SF in that it relies on Systems Theory, and best of all, the whole book IS a Study In Systems Theory.

I loved the world-building, and I really got into the main character, himself named China Mountain Zhang, but it's the interwoven nature of the tightly focused life he lives, the one day at a time style of writing that gradually catches hold of you and won't let go.

Like I said, it's more literary SF than anything, but it has a really awesome hard-SF core that satisfies on several additional levels. I definitely recommend this for any classic SF afficiandos who like their stories full of character. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
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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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Epigraph
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
Dedication
First words
The foreman chatters in Meihua, the beautiful tongue, Singapore English.
Quotations
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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'I am Zhang, alone with my light, and in that light I think for a moment that I am free.' Imagine a 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. This is 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.

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