Archive for March 21st, 2010

1979: Gu Shan, of The Vagrants fame

1 comment March 21st, 2010 dogboy

It’s the spring equinox, but here at Executed Today, this date brings no bunnies or pastels.

However, in the spirit of softness, it brings this time only a fictional execution.

On this date in 1979, Gu Shan, the central character of Yiyun Li‘s novel The Vagrants gets a bullet to the heart in the Chinese town of Muddy River. The novel traces the lives of several townspeople in Muddy River who are touched by Shan’s death.

The short life of Gu Shan is secondary to the action of the novel itself: first a revolutionary, then a counter-revolutionary, the 28-year-old is imprisoned for acting against the government. As she sits in jail, she continues to write, and the scribbles in her journals are used in a retrial to garner a death sentence.

In a town of 80,000, her actions can be both consequential and inconsequential, but the people around her are a wholly forgotten lot. In a sense, then, Shan is important mostly because she’s noticed, and, as the saying goes, that really ties the room together.

The story tracks a cluster of characters who interact on the streets but live very different — almost uniformly bleak — lives. These range from Nini, a deformed girl whose mother was brutally assaulted by Shan when the latter was a revolutionary (a crime for which Shan suffered no consequences) to Bashi, the deranged son of China’s best Korean War-era pilot, who mutilates Shan’s corpse and shows a mild obsession for a 7-year-old boy.

Muddy River plays host to dozens of other characters connected to the execution, and Li paints a vividly depressing picture of China immediately after Mao Zedong’s death. The town is a collection of sad lives mired in moral depravity brought about by destitution and Party corruption. The most positive events transpire in quarters in a portable toilet.

Assuming you’re not looking for a pick-me-up on this equinoctial day (and why would you be at this blog if you were?), The Vagrants is well worth the read.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Fictional,Shot

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