I am currently reading A Loyal Character Dancer by Qiu Xiaolong and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The latter is my car audio book while the former is the physical book I am reading. The interesting thing is how books are mentioned as portals and gateways to other realities in Fahrenheit 451 and I feel that so much with the one and a half books by Qiu Xiaolong that I have read so far.
The history of modern China isn’t something that we learn a lot about. That isn’t the fault of our history teachers. I remembering learning US history in seventh and tenth grade, Civics in eighth grade, world history in ninth grade, and government in twelfth grade. I don’t remember having any history class in eleventh grade but that might have been US history. I am unsure now. It was too long ago. My point is we don’t learn that much history and the world history portion doesn’t get much past the Greeks and Romans.
We definitely learn history from a western prospective. I remember learning some about ancient China in fifth grade but we were not learning about Mao, The Cultural Revolution, or Educated Youths. Those were not things we touched on and they are central pieces of Qiu Xiaolong’s first two novels.
The novels aren’t about that though. They are about the chief detective inspector of the Shanghai police and the cases he works. The fun part is it isn’t that much different than reading about detective third class Harry Bosch of the LAPD and the politics and problems he runs up against. In many ways it is the same, and that is the best part.
The China of the 1990’s of Qiu Xiaolong’s novels is very different than the LA of Michael Connolley’s but the police work is very similar. Now the characters of Chen Coa and Harry Bosch are extremely different. Bosch is your typical American cowboy skirting what is acceptable while trying to put bad guys away and running up against the higher ups of the LA brass while Chen Coa is a by the book poet and scholar that constantly runs up against politics because his by the book style is going to solve the case and get people in trouble.
The interesting part is the similarities as much as the differences. Qiu Xiaolong’s novels are a glimpse into a different world, a different reality, but it isn’t one that is too far away and it is one that is important to understand.