Latest Issue

From people to person

In China, collectivist ideals are enshrined in the very language, so it is not surprising that rebellion often takes a linguistic form. These two novels examine the struggle for self-expression in modern China

By Tom Chatfield   July 2007

Serve the People!, by Yan Lianke (Constable, £6.99)

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto and Windus, £12.99) The five characters spoken “Wei Ren Min Fu Wu” are among the most reproduced and recognisable in Mandarin Chinese. Their literal translation is “act people citizens submit must,” but the phrase is invariably rendered in English as “Serve the people!” It was coined by Mao Zedong in a speech in 1944, and at his command was blazoned in scarlet and gold on a huge screen in the heart of Beijing when the People’s Republic was founded in 1949. It’s…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect