Meili, a young peasant woman born in the remote heart of China, is married to Kongzi, a village school teacher, and a distant descendant of Confucius. They have a daughter, but desperate for a son to carry on his illustrious family line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant again without waiting for official permission. When family planning officers storm the village to arrest violators of the population control policy, mother, father and daughter escape to the Yangtze River and begin a fugitive life.
For years they drift south through the poisoned waterways and ruined landscapes of China, picking up work as they go along, scavenging for necessities and flying from police detection. As Meili's body continues to be invaded by her husband and assaulted by the state, she fights to regain control of her fate and that of her unborn child.
MA JIAN was born in Qingdao, China, in 1953. He is the author of Stick Out Your Tongue, his debut novel which in 1987 led to the permanent banning of his books in China; Red Dust, winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; four collections of short stories and essays; and six further novels, including Beijing Coma, winner of the Index on Censorship Book Award and the Athens Prize for Literature. His last book, The Dark Road, nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, saw him barred from returning to China. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. He now lives in exile in London.