Beijing Comrades is the first English translation of a novel that was originally published online in 1998 by a pseudonymous writer. The book’s mystery author, as well as the process by which it achieved cult status under Chinese censorship, probably holds more interest than the text itself. The story is not totally without literary merits, but it mostly serves as a fairly straightforward tale of forbidden love and as a depiction of gay culture in 1980s and 90s Beijing. Of the most interest are the class and gender politics at play in Handong and Lan Yu’s love story. Handong is a wealthy businessman, a decade older than Lan Yu, a poor student from Western China with almost no family ties, and, as such, Handong is the most unwilling to take on a gay identity. The implication of Handong’s resistance to identifying as gay is that the more social and economic obligations one has, the less able he is to attain true love in a restrictive society.
The female characters in the book are depicted as being the most enslaved to social and economic obligations, and, thus, mostly function to further restrict Handong and Lan Yu’s relationship. For me, the nuanced depiction of the economics of relationships makes Beijing Comrades the most worth reading.
The Feminist Press at CUNY
Bei Tong, Scott E. Myers, Translator