Kaleidoscope - All That Glittersby Deepa Gahlot May 13 2016, 5:15 pm Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 34 secs
China is considered an Asian Tiger and an economic superpower to be feared by the First World countries. In India, Shanghai is seen as a model of urban development, and all cities aspire to emulate the glitter of Shanghai.
But underneath all that progress is a story of corruption, oppression and a politician-criminal nexus far worse than can be imagined in India, because in a one party system, the checks and balances of democracy do not work, faulty though they may be.
Qiu Xiaolong’s ninth Chief Inspector Chen novel, Shanghai Redemption is an astute look at China caught between rapid growth and remnants of the authoritarian past. The repressive ‘Cultural Revolution’ and Tianenman Square have not been completely forgotten, but the new Shanghai, where Chen Cao -poet and cop- lives and works, has high rises, strip clubs, karaoke cafes, corruption on a massive scale and a community of the new rich called Big Bucks by the locals.
Chen’s family suffered the impact of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, so he still gets disturbed when the old ‘red’ songs are casually sung or played. But he is the kind who stays within the system and tries to do his job to the best of his ability; even it means occasional skirmishes with the all-powerful Communist Party (in earlier novels).
In this book, after many years as chief inspector and Deputy Party Secretary of the Shanghai police, Chen is kicked upstairs—reassigned to the Shanghai Legal Reform Committee as director, a fancy sounding position but with no power. Taking a break, he decides to go to the neighbouring town of Suzhou to tend to his father’s grave and orders a renovation, which would give him an excuse to stay away from work for a few days more.
In Shanghai, he is invited to a party to launch his book of TS Eliot translations, in an unlikely venue—the Heavenly World nightclub. He is dragged into a private room by two of the strippers of the club, from where he steps out to take a call from his mother. He notices a police party entering the club, which is otherwise protected by powerful politicians, and figures out that the raid was meant to trap and disgrace him.
He realizes that he must have stepped on some big toes in the course of his work as an honest cop, and that his life is in danger. Chen’s former partner Yu Guangming has been promoted to the post he vacated, but he is firmly on the side of his friend—so is his resourceful wife Peiqin, and father, a retired cop called Old Hunter. There is also a delicate romance with White Cloud, who has appeared in earlier books, and has now risen from humble beginnings to become a successful entrepreneur. She helps him too, along with a hacker and his girlfriend.
Chen’s mother’s flat is attacked, a woman who had befriended him is killed, the body of a missing Big Buck that was Chen’s case, turns up dead, a cop who came too close to uncovering a crime is murdered. Finally, there is an attempt on Chen’s life that leaves his driver and buddy, Skinny Wang, badly injured. Chen does not know who the hidden enemy is, but as the body count rises, he has to find out what is going on, in order to save his reputation and his life.
While Chen goes about his work, there are wonderful descriptions of food, landscapes, glimpse of Chinese history and snatches of his favourite poems.
The writer Xiaolong also grew up in Socialist China, where all literature was banned, but managed to teach himself English. He is able to write this crime series with large dollops of politics because he lives in the West. His Death of a Red Heroine was listed as one of the five best political novels of all time by the Wall Street Journal. Shanghai Redemption is not just a fascinating read, but a look at China from the inside, by a writer on the outside, who can see the full picture and convey it to the reader without embellishment or apology.