On an August day in 1983, I went to a hospital in Shanghai to visit my father. He’d developed liver problems in the mid-1960s while being tortured and forced to do hard labor by the communist government on a labor camp as punishment for his “anti-government activities.” That day, his liver finally failed and he was dying. As I sat by his bedside, he said to me, “Leave China if you can, and stay as far away as you can. Nothing good could ever come out of Red China.” He died the next day. Two years later, I left Red China for America, the shining democratic beacon of the world.
Today, the black-and-white contrasts between the democratic, capitalist United States and the oppressive, communist China have faded into grayish contradictions. By the time I began to write Two Tales of the Moon, my recently published novel, it was 2014 and China seemed to have convinced the world that it could grow a capitalist economy under a communist party-controlled regime. So, I decided to go back and to fact-check China’s claim.
It’s true that the economic boom over the past two and a half decades has lifted many Chinese out of dirt-poor living conditions. However, it’s often the party members who have benefited most and become filthy rich; hundreds of millions of ordinary people are still living on a little over a dollar a day. In Shanghai’s glitzy districts, beggars and unemployed migrants wander the streets lined by Chanel and Prada stores. Ghosts occupy the skyscraper-like luxury condos and apartments, and air pollution hovers over the futuristic-looking city like a concrete dome.
China has become a country of contradictions.
But on the opposite end of the world, here in United States, the contradictions related to China are no less prominent. I hear our government accusing China of human rights violations, currency manipulations and opaque financial and banking practices. Yet, China is the largest holder of U.S. national debt. We worry about cyber-security threats from China, yet high-tech companies like IBM and Microsoft are willing to reveal their codes to China in order to gain the privilege of doing business there. We say we are proud of products made in America, but we have exported our manufacturing infrastructure to China for many decades.
These political and economical contradictions within the United States and China, however, as odd and irreconcilable as they seem to be, later become elements of clash and contrast in Two Tales of the Moon, a literary fiction centered around a high-stakes deal between two U.S. and Chinese cyber-technology companies. Through the characters of Lu Li, a successful Wall Street investment banker, and Will Donovan, a Navy veteran and cyber-security specialist, we see the constant push and pull of those elements — East and West, past and present, hope and fear, love and betrayal, human struggle and triumph.
By the time I finished writing Two Tales of the Moon, I realized I’d married politics and literature, and written not only a timely novel about a war that’s currently fought on the economic front and in the cyber domain between the United States and China, but also a novel with a timeless theme — that the human struggle to make the right choices in life is the same regardless of one’s past and cultural upbringing.
I see clearly that in today’s globalized world, America’s once shining beacon has somehow dimmed a bit, and the Red China I left 30 years ago is not as bloody red as it used to be. The two countries will be bound by America’s dream of money and profit and China’s superpower ambition for a long time to come, if not forever.
Jennifer Sun has an MBA from George Washington University and a B.A. in English Literature from Fudan University in China. She has held several senior management positions at Fortune 500 companies in telecommunication and web technology industries. She currently writes full time and lives with her husband in Vienna, Virginia.
Photo credit: hans-johnson