Enigma of China (Inspector Chen Series #8)by Qiu Xiaolong
Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is in an unusual situation-a poet by training and inclination, he was assigned by the party to the Police Department after he graduated college, where he has continued to shine. Now he's a rising cadre in the party, in line to take over the top politic position in the police department, while being one of
Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is in an unusual situation-a poet by training and inclination, he was assigned by the party to the Police Department after he graduated college, where he has continued to shine. Now he's a rising cadre in the party, in line to take over the top politic position in the police department, while being one of most respected policeman in the department. Which is why he's brought in by the Party to sign off on the investigation into the death of Zhou Keng.
Zhou Keng-a trusted princeling, son of a major party member-was head of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee when a number of his corrupt practices were exposed on the internet. Removed from his position and placed into extra-legal detention, Zhou apparently hanged himself while under guard. While the Party is anxious to have Zhou's death declared a suicide, and for the renowned Chief Inspector Chen to sign off on that conclusion, the sequence of events don't quite add up. Now Chen will have to decide what to do - investigate the death as a possible homicide and risk angering unseen powerful people, or seek the justice that his position requires him to strive for.
Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong is one of Publishers Weekly's Best Mystery/Thriller Books of 2013
Praise for Enigma of China:
"Superb...This installment approaches the levels of Eliot Pattison and James Church's similarly themed novels, and the series has gotten stronger with age." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"In addition to being a wonderful character study and surprise-packed mystery, Qiu's latest is a many-faceted study of contemporary China.." Booklist
Praise for Don't Cry, Tai Lake:
“When Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department lucks into an all-expenses-paid getaway package, we veteran mystery readers anticipate that more snooping than snoozing will soon be on Chen's vacation itinerary. We are not disappointed.” NPR on Don't Cry, Tai Lake
“Chen's seventh (The Mao Case, 2009, etc.) is again peppered with poetry and told with clarity and elegance. Its portrait of modern China is as intriguing as its slow-rolling whodunit.” Kirkus Reviews on Don't Cry, Tai Lake
“Thought-provoking, poetic and suspenseful.” The Wall Street Journal on Don't Cry, Tai Lake
Read an Excerpt
Enigma of China
An Inspector Chen Novel
By Qiu Xiaolong
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Qiu Xiaolong
All rights reserved.
CHIEF INSPECTOR CHEN CAO, of the Shanghai Police Bureau, was attending a lecture at the Shanghai Writers' Association, sitting in the audience, frowning yet nodding, as if in rhythmic response to the speech.
"The enigma of China. What's that? Well, there's a popular political catchphrase — socialism with Chinese characteristics — which is indeed an umbrella term for many enigmatic things. Things that are called socialist or communist in our Party's newspapers but are in practice actually capitalistic, primitive or crony capitalistic, and utterly materialistic. And feudalistic, in that the children of high cadres — or princes — are themselves high cadres: the 'red trustworthy,' or the successors in our one-party system.
"In spite of the Party propaganda machines chunking away at full throttle, Chinese society is morally, ideologically, and ethically bankrupt, yet still going, going like the rabbit in an American television commercial."
After tapping his pants pocket, looking for a pack of cigarettes, Chen stopped and thought better of it.
It was one of those controversial yet permissible lectures. The speaker was a well-known scholar named Yao Ji, a research law professor at Shanghai Academy of Social Science. Not exactly a dissident, Yao was nonetheless considered a potential troublemaker because of his open criticisms of the problems in society. He had published a number of contentious articles and posted even more unpublishable articles on several blogs online. A gaunt, angular man, he spoke with his hands on the podium, his body leaning slightly forward, and his prominently balding head reflecting the light pouring in through the stained-glass window. He looked like a hallowed figure, as in a time-yellowed painting.
Chen happened to know a thing or two about Yao due to an internal blacklist memo circulated in the police department. But it wasn't his business, Chen told himself. He adjusted the amber-colored glasses along the ridge of his nose and pulled down the French beret just a little. He hoped he looked like anything but a cop. Here and now, it wasn't a good idea to be recognized, even though several members of the association knew him fairly well. For the moment, Chen found himself bugged by the word enigma. It somehow reminded him, distantly, of a painting he'd seen, though he couldn't recall the details. Professor Yao was producing a flurry of concrete examples.
"Indeed, what are the characteristics of China? There are so many different interpretations and definitions. Here are some examples that speak for themselves. A Beijing University professor tells his students: 'Don't come to me if you don't make four hundred million by the time you're forty.' The professor specializes in real estate development, advocating high-priced housing investments in return for the referral fees he receives from developers. For him, and for his students, the only value in the world of red dust is what shines in cash.
"In a reality show, where the participants were discussing how one makes a marriage choice, a young girl stated her manifesto: she would rather weep in a BMW than laugh on a bike. The message of that is unmistakable. A rich husband who can provide her with material luxuries — even if in a loveless marriage — is what she wants. In a recent drunk driving case, the accused actually shouted at the cops, 'My father is Zhang Gang.' Zhang Gang is a high-ranking Party official, in charge of the local police bureau. Sure enough, the cops were hesitant to arrest him, but a passerby recorded the scene with his cell phone and placed the clip on the Internet. Immediately 'My father is Zhang Gang' becomes an Internet catchphrase. ..."
These were all examples of what was really happening in China, Chen thought. But what did they mean?
For the government, "stability" was the main priority. It was declared that the economic and social progress from China's reforms had been achieved because of that stability. Yet the Party authorities were finding it increasingly hard to maintain that stability, despite their efforts to cover up any "unstable" factors.
Professor Yao was coming to his conclusion.
"In a time when the government's legitimacy is disappearing and the Party's ideology disintegrating, I am, as a legal scholar, still trying to hold that last line of defense — a real, independent legal system — hoping against hope for the future of our society."
Chen, his brows knitted more deeply, joined in the applause. As a cop, he found it far from pleasant to listen to such a lecture.
Still, he would rather be sitting here than in a routine political meeting with Party Secretary Li Guohua and other officials at the bureau.
Li, the Party boss of the police bureau, was reaching retirement age, and Chen was unanimously seen as his successor. But for one reason or another, Li had been recently reappointed for another two years. As a sort of compensation, Chen was made the first deputy Party secretary of the bureau and a member of the Shanghai Communist Party Committee.
To those on the outside, it looked like a promotion for Chen, but not in the Party power structure. Some "leading comrades" in the city government, not considering Chen "one of them," didn't want him to be the head of the bureau. They were uncomfortable with the prospect of Chen's taking on such a key position.
So the meeting at the Writers' Association gave him an excuse to not attend the routine Tuesday political studies meeting at the bureau. It would only drive him nuts to sit there while Li mouthed all the political phrases from the Party newspapers.
The subsiding applause pulled him back from his wandering thoughts. Now came the question and answer period. After that, it would be time for the meeting of executive members that they had scheduled weeks earlier.
Chen got up and walked out of the conference hall and out into the building's secluded garden. The association was located in a mansion built by a wealthy businessman in the thirties, then seized by the Party after 1949. For many years, the mansion had been used as the office complex for the Writers' Association.
He walked through the garden, coming to a stop by a tiny pond. He gazed at the white marble angel posing in the middle of the water. It was nothing short of a miracle, he mused, that the statue had survived the Cultural Revolution.
It was all because of Old Bao, the doorkeeper for the association, who, as an ordinary worker, was "politically glorious" and trusted by the Red Guards back then. One dark night during the Cultural Revolution, he moved the statue home in stealth on a tricycle and hid it under his bed. When the Red Guards came to smash anything "bourgeois and decadent," the nude statue, which was on the top of their list, was inexplicably gone. They questioned everybody except Old Bao, who was wearing a red armband and shouting revolutionary slogans more loudly than anyone.
The disappearance of the statue remained a mystery for more than a decade, until after the Cultural Revolution ended. Then Old Bao moved the statue back to its original site in the garden. When people asked him why he had taken such a risk, he simply said that it was his responsibility as doorkeeper to keep things in the mansion from being damaged or destroyed.
Looking up from the pond, Chen saw a man waving at him from the visitor registration desk near the building's entrance. It was none other than Young Bao, the only son of Old Bao. When the old man was about to retire in the midnineties, his son was without a job. Thanks to Chen's suggestion that the son succeed the father, Young Bao came to sit at the same desk, with the same register, with a cup of tea — possibly the same cup — just as Old Bao had for years.
Chen was waving back at Young Bao when he heard footsteps. He turned around to see An, the newly elected head of the association, approaching.
An was a swarthy, medium-built woman in her midforties. She had written a prize-winning novel portraying the vicissitudes of Shanghai from the point of view of an unfortunate, helpless woman who had fallen prey to the relentless changes of the time. The novel was made into a movie, but An had not done anything close to that level since then. Perhaps, Chen contemplated, it was no wonder. In her new position, she enjoyed the privileges of a ministry-ranking Party cadre. She wouldn't want to write anything that could jeopardize that.
"Party Secretary Chen," she said jokingly. It was conventional for people to add one's official title to one's name and to delete the deputy as well.
"Come on, An," he said. "I felt ashamed listening to that lecture as a policeman, let alone as a deputy Party secretary for the police bureau."
"You don't have to talk about that with me, Chen. Back in college, you intended to be a poet, not a cop, but when you graduated, you were state-assigned to the police bureau. It's a story that we all know well. Still, there's no denying that you've done well at your present position. There's no point discussing that, either."
What she did want to discuss with him was a series of lectures being sponsored by the association. All of them were to be delivered by its members, and given the excellent location of the association here, there was no worry about there being a decent turnout. Not only that, there was the possibility of collaborating with Shanghai Oriental TV. Recently, lectures about Chinese classics had become popular. People were too busy making money to read the classics, but when relaxing in front of the TV, they enjoyed lectures with easy explanations and vivid images in the background — like fast food.
"A critic compared these lectures to infant formula, which the audience swallows without having to digest," Chen pointed out.
"It's better than nothing."
"They will not only bring in additional revenue to our organization, but a much-needed boost to literature too. So as an executive member, you should be the one to lecture about the Book of Poetry."
"No, I'm not qualified to do it. I've written nothing but free verse."
Chen understood her reasons for promoting the lecture series. The government subsidy for the association was on the decline, and in spite of An's efforts to generate extra money, such as renting out the attached building to a wine importer in the name of "cultivating an exchange between Chinese and French culture" and breaking down a section of the wall along Julu Road to build a café, the association remained financially strained. Its members were constantly complaining of inadequate service and benefits, and An was under a lot of pressure.
A cicada started chirping, a bit early for the time of the year, during a temporary lull in their conversation.
Chen glanced up to see a young girl moving light-footedly toward them.
Slender, supple, she's so young, / the tip of a cardamom bud / in the early spring. He didn't think she was one of the members, having never seen her at the association before. She was dressed in a scarlet silk Tang jacket, reminiscent of a delicate figure stepping out of a traditional scroll, with "spring waves" rippling in her large clear eyes as in a line of classical poetry, yet holding a modern camera.
"Hi, Chairman An." She greeted An before turning to him with a bright smile, "You're Comrade Chief Inspector Chen, aren't you? I've read your poems. You used to write for us."
"So you are ...?"
"I'm Lianping, of Wenhui Daily. I'm a new hand, covering the literature section for the time being. I would like to ask both of you to continue to give your works to our newspaper."
She handed over her business card, which beneath her name declared her to be "the number-one finance journalist."
Interesting. He'd never seen such a title on a business card. Still, her request was not an unpleasant one.
"Yaqing's out on maternity leave. So I'm stepping in to cover the literature section while she's away." Lianping added, "Please send your poems to me, Chief Inspector Chen."
"Of course, as soon as I have any time for poetry."
For the newspaper nowadays, poetry was nothing but a bunch of plastic flowers tossed into a forgotten corner of an upstart's mansion. Few paid any real attention to it.
Then, as if in response to the cicada, his cell phone started chirping. The number displayed was that of Party Secretary Li.
Chen excused himself and strode off, stopping under a flowering pear tree. Flipping open the phone, he heard agitated voices in the background. Li wasn't alone in the office.
"Come back to the bureau, Chief Inspector Chen. We're having an emergency meeting. Liao and Wei are with me at my office."
Inspector Liao was the head of the homicide squad, and his assistant, Detective Wei, was a veteran police officer who had joined the force at about the same time as Chen.
"I'm attending a meeting at the Writers' Association, Party Secretary Li."
"You are truly versatile, Poet Chen. But ours is a most special case."
Chen detected a sarcastic note in Li's voice, even though the phrase "a most special case" sounded like a typical cliché from the Party boss. Once a sort of mentor to Chen in bureau politics, Li now saw him more and more as a rival.
"Zhou Keng committed suicide while in the Moller Villa Hotel."
"Zhou Keng — I don't think I know who that is."
"You've never heard about him?"
"The name sounds familiar, but sorry, I can't recall anything."
"You must have been working too hard on your poetry, Chief Inspector Chen. Let me put you on speaker phone, and Detective Wei will fill you in."
The deep voice of Wei took over. "Zhou Keng was the director of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee," Wei stated. "About two weeks ago, he was targeted in a 'human-flesh search,' or crowd-sourced investigation, on the Internet. As a result, a number of his corrupt practices were exposed. Zhou was then shuangguied and kept at the hotel, where he hanged himself last night."
Another characteristic of China's socialism was its reliance on shuanggui, a sort of extralegal detention by the Party disciplinary bodies. The practice began as a response to the uncontrollable corruption of the one-party system. Initially, the word meant "two specifics": a Party official implicated in a criminal or corruption probe would be detained in a specific (gui) place and for a specific (gui) period of time. The Chinese constitution stipulated that all forms of detention had to be authorized in a law passed by the National People's Congress, and yet shuanggui took place regularly, despite never having had such authorization. Shuanggui also had no time limit or established legal procedure. From time to time, senior Party officials vanished into shuanggui, and no information was made available to the police or media. In theory, officials caught up in the extrajudicial twilight zone of shuanggui were supposed to merely make themselves available to the Party investigation and, once that was concluded, to be released. More often than not, however, they were handed over to the government prosecutors months or even years later for a show trial and predetermined punishment. The authorities claimed that shuanggui was an essential element of the legal system, not an aberration to be corrected. More importantly, shuanggui prevented any dirty details from being revealed and tarnishing the Party's image, Chen reflected, since everything was under the strict control of Party authorities.
A shuanggui case wasn't in the domain of the police.
"Because of his position and because of the sensitivity of the case, we have to investigate and conclude that it was suicide," Li cut in mechanically, as if suddenly a recording of readings from the People's Daily had been switched on. "The situation is complicated. The Party authorities want us on high alert."
"Since Liao and Wei are working on it, why am I needed?"
"As the most experienced inspector in our bureau, you have to be there. We understand that you're busy, so we'll let the homicide squad take care of it. Most of it. Still, you must serve as a special consultant to the investigation. That will demonstrate our bureau's serious attention to the anticorruption case. Everyone knows that you are our deputy Party secretary."
Excerpted from Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong. Copyright © 2013 Qiu Xiaolong. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
QIU XIAOLONG is a poet and author of several previous novels featuring Inspector Chen as well as Years of Red Dust, a Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2010. Born and raised in Shanghai, Qiu lives with his family in St. Louis, Missouri.
Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai and, since 1988, has lived in St. Louis, Missouri. A poet and a translator, he has an MA and a Ph.D. from Washington University. He is the author of several previous novels featuring Inspector Chen, including the award-winning Death of a Red Heroine and A Case of Two Cities.
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As usual we have beautiful poetry to accompany an Inspector Chen mystery which is more than just an intrigue. There is the dilemma with which Chinese society must deal with in regard to their government and the abuse of power so prevelant in a one party system as well as Chen's morality. A wonderful addition to the series and hope to read more in the future.
Chief Inspector Chen faces more than a riddle in this latest chronicle of life in Shanghai. He has to weigh his role as a cop and party official against the truth. As a result of the supposed suicide of the head of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee following his exposure of massive corruption, Chen is asked to act as a consultant in the police investigation. The premise is that the result would be a verdict of suicide, burying the case, and Chen’s “endorsement” would seal it, he being known as an incorruptible cop. The case, however, develops into far more than what the authorities wish, especially when the detective in charge of the case leans toward a murder charge. The corrupt practices came to light from exposure over the internet, giving the author license to look at the conflict between the loosening of Chinese “democracy” and the conflict with the needs of the one-party system to “harmonize” political crimes. In a way, the novel takes place on three levels. First, it is a straightforward police procedural. Then, as in all of the books in the series, it is a serious look at present-day China. Lastly, there is some degree of romantic interest, introducing a female journalist who not only provides Chen with much assistance in his investigation, but a sexual attraction as well (although, at least to this point, unconsummated). The novel follows the similar pattern of including snippets of Chinese poetry along the way to make points. The one negative comment concerning the novel is the inconclusive ending. But, perhaps, that is to be resolved, along with Chen’s love life, in a future volume. Recommended.
This is my favorite author. I have read all of Chief Inspector Chens mysteries and have been captivated by them all. I really appreciate the glimpses into China then and now that I would never know. Please write faster I have to wait too long between books.
It is timely that as i write, the protesters are blocking the streets of Hong Kong and demanding more control from Beijing. The very premise of Xiaolong's book Enigma of China is a government determined - no matter the cost - to keep harmony in a country that is increasingly dissatisfied with its government. This is the first Inspector Chen novel I have read but it is the eighth book in the series. I was surprised that it didn't feel like I was coming late to the table even when a few events from previous books were mentioned. And I very much enjoyed the mix of poetry within the prose of the story. It reminded me of theme music. If you have ever heard a movie scene without all the background music put it in, it sounds empty. That is how I would imagine Inspector Chen's world would be without poetry. It was not a distraction but an accompaniment to the story that I very much enjoyed. The mystery in this novel is politically intriguing and complex. Inspector Chen does his best to investigate without giving reasons for himself to be investigated. Which brings up one of the reasons I like to read books set in other countries. Poor health keeps me from traveling and I find most travel journals are not entertaining enough for my tastes. So I look for stories written by someone who has actually lived in another country and understands the culture. Those books, like Xiaolong's, allows you to crawl inside that world and experience (for a little while anyway) what it is like to be there. For example, pay attention to Inspector Chen's description of food. I've moved only a few states from where I was born and can't get certain food items that were staples of my childhood diet. You can feel Xiaolong's appreciation for China's traditional food whenever Chen gets hungry; Xiaolong's now lives in St. Louis. So why didn't I give this book - which I obviously enjoyed - five stars? I think it's because I found the ending so uncomfortable. It certainly wasn't the writing or the wrap up in the mystery; Xiaolong satisfies all the necessities on those scores so don't worry you'll know who "done it" in the end. But the very tension that Inspector Chen lives with in China hung heavy on my shoulders as I closed this book. I didn't like it. So I am torn. The reader in me wants to leave a book satisfied and possibly a little educated. Xiaolong did both very well. So I think on that hand it deserves five stars. But I'm agitated by the book. Something in my blood is nervous and unsettled and waiting for the other shoe to drop. How can I possibly move on to another book - any book - feeling this way? I feel like I need a reading palate cleanser. So as a reviewer I have to caution readers this book will make you feel as if you are left hanging. And so I only gave it four stars. I may be splitting hairs with my rating but I think/hope Xiaolong is pleased that his book made me feel both the thrill of a good mystery and the oppression that has brought Hong Kong into the street this week.
Mr. Xiaolong recovered from this novel after "Don't Cry Tai Lake" which until now I could not get any motivation to finish. Although the author seemed to rush it at the end (actually, there's no ending on this one) after an okay start, I still enjoyed reading it. Early novels in the series are much better and it seems the author is now thinking how to end it.