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The voice of Tiananmen

China is booming, yet deafening silences remain in its official history. Now, Ma Jian has produced an account of the 1989 Tiananmen protests which offers a model of how a modern Chinese literature alive to history might be written. I read the novel and talked to its author

By Tom Chatfield   July 2008

Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (Chatto & Windus, £17.99)

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If the Tiananmen protests hadn’t failed in 1989,” Ma Jian tells me, “there wouldn’t be this book. I wanted through it to find out how such a huge democratic movement could collapse.” The book in question is Beijing Coma, a story that has taken ten years to write and another two to translate, which anatomises this most poignant of doomed revolutions with an attention to detail that is almost orchestral—a beautiful, bewildering cacophony of voices and deeds. “From the outside,” Ma says,…

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