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
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 Jian’s] characterization is superb… A devastating critique of China’s oppressive communist regime - Mail on Sunday
Unforgettable - Sunday Telegraph
Ma’s work is a vital corrective and he writes here with insistent, focused anger - Metro
All of Ma’s skill and playfulness are on display as the novel builds to a climax - Guardian
A compellingly dark novel - Glasgow Sunday Herald
This river journey through boom-time China’s lower depths is worthy of Dickens or Hugo - Independent (Radar)
The move towards fantasy frees Jian to move away from the systematic portrayal of devastating external actions to the dislocating effects of evil at the level of personal and interpersonal psychology - Standpoint
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.