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Meili, a young peasant woman born in the remote heart of China, is married to Kongzi, a village school teacher, and a distant descendant of Confucius. They have a daughter, but desperate for a son to carry on his illustrious family line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant again without waiting for official permission. When family planning officers storm the village to arrest violators of the population control policy, mother, father and daughter escape to the Yangtze River and begin a fugitive life.
For years they drift south through the poisoned waterways and ruined landscapes of China, picking up work as they go along, scavenging for necessities and flying from police detection. As Meili’s body continues to be invaded by her husband and assaulted by the state, she fights to regain control of her fate and that of her unborn child.
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The Dark Road follows the river-borne escape of fugitives from the one-child policy. An ill-matched couple’s flight along anarchic backwaters leads them into a raw, brutal, brilliantly depicted boom-time underworld - Independent
[Ma Jian’s] characterization is superb… A devastating critique of China’s oppressive communist regime - Mail on Sunday
A writer of rare orgininality... All of Ma’s skill and playfulness are on display as the novel builds to a climax in which Meili is forced to question her very right to exist in this fragile, ever-changing new world - Guardian
One of China’s most prominent dissident voices addresses the bleak effects of the one-child policy in this striking novel, in which the brutality of social engineering is made graphically plain. Ma Jian’s work is banned in China; this unflinching portrait of one woman’s struggle against oppression makes it sadly easy to understand why - New Statesman
Ma’s work is a vital corrective and he writes here with insistent, focused anger - Metro
Ma Jian is a writer of rare originality whose work effortlessly combines a sense of the avant garde with uncomfortable humour, underpinned at all times by rage at the social changes that have affected China over the last 30 years - Guardian
Ma Jian was born in Qingdao, China in 1953. He is the author of Stick Out Your Tongue, which in 1987 led to the permanent banning of his books in China, Red Dust, winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award 2002, The Noodlemaker, and Beijing Coma which narrated the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and was hailed as ‘a landmark work of fiction’ (Daily Telegraph), ‘a huge achievement’ (The Times) and ‘monumental’ (Guardian).
While writing The Dark Road, Ma Jian travelled through the backwaters of central and southern China. Posing as an official reporter, he visited family planning offices and hospitals where forced abortions and sterilisations are carried out. He later adopted the guise of an itinerant worker and lived among fugitives of the One Child Policy who scrape a living on the Yangtze River and the vast waste sites of Guangdong Province.