Rethinking Is Not Demonizing
A Conversation with Cao Zhenglu About His Novel Lessons in Democracy
Cao Zhenglu is a well-known contemporary Chinese realist writer. His stories “Na’er” (“There,” about the tragic experience of a union cadre in a state-owned enterprise undergoing “structural reform”) and “Nihong” (“Neon,” about the life and death of a laid-off woman worker) expose the predicament of Chinese workers in the reform period. His novel Wen cangmang (Asking the Boundless—an allusion to a line from one of Mao’s poems, “I ask, on this boundless land, who rules over man’s destiny”) has a Taiwanese-owned factory in Shenzhen as the central theater, around which different characters struggle to understand and play their roles in the larger context of “investment.” This novel has been celebrated as “the first novel that uses Chinese reality to explain Das Kapital.” His most recent novel, Minzhu ke (Lessons in Democracy [Taipei: Taiwan shehui yanjiu zazhishe, 2013]), initiates a further reflection on the Cultural Revolution. Cao’s novel re-narrates the Cultural Revolution in terms of its historical unfolding—its aims, processes, contradictions, and significance, and links this story with the contemporary problem of China’s path today.