Thursday, July 11, 2013

Prelude to "Deadly Weakness"

In China, there has not historically been a genre of "spy novels" like those produced in the West for the last century or so.  A number of American spy novels have been translated into Chinese, but it is only in the last ten years that Chinese authors have undertaken the task of writing original Chinese works in this genre.  One such author is Yang Hengjun, who published a trilogy serially on the internet in the years prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The following is my translation of the opening to his first novel, Deadly Weakness.


A human body processing plant in the suburbs of the city of Qingdao, in Shandong province.

"Mr. Yang, thank you for coming," said the receptionist, with a professional smile.  "May I ask where you learned about our plant?"

"I saw your German founder at a display of human body specimens in Hong Kong three years ago.  Several hundred thousand people from Hong Kong attended it."

"Oh, yes, I remember.  Ticket sales from the Hong Kong event earned our founder more than a million HKD.  But that wasn't the most significant benefit from that event!"  The receptionist accompanied him now, eager to introduce him to the plant.  "Prior to the Hong Kong display, people told our boss that Chinese people are superstitious and consider dead bodies to be taboo--but he went ahead and did it, and hundreds of thousands of people came to see the display.  Their interest in the processing of human bodies far outstripped what we see even in Western countries, so our president decided to establish a body processing plant here in China.  Presently our body processing plan is the largest in scale of any plant he owns in the world, with 1,860 workers, able to handle the processing of six thousand cadavers per year...."

Yang interrupted her.  "Where do all the bodies come from?"

"The bodies all come from overseas."

"Oh, do you have any that are my height?" Yang asked tentatively.

The receptionist glanced at Yang, hiding her surprise, then smiled.  "Do you think Germans are all tall and burly?  In fact, a lot of the cadavers are about your stature.  Since they are all immersed in special chemicals for shipping, processed by our technicians after they have arrived, then again put through a procedure that may take nine more months to produce a specimen, when they're all finished the height of the cadaver is usually about four centimeters shorter than the original body."

Yang nodded his head.  They were passing by a blue sign on the wall in English and Chinese that read "Work Center 1", and the receptionist explained: "This is where we receive international shipments of bodies, primarily from Germany.  We unpack the frozen bodies, remove their internal organs, then place them into a individual containers, immersed in a proprietary chemical formula.  This formula was created by our boss, and it's a lot like the formula for the Coca Cola you might drink every day, protected by patents all over the world.  The body remains here for six months, then moves on to Work Center 2, where it is primarily made mold-proof and desiccated.  When it is done there, the body is a lot like a Jianhua ham--no matter what temperature or condition, it won't deteriorate.  Even more like a Jinhua ham, if you were to put it in a supermarket, not even a maggot would want to eat it.  The next process takes place in Work Center 3, where the body undergoes the boss's own special process for at least six months.  Their duty is to take the processed body and to pose it very carefully according to the customer's wishes.  Some look like they are in mid-leap in a soccer game.  Some look like they would rush off to the battlefield if you were to just put a gun in their hands.  Some might be in the eighteen sexual positions, while if you were to place others in a public library, you might think they were real live people reading books, and you would tiptoe quietly by.  Lastly, we use a technique that fixes the bodies in their flamboyant postures.  Only our boss knows how to employ this technique.  Once the posture is fixed, even though you might think they look young and relaxed, there is no way you could move them.  Our human body specimens are unique.  Though their postures and expressions are worked out to the finest detail, and our products seem vivid and lifelike, nonetheless they could last fifty years without changing."

"Other factories are laying people off, but you guys are still hiring, so your business must be doing well," Yang said, covering his nose.

"We can't even supply enough product to meet the demand."  The receptionist could not conceal her pride on this point.  "At first it was only medical laboratories and universities that wanted them for their teachers to use, but now more and more institutions are placing orders, and even some individuals want a body to take back and use to decorate their offices and homes..."

"Are they all sold overseas?" asked Yang.

"Not all of them.  Currently some Chinese institutions have started to buy from us.  Originally, when our boss established his largest factory here, he was looking at the potential of the Chinese market.  At that time, this factory just took in materials (bodies) and sold the product overseas, and I hear that it won't be long before he opens a second and third factory here in China.  Then he will apply to market them locally.  Oh, right.  Mr. Yang, do you want to buy a body in some particular posture?"  The receptionist looked Yang over from head to toe as she asked.

"I...I want to buy one that looks like it is sitting and driving a car."

"Interesting, but among our clients there are people who are looking for any kind of posture.  I think Mr. Yang must be a car collector.  OK, I think it shouldn't be a problem.  You could have it for $50,000 HKD, but you'd have to wait a year for the goods."

"No, I need it this week.  I can throw in another $20,000 to expedite it."  Yang's eyes looked off into the distance.

The receptionist thought a moment, took out a handheld inventory tracker, and made a show of going through it.  At last she raised her head with a relieved sigh, "You're in luck, Mr. Yang. We have a body in the posture you are looking for, we just need to put in a little extra work to raise the arms up.  I'll see that the contract is drawn up.  After you pay, you can go back to Guangzhou, and the product will follow you a few days later."

"Thank you!"  Once they had finished talking, Yang no longer had any interest in seeing the factory.

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