Truer Than Wuxiu
Somewhere between Dickens and Tolstoy stands British novelist Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865), whose pen name in the proper Victorian mode was Mrs. Gaskell. Little known in America, she is beloved enough in England to have inspired a BBC adaptation of North and South, her Pride and Prejudice-style love story between a minister's daughter from England's green, prosperous South and a textile magnate from its grim, industrializing North.
I haven't read the novel, but the film is gritty, compelling, romantic. And timely in this sense: it doesn't make one me about England, it makes me think about China. History's biggest industrial revolution is happening right now, and with it a gigantic version of all the problems depicted in this film. And Mrs. Gaskell's vision of rapprochement between management and labor is also oddly of the moment. At least the answer in China is not going to be Marxist-Leninist revolution. Been there, done that.
One thing I learned while visiting the PRC this spring is that audio-visual piracy (a major industry, make no mistake) is not just "theft," as the Motion Picture Association puts it; it also the lifeblood of China's independent film scene. It is not illegal to make indie films there, but very few are released. (The government prefers the blockbuster wuxiu films, in which exotically dressed super-heroes and heroines engage in gravity-defying combat.) So piracy - taoba - is also samizdat. Watch North and South and let me know if you agree: it would be quite interesting to see VCDs (cut-rate DVDs) of this film show up in the street stalls of Shanghai.