I definitely recommend knowing modern Chinese history, especially The Cultural Revolution, before diving into China Dream by Ma Jian.
In modern day China, totalianarism is on the rise. Main character Ma Daode is the director of the China Dream Bureau, which aims to use a device to replace people’s dreams with the China Dream of the Communisty Party by directing the China Dream directly into their brains. But Ma begins to struggle with recurrent nightmarish memories of the Cultural Revolution. Soon, he feels like he’s two separate people: his past self, and his current self, and he begins to worry he will lose his job and status.
I struggled to read the first chapter, which mostly focused on introducing Ma’s character by talking about his many affairs, and by having Ma talk to other people at his work to establish the ideology of the China Dream.
But after the first chapter, I found this an intriguing satire about the Chinese government. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of Ma’s past with his present. The writing itself is straightforward and a little stilted, although that probably has to do with the translation. The further you get into the book, the more absurd it becomes as Ma struggles to keep a grip on reality.
I definitely recommend reading the Afterword, where Ma discusses his motive for writing the book.
Overall, this is a well-done, often brutal and violent satire that reveals the dangers of a totalitarian government, and what happens when you suppress the truth.
VERDICT: 4 stars