Dragon Bones (Liu Hulan Series #3)

Dragon Bones (Liu Hulan Series #3)

3.8 31
by Lisa See

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When the body of an American archaeologist is found floating in the Yangzi River, Ministry of Public Security agent Liu Hulan and her husband, American attorney David Stark, are dispatched to Site 518 to investigate. As Hulan scrutinizes this death—or is it a murder?—David, on behalf of the National Relics Bureau, tries to discover who has stolen from the


When the body of an American archaeologist is found floating in the Yangzi River, Ministry of Public Security agent Liu Hulan and her husband, American attorney David Stark, are dispatched to Site 518 to investigate. As Hulan scrutinizes this death—or is it a murder?—David, on behalf of the National Relics Bureau, tries to discover who has stolen from the site an artifact that may prove to the world China’s claim that it is the oldest uninterrupted civilization on earth. This artifact is not only an object of great monetary value but one that is emblematic of the very soul of China. Everyone—from the Chinese government, to a religious cult, to an unscrupulous American art collector—wants this relic, and some, it seems, may be willing to kill to get it. At stake in this investigation is control of China’s history and national pride, and even stability between China and the United States.
The troubled Hulan must overcome her own fears of failure, while David tries desperately to break through the shell that has built up around his wife. As Hulan and David are enmeshed in international schemes for power and the turbulence of their own relationship, these hunters after the truth become the hunted—in a fast-driving narrative set against the backdrop of the building of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest and most expensive project China has undertaken since the Great Wall and the subject of great international debate. It is here, in the heart of the Three Gorges, that David and Hulan will battle their enemies and their own natures to see who will win China’s dragon bones.
Dragon Bones combines ancient myth with contemporary anxieties concerning religious fanaticism and terrorism to tell a story of love, betrayal, history, ecology, greed—and gory murder.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
This is not your ordinary art-theft thriller. Beginning with a horrific mob scene that complicates and possibly threatens the life of its already somewhat troubled heroine, Dragon Bones then sprawls across a continent, exploring the subtleties of Chinese politics, the official and actual Chinese attitudes toward foreigners, and the building of the vast Three Gorges Dam and how it is affecting the countryside, the inhabitants and local and national politics. Lisa See's novel also takes up the frightening power of a rising religious cult and for good measure supplies a mordant view of the international fine-arts auction world. — Michael Kernan
Publishers Weekly
The controversial construction of a massive dam on the Yangzi River is the backdrop for the latest adventures of Liu Hulan, inspector in the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing, and her husband, American lawyer David Stark, familiar to readers of Flower Net and The Interior. Many years in construction, the Three Gorges Dam will benefit millions of people, but it will also bury untold archeological wealth. At the start of this complex, atmospheric thriller, Hulan is emotionally estranged from David after their young daughter's death from meningitis, for which she blames herself. Officially, she is scrutinizing a reactionary cult, the All-Patriotic Society, when she is sent to investigate the murder by drowning of a young American archeologist, a man who may have stolen ancient artifacts from the dam site. David accompanies her and they begin to repair their relationship, but the body count mounts and the sinister All-Patriotic Society leader, Xiao Da, rallies his followers against the dam. The tension reaches the breaking point at an auction in Hong Kong at which the most precious artifacts are offered for sale; soon after, Hulan and David are fighting for their lives in dark, slimy-walled caves alongside the Yangzi. The melodramatic conclusion has none of the elegance of the prologue, which casually but exquisitely notes the progress of the archeologist's decaying body along the river, through narrows and bays beyond the magnificent gorges. But See succeeds in widening the reader's knowledge about the politics and culture of contemporary China while racing along with an absorbing story. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. (May 27) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her third mystery thriller featuring Chinese inspector Liu Hulan (after Flower Net and The Interior), See does for Chinese antiquities what Elizabeth Peters did for the Dead Sea Scrolls in The Dead Sea Cipher. Since the death of her daughter, Hulan has buried herself in her work at the Ministry of Public Security, obsessed with bringing in members of the All-Patriotic Society. Her husband, American attorney David Stark, has found solace in his own caseload. When the body of an American archaeologist is found in Yangzi River near the Three Rivers Dam, Hulan is sent to investigate. Since numerous antiquities seem to have also disappeared from the archaeological work site, David accompanies her. Soon there are more fatalities, all marked by ritualistic similarities. Hulan and David must overcome their estrangement and work together to solve the crimes. In a land where bribery and corruption are the norm, there are many suspects. The novel flows beautifully, engaging readers in the mystery while gently introducing them to China's rich cultural history. For all public libraries.-Nanci Milone Hill, Lucius Beebe Memorial Lib., Wakefield, MA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In their third outing, which can be read independently of Flower Net (1998) and The Interior (1999, both HarperCollins), Inspector Liu Hulan of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and her American husband, attorney David Stark, are sent from Beijing to the Three Gorges Dam construction site. The plot involves searching for a written record of 5000 years of continuous civilization in China, an ancient myth, the smuggling and sale of valuable artifacts in Hong Kong, the murder of several members of an international crew of archaeologists, and the increasing popularity of a Falun-Gong-like cult, all set against the backdrop of the largest engineering project ever. Some actions in the last 50 pages call for suspension of disbelief, but up to that point this is another good read, especially for Sinophiles. There is one caveat: all of the Chinese speak with double meanings and are smart and crafty, while almost all of the Americans are portrayed as naive, obvious, stupid, or all three until the very end of the book.-Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Chinese police inspector and her American lawyer husband venture up the Yangtze River to investigate murder and corruption. This is the third in See's series (Flower Net; The Interior, not reviewed) set in the Middle Kingdom, and it drags a fair amount of baggage forward. Heroine Liu Hulan is a tough cookie who makes things difficult for the criminals she goes after. But she also makes them tricky, to say the least, for her husband David Stark, American lawyer in private practice in Beijing and frequent investigative partner of Hulan's. At the outset here, Hulan is monitoring a Tiananmen Square demonstration of a Falun Gong-ish cult when one of the demonstrators pulls a knife and tries to kill her daughter in a sign of protest. Hulan shoots and kills the mother-the right thing to do, perhaps, but still not something her bosses are particularly happy about. Soon, Hulan and Stark are heading up the Yangtze, to the construction site of the massive Three Gorges Dam, to look into the death of an American archaeologist. While the two do what they can to ferret out the culprits behind the murder (soon to be murders) they've been sent to look into, and the theft of artifacts from nearby digs, the oppressive memory of their shared history (especially the tragic death of their child) keeps tripping up the forward momentum of their stalled relationship-and, unfortunately, of See's story as well, though for the first third or so, the author makes good suspense out of her nuanced integration of the Chinese and American cultures, and of the massive, Pharaonic (and real-life) Three Gorges Dam. Moderately engaging whodunit that becomes whocaresaboutit before the end. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra/SandraDijkstra Literary Agency
From the Publisher
“Stays with you long after the conventional thriller is forgotten.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Lisa See is one of the classier practitioners of . . . the international thriller. . . . She draws her characters . . . with convincing depth, and offers up documentary social detail that reeks of freshly raked muck. See’s China is as vivid as Upton Sinclair’s Chicago.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Mixing history, myths, and current events, Dragon Bones is an extraordinarily rich novel. It reveals the emotional and economical entanglement of China with the West, and tells a story of violence, lust, greed, fear, and desperation. The novel not only is a page-turner but is also timely.”
Author of Waiting and The Crazed

“The novel flows beautifully, engaging readers in the mystery while gently introducing them to China’s rich cultural history. . . . See does for Chinese antiquities what Elizabeth Peters did for the Dead Sea Scrolls in The Dead Sea Cipher.”
—Library Journal

“An exciting murder mystery . . . This book truly captures man’s constant desire for material gain, and one unusual detective’s goal to right the wrongs in her world.”
Colorado Springs Independent

“See succeeds in widening the reader’s knowledge about the politics and culture of contemporary China while racing along with an absorbing story.”
Publishers Weekly

“[An] absorbing portrait of China.”
Lansing Star Journal (MI)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Liu Hulan Series , #3
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The sun still hadn't crested over the roofs of the stately buildings on the eastern edge of Tiananmen Square when Inspector Liu Hulan of the Ministry of Public Security gazed across a sea of people gathered in the huge cement expanse for the first public assembly of the All-Patriotic Society ever to be held in Beijing. Until today, the All-Patriotic Society's clandestine meetings had taken place mostly in the heart of the country, in towns and villages along the Yellow River. Although the cult had recently gained a foothold in the capital, no one had expected a show as brazen as this.

All religious cults were against the law in China, and it was part of Hulan's job to do what she could to eradicate them, but she had learned of this early-morning rally only fifteen hours ago from a man she'd arrested for stealing from his work unit so that he might make a more sizable donation to the Society. After several impromptu discussions at the ministry, it was decided to let the meeting go forward. If a high-ranking All-Patriotic Society member could be drawn out and identified, then Hulan could make a very public arrest, which might prove fruitful in many ways.

Hulan had arrived here at three this morning and had supervised the stationing of policemen and soldiers around the perimeter of the square. She had hoped that an official presence would serve as a deterrent to converts and help keep the numbers down, but as far as she could see no one had turned back. The adherents were orderly, polite, obedient, and simply paid no attention to the uniformed men and women with automatic rifles slung over their shoulders. If everyone remained peaceful during the promised qi gong exercises, chanting, and inspirational sermon, then there was no reason for anyone to get hurt. Sure, photos would be taken and a few people held for questioning, but the plain fact was that the Ministry of Public Security wasn't prepared on such short notice to detain more than a thousand people. There had been enough time, however, for the government to request that a camera crew from a state-run television station cover the event, and Hulan felt a certain amount of confusion about this.

Five years ago she had made a deal with some of the most powerful men in her country, who secretly guided China from a compound situated across the lake from where Hulan lived. She had been brought before them at the conclusion of the Knight International case, in which more than 150 women had lost their lives in a horrible fire in an American-owned toy factory operating deep in China's interior. The "men across the lake," as Hulan referred to them, told her they would let her marry the American attorney David Stark and give birth to her half-breed daughter-both of which were questionable actions under Chinese law and custom. They told her they would keep her name out of the media for good or bad. In exchange, Hulan had to promise she would follow the party line, obey orders without question, eliminate her eccentric methods, and keep the pact a secret among her, the men across the lake, and her mentor and superior, Vice Minister Zai. Hulan had agreed to the conditions, hoping they would allow her to have the private life she'd always longed for. But of course the game had changed. Her daughter had died and her marriage to David . . .

She forced herself not to think of that right now. Instead she turned her attention back to the television crew. They had a good vantage point on the steps of the Great Hall of the People, from which they could survey the entire square. Hulan recognized one of the reporters-a woman with a shrill voice who for many years had been the eager mouthpiece of the government. Her words carried on the humid air like rotting garbage, insisting that the government was not instigating a crackdown against the All-Patriotic Society but showing its tolerance by letting the group meet here today.

Hulan sighed. She would need to take extra care as she moved through the crowd, because she didn't want to be noticed by the camera crew. Still, Liu Hulan was easy to spot amid the other Beijingers here this morning. It wasn't that she dressed in a colorful way, for these days Beijing's residents embraced the most vibrant colors they could find. It wasn't that she wore designer clothes, although she certainly could afford to shop at any of the foreign-designer boutiques now in the city. Rather, she dressed in the most exquisite clothes of the finest silks, all of which had once belonged to her mother, her grandmother, or her other colorful ancestors. Hulan's outfits spoke to the people about her money, taste, social position, and culture; not only did she work for the Ministry of Public Security-perhaps the most feared of China's law enforcement agencies-but she also had to be a Red Princess, the wealthy daughter or granddaughter of someone who had gone on the Long March with Mao Zedong.

Hulan had been born in Beijing and had the happy and privileged upbringing befitting the child of two of China's most esteemed personages. At the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, when Hulan was twelve, she'd been sent to the countryside to "learn from the peasants." She had been brought back to Beijing two years later to denounce her father as part of an ill-conceived effort to save her mother's life. Hulan's father had been sent to labor camp, and Hulan, at age fourteen, had been sent abroad to the United States. After boarding school, college, and law school, Hulan had become an associate at Phillips & MacKenzie, where she met David. They'd fallen in love, had lived together, and then twelve years ago she'd come back to China. Seven years later, Hulan and David had been brought together here in Beijing to work on two difficult and heartbreaking cases. In the first, Hulan's father-who had been fully rehabilitated and had become a high-ranking cadre-had died and the nation had held her responsible. The second was the Knight International case, which had begun as an investigation into suspicious working conditions and had ended in the deadly conflagration. Hulan herself had nearly died that day, and for a long time there was great concern for the well-being of her unborn child. The men across the lake successfully controlled the story of Hulan's role in that case. But although Hulan had been spared another round of public criticism, she'd blamed herself for the many deaths. She had been named for a martyr of the revolution, she told David at the time. She should have done more.

Now Hulan paced along the edges of the crowd, searching for the faces of known troublemakers who could be rounded up later. At one point she caught sight of Neighborhood Committee Director Zhang, the old woman who kept track of all the comings and goings in Hulan's hutong neighborhood. Madame Zhang had to know that this group was banned, but she was here now with her eyes closed and her wizened face rapt with spiritual feeling. Hulan should have suspected she might show up. Madame Zhang, who had been on the cutting edge of the yang ge dance craze a few years ago, would have to be up to the minute with the All-Patriotic Society and its appealingly accessible rituals.

In a country where aphorisms and slogans had forever been used to teach, influence, and coerce, the members of the All-Patriotic Society assembled here today were already well-versed in a variety of seemingly innocuous phrases, which they began chanting. "Be reverent," they intoned again and again before they switched to "The river brings us life." No one seemed frightened or anxious. Why should they be? They were not members of the Falun Gong, which was not permitted to use the square under any circumstances. They were reverent, and as such they felt righteous and safe.

Hulan circulated until she spotted a woman with a little girl about four years old. They looked poor-perhaps the woman had come from the countryside to the capital to look for work. If so, her presence in the city was against the law, which may have accounted for the anxious way she kept looking around. But there was something else about her that was troubling. Her hair was unkempt, and not only were her clothes dirty but the buttons on her blouse were all off by one. Still, the daughter was impeccably clean and beautifully turned out given their circumstances. The woman squatted on the ground so that she was eye-level with her daughter. Her hands worried over every inch of the girl, tweaking the neckline of her T-shirt, pulling at the hems of her shorts, and retying her red tennis shoes. All the while the little girl-her cheeks shiny and pink-chattered nonstop about nothing important, just Mama this and Mama that. A bag lay next to them. Hulan imagined what was

inside-perhaps an orange for the girl, maybe another change of clothes, a toy if they had enough money. An ache began in Hulan's chest, and she looked away.

At 6:15, a man jumped up on a small wooden platform and held up his hands for silence. He looked to be about thirty, but he could have been much older. He was ruggedly handsome, and his hair was a bit longer than the custom. As the crowd quieted, he dropped one hand and held himself in a posture reminiscent of Mao as a young revolutionary. "I am Tang Wenting, a lieutenant of the All-Patriotic Society."

Hulan could have arrested him right then, but she wanted to hear what he had to say. She'd use his speech against him later, during interrogations.

"We meet in the light of Xiao Da's grace," Tang Wenting announced.

"Xiao Da, Xiao Da, Xiao Da," the followers murmured, and the sound echoed beautifully through the square.

As the lieutenant let the name wash over him, Hulan wondered not for the first time about the mysterious Xiao Da, the self-proclaimed leader of the All-Patriotic Society, who'd pulled off a semi-miracle in keeping his true identity a secret in a nation where there were no secrets. The fact that Xiao Da had been able to move through the countryside holding underground meetings for the last three years not only increased his legend but also exasperated the government. Numerous arrests had been made and many people sentenced to labor camp. On several occasions Hulan had tried to negotiate lesser sentences in exchange for the identity of Xiao Da, knowing that once he was gone the group would collapse. But either no one knew Xiao Da's identity or they weren't yet ready to give him up. It was all very annoying. Even his name irritated Hulan. Xiao Da-Little Big-what was that supposed to mean anyway?

Hulan's eyes sought out the little girl she'd seen before. The mother was holding her daughter tightly by the waist, forcing her to watch the lieutenant. The woman had her lips to one of the girl's ears and was whispering intensely. The child's eyes were wide not with excitement but with fear, though Hulan couldn't understand why. The girl stayed quiet, refusing to say a word against the whispered barrage and remaining still within her mother's grip, which seemed to tighten as the All-Patriotic Society lieutenant droned on. It occurred to Hulan that maybe the woman wasn't a country bumpkin or even a true Society follower at all, just a mother who had lost her connection to the real world.

"Our political leaders tell us to give up the old ways," Tang Wenting lectured. "They tell us, 'To get rich is glorious!' But Xiao Da says we must say no to these new ways. We must repudiate technology and social progress, and go back to honoring old traditions and old values. . . ."

Fifteen minutes later, the sun broke across the square and Hulan could see its instantaneous effect on the religious adherents. Beijing languished in the midst of Fu Tian, that debilitating period of Give-Up Weather between July and August, when the heat and humidity were at their most ominous and oppressive. Unprotected as it was, Tiananmen was not a place to be during the heat of the day. It was time to head home or to work.

The lieutenant caught the subtle change in the crowd. "Before you go, I have a few words from Xiao Da's own lips that he asked me to impart to you. Soon Xiao Da will step out of the darkness and into the light. When he does, he will bring with him an object that will unite all of the Chinese people. With it in his hand, evil will be punished. Those who are reverent will triumph. Together we will follow Xiao Da."

This kind of rhetoric was exactly why the government perceived the All-Patriotic Society to be a threat.

The young man bent his head piously as voices throughout the square sang out, "Xiao Da, Xiao Da, Xiao Da."

He looked up and said, "Now is the time to remember our tributes. Nine Virtues, Nine Grades, Nine Tributes."

The All-Patriotic Society had grown quickly in three years. Although the group counted fewer members than the Falun Gong, the Ministry of Public Security had internal estimates of 20 million followers, nearly all of whom lived in the countryside. Once initiated, they donated their hard-earned salaries and sometimes their savings to the sect, based on a secret tithing scale involving nine grades. A lot of money was ending up in Xiao Da's pocket, and Hulan didn't want that custom to take hold in Beijing. She turned to signal to the policemen to round up anyone holding a collection basket.

Suddenly she heard a woman's voice scream, "For Xiao Da!"

Hulan spun around. The mother who moments before had been whispering into her daughter's ear now stood fully erect, her neck stretched so she could see above the crowd to the lieutenant. In one hand she held on to the back of her daughter's T-shirt; in the other she held a cleaver, which she must have brought with her in her bag. The blade was a good ten centimeters wide.

Everyone here was Chinese; all knew from experience when something bad was going to happen. People started to edge away and push each other to get out of there. For a moment Hulan lost sight of the mother and daughter altogether. She heard Tang Wenting's voice shout out: "Be calm! Xiao Da would want you all to be calm!"

Miraculously, the crowd responded to his words, slowing down, quieting.

"We need to help our sister," he went on. "Tell me, sister! What do you want to tell Xiao Da? Have you come to renounce alcohol, tobacco, and fornication? We are all with you!"

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of ten novels as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. Some of her most famous books include Dreams of Joy, Shanghai Girls, Peony in Love, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which was adapted into a movie. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She lives in Los Angeles.

Brief Biography

Los Angeles, California
Date of Birth:
February 18, 1955
Place of Birth:
Paris, France
B.A., Loyola Marymount University, 1979

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Dragon Bones (Liu Hulan Series #3) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An interesting tale!
Judyron More than 1 year ago
All 3 in this series were great. Her knowledge of China is the best, The history the geography - you feel you are there w/ the characters. Character development at its Best
MrsJason More than 1 year ago
Lisa See is a great author but book #2 and #3 of her Liu Hulan series are not the greatest efforts. But I still love her as an author!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and loved it so I picked Dragon Bones up off a bargain shelf. I loved it. It weaves China's political and cultural history in with the story seamlessly so that you're learning something and don't realize it. Lisa See has become one of my favorite writers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book by Lisa See that I read. I liked it so well that I sought others at once. I'm quite interested in China, and the book is well-written, so I couldn't help but enjoy it. I recommend it to anyone who likes suspense novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whose books i dont wish to read or visit what ever happened to stories that have a person wanting a passport and mini translator? Even the rich people who live there are in trouble skip it and read good earth by buck
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PattiBacon More than 1 year ago
I have read every single one of Lisa See's books and just finished all three of the Hulan Series--The Interior, Flower Net, and Dragon Bones. I am not really a mystery reader, but these three are just excellent and combine history, intrigue, and romance in each of them. Lisa See is a wonderful writer that takes readers on a journey of culture and into windows of the human soul in her stories. I highly recommend reading all three of these books in their 1, 2, and 3 series order as they are a continuum. For those that are unfamiliar with Lisa See's works, I urge you to give her books a read. She is just an exceptional writer of the Chinese culture and of human relationships.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My husband read this and loved it. He a a big fan of dectective fiction, especially when there are interesting quirks about the detective as there are here.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Am not entertained by grafic descriptions and misery so willl not continue with this author. m.a.@sparta
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