Rage Against the Machine

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Dashed hopes: Beijing's Democracy Wall, 1979

In March 1979, in a provincial Chinese town named Muddy River, a 28-year-old counterrevolutionary, Gu Shan, is executed, after 10 years of imprisonment, for publicly losing her faith in communism. At the denunciation ceremony, which the entire town is obliged to attend, it becomes clear that her vocal cords have been severed so that she cannot cry out counterrevolutionary slogans. But like a stone cast in water, the ripples of this execution spread out wide and The Vagrants — Yiyun Li's first novel after her extravagantly praised and miraculously poised prizewinning debut collection, A Thousand...

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