by Chun Sue
Riverhead Books, 2004
240 pages / $17.00 buy from Amazon
In the world of Chinese lit translated, a common branding method is to plaster somewhere on the cover: China’s Banned Bestseller or The Controversial Banned Sexual Exploration, A New Generation, and so on. Goodreads has at least two lists of China’s Best Banned Books – and it’s become a sort of nerd-o-meter to detect new-to-the-genre readers by seeing if they’re lured to the Banned Bestseller stuff or to more ‘serious’ Classics or Mo Yan (technically banned, but, acceptable).
I was exactly that–new to the genre and this culture’s books–I’ll admit, and the most attractive feature of Chun Sue’s Beijing Doll was it’s bright pink cover and Banned Book synopsis: “Groundless youth,” “Grit,” “Raw,” etc. I’m in, undeterred by the tons of crap reviews calling it “whiny” and “self-indulgent.” Chun Sue makes her living now, apparently, writing fashion and culture articles for Chinese mags, she’s a high school dropout and this memoir-poorly-disguised as novel revolves around that whole experience in and out of school. There’s a fight with her father every ten pages, and her various boyfriends begin to verge on the psychotic after a bit. But this is probably giving you a very odd impression, and all I can say is that it works. It just does.
In three particular memoirs-as-novels translations–Beijing Doll by Chun Sue, Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui, and Candy by Mian Mian–this aloof and bored, work-shy, chocolate loving, and sex craving aesthetic is presented wherein art is achieved merely by relaxed Oscar Wilde-esque lounging. “Rebellious” really only in it’s defiance of parental expectations, rather than any distinct political entity, Chun Sue shies away from broad political statement (beyond a passion for Western Punk), probably by design.
I read this as a highly impressionable teenager who within a month of picking it up was arrested for shoplifting chocolate. I was quite literally arrested with a copy of Beijing Doll in my hands. Her “cute” face of more interest than her punk sort-of-politics, but nonetheless I felt “totally” influenced by the whole thing. Candy by Mian Mian: another influence on my aspirations of gradual dilution by chocolate and drugs. The whole of this trilogy of sister memoirs is “deliciously scandalous,” sure, but also extremely youthful and revealing in this youthfulness. It’s energy is spawned from volatility, changing times, and techno-confusion. And every Chinese millennial I’ve met has had a little Chun Sue in her.