io9 has an interesting article about a book sweeping the Chinese intelligentsia as of late. The article is chock full of spoilers which is annoying, but I guess as of yet no English translation exists (the article doesn’t mention one, anyway) so we’re not supposed to mind.

Shengshi Zhongguo 2013 (roughly The Gilded Age: China 2013) by writer Chan Koon-Chung posits a near-future where China controls the world economy and dominates the planet. But the novel’s not a rah-rah China jingoism fest. It’s a dystopian political text, and I’m frankly amazed it’s been printed in China at all if the synopses are any indication of its major themes. io9 sums up the plot this way (spoiler free):

In Chan’s novel, everybody in China suffers from amnesia, and becomes unable to remember the most recent month — except for a few people. Two of these people are Feng Caodi and a Taiwanese writer, Old Chen, who search for Little Xi, Old Chen’s true love who may remember some crucial events of the missing month. While they travel across China looking for Little Xi, they discover more and more evidence that something is terribly wrong at the heart of China’s prosperity. The elites are becoming wealthy by preying on the most vulnerable members of society, and the Party remains in charge only through the use of dirty tricks. We meet a child slave, Zhang Dou, and encounter a village that’s being wiped out by pollution from a nearby factory. At the same time, everybody in China seems utterly blissed out, and self-congratulation about China’s prosperity is the main pasttime among the elites.

Sounds a bit close to home, doesn’t it? Even closer to home is this quote from the book of the contradicting ruling ideals of this near-future China:

Democratic one-Party dictatorship, rule of law with social stability as its top priority, an authoritarian government for the people, a state-controlled market economy, fair competition dominated by the central government-owned enterprises, scientific development with Chinese characteristics, self-centered harmonious diplomacy, a multi-racial republic with sovereignty of one people, post-Occidental and ‘post-universal’ thought of the subject, and national rejuvenation of the incomparable Chinese civilization.

I need to read this.

Is this book an indicator of souring popular opinion towards China’s epic rise over the last decade and a half? Or is it just The Road meets Brave New World in China? The fact that not only was it published in China but is apparently a major topic of discussion among Chinese intellectuals seems to signal a thawing of the rigid control of dissident opinions. If those opinions need to be couched in fiction to be passed off in the first place, so be it. It’s better than nothing.