“The Accident” by Murong Xuecun
Translated by Harvey Thomlinson
Paul Gardner, 8/10/17
Murong Xuecun’s first full novel, Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu, helped make him one of the country’s best known authors. “The Accident”, translated by Harvey Thomlinson, is by contrast, a very short story, but one that packs a big emotional punch.
Lawyer Wei, a drunk driver, makes an illegal turn and hits a poor, elderly farmer cycling to the city to deliver vegetables. The lawyer phones a friend who has influence with the police to ask for help. As a result, the police officers pressurise the innocent and injured farmer to admit that he is at fault and to compensate Lawyer Wei.
“The Accident” is told from the point of view of the lawyer. The language is cold and at times callous, reflecting the lawyer’s thoughts. Wei prods the farmer “violently” when he passes out, is clearly relieved the farmer is “stupid” enough to be convinced he is at fault and “laughs inside” when the farmer apologises. He takes the money the farmer needs to buy fertiliser, despite seeing the old man “so distraught that tears were flowing”. He is then amused when the farmer attempts to continue on his way, despite clearly being ‘hurt pretty bad’. As Lawyer Wei drives off, he sees the farmer stopped by a tree. His face was “as pale as ricepaper and his hand was pressed against his stomach as he coughed and coughed”. However, the lawyer looks “away as if nothing had happened”.
There is a clear irony in the choice of a lawyer as the main protagonist. This lawyer has no qualms about subverting the law and using his connections to deprive the farmer of justice. It is likely Murong had in mind the Li Gang case in 2010. A young man, who had been drinking, hit and killed a student, but believed he was immune from prosecution because his father was the deputy director of the local security bureau. He was only jailed after an outcry on social media.
Murong has criticised the political system in China, and the corruption that goes with it. This story very powerfully shows how corruption undermines the moral fabric of a society. Writing about the dangers of compromising one’s conscience, as the lawyer does in this story, he has said: “It’s not a game that you can stop any time, it’s a moral downward spiral.”