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This novel is set in the rapidly changing world of China in which a young Englishman attempts to reinvent himself but is overwhelmed by the country's temptations and deadly pitfalls.

Shaken by China

The beating was almost a ritual. I am not saying that I did not feel the pain. I felt every blow and the pain was excruciating. But a numbness had invaded my mind. I knew that the punishment would not be so severe that I could not work. That, and the discipline which assured the continued existence of the factory, was all that mattered in that place. There was no good, no bad: we existed in a world beyond all of that. Some of the guards may have enjoyed inflicting pain on me and on the other workers, but they were not allowed to damage us too badly, they had to ensure that we were still able to work. Sick people were of no use and vanished mysteriously from the valley, sometimes returning in full health, sometimes never to be seen again. Fractious people like myself were beaten into submission - mentally and physically. My beating took place on the bridge so that the workers on each side could see it happening. They knew why I was being beaten and that this would happen to them if they challenged the power of the guards in any way. They all knew this, but they perhaps needed a little reminder. My beating was simply that, a little reminder. The guards bore me no rancour for trying to escape. They knew that it was impossible to get out of the place. They knew about the boy, fried and rotting against the fence. They knew that their jobs depended on the fact that not the smallest glimmering of the existence of this place leaked out. They also knew that they were outnumbered yet needed to wield absolute power over the slave workforce that made the bricks that paid their wages. They were probably grateful to me for the opportunity to stage a little reminder. No one moved to help me. No one cried out in my defence. Everyone watched my beating grateful in the knowledge that it was not themselves who had incurred the wrath of the guards.

When I collapsed, broken, bruised and bleeding they tied my feet together with rope then tossed me into the river. I did not care. I wanted to die. Flashes of the gruesome sight of the dead boy appeared before my eyes - as they always would - death by drowning in the river would be a respite from pain, a respite from recall. But I knew that they would not let me drown. I was pulled from the water in good time. The workers were told to continue with their jobs and I was left to crawl away. They had taken everything from me, my parcel with my passport, my confidence, my self-respect, my determination to escape, everything. I was nothing. From then on my existence was to be a punishment, a punishment for my treatment of beautiful plum and of Lucy, a punishment for wasting my life. I crawled away like an injured beast looking for somewhere to die.

But I did not die. I was hurt, but not fatally so. I crawled towards one of the kilns for some reason, warmth perhaps. The team of men dismantling the kiln ignored me. I blacked out. A kick to my bruised and bleeding body brought me back to consciousness. It was dark, the floodlights were on. It was time to return to the huts. I struggled to my feet, the guard who had kicked me used his club to goad me forward, not maliciously, simply to push me onward as a farmer might goad a cow. Weak in body and mind. I behaved like a cow. I reached the hut and slept beneath my blanket. I arose next morning without the slightest interest in my surroundings and my fellow man. I limped down to the factory, ate the food, washed the plate in the river, drank the river water, just as I would do from that day on - every morning, without question, without resentment, without any feeling at all.


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108,000 words

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