I am currently editing a novel by a Chinese author writing in English. An excerpt from the first chapter is here, and more excerpts will be forthcoming. The author wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, but is keen to get his book out to a wider readership.
The novel is set in a near-future America where US power has severely degraded, but not quite collapsed. In the wake of localized government breakdowns, China has established a protectorate in the American northwest to protect the lives and property of its nationals. The plot of the novel revolves around Chinese authorities’ attempts to establish authority and the insurgency fought against it. The world it reveals is a much broader
The author originally came to me for help writing in his second language. He has both studied and worked in the United States, and chose English for his novel since it captured ideas and sentiments not often expressed in his homeland.
Over the course of our conversations, he also had a lot of questions about certain characterizations that require intimate familiarity with certain aspects of American culture. Together, we developed these loose and inchoate ideas into the major themes of the book. In particular, we often discussed how complicated counterinsurgencies are, and how they tend to explode the myths that both occupiers and occupied hold of themselves.
Like the characters themselves, coming to terms with the reality of a collapsed superpower and a shattered mythos, this book is for the author an attempt to understand his country’s destiny and the nature of America.
In this way, Chinese Enclave can only be understood in its literary milieu. Contemporary Chinese fiction is a world mostly unexplored by American audiences. Some exceptions, such as The Three-Body Problem, are now entering the mainstream, but many of the themes and subject matters remain unfamiliar.
A subset of the world of Chinese fiction strongly overlaps with certain corners of Chinese online culture. This realm is dominated by web forums and blogs that are chiefly concerned with China’s place in the world. It is inhabited mostly by young men, often fiercely nationalistic, whose posts express their hopes and anxieties about their country’s future.
Chinese Enclave can be seen in many ways as a bundle of several of these themes that run throughout these boards: China’s economic and military rise, America’s accompanying decline, and the place of Chinese nationals in the West. There is readily-perceptible criticism throughout, both of China and of American society as a whole.
One frequent subject of the author’s and my conversations was the relation between American culture and the counterinsurgency doctrine pursued by the US military over the last half century. The theme of an imperial China fighting American partisans presents many opportunities for dramatic irony, often involving veterans of US wars.
But the irony is an ornament, not a theme. More interesting are the differences between Chinese and American ways of doing things, and the difference between insurgency in a recently-great power versus a third-word backwater. Characters are guided and also often sabotaged by their conceptions of their country and of the other.
I hope to publish the bulk of the book via excerpt, and encourage comment. Much of Chinese Enclave grew out of conversations, and comments from a wider audience will only benefit the author.