The Republic of Wine – Mo Yan

The Republic of Wine

“The relationship between man and liquor embodies virtually all the contradiction involved in the process of human existence and development.”

Ethyl alcohol is one of the most amusing liquid man has ever produced. Akin to meeting a boorish stranger, the first swig is not a friendly gesture, burning the innards as the alluring golden liquid tumbles down the desperate throat. But, the kiss of the second swig brings a faint smile that widens throughout the breezy evening. And, then as the silent third is followed by an anxious fourth and a shy fifth, the sixth one becomes audacious making the blissful visage sprout a devilish grin at the steady stream of warm blood oozing out against the glistening silvery blade as the knife stands proud piercing the center of the palm. Ethyl alcohol sure does have a wicked sense of humor. It vanishes pain through transient numbness only to slapdash the bloody pain back into the wretched palm when the body is liberated from the alcoholic playfulness. Food too, doesn’t shy from playing these malicious games, stimulating the dormant hunger into a vigorous ravaging monster. Wine and cuisine, the two crucial cultural pillars defining the glorious landscapes of its country and the vibrancy if its people, enhance the spirituality and human existence of the land from where it flourishes. Why do you think we have mouths? Ask the residents of Liquorland? To eat and drink and let our taste buds luxuriate in the world of pleasure and addiction, declare the streets of the Donkey Avenue. Diamond Jin agrees and so does the horny Yu Yichi. So why is the reader reluctant to accept this fact, like that silly fool Ding Gou’er? Isn’t liquor and food one of the intoxicating couple, you have ever met?

“In China, which reeks of liquor, can there be any endeavor with greater promise or a brighter future than the study of liquor, any field that bestows more abundant benefits? In the past, it was said that In books there are castles of gold, in books there are casks of grain, in books there are beautiful women.’ But the almanacs of old had their shortcomings, and the word liquor’ would have worked better than ‘books’.”

Liquor and ecstasy have always been in a relationship since the discovery of the former. The exquisiteness of liquor is compared to the elegance of a beautiful woman. One makes love to wine as one caresses the curves of a woman. Liquor was gold to Liquorland. It was their source of exorbitant income and given its economic significance to the town, the land offered varied types ranging from the subtle Overlapping Green Ants, the sturdy Eighteen- Li Red and the finest and the sweetest of them all Ape Liquor. Mo Yan’s surrealist bedlam is maddening as the corrupt functioning of Liquorland. The portrayal of absolute arrogance and manipulation by the governmental cadres led by Diamond Jin reeks of the sadistic games that alcohol plays. The ghosts of the Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap still haunt the residents of Liquorland , embedding a false sense of sanctuary in the illusionary world of monetary magnificence. Money surely makes even the devil turn the millstone and Yu Yichi knew the covert pathway of patronizing the rotten officials as Yichi wanted to show the people of Liquorland that even an ostracized dwarf could fuck every pretty girl in the town. The legacy of Maotai that was instated by Chairman Mao found a place in the quivering mouths of Liquorville, where materialistic greed and corrupt power brought a hallucinatory heaven reveling in the fragrant intoxication of superior wines and decadent braised “meat boys”.

“Do you think it’s credible?” he asked. “Could they really have the guts to braise and eat an infant?”

“Stork Delivering a Son”, an exceptional gastronomic dish coming out from the artistic interiors of the Culinary Research Center of Liquorland. How appetizing, isn’t it? What the hell! Diamond Jin takes immense pride in this enticing concoction of a braised chad; after all he earned heaps of glowing currencies from foreign dignitaries by serving this very dish. Cannibalism seems to be flavor for the moment for the ruling officials. And to come to think of Mo Yan’s metaphors, there is isn’t much of a difference. Although not literally adhering to the notion of cannibalism, still isn’t the approach of corrupt officials toward impoverished lives cannibalistic? So, why go to through the polite trouble of displacing the powerless impecunious lives for political gain, when like Mr. Jin one could resort to cannibalism and makes the unwanted disappear into the gastronomic abyss. Oh! Is that cruel? Then isn’t scavenging helpless lives for power, animalistic?

Mo Yan it seems desired Ding Gou’er to be a superhuman, a kung-fu yielding special agent with extraordinary investigative skills. What a moron! Mr. Yan in his quest for Ape Liquor overlooked the demonic influence of Diamond Jin and his alcoholic weapon over a man who prefers to fuck his women in an alcoholic stupor; a pitiable character inebriated with his own Achilles’ heel. Candied lotus root, Mr. Ding? Another serving perhaps?

“A writer should always bravely face life, risking death and mutilation in order to dethrone an emperor.”

The Republic of Wine has another significant plot running parallel to Ding’s investigation. A Ph.D student a.k.a Doctor of Liquor Studies, is an upcoming writer who heavily invests his time and acumen in a series of communicative letter with his mentor the celebrated Mo Yan. Impressed by the “pissing” event in Yan’s Red Sorghum, Li Yidou confesses to Yan that his true vocation is literature and not brewing the potent drug. By being self-critical Mo Yan is at his sarcastic best describing himself as a “puffy, balding, beady-eyed, twisted-mouthed, middle-aged writer”, eager to take part in the upcoming ‘Ape Liquor Festival’. Over the course of several chapters, the reader is in the delightful company of several short stories penned by Yidou encompassing an array of subjects relevant to the existing mayhem of Liquorland. The rambunctious Yichi spreading on the ceiling like a lizard, the gloominess of strange nights on the Donkey Avenue, the bizarre inhabitant of Yidou’s father-in-law with the apes to discover the sugary liquor; Li Yidou’s tales plunges into the deafening depth of surrealism enlisting folklore, political brutality, inhumane experiences, resilient swallows and outright bizarre episodes to be the symbolic core of realism. Out of the odd 5-6 short stories, the one that caught my eye was “Child Prodigy’; a story of a courageous young rebel. The young boy who braved the tyrannical odds , spoke volumes of the pitiful state of a society where freethinking and liberation choices were wiped out as quickly as the diners polished the fragrant steaming “Dragon and Phoenix Lucky Together” from their plates at Yichi’s Tavern.

“Birds die in pursuit of food, man dies chasing wealth.’ In times of chaos and corruption, men are just like birds, to all appearances free as the wind, but in fact, in constant peril from traps, nets, arrows, and firearms.”

Diamond Jin’s beloved Liquorland is a striking caricature of the blossoming consumerism society of China. As wine and food blend into a luxuriant duo, power and money make a perfect marriage; corruption the pertinent legality that sanctifies this pandemonium. Mo Yan’s metaphorical post-modern absurdity aptly illustrates the gigantic greed of money and power that have engulfed Chinese political environment. Mo Yan is meticulous to keep the conundrum of corruption on the outskirts of the Central government and focusing on local political elements. However, the roaring similarities cannot be ignored because no matter how or where the seed of corruption is sown, there are very few political patrons who choose not to stand in the shade of ‘tree of greed’. After all, who does not love money? Especially in countries where human lives are judged by their economic status, money and power are two condiments essential to make the food edible. As the patriots of Liquorville brag about the Liquorland being at the helm of wealth and prosperity, China has taken pride in the quantum economic rise of the Communist party. The government screams, “Look, we are making you rich by bringing money and all other luxuries at your door step. Why weep when you can enjoy the fruits of modern opulence?” But, on what cost? Who will clear the debris of wasted human lives? Mo Yan’s chaotic prose spirals down into a messy web that at times suffocates the readers as it does to the numerous ill-fated residents of Liquorland. The exploitation of power, the inebriate pangs of conscience faltering with every morsel of aromatic meat and the veracity of treacherous past blinding the morality with insatiable greed not only ravages the people of Liquorville , but also the spirit of human existence. Ultimately, Liquorland becomes a prosperous hoax, a land where even the industrious swallows know that a blemished nest is accepted as adulteration is a commonplace. As the rich get richer and the poor are left standing on the brink of death and desperation, hi-tech infrastructures are constructed on the graves of human rights, democratic voices are sliced open and wrapped in anti-nationalistic fervor as they bleed to death and people like Diamond Jin become the rising star of an exotic banquet while an impoverished couple copulate to procreate a “meat boy”.

“Is liquor a harmful insect or a beneficial one?”

Liquor is everything you adore and everything you detest. It either blurs agony or bestows mammoth torture. It is a living pesticide. The mesmerizing drops of ethyl alcohol become a thunderous metaphorical saga of a land drunk with authority and gluttony. Throughout the prose the acrid smell of liquor intoxicated Ding Gou’er, Li Yidou , Yichi and that rascal Mo Yan and at times even the reader( myself) felt the need to indulge in my own drunken fest. Alcohol and food is fucking tempting and so is the chase for money and power. Ask Diamond Jin or rather not, it seems that bastard has liquor moths in his stomach. So, Bring in the Wine!!

See how the Yellow River’s waters move out of heaven.
Entering the ocean, never to return.
See how lovely locks in bright mirrors in high chambers,
Though silken-black at morning, have changed by night to snow.
…Oh, let a man of spirit venture where he pleases
And never tip his golden cup empty toward the moon!
Since heaven gave the talent, let it be employed!
Spin a thousand pieces of silver, all of them come back!
Cook a sheep, kill a cow, whet the appetite,
And make me, of three hundred bowls, one long drink!
…To the old master, Cen,
And the young scholar, Danqiu,
Bring in the wine!
Let your cups never rest!
Let me sing you a song!
Let your ears attend!

——- Verse from Li Bai’s poem.



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