The first translations of Sherlock Holmes into Chinese were published with spoiler titles like The Case of Sapphire in the Belly of the Goose, and The Case of the Jealous Woman Murdering Her Husband. Why give the game away so soon? To a large extent, it’s linked to Chinese gong’an [court case] fiction and the famous Judge Bao stories, where the focus is more about what really happened than on whodunit. But what about current crime fiction in China? Emily Jones has recently translated He Jiahong’s novel Black Holes, and we invited her to tell us more…
When we think of crime fiction, we usually think of gritty police procedurals or maverick amateur detectives. But the Chinese author He Jiahong does crime differently. As well as a best-selling novelist, he is also a criminal justice expert and professor of law at Renmin University in Beijing. His fiction writing focuses on jurisprudence– and so it is only fitting that his hero Hong Jun is a lawyer. Like He himself, Hong Jun studied law at Northwestern University Chicago.
Back From the Dead: A Landmark Ruling of Wrongful Conviction in China, by He Jiahong (Penguin Specials)
In his first novel Hanging Devils, translated by Duncan Hewitt, the lawyer Hong Jun has recently returned from the United States. Hong Jun opens a practice in Beijing to help ordinary people defend their rights and is at once thrown into a mystery involving rape, murder and corruption. A young woman was killed brutally ten years ago – but was the right person convicted? Hong Jun goes to the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang in the dead of winter to get to the truth of what really happened and avoid a miscarriage of justice. Along the way he encounters ancient tribes and the scars of the past.
He Jiahong’s second novel Black Holes also features Hong Jun and his quick-witted, beautiful assistant Song Jia. In Black Holes, Hong Jun tackles the murky world of stocks and shares. Xia Zhe, an ambitious young trader, is arrested for fraud and his father asks Hong Jun to take on the case and get him off. But it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. Could there be a connection between Xia Zhe’s arrest and his father’s tricky new contract with an American company? Hong Jun is quickly drawn into a web of secrets that go all the way back to the Cultural Revolution. He also has to face some shadows from his own past in his search for truth and justice.
He waited, wrapped in his raincoat, under a large tree beside the northern moat of the Forbidden City. A chill spring rain fell through the dark curtain of night, rinsing the dry, dirty air and driving pedestrians indoors. The streets were deserted. Occasionally a car passed, scattering the puddles that shimmered under the streetlights.
The new leaves on the trees obscured his view. He could only just make out the road in front of him. Although the area wasn’t well lit, this darkness wasn’t the kind that brought terrors . . . and it was preferable to the blackness overhead.
His eyes skimmed the faint lights pulsing across the puddles and on towards the watchtower at the far corner of the Forbidden City. The tower rose like a gigantic monster, crouched on top of the high walls, ready to pounce on its prey. A light flickered. He stared at it. He couldn’t decide if it was a street lamp or a window. The rain swept like a white mist in front of his eyes and the light turned an eye-catching red, a single flower nestled amidst the dark foliage. It reminded him of the display screens at the brokerage house. His ears filled with hoarse cries and curses of despair, as if he were back in the frenzy of the trading floor.
It was days since he’d last been there, to Hongyuan Securities. Ever since the ‘incident’, he’d been rushing around the city, looking for help. He used to think he had friends in high places. Now he knew there was no one he could turn to.
Set and written in 1990s China, He Jiahong’s novels offer a fascinating insight into a time when both the law and society were changing rapidly. They also deal with the idea of revisiting the past and how events of the Cultural Revolution still have repercussions on lives today.
[Written for the GLLI – Paper Republic collaboration, Feb 2017]