I’ve avoided writing about this book until now for reasons unknown to me, and now, after it has been renewed six times from the library, I think it is time to give it back so someone else can have a chance to read it.
In China Mountain Zhang, China has won the cold war and Chinese communism has spread the globe. In the 22nd century, the U.S. has had only a few generations since the bloody American Liberation War. Our titular main character Zhang was born to two revolutionaries in the aftermath. Though he is ethnically only half-Chinese, his parents have him genetically altered to look fully so, both as a tribute to what they believed and with hope of Zhang having a better life in a Chinese-run world. Even his name, that of a now-disgraced hero, reeks of the optimism of his parents. Despite this, he works as a construction tech in NYC—a dead end job—and spends his time off watching kite races, drinking and being unhappily gay in a society that does not tolerate homosexuality. In China, the land of opportunity, gayness is even more forbidden, but despite this, it is Zhang's hope to go there someday and do, well do something better than being a tech.
Wow, perhaps I hate writing plot summary so much is because I am so bad at it.
Our man China Mountain Zhang does get to go to China, after some plot twists that only strain credulity a bit. His end is a little too sweet for me. It feels like McHugh loved her creation so much that she didn’t want to see him permanently hurt. Even with the rosy sunset ending, I loved this book.
Two things really stuck out for me. In the China part of the book, Zhang meets a guy he is attracted to. He ignores it because, hey, who wants to get sent to jail? Then the guy begins speaking in a code that Zhang recognizes from pick ups in NYC and can’t believe his ears. The dated cheesiness of the exchange (like the 80s channeling the 1910s) worked in its favor because it got me thinking about the languages we create to survive in oppressive societies and how the internet is making that less possible and less needed at the same time.
Another was the mostly untold story of Zhang’s parents and other minor characters in the book. Those that help “reform” the U.S. in an effort called Cleansing Winds are now considered embarrassments and those that haven’t been killed or sent to camps keep quiet about their part. This has always been a compelling issue for me in the history of and literature about Communism and it was interesting to see it explored in this McHugh’s world.
*Despite the giant gun-looking thing, there is no interstellar combat in China Mountain Zhang. It's an ice melter!