The Explosion Chronicles

The Explosion Chronicles


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Man Booker International finalist Yan Lianke has been lauded for his imaginative satire and insightful cultural critique as "one of China’s greatest living authors" (Guardian). His internationally bestselling new novel, The Explosion Chronicles, follows the excessive expansion of a rural community from small village to megalopolis.

With the Yi River on one side and the Balou Mountains on the other, the village of Explosion was founded more than a millennium ago by refugees fleeing a seismic volcanic eruption. But in the post-Mao era the name takes on a new significance as the community grows explosively from a small village to a vast metropolis. Behind this rapid expansion are members of the community’s three major families, including the four Kong brothers; Zhu Ying, the daughter of the former village chief; and Cheng Qing, who starts out as a secretary and goes on to become a powerful political and business figure. Linked together by a complex web of loyalty, betrayal, desire, and ambition, these figures are the driving force behind their hometown’s transformation into an urban superpower.

Brimming with absurdity, intelligence, and wit, The Explosion Chronicles considers the high stakes of passion and power, the consequences of corruption and greed, the polarizing dynamics of love and hate between families, as well as humankind’s resourcefulness through the vicissitudes of life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802125828
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 10/04/2016
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Yan Lianke is the author of numerous short story collections and novels, including The Four Books, Lenin's Kisses, Serve the People!, and Dream of Ding Village, which was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and adapted into a film. He was awarded two of China’s most prestigious literary honors, the Lu Xun and the Lao She prizes.

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Prefatory Material


Esteemed readers, permit me to use this Note to clarify a few points. If these thoughts are not to your liking, feel free to curse me but please don't criticize our other comrades on the Chronicle Committee.

1) I agreed to put aside the novel on which I was working to accept the role of author and editor of The Explosion Chronicles. Apart from the fact that I grew up in Explosion, another motivation (or tacit motivation) for this decision was the enormous financial compensation that Explosion City offered me — a sum so large it left me speechless. I hope readers will forgive me, but I really needed the money, just as a man with too much testosterone needs a woman. The mayor sent his secretary to Beijing to visit me. "Mr. Yan, the mayor says you should tell us how much you want, and as long as you don't claim all of the city's banks, we are willing to agree to anything." I was overwhelmed by this offer, and was captivated by the promise of riches. Please don't ask me how much I ended up earning for writing and editing this. All I can say is that after completing The Explosion Chronicles, I'll never again need to worry about money — whether it be to purchase a house or a luxury car, or even for reputation and social status.

I therefore agreed to serve as the author and editor of The Explosion Chronicles. I spent quite a bit of time and effort on this project, not only for the sake of my readers and for Explosion City, but also to earn the vast sum of money specified in the contract.

2) Before I began work on The Explosion Chronicles, Mayor Kong Mingliang and the entire editorial committee agreed to my three requests: (A) That I would use only materials and facts I could trust, and reserved the right to decline any examples or requests people might bring me. (B) Given that I am a novelist and a novelist's primary significance lies in a process of defamiliarization, I wanted to write these chronicles in my own fashion, and not simply copy the format and narrative conventions of traditional Chinese historical chronicles. (C) I asked that the editorial committee assign me a cute and clever secretary, ideally a recent humanities major.

3) Regardless of how Explosion City decides to print and publish these chronicles, the city and I, as the primary author, will jointly hold the copyright, but if Explosion decides to stop printing the text, I will retain exclusive rights over any subsequent reprintings.

4) The authorial and financial rights for all translations (including translation into traditional characters for Hong Kong and Taiwan editions of the work), adaptations for film or other media, Internet serialization, and other adaptions will be retained by me, Yan Lianke, as the primary author, and Explosion City and the members of the editorial board will relinquish further rights.

And so on, and so forth.

Dear readers, I have recorded all of this, though ordinarily it should not have been made public, just as a gentleman should not air his dirty laundry. Go ahead and read it, and curse me. Any of you can stand on that arch of chastity and curse me for being a prostitute, a whore, and a novelist completely lacking integrity. You may curse me to death and drown me in an ocean of spittle — but before you bury me, I have but one request, like a criminal sentenced to death who wishes to make a final statement:

Read these chronicles! Even if you read only a few pages, it will be as if you deposited a flower on my grave!


Honorary director: Kong Mingliang, mayor of Explosion City

Acting director, author, and editor: Yan Lianke, author and professor at People's University, Beijing

Associate director: Kong Mingguang, professor at the Municipal Teachers College, and former chair of the editorial board of the The Explosion County Chronicles

Members of the editorial board (listed by the stroke order of their surname):

Kong Mingyao: A famous industrialist from Explosion City

Chen Yi: Professor at the Municipal Teachers College

Li Jinjin: Cadre in the Municipal Culture Bureau and folklore expert

He Zhaojin: High school language teacher

Su Dianshi: Lecturer at the Municipal Education Academy

Ouyang Zhi: Female, worker

Yang Xicheng: Worker

Zhao Ming: Video artist for the municipal literary federation

Graphics: Luo Zhaolin

Copyeditor: Jin Jingmao

Treasurers: Liang Guodong, Dang Xueping


1) August 2007, the municipal government decided to compile The Explosion Chronicles, for which it agreed to consult The Explosion City Local Gazetteers.

2) September 2007, the editorial board of The Explosion Chronicles was constituted and headed by Kong Mingguang, a professor at the Municipal Teachers College.

3) October 2007, the editorial board held its first meeting and began the formal editing process, using existing local gazetteers as its foundation.

4) March 2008, the process of collecting documents was basically complete.

5) March 2009, the first draft was written and printed, and then distributed to all of the county departments for review and comment.

6) December 2009, The Explosion Chronicles was sent to the printers.

7) February 2010, printing was completed.

8) October 2010, in order to help The Explosion Chronicles circulate more widely, the municipal government decided to hire a famous local author to undertake a thorough rewrite, to make it an outstanding literary achievement. The objective was to document Explosion's transformation from a village into a town, from a town into a city, and from a city into a provincial-level megalopolis, while also celebrating Explosion's heroes, personalities, and citizens.

9) October 10, 2010, the renowned author Yan Lianke returned to his hometown, formally took over as head of the The Explosion Chronicles editorial board, and immediately got to work.

10) Late November 2010, after completing extensive research, interviews, and reflection, Yan Lianke offered his suggestions on how The Explosion Chronicles might be revised, and requested that the text be entirely rewritten from an individual's point of view. In the end, this suggestion was approved by the mayor.

11) February 2011, Yan Lianke drafted a new narrative frame for the work.

12) October 2011, he began the formal process of rewriting and editing The Explosion Chronicles.

13) March 2012, while Yan Lianke was serving as a foreign writer in residence at Hong Kong Baptist University, he finished the majority of The Explosion Chronicles.

14) August 2012, the first draft of The Explosion Chronicles was completed.

15) September 2012, the manuscript of The Explosion Chronicles was distributed to the Explosion municipal government and to all levels of society, to read and evaluate. The work incited an uproar and received a steady string of critiques and denunciations, such that it became a legendary metropolitan chronicle that was privately circulated throughout Explosion.

16) 2013, The Explosion Chronicles was released in Chinese simultaneously by publishers in Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, but virtually all of the cadres, administrators, intellectuals, and common people of Explosion refused to recognize this fantastic and absurd text, which incited an unprecedented antihistorical movement. As a result, Yan Lianke was prohibited from ever returning to Explosion, where he had grown up.


Geographic Transformation (1)


Song dynasty

During the Northern Song, the former capital, Luoyang, was located 350 kilometers from the new capital, Bianliang (present-day Kaifeng); and 70 kilometers west of Luoyang was Gaoyi county, where beneath the peaks of Funiu Mountain the earth's crust was still molten. The volcano erupted and the smoke did not disperse for several months. At the time, people did not know anything about the earth's crust or tectonic plates, and so they simply said that the land itself was rupturing and exploding. The people living in the vicinity of the volcano ran for their lives when the ground fractured. Some of them fled to the Balou mountain range more than a hundred li away, where they settled down and began farming. This community came to be known as Explosion Village, in commemoration of the mass migration that had been precipitated by the earth's fracturing and explosion.

Yuan dynasty

When Explosion Village was first founded, it had about a hundred residents. Because the village had the Yi River in front and the Balou mountain range in back, and because its fields were wide and flat, farmers would often gather there to barter and to buy and sell goods. As a result, the village gradually became a small marketplace.

Ming dynasty

The village's population grew to over five hundred, with most of the residents surnamed either Kong or Zhu. Many of them claimed to be descendants of Confucius, though there are no genealogical records to corroborate this claim. The village had a custom whereby on market day — which was held on the first, eleventh, and twenty-first of each month — everyone would congregate to buy and sell goods.

Qing dynasty

During the Qing, the formerly prosperous society began to decline, and there were revolts throughout central China. After the Li Zicheng peasant uprising, farmers living in Explosion and surrounding areas were subjected to theft and looting. When the farmers went to tend their crops and livestock, they were robbed. Moreover, at the time there had been a drought lasting several years, as a result of which the wheat sprouts produced no grain and plants produced no flowers. The residents of Explosion couldn't survive and fled west to Shaanxi, Gansu, and Xinjiang provinces. Explosion Village was left virtually deserted and was effectively destroyed.

The Republican period

As people came and went, Explosion became repopulated, and the village once again began to thrive. According to Gaoyi county gazetteers, by this point Explosion had several hundred residents, and given that there were several nearby waterways and transportation was convenient, the town became a market center in the region, with an industrious and upright atmosphere. In the middle of the Republican period, after large coal reserves were discovered in neighboring counties, a railway line was extended to the region, and a train station was constructed only twenty li away. Explosion soon lost its former tranquillity and developed quickly, as the natural village was integrated into the modern social village system.


After the founding of new China in 1949, the history of Explosion Village replicated in miniature the pain and prosperity undergone by the nation itself. The village experienced attacks on local tyrants during China's rural revolution, as well as the shock and ecstasy of the land redistribution movement. There was one incident in which the wife and two concubines of local landlord Zhu were reassigned to three farmworkers. One of these farmworkers was surnamed Kong — he was the grandfather of Explosion's future mayor, Kong Mingliang — and after receiving the landlord's second concubine, he took her to bed on the first night. He didn't dare touch her fairylike body, and instead merely knelt down next to the bed and repeatedly kowtowed to her until the sun rose in the east. Once the concubine saw that he was in fact simple and honest, she pulled him onto the bed, removed his clothes, and told him to lie on top of her. That was the night Kong Dongde, the father of Explosion's future mayor Kong Mingliang, was conceived, and so began the prosperous Kong lineage that is the subject of this spectacular Explosion Chronicles. Post-Liberation, the land that had previously been assigned to individual peasants was reassigned to local collectives. As a result, Mayor Kong's grandfather sat at the front of his field and cried his eyes out. He cried continuously for three days and three nights, and attracted the attention of the heads of virtually every other local household. They went to the front of their fields and wept over having lost their land. His wife, landlord Zhu's second concubine, however, merely stroked her hair and laughed. She laughed for a long time without speaking, and this was the origin of Explosion's "crying convention" (a more detailed explanation of which will follow below). Later, during China's Three and Five Overturnings campaign, residents of Explosion Village chopped down trees to make hoe handles and wooden stools, and for this they were sentenced to imprisonment, beatings, and labor reform. This was a startling development. During this period, Kong Dongde accidentally destroyed some farming tools belonging to the collective, and he was sent to prison on charges of having broken the law by harming socialism's tools. This became the Kong family's deepest trauma, but it was also what spurred the author of this history to take up his pen and begin writing.

In 1958, China implemented a process of collectivization, and Explosion Village was designated a production brigade under the People's Commune. This further reinforced the glory and trauma the village shared with the People's Republic.

When the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966, the Kong and Zhu clans were designated as Explosion's two major factions. Meanwhile, the village's third major clan, the Chengs, observed these developments from afar but continued to lead a peaceful existence. In Explosion, conflicts between different clans developed into a more general class struggle, and during the years of revolution and fighting, some people died, others were imprisoned, while others lived off the land. Because Kong Mingliang's father Kong Dongde spent so much time hunched over working in the fields, bird droppings would often fall on his back, and on one occasion these droppings became soaked in sweat and spread out to form what looked like a map of China on his white shirt. Given that he wouldn't wash his shirt for weeks at a time, this bird-dropping map stayed there for days, until someone finally noticed it and reported it to the village chief. Zhu Qingfang then determined that this was a very serious matter, and reported it to both the commune and the county seat. As a result, Kong Dongde was imprisoned again and sentenced to labor reform. When he was finally released and quietly returned to the village, Explosion was undergoing a new historical cycle.

It was with this that the history detailed in The Explosion Chronicles enjoyed a new point of departure.


In early winter, when the air was cold and the ground was frozen, everyone stayed shacked up at home and the trees outside were barren. Sparrows circled under the eaves of the houses, and the entire village was enveloped in peace and tranquillity.

Kong Dongde was released from prison and returned home to the village. He returned surreptitiously, and no one even realized he was back. He spent the next month locked away in his house. By this point he was sixty-two years old and had been in prison for the preceding twelve years. No one knew what he had endured, or what he had done there. He had knocked on the door of his house in the middle of the night, startling the household and bringing his wife and sons to tears. After this, the family fell silent and, apart from asking him what he wanted to eat or drink, no one said a single word.

He had originally been sentenced to death, and everyone in the village assumed he had already died. In the end, however, he returned alive. By this point his hair was gray and he was as thin as a reed. He sat so still that, had it not been for the slight movement of his eyes, he would have been indistinguishable from a corpse. Indeed, when he lay down, he no longer resembled a living person.

But after half a month of deathly silence, signs of life once again returned to his face. He called his sons over to his bed and made a series of astonishing pronouncements: "The world has changed. In the future, production brigades will not be called production brigades, they will be called villages.

"... The land will be distributed back to the peasants, who will again be able to make a living.

"... In Explosion, the Zhu and Cheng families have met their end, and now it is time for our Kong family to take over."

He had married at the age of twenty, and at the age of thirty he started having sons. Now, his four sons gazed at him like a litter of pups that were already grown and ready to go off on their own. Kong Mingguang was the eldest, followed by Kong Mingliang, Kong Mingyao, and Kong Minghui. They stood in a row in front of the bed, beneath which was a brazier of scholar-tree embers, the sweet fragrance of which filled the room and enveloped their faces in a yellow glow. When the gecko on the wall heard Kong Dongde's soft voice, it turned to gaze at this man who appeared far older than his sixty-two years. The gecko's clear, tiny round eyes were a combination of pitch black and pure white. Above Kong Dongde's voice, and when it turned in his direction, it lifted its head and exposed its belly.


Excerpted from "The Explosion Chronicles"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Yan Lianke.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Also by Yan Lianke,
Title Page,
Translator's Note,
CHAPTER 1: Prefatory Material,
CHAPTER 2: Geographic Transformation (1),
CHAPTER 3: Year One of the Revolution,
CHAPTER 4: Revolutionary Biographies,
CHAPTER 5: Political Power (1),
CHAPTER 6: Traditional Customs,
CHAPTER 7: Political Power (2),
CHAPTER 8: Integrated Economy,
CHAPTER 9: Nature,
CHAPTER 10: Structural Transformation,
CHAPTER 11: Assessment of the New Era,
CHAPTER 12: National Defense,
CHAPTER 13: The Post-Military Era,
CHAPTER 14: Geographic Transformation (2),
CHAPTER 15: Culture, Cultural Relics, and History,
CHAPTER 16: New Members of the Clan,
CHAPTER 17: Great Geographic Transformation (1),
CHAPTER 18: Great Geographic Transformation (2),
CHAPTER 19: Postface,
Author's Note,

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