Utopia and Dystopia in The Fat Years

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Utopia and Dystopia in The Fat Years

The novel, The Fat Years, is a contemporary science fiction novel by Chan Koonchung. Based on Chinese society, the book fictionalizes the ascent of China in 2013 in contrast to the waning state of the Western countries after the occurrence of a subsequent economic crisis at the start of 2011. Even though the book starts as an ode to the Chinese government, it provides a satirical and fictional narrative exhibiting the China’s erosion of cultural and political revolutions that took place especially in the 1980s. In the storyline, the protagonist, Lao Chen, is forced into a range of situations involving the country’s need to cover state secrets at the expense of the people. Accordingly, The Fat Years divulges the omnipresent control of the Chinese Communist Party over the lives of the population and the masses’ inclination towards social stability and material prosperity via acceptance of the country’s authoritarian regime. In this respect, the discourse aims to prove this assertion and the ways in which the novel envisions utopia and dystopia.

One of the events illustrating the authoritarian control of the CCP over the Chinese involves its control over the significant events that occurred in the country. The book’s starting point shows China missing a month from its official record. Accordingly, a series of adverse events took place in China within the omitted month. One of the characters, Fang Caodi, notes the disappearance of this period to the protagonist, Lao Chen (Koonchung The Fat Years). In addition, the protagonist illustrates the effect of the Communist Party’s authoritarian regime by refusing to focus on the matter. This is based on his inclination to discard the matter at first, and follow by discussing it in private with Caodi. For him, the loss of a whole month is not a trivial subject. Furthermore, he suspects the government is involved in its disappearance.   

Another illustration involves the manipulation of the past by the state. Indeed, it is possible to notice a resounding theme based on collective memory deprivation between the Chinese occupying Chen’s Beijing. Interestingly, the events encompassing the missing month of 1989 are not allowed for discussion. The loss of such a memory further posits the people towards the attainment of material prosperity and social stability. For instance, the characters of a real estate mogul, a highly priced prostitute, and a rapidly ascending political adviser illustrate the extent to which the party is committed towards silencing the country’s past through the lure of physical prosperity and financial success (Koonchung The Fat Years). Additionally, the existence of the Happiness Villages illustrates the nation as a location of laughter whereby acquisitiveness has insulated the masses from wider enquiries of identity and freedom.

Consequently, The Fat Years envisions its China as utopia and dystopia. In essence, the book constitutes an illusory attack on modern Chinese capitalism, of which it blames on developing a variant of a counterfeit utopia. As evidenced, this utopian society hides poverty, despair, and misery behind the fantasy life of the novel Chinese society. In illustration, the characters in The Fat Years are all part of a silently repressed society that exists under the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party. Their occupation of the Happiness Villages and the loss of memories pertaining to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 represent the misinformed state occupied by the people. Based on Jameson’s discussion of the utopia and the dystopia, the main point of The Fat Years’ dystopia lies in the fact that the past communist tenets of freedom and equality have been forgotten by the novel’s modern Chinese society whereby money is an end on its own (Jameson 161; Week 10. Fri. Slide 63).

In conclusion, The Fat Years provides a futuristic view of contemporary China. Based on the narration of the protagonist, Lao Chen, the book illustrates the authoritarian impositions of the Chinese Communist Party on the Chinese people. Despite the level of happiness and prosperity within the country, the forgoing of political protests during the 1980s provides a view of Chinese utopia and dystopia according to Chan. On one hand, the respective society is content and satisfied with its misinformed state. Alternately, the loss of key memories among the people represents the dystopian character of Chan’s society as illustrated in the book.

Works Cited

Jameson, Frederic. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London: Verso, 2005. Print.

Koonchung, Chan. The Fat Years: A Novel. Trans. Michael S. Duke. Great Britain: Transworld Publishers, 2011. Print.

Week 10. Fri. LTEA 110C. Course Review. PowerPoint Slides.

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