When Handong, the ruthless, wealthy son of Communist party officials, is introduced to Lan Yu, a naïve, working-class architecture student, the attraction between the two young men is instant and all-consuming. Despite their very different lives, they spend their nights together, establishing a deep connection. But when their loyalties are tested, Handong is left questioning his secrets, his choices, and his very identity . . .
Beijing Comrades is the story of a tumultuous love affair set against the sociopolitical unrest of late-eighties China. Due to its depiction of gay sexuality and its critique of the totalitarian government, it was originally published anonymously on an illegal gay-themed website within mainland China.
This riveting and heartbreaking novel quickly developed a cult following, and remains “a meaningful excavation of homophobia and daily life in a rapidly changing China,” and “a traditional story of forbidden love in all the most classic, wonderful, and devastating ways” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
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About the Author
Scott E. Myers is a translator of Chinese who focuses on contemporary queer fiction from the PRC. He holds a BA in philosophy from Hampshire College and master’s degrees in Comparative Literature from New York University, in Chinese Translation from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. A former union organizer with experience in China's workers' rights movement, his translation of the diary of a retail worker in China appears in the book Walmart in China (ILR Press/Cornell University Press, 2011). Recently, he has been translating the work of avant-garde poet and novelist Mu Cao. His translations of Mu’s poems have appeared in Epiphany journal (Winter 2014), and he is currently translating Mu’s 2003 novel Outcast. Originally from California, he is a Mandarin teacher at a high school in Denver, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
He's been gone three years now. A thousand days and nights, and each time I close my eyes there he is before me, the person I see in dreams. But you're dead, I say, reaching out in astonished euphoria to grab a hand or elbow or shoulder. My fingers move toward him, toward the white shirt he wore the day he left, but the image is illusory and like a puff of smoke he's gone. Three years and I still have this dream. The only difference today is that now I know it's a dream even as it's happening, all the way until I open my eyes and the moon floats back silently to the other side of the world.
It's all warm blue sunshine here in Vancouver — so different from Beijing with its brutal sandstorms and stifling heat. They say there are four seasons here, but each one dances with the same radiant sunshine, soft breeze, and gentle, teasing moisture that always seems to linger in the air.
In my dream I am laughing and drinking with the friends of my youth. I am in a car, darting through an endless maze of streets and alleyways. I am outside on a bleak autumn day; I pull him into my arms and kiss him.
When morning comes, the dense mosaic of maple leaves suspended outside my window reminds me where I am. In time I become aware of the young woman sleeping next to me — my new wife. I close my eyes and there he is, calling me back to my dreams, my memories.
My life in China couldn't have been more different from what it is today. Born and raised the spoiled offspring of high-ranking cadres, I spent my early years encased in and protected by the bureaucratic structures of power by which I was surrounded. I was different from the children of other government and Communist Party officials, though, for I was neither ignorant nor incompetent.
After high school I entered the Chinese Literature department of an elite university, but soon discovered that I didn't care for stories and by my second year had begun devoting most of my time to the business venture I'd undertaken with a motley crew of friends. A sizable loan after graduation allowed me to launch my own trading company. Whatever it took to make money, I did; whatever people would buy, I sold: food, clothes, anything I could get my hands on short of human beings and weapons. I would have sold plastic bags of shit if I had thought people would buy them. That was the early 1980s. Trade with Eastern Europe was booming in those days.
My life wasn't as extraordinary as it might seem. There were plenty of others in Beijing with family backgrounds similar to, if not more powerful than, my own. But not everyone played the game as well as I. Five years after graduation, relying on my father's connections and my own wisdom and talent, I had built a company with assets worth millions.
I never thought about getting married back then. I didn't even have a regular sex partner — woman or man — though I did start dating girls my first year of college. I still remember clearly the first girl I slept with. I was crazy about her, with her long, black eyelashes that fluttered around her tiny eyes when she spoke and dimples that formed in the corners of her mouth when she laughed. She was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
The first time I saw her was in the university library, sitting with some shifty-eyed kid who thought he was hot shit. I pretended to read a book, but couldn't take my eyes off her. For a full hour I sat there, imagining what her tits looked like under her blouse and thinking about what my roommate had told me. He said she was two years ahead of us and that all the guys in her department wanted to bang her. That was exactly what I wanted: older girls. To me, that meant they were real women, not little girls. A real woman was what I was after — not just to have fun with, but to tame, control.
When the guys in my dorm found out I liked her, they started giving me a hard time, saying I was in love and all that. She and I played courtship games for a while, but things weren't moving as quickly as I wanted. It wasn't easy for college students to get laid in those days, with their sex-segregated dormitories and half-dozen or more roommates. Each time I got together with that girl, I was so horny my nuts would be on the verge of exploding, but after one or two timid kisses she would bashfully push me away. This went on until one day we skipped class and went to my parents' house in the Chaoyang District where I'd grown up. That's when I fucked her.
She was bubbling over with excitement when we got there. Neither of my parents was home and I came up with some excuse to get rid of the maid. At first we just sat there on the bed, hugging each other and wondering what to do next. Then we kissed for what seemed like an eternity. When I put my hand under her blouse to see how far she would let me go, she threw herself into me, kissing me frantically until finally I was holding her tits. Only then did she screw up her face in protest, pushing me away halfheartedly, whimpering no, and saying she had never done it before. My heart pounded violently. The rejection was like a stimulus pushing me forward and I couldn't have controlled myself if I had wanted to. Clumsily, the words fell out of my mouth — I love you, I'm going to marry you — that kind of bullshit. Ineptly, I pulled off her clothes but left mine on except for my pants, which I pulled down. I lifted her legs and tried sticking it in the way I'd learned from friends and porn videos, but after three or four tries I still couldn't get it right. Finally, she grabbed it and guided it in, but I had no idea what to do once inside and came immediately. Then she started crying — from pain or happiness, who knows? I figured all girls cry when they do it for the first time.
When it was over we lay next to each other in bed and talked about getting married. I was so grateful to her for giving herself to me, so puffed up with masculine pride, that even I was close to tears. When she asked me if I would ever love another woman, of course I said no. But secretly I told myself that even if we got married, she would never be the only woman I slept with. I thought I had found love.
A year later I found out that I wasn't her first. Who knows what number I was? Her being a slut was apparently common knowledge throughout my department. I was the only one who didn't know.
Eventually we broke up. From then on I had a different girl on my arm every week and the inventory of notches on my bedpost grew. I quickly learned that there was nothing particularly difficult about getting girls. The hard part was getting rid of them.
It's not that I wanted to be the kind of guy who fucks and dumps girls. It's just that each girl I met wanted the same thing. It didn't matter if they were rich, snobby bitches or nice, humble girls; it didn't matter if they were outgoing or shy; and it didn't matter if they were bookworms or idiots. At the end of the day, each girl I met had one thing and one thing only on her mind: how to catch a man.
In many ways I loathed these girls who pestered me constantly about getting married, schemed in secrecy about the future, and were generally determined to keep me in chains until my death. These kinds of ill-fated relationships continued until there came a period of time when the mere sight of a woman filled me with terror. It was right around then that an older buddy of mine in the gay circle introduced me to a younger guy, a singer at a karaoke bar. That's when I discovered a new kind of play.
He was the first guy I hooked up with. It's been a long time and I don't remember his name, but the episode is firmly etched in my memory. Light skinned, clean, and pretty, his only defect was the rash of zits spotting his face. Someone had mentioned he was in his early twenties — older than me — but he only looked around eighteen. I didn't ask. It was hard to ask guys like that their age, even more taboo than asking girls.
I went to the bar where he worked and paid for him to do a couple of numbers from his song menu. He belted the songs out like he thought he was some kind of Hong Kong pop star, then sat down for a while. He was shy but not altogether incapable of conversation, and we chatted on and off throughout the night until he got off work and took me back to his place. The moment we stepped out of the bar his entire personality changed. He suddenly became animated, talking incessantly about who knows what until we got to his apartment. I, on the other hand, remained passive, observing that, despite the nonstop chatter, he was being somewhat cautious about what he said. He was trying to figure out if I was interested.
We went to the one-bedroom apartment where he lived. It was a decent place, well furnished and very tidy. I couldn't help but compare it to the filthy college dormitory I lived in at the time. Eight students to a room, each with his own chaotic, disorganized little corner. We called it "The Kennel."
"My parents bought it for me for when I get married one day," he said, looking me up and down with a smile. "Anyway, I'm gonna take a shower. I probably smell like those people in the bar! You gonna take one?"
"Later," I said, sounding aloof and even rude. I was trying to conceal my inner panic. I had always assumed it would be easier with a guy, but I was wrong. The first time with a girl had been much easier.
He took a shower, then came out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a pair of underwear. He had a hot body: short, but lean and muscular. I sat on the couch looking up at him with a combination of fear and desire as he made his way toward me. Everything about him looked different from when I'd first seen him at the bar. Only his hair was the same: dry despite the shower he had taken. He came to a standstill after reaching the couch and looked down at me, hands on his hips, showing me the goods. Then he sat down. Wordlessly, he began slowly taking off my shirt, kissing my neck, and rubbing my crotch while I sat in petrified silence, so desperate to conceal my excitement that I hardly breathed for fear of him noticing.
He kissed my neck for a few moments, then moved his lips down to my chest and began kissing my nipples. Seeing that I was still unresponsive, he stopped what he was doing and looked up at me with a vague look of indignation. He had no idea of the intensity and feverish desire by which I had been gripped. He ignited everything in me: love and tenderness, yes — but also the urge to dominate, even abuse him. I grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the bedroom, where I pushed him onto the bed, then put my hands on his body: young, male flesh. Smooth and hard, completely different from the soft curves of a woman's body. He stood up from the bed, taking me with him. We stood facing each other for a moment, then he got on his knees in front of me. He lowered my pants, then my underwear, and my thick, engorged cock popped out. He laughed.
"It's huge!" His mouth ran up and down the shaft as he spoke. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He was sucking me off like a girl!
Panting unevenly, I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. I had asked girls to do this in the past. Some of them would comply, but there was always something forced about it. Most of the time they would either give up after two or three strokes or their teeth would scrape incessantly along my shaft until even I wanted them to stop. But he was doing it because he liked it, and he did it with studied expertise. His lips moved along my cock while he used his hand to play with his own dick.
"I'm coming!" I practically yelled. His mouth came off me, and with one hand he masturbated me to climax, leaning closer so I could come on his eager face. Never in my life had I experienced such a thing. No sense of obligation. Just pleasure.
It took me a few minutes to pull myself together. When I did, I looked down at him and saw that he was still hard. Pulsing there before me, his erection was somewhat of an embarrassment for me, a visible indictment of my own lack of interest in going down on him. He didn't seem to mind in the slightest though. He just pulled me down to the floor and placed my hand on his cock, guiding it with his own hand to make me jerk him off while using his other hand to play with his asshole. His body trembled all over and he moaned in a way I'd only ever heard from girls. Suddenly, and with a consuming desire that surprised me, I became exceedingly turned on by the idea of seeing him in pleasure. The amateur singer with the pimply face shook frantically and his breath became heavy. Then he came.
It's okay, I consoled myself. It's good to have a variety of experiences. Thoughts like these raced through my mind as I tried to make myself feel better about what had happened. I had long known it was possible for two men to do this sort of thing, but I had no idea how much I would like it.
Lying on the floor together afterward, he told me he was famous in the gay circle and that countless guys were after him. As if reading from a cue card, he added that I was the cutest guy he'd ever done it with, carefully pointing out that while other guys may have had superior technical skills, sex was, overall, better with me. I knew he meant this as a compliment, but hearing this annoyed me. There I was, giving up my virginity twice — first to a girl then to a guy — and both times it was with some used-up slut!
Still, I liked it. Not just the sex but the simplicity of the relationship. To think that two people could have sex within just a few hours of meeting each other. And when you got out of bed there were no guarantees about the future: no expectations, no demands. The next day you could be lovers, you could be friends, or you could pass each other on the street without so much as a word. When I left that spotty-faced singer's apartment, I decided right then and there that it was only fair that I should be able to make up for lost time: I was going to have lots of sex! I embraced the adventurous side of my personality and, relying on the ever- growing stack of banknotes at my disposal, bought and kept any boy or girl I wanted — all the way until I met Lan Yu.
Five years after college I was twenty-seven. Financially successful and well-known in the business world, my arrogance was insufferable. Never one to spend much time alone, if I wasn't in my office working I was hanging out with friends or whomever I happened to be sleeping with at the time.
The day I met Lan Yu, I had been in the office most of the day working on various projects. Just as I started mulling over what I was going to be doing that evening, Liu Zheng walked in. He worked at my company; we had been friends since childhood.
"That Russian guy didn't look too happy when he was leaving the office!" Liu Zheng said with a laugh.
"Fuck," I grumbled. "That guy's really testing my limits. I'm sick of him trying to take advantage of me. As far as I'm concerned, he can stay here and work or he can get the hell out. It's not like he's that good at his job anyway." I thumbed through the stack of paperwork in front of me then looked up again. "Oh, right. We're going bowling at the Imperial tonight. You coming?"
Liu Zheng smiled. "Did you ask Hao Mei to come? I meant to tell you she called this morning to say hi."
"She's not coming," I replied. "I don't want to see her tonight. Listen, do me a favor and get her a present, a little pocketbook or something. I need to figure out how to get her to stop calling me every day."
"Ha!" Liu Zheng laughed. "Had enough of your own girlfriend, huh? Well, listen. A few days ago I went over to Di Street to pick up a few workers. I met this kid. He says he just started university here in Beijing. You interested?"
"Excuse me," I said blithely, "I'm not interested in anyone right now, male or female! How do you always manage to get involved with these sketchy people? They could be full of diseases, you know? It's fuckin' disgusting!" I laughed.
"No, no, no," Liu Zheng assured me. "This one's totally naive: sixteen, just started school, looking for a job. He doesn't talk much, but he obviously needs to make a little money. You should go for it!"
"And you believe what he says?" I laughed. "He's probably just some migrant worker. Beijing is full of those kinds of swindlers these days. He'll probably mug your ass the second he gets in your car!"
Instead of arguing about it, Liu Zheng continued tallying his grievances against the newly hired Russian interpreter, whom he suspected of being more on the Russian negotiator's side than ours.
Liu Zheng was two years older than me, but we had graduated from university the same year. From primary to middle school we were in the same homeroom, but in high school we were in different classes — me in the humanities, him in hard sciences. After high school he didn't have much luck getting into a good university; he was only accepted by a local teachers' college. Not wanting to be a poverty-stricken middle school teacher after graduation, he came to me looking to fill his stomach. I couldn't turn away an old friend, so although I had no need for a physicist, I let him work at my company as associate director of management. He had no real job description. He was just sort of my eyes and ears, an exalted company gopher. I liked him because he was smart, honest, sincere, and not particularly competitive or jealous. But he also had another important function: arranging my tricks. A married man, Liu Zheng was remarkably restrained when it came to his own personal life, but fully tolerated and even encouraged my hedonism. Well worth the price of a sinecure.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Beijing Comrades"
Copyright © 2001 Bei Tong.
Excerpted by permission of Feminist 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.
Table of Contents
Translator's Note Scott E. Myers,
Beijing Comrades Bei Tong,
Postscript to the Revised Tohan Taiwan Edition Bei Tong,
From Identity to Social Protest: The Cultural Politics of Beijing Comrades Petrus Liu,
Translator's Acknowledgments Scott E. Myers,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
ALSO BY FEMINIST PRESS,
ABOUT FEMINIST PRESS,