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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Please Don't Call Me Human

Wang Shuo

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To purchase Please Don't Call Me Human

Title: Please Don't Call Me Human
Author: Wang Shuo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989 (Eng.: 2000)
Length: 292 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: Please Don't Call Me Human - US
Please Don't Call Me Human - UK
Please Don't Call Me Human - Canada
  • Chinese title 千万别把我当人
  • Translated by Howard Goldblatt

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Our Assessment:

B- : fairly amusing, though the comedy is a bit broad and heavy-handed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 12/4/2001 .
The Guardian A- 19/8/2000 Nicholas Lezard
The New Yorker . 4/8/2000 .
USA Today A 10/8/2000 Jackie Pray
Wall St. Journal A 11/8/2000 Yu Wong

  Review Consensus:

  Marvelous satire, properly skewering all aspects of modern Chinese life.

  From the Reviews:
  • "The China in-jokes fly thick and fast, but the surreal farce carries through to an apocalyptic close." - The Economist

  • "Please Don't Call Me Human is a raucous, surreal satire on what it means to be Chinese at the moment, as revolutionary Communist rhetoric joins forces with materialist capitalism. (...) (A) bit grim to read at times, but stick with it: Wang Shuo is the real thing, and the stuff that comes out of his head is the stuff of true satire." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Much of the Joe Orton-like dialogue consists of exuberantly subverted clichés, and the author's playfulness leavens his tale's misanthropy." - The New Yorker

  • "At its heart, Please Don't Call Me Human is a clever parody of Chinese government institutions and a bitter allegory about the lunacy of abusing the strength and loyalty of China's working class." - Jackie Pray, USA Today

  • "For anyone tired of hearing about China's fabled 5,000 years of history, Wang Shuo's new novel is the purest of diabolical pleasures. (...) Ignore the lapses in narrative consistency and the difficulty of translating the stomach-knotting hilarity of Mr. Wang's puns and scathing misappropriations of classical and communist lingo. Read this book to the climactic end just to savor what may be the most delicious parody ever of China's often self-destructive pride." - Yu Wong, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Wang Shuo's novel, Please Don't Call Me Human, is a simplistic satire of modern China. The honour of the nation is at stake after a Caucasian "strongman with the Alvin Keller circus" (described as "a tub of lard" weighing four- or five-hundred pounds) summarily defeats a legion of "yellow opponents" in the ring. A committee is formed, named (after careful deliberation) the National Mobilization Committee -- MobCom for short --, with the goal of finding a man to reclaim China's honour and defeat the white man. MobCom is a typical bureaucratic institution, its members theoretically working towards one goal but in fact all working towards their own ends -- be they capitalist, nationalist, or otherwise.
       Amazingly a suitable candidate is found: Tang Yuanbao, "a latter-day Big Dream Boxer", whose father was one of the original Boxers (of turn-of-the century rebellion fame (or infamy)). A nation pins its hopes on Yuanbao, but he is in the hands of MobCom whose various factions seem more concerned with other successes. They prefer to exploit him in advertisements and the like. Yuanbao may be physically strong, but he bows to the will of his MobCom handlers -- with most unfortunate results.
       Please Don't Call Me Human is very much about the Chinese notion of saving face, but in the end Wang shows that all the Chinese excel at is losing face -- a point driven home by Yuanbao's horrific triumph at the end of the book. Yuanbao also suffers in a number of other ways, losing considerably more than just his honour (let's just say he isn't quite the man he used to be by the end of the novel).
       Wang Shuo's broad satire zips along at a fast pace. Much of the book is in dialogue form, and there is a great deal of often entertaining action. It is, however, a brutally simplistic and rough satire. There is no delicate touch at work here; this is cartoon fiction.
       Given the Chinese situation and outsiders' relative ignorance of conditions there such an over-the-top approach may be what foreign readers are most receptive to. Wang Shuo does provide a fair amount of insight into modern Chinese life, and there is entertainment value to it as well. Still, it leaves a somewhat sour aftertaste.

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Please Don't Call Me Human: Reviews: Wang Shuo: Other books by Wang Shuo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Wang Shuo (王朔) is one of China's most popular and controversial authors.

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© 2000-2009 the complete review

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