“Squatting” by Diao Dou, translated by Brendon O’Kane
Cat Hanson, 29/8/17
As I read “Squatting”, I’m not in a council-funded provincial library in rural England. Not quite. I’m perched on a red plastic stool in North Western China, spicy clouds pluming into the night’s sky as I chew on a lamb kebab, occasionally wiping seasoning away from my lips as I nod along to this satirical and allegorical thought-stream of bureaucracy gone wild.
Writer James Palmer once wrote an article on the ‘brilliance’ of chabuduo culture in China – a that’ll do approach to problem-solving. Of course, that’ll do doesn’t guarantee that that’ll do forever, and in Shenyang author Diao Dou’s tale, we listen as our central character remembers how an authority’s quick-fix to rising crime turns into a litany of regulations for its citizens, from banned bikes to enforced
Brendan O’Kane’s seamless translation barely deviates from Dou’s original narration. It’s as if O’Kane is sat on the red stool next to me in that North Western city, faithfully translating the central character’s story word-for-word without interruption. The flavour of Dou’s satire is not lost.
Like Yan Lianke’s Lenin’s Kisses, our character’s re-telling is both earnest and ridiculous, warm and yet leaving us cold, long and still straightforward. It’s Chinese satire at its best, and a must-read, if not quite for its explorations of bureaucratic culture and intellectual rebellion, but rather for the reflections on modern-day Chinese literature.