The Republic of Wine
Cover art for English Edition
|Genre||Satire, Detective novel, Comedy, social commentary|
Published in English
The Republic of Wine: A Novel (simplified Chinese: 酒国; traditional Chinese: 酒國) is a satirical novel by Mo Yan This novel explores the relationship between Chinese people and food and drink, and comments on government corruption and excesses. It was translated to English by Howard Goldblatt.
The novel has two distinct narrative threads, one of a standard fiction form following a detective, and the other a series of letters between "Mo Yan" and an aspiring author who is a fan of his work. The book contains ten chapters; each chapter contains several parts. The "detective" thread follows a special investigator, Ding Gou'er, sent to rural China to investigate claims of cannibalism. The "letters" thread contains letters exchanged between Li Yidou, an aspiring author, and "Mo Yan", as well as short stories that Li Yidou sends to "Mo Yan". As the novel progresses, the focus shifts from the Ding Gou'er standard narrative thread to the Li Yidou/Mo Yan thread. Some characters appear in both threads.
- Ding Gou'er, 48-year-old special investigator, gets a lift with a "lady trucker" (that he is quite taken with) to the Mount Luo Coal Mine, Liquorland (a fictional Chinese province), where he has been sent to investigate claims of cannibalism: claims of baby boys prepared as gourmet dishes. He is greeted by the Mine Director and Party Secretary and immediately taken to a banquet in his honour.
- Introductory letter from Li Yidou ("one-pint Li") to Mo Yan. Li is a PhD candidate in liquor studies at Brewers College in Liquorland, and aspiring author. He includes a short story (Alcohol) that he wrote after watching Red Sorghum, the film adaption of Mo Yan's novel of the same name.
- Mo Yan's reply to Li Yidou. Mo informs Li that he has sent his story to the editors of Citizens' Literature.
- Li Yidou's short story, Alcohol.
- The Mine Director and Party Secretary treat Ding to an expansive feast, and goad him into drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Ding does not hold his alcohol well. Deputy Head Diamond Jin, a Party official with a notorious capacity for drink, also joins them.
- Second letter from Li to Mo, and Li's second story, Meat Boy, which he calls "grim realism". Li is now bolder, in his requests to Mo's assistance to become a published author, comparing himself to Lu Xun and saying, "If you have to host a meal [to get it published], go ahead. If a gift is required, you have my blessing."
- Mo's reply to Li, commenting on Meat Boy.
- Li's short story, Meat Boy. One day two parents prepare their baby boy for a special event. The father, Jin Yuanbao, takes the boy on a journey to the Special Purchasing Section of the Culinary Academy in a village across the river. He waits with other parents and sons, perturbed by the presence of a small red demon. His son is eventually assessed by the staff there and judged to be "top grade." Jin is paid 2140 yuan.
- The centrepiece of the banquet is revealed, "Stork Delivering a Son". It appears to be a whole human baby boy, sitting up in a dish, and smells delicious. Ding draws his gun and accuses his company of cannibalism. Diamond Jin insists the dish is a culinary masterpiece -- a fake child. Ding panics and fires his gun wildly, shooting the baby boy in the head and collapses, drunk. The serving girls bring him sobering-up soup and he recovers somewhat. Diamond Jin explains how the fake boy is created and convinces Ding to eat a lotus root arm.
- After further drinking, Ding has an out of body experience where he witnesses the serving girls taking his comatose body to an underground hotel room. While his body is there, a "scaly-skinned demon" enters the room and strips his body of useful implements.
- Third letter from Li to Mo.
- Short story Child Prodigy by Li, in the style of "demonic realism" (according to Li). It follows the children who were sold at the Special Purchasing Section, and the little demon's attempt to lead them away. The children are caught by authorities at the Special Purchasing Section, but the little demon escapes.
- Mo's reply to Li.
- Ding Gou'er, special investigator
- The lady trucker
- Deupty Head Diamond Jin
- Li Yidou
- Mo Yan
- Little red devil/man with scales
- Yuan Shuangyu, Li Yidou's academic advisor and father-in-law
- Li Yidou's mother-in-law
- Yu Yichi, a dwarf hotelier
The Republic of Wine received near unanimous praise from Western literary critics. Phillip Gabone of The New York Times wrote, “'The Republic of Wine' is a fantastical postmodernist hodgepodge that borrows elements from kung fu novels, detective thrillers, traditional Chinese tales of the supernatural, American westerns and magic realist fiction. Some readers may find, as Mo says of one of the student's stories, that this novel suffers from "overly loose organization and relative lack of authorial restraint," but there's no denying that in his juxtapositions of the horrific and the comic, the lyric and the scatological, Mo is poking fun at China's post-Mao reformist era while letting out a wrenching cri de coeur for the lost soul of his country.”
Literary magazine Publishers Weekly praised the novel writing that Mo Yan, "fashions a complex, self-conscious narrative structure full of echoes and reflections. The novel grows progressively more febrile in tone, with pervasive, striking imagery and wildly imaginative digressions that cumulatively reveal the tremendous scope of his vision.” 
- Gambone, Philip. "The Republic of Wine". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
- Wallace, Richard. "Ambitious `Republic of Wine' is intoxicating". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
- "The Republic of Wine". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
- "The Republic of Wine". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 21 December 2016.