The Flower of Shazui by Chen Qiufan

The short story “The Flower of Shazui” by Chen Qiufan was published for the first time in 2012.

Shazui used to be a fishing village until the profound changes in China pushed urbanization with the consequence that many new buildings are under construction all the time there and in other nearby villages. The use of ultra-modern technologies is spreading as well in the area around Shenzhen Bay and a man who is hiding can hide within the growing population of migrants who come to Shazui.

In “The Flower of Shazui”, Chen Qiufan takes us to the China of which he speaks very often in his works, the one of great transformations. In the specific case in a region between Shenzhen Bay and Hong Kong, where China’s economic reforms and openings led to the transformation of fishing villages into cities where new buildings are built all the time, with a number of problems and profound changes.

The plot is simple, honestly based also on some clichés because the story is told from the point of view of a man who is hiding in Shazui, where he meets a prostitute and things get complicated, also because of the woman’s pimp. In this case, in my opinion that’s not a problem because everything is used to tell what’s around the characters. In some ways, the plot is an excuse to talk about China’s transformations of a not too distant future, which are nothing more than the continuation of the ones started in recent decades.

The element readers can find first in the story is the transformation of fishing villages into cities, stressed by the comment on the poor light in the apartments due to the very short distance between the buildings and the possibility for their tenants in buildings next to each other to shake hands through the windows.

That transformation brought a migration of people and Chen Qiufan also offers some information about the protagonists’ origin: the narrator moved because he’s on the run but Big Sister Shen and Snow Lotus moved for other reasons.

Chen Qiufan also tries to imagine the technological advances of the near future, of which he provides information here and there in the story also showing some possible consequences of their use. References to these technologies also provide a contrast to the more traditional elements that still are important parts of the characters’ lives.

All of that creates a complex environment in which the characters’ actions are determined by normal human emotions and feelings but are also deeply influenced by what’s around them. Chen Qiufan speaks of future China but everything is easily understandable for anyone and at least partly applicable to other nations. Those elements are the ones that give depth to “The Flower of Shazui” and for these reasons I believe it’s worth reading.

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