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Ma Jian. Stick Out Your Tongue.

Ma Jian. Stick Out Your Tongue. Flora Drew, tr. New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2006. 93 pages. $16. ISSN 0-374-26988-2

IN 1985, after being hunted by Chinese authorities for three years and being divorced from his wife, Ma Jian took a journey to Tibet to "find a refuge." The result of this spiritual quest culminated in a collection of stories under the title Stick Out Your Tongue, which was banned by the Chinese government when it was first published in the journal People's Literature in 2987. The editor, Liu Xinwu, lost his job, while the work was criticized as "pornographic, obsessive, filthy and shameful." Immediate banning of the book caused the price of the journal to soar in the black market. By this time, Ma Jian had already moved to Hong Kong, from where he would emigrate to Germany.

It is interesting that "Stick Out Your Tongue" is not one of the titles of the five stories in the collection. Ma Jian uses the expression to summarize the feelings he experienced during the exotic journey to this spiritual realm. "Stick out your tongue" is one of the ways Chinese herbalists use to diagnose a patient's health condition. Similarly, the author sees Tibet as a spiritual haven in which he will be able to find salvation. Amid his sociopolitical problems as a writer, together with his personal issues, Ma Jian hoped "to escape into a different landscape and culture and gain a deeper insight into [his] Buddhist faith."

Still, the five stories in the collection thwarted his goal of a spiritual enlightenment. Greed for gold, incestuous relationships, poverty, ceremonial rape, ignorance, superstition, and death fill the pages. Ma Jian was carried away by the naked humanity of the Tibetan people, whose vicissitudes in life dwarf his own personal problems. The characters in the stories are so vivid that they seem to jump out at the reader.

It appears that Ma Jian is more interested in minority women than men. The females depicted in the book are mostly sex victims. One dies during childbirth after sleeping with three men; another innocent one is forced into an incestuous situation with her father and later loses her sanity; a female living Buddha, who is made to stand naked in a frozen river for three days to demonstrate her power, dies on the second day. Of the five stories, four of them speak of the plight of the Tibetan females. They are all scapegoats in a cultural and religious context that masks vicious social realities.

At the end of his journey, no longer does Ma Jian see Tibet as a place of refuge and a destination of spiritual awakening. Tibet only offers him another angle on humanity and truth. He returns to Beijing "in a void," having discovered a common human denomination in all of mankind. Stick Out Your Tongue is not meant to be a political attack on his motherland using colonial Tibet. It is the confession of an eyewitness to the ugly human condition.

Fatima Wu

Loyola Marymount University
COPYRIGHT 2006 University of Oklahoma
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wu, Fatima
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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