Ruyan@SARS.come is one of the eight books 'banned' by the General Administration of Press and Publications. The book is written by Hu Fayun (胡發雲) and it is a novel that had already made its rounds on the Internet first as an electronic document and then posted at websites before being put into print on paper due to its Internet popularity. In that sense, it is absurd to impose a 'ban' on the book while the Internet version is still being freely circulated. The 'ban' is only going to arouse the interest among those who don't already know about it (such as the translator here). The book is about a female Internet forum webmaster named Ruyan (如嫣) during the SARS period in early 2003. The novel also mentions her love affair with a city vice-mayor in charge of public health, the beginning of the war in Iraq and the police beating death of a university student.
The translated excerpt below comes from Chapter 51 of the book.
This "atypical" thing could not be covered up.
This virus was being really inconsiderate. It refused to be suppressed and it would not be bribed. It just did whatever it felt like. From the beginning of the year, it marched north in two or three months' time so that the northerners began to buy up isatis roots. Then they began to hoard cooking oil, rice, noodle cakes, instant noodles and even mineral water ... the businesses made a huge profit and unloaded all the stock accumulated over the past two years. But they did not expect that several weeks later, they would begin a long season of depressed business in which entire supermarkets and malls would be deserted as if this was afterhours. Many international events were cancelled. Many foreign visits were rejected. Many consulates ceased to issue visas. On the Internet, people wrote to say that the world has imposed a quarantine on China.
Finally, except for the few people who said at first that this was nothing, a new tension arose as a general population mobilization came into being. This reminded people that when the Japanese bandits violated the three northeastern provinces for several years, the inland folks were still debating about the choice between war and peace. Attack or defend? Fight the internal or external enemies? But the Japanese did not accept the favor and invaded northern China. Overnight, it became an all-people's war of resistance.
Liang Pusheng was finally able to tell parts of the truth to Ruyan. He was the vice-mayor in charge of public health, and he had become the frontline commander in the campaign of resistance very early on. Ruyan saw a news photograph of him covered up from head to toe in medical garb. Without the annotation, she could not have figured out that it was him.
Liang Pusheng found time from his busy work to call Ruyan, out of concern for her health. He said that he would not see her during this period, because he had no idea what he could have caught. This virus was too vicious and there was no effective medicine. He said that if he should become a martyr, he would like her to come to talk to him often at his grave. Liang Pusheng said, "You know. It is such a pleasure talking to you." Ruyan said, "I can see you talk on television and read about what you said in the newspapers. I feel bad for you. I feel sorry that you have to say those things all day."
Liang Pusheng said, "This thing is not going to be over soon. I don't know if our plans can be realized according to schedule. If necessary, we can hold a wedding at the execution field."
Ruyan laughed and said, "You try to preserve yourself first. There will be time for everything else."
Liang Pusheng said, "I miss you a lot."
Ruyan said, "Me too."
Seeing that vice-mayor Liang was so busy and that this was a dangerous and unrewarding job, Jiang Xiaoli paid special attention to Ruyan. He came over to talk to her in order to comfort her, as if Liang Pusheng had gone to fight in a war at the borderlands and Ruyan was a lonely wife waiting for him back home. Jiang Xiaoli said, "Actually, the good comes with the bad. This is what happens with government officials. If there is a disaster, then it may look to be a bad thing. But if you can handle the situation well and perform brilliantly, you will be quickly promoted. Then this bad thing becomes a good thing. Many experienced people only wish that they could come across a once-in-a-hundred-years disaster."
Ruyan said, "It is better not to encounter this. It is hard on him, and the people suffer too."
Jiang Xiaoli said, "This is the will of the heavens. You think about it. People who are getting close to their 60's would be shipped off into retirement unless something astounding happens. My dad was like that. Then there was a big flood the next year, and his successor achieved great success in fighting the flood. Although the man had been slotted for retirement, he was sent to the People's Congress to serve five more years."
Ruyan smiled and said, "Isn't it better to retire five years earlier? Why do you have to dedicate your entire life fighting on behalf of Communism?"
Jiang Xiaoli also said, "Oh, you! You have this hopeless woman talk. With a good wife like you, vice-mayor Liang will go into retirement soon. You should ask him some day and demand the truth from him. Does he want to stay for another five more years? If he says no, I'll take the both of you to the Shangri La."
Ruyan said, "He isn't thinking about me."
After she said that, Ruyan thought that it was a bit brusque. In this situation, what is it to her if he does not want to think about this? So she quickly changed the subject of conversation.
After going through some other trivia, Jiang Xiaoli suddenly lowered his voice and said to Ruyan in a mysterious tone: "You should not bring up those sensitive topics on the Internet forum."
Ruyan was stunned. She asked quickly: "What sensitive issues?"
Jiang Xiaoli: "I don't want to spell this out. Anyway, I've read it and I've heard people talk about it. You know, it is very complicated on the Internet. Some people specialize in collecting these essays. If you are an individual, it does not matter. But you should not irritate someone and then keep tussling with him. There is going to be trouble. You know. Officialdom is like war. It is very perilous."
Ruyan said, "People are responsible for what they say themselves. It is not going to affect others. Besides, wasn't I right about all that I have said?"
Jiang Xiaoli complained, "Hey, you are supposed to the daughter of a veteran cadre. How come you don't even understand this? You may be right at this moment, but you could be wrong at another time. You may be right about you say now, but you were wrong when you said it. If you don't believe that, you may suffer later."
The friendly warning from Jiang Xiaoli worried Ruyan for a few days. The news came that a number of persons who maliciously spread rumors about the strange disease or otherwise reckelessly sent SMS messages have been arrested. After a few days, the official media said that those people will be punished according to the law, with fines that are based upon the number of messages sent out. Ruyan thought that this was not unreasonable. If you say that someone at a shopping mall fell ill, then nobody goes there to shop; if you say someone at a company fell ill, then they lose several deals. She went to check out the Damo website and saw that there were several posts discussing this issue from the legal, communications and social trust issues. Whenever Ruyan got worried and confused, she went there. Maybe because she was close to it, she thought the dry language was suddenly easier to read. She used the fresh eyes of a young girl to approach those ideas. After all, she has enough social experience and it was not hard to understand them. But she just read quietly and did not comment.
The war started by the Americans seemed to have started about the same time as the strange disease. This caused two trains of thought that played powerfully off each other. Later on, after many buildings became quarantined, the full broadcast of the war became the best pastime of these isolated islands. When the war entered into a stalemate with no new information forthcoming, millions of people turned their attention back to SARS. Sometimes, it seemed ready to be extinguished, but other persevering people resurrected it again. Many websites were designed with the latest page placed at the end. When someone comments, the post moves to the front. Certain pages that are better written, or draw more attention, or are more controversial will therefore remain at the top of the page. This is an effective way of keeping the good and eliminating the bad. When someone likes a page, wants others to read it but has nothing more to add, he will simply comment "頂" ("support"). So the case of the death of the university student received a lot of "support" comments. There were many people who said that until justice is rendered, they will continue to support the post for ten thousand years! Over the years, many important matters were washed away by time. With a single word "頂", it is now possible for people to keep them in sight without being forgotten. The future history will forever remember this extraordinary Chinese word.
At the Empty Nest forum, the hostile atmosphere was getting heavier and heavier. Just like during the Cultural Revolution, three camps came into being. There were those who are against Saddam Hussein, those are against the Americans and those are against Saddam Hussein and/or the Americans depending on the weather that day. There are those who believe that government officials should be held accountable for SARS, those who are sympathetic with the situation of the government officials and those are sympathetic to the government officials but want them held accountable depending on the weather of the day. There are those who want to have justice rendered for the dead university student, those who think that the security situation is poor and therefore it was reasonable that the security guards can make an honest mistake, and then there are those who want accountability while insisting the law be enforced because it would be chaos otherwise depending on the weather of the day.
There was one especially vicious post which was directed right at Ruyan: "An Open Letter to the Forum Webmaster." The post said that for a long time, the international anti-Chinese forces have taken advantage of a certain emergency disaster inside China in order to use American hegemony to assault this sovereign county in an outrageous manner. With the background that Communism is suffering a temporary international setback, there is an evil force brewing at this forum. This is a political trend that we have to be wary of. We don't understand why this forum master would not take a stand on her position and clearly uphold the national interests at this time. We need to protect the glorious accomplishments of more than twenty years of reform and keep in step with the central government, which is to maintain an objective, fair and balanced position in this ideological struggle. But, certain forum masters are using their minute powers to propagate treasonous ideas and this is intolerable ... the forum post excerpted certain key phrases from Ruyan and others and criticized them in detail. The forum post went on for several thousand words. The sock puppet name for the poster was "I love China." From the content of the post, it came from a certain veteran forum user.
Earlier, such kinds of talk had appeared briefly. They came from transient sock puppets who disappear after heaping some brief abuses against Chinese traitors. Some of them are young students. They question what was said about the earlier disasters: "You say that the three years of natural disasters killed off XX million people. You say that XX people died from starvation. Are you an American spy?" "The people of the world unite together to bring down the American imperialists and especially their Chinese running dogs!" "I love bin Laden!" and so on. Ruyan read them and smiled with bitterness. These kids grew up with those textbooks, so how can anyone blame them? But this particular post was obviously not the ill-considered speech of an angry young man, because it contained a certain vicious venom. It was like what a commentator said: "Hmm, is this the re-publication of the Nine Critiques?" and "The very familiar language from the Cultural Revolution." But this kind of post even drew many comments that were in agreement. Some of the veteran users even used their real names to do so; others did not say say anything but merely inserted the icon of a handshake and it was obvious what they meant. To use an old phrase from the Cultural Revolution, the position has been defined and the battle drums have been rattled.
What disappointed Ruyan was that some of the posts that supported her were either off topic, or they lacked political ideas, or they lost moral perspective, or their language was too vicious. Ruyan is a person with a lot of self-respect. This battle of saliva was deeply disappointing to her. Since both sides had sometimes stepped over the line, she had to delete many posts. When the posts of the other side were deleted, they accused the forum master of being dictatorial and self-serving. On one hand, she advocated democracy; on the other hand, she exercised dictatorship. When she deleted the posts of her side, they complained that Ruyan was compromising with the ultra-leftists and unable to stand up for her position. Some people only read but don't comment; they go to the chatroom and use sock puppets to spew garbage. Since their tones and styles are easily recognized, the chatroom becomes busting with activity whenever a sensitive subject arose. When people have different views, they began a war of words. Ruyan went there to look, and it was like a bunch of masked men fighting in a big battle. It was enough to make her dizzy. She wondered what it would be like if the masks of the sock puppets were removed and people had to show themselves. She read in the chat room with a sense of solitude. This was not like how it was before, when she received many "fresh flowers," "hot tea" and "pastries" whenever she signed on. Occasionally, someone would tell her: "That sock puppet was talking about you just then." She asked, "Who are you?" The other party would only sent her a smiling face icon.