short story of the day #8: folding beijing by hao jingfang, trans. ken liu

Short Story of the Day #8: “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu

A lot of these early Short Stories of the Day are Hugo and Nebula winners, and Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing” is no exception. Ken Liu’s 2015 translation won the Best Novelette Hugo, and the story is so enthralling that non-Chinese speakers will wish they could read the original.

Why “Folding Beijing”?

Many of us have been saying for years that the West is a full-blown capitalist hellscape. If we weren’t there before, we’ve certainly arrived sometime over the last few years. Canada is euthanizing the poor. Jeffrey Bezos is bringing back the company towns that once dominated my little corner of the U.S. And the rest of us are trapped.

Hao’s characters are similarly trapped in “Folding Beijing.” In this vision of China’s future, citizens in an overpopulated Beijing have been divided into three classes, each of which occupies the city during specific, separate time windows. The law allows third-class Beijinger Lao Dao to be awake for eight hours out of every 48—five of which he spends working as a garbageman. When he’s hired to courier a message from a second-class student to the young man’s erstwhile lover in First Space, however, he seizes the opportunity to buy a better future for his daughter.

Now, a writer with more knowledge of Chinese society could speak on “Folding Beijing” much better than I ever could. I have no doubt that Hao’s novelette comments on myriad aspects of life in contemporary, urban China. But to someone who grew up among the have-nots in the corporate wasteland of North America, where Fortune 500 companies direct employees to apply for public assistance, Hao’s story feels eerily prescient, a reminder of just how terrible late-stage capitalism might become.

My favorite line:

Her lips had felt so soft, and his hands had caressed the curve of her waist and backside, again and again. From that day on, he had lived in the country of longing. She was his dream at night, and also the light he saw when he trembled in his own hand.

Click here to read “Folding Beijing.”

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Image credit: Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash