Empires of Dust
by Jiang Zilong
Pub Date 11 Mar 2019
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Empires of Dust follows the changes in rural life in China, starting from the era of Mao Zedong and then through the first thirty years of Deng Xiaoping’s policy of reform and opening up. The protagonist is a kind-hearted, hardworking and entrepreneurial peasant named Guo Cunxian who lives in an ordinary small village. He starts a business making coffins and eventually becomes rich, lifting his fellow villagers out of poverty in the process; however, the corrupting forces of money, desire and power threaten to destroy everything he has built.
When making coffins is the best business in town, what hope is there for tomorrow?
Amidst the maelstrom of Communist China’s rocky beginnings, Guojiadian, a tiny hamlet situated on salty ground in the rural northeast where nothing grows, must forge a path through the turbulence - both physical and political - threatening to return the windswept village to the dust from which it emerged.
Amongst the long-suffering village inhabitants lives Guo Cunxian, a man of rare ability trapped in an era of limitations. His quest for a better future for him and his family pits him against the jealousy of his peers, the indifference of his superiors and even the seemingly cursed earth upon which he resides.
In a decades-long journey filled with frustration and false starts, they eventually rise to dizzy heights built upon foundations as stable as the dust beneath their feet and the mud walls which shelter them.
But will their sacrifices along this tortuous path be in vain…?
Jiang Zilong was born in 1941 in Hebei province, northeast China, and spent his formative years in the countryside before moving to the city of Tianjin at the age of 14. He served an apprenticeship at a machine tool factory and then joined the navy in 1962. From 1965 to 1982, he worked at a factory in Tianjin, rising to the ranks of senior management and publishing his first written works on the side. He has been a full-time author since leaving the factory and became known as the founder of ‘Reform literature’, which deals with the policy of reform and opening up that was initiated by Deng Xiaoping following the death of Mao Zedong. Many of Jiang’s stories are set in the industrial world and examine the impact that the seismic socio-economic changes have had on the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens. His works have won national literary awards many times and been translated into multiple languages including English, French, German, Russian, Japanese and Spanish.