Qiu Xiaolong

Last week the Chinese government executed Zheng Xiaoyu, the head of their State Food and Drug Administration for taking bribes to approve substandard medicines, including antibiotics blamed for at least 10 deaths. This has come amidst widespread scandals over the safety of Chinese export products covering everything from pet food contaminated with melamine to toxic toothpaste. According to a recent article in Newsweek virtually every product category is affected.

I have been following this with particular interest because I have just finished reading the first three detective novels by Qiu Xiaolong, which are set in modern Shanghai. These give an intriguing insight into life in modern China and the government’s attempts to curb corruption.

Inspector Chen started his career as a student of English literature and a poet. Originally destined for the foreign service he was rejected at the last minute because of a politically incorrect relation and assigned a job in the police. He has attained his rank due to the patronage of his boss, whose role is solely political. Each case he is allocated involves a delicate balancing act, as he attempts to intuit whether he is really supposed to investigate the politically sensitive cases he is allocated, or if finding the real culprit will bring his career to a sudden halt. Does the government really want to expose corruption or does it just want a scapegoat? The answers make for absorbing reading.

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(posting from Bernice)