Posted 15 November 2021
Book Review ‘Lotus’ Lijia Zhang
Lotus is a book which portrays the lives of women who are involved in China’s sex industry. The story unfolds through the viewpoint of the protagonist Lotus, a young woman who as a teenager migrates from a rural village to Shenzhen, one of China’s Special Economic Zones, along with her cousin Little Red, driven by the motivation of changing their fates. As China tries to find its identity and its place in the world so do its citizens, shown through the characters in this novel by Lijia Zhang.
Lijia Zhang is not the first female author to explore China’s issue of prostitution and its boom during the country’s reforms and opening up period, yet despite having read novels which dealt with similar topics, the book still managed to keep me engaged. For me one of the standout aspects of the book was the way Lijia Zhang utilised the language to give the story its charm. The book is humorous without making light of the topics it is exploring and this humorous tone contrasts with the moments when it is thought provoking using wordplay and old Chinese proverbial sayings in each chapter title, reading like a mantra, offering wisdom and comfort for the characters. The novel itself manages to keep an optimistic tone from beginning to end despite the hardships they face the characters never lose their positive attitude, they come apart and together again many times (psychologically and mentally) and yet continue to search for their happiness and their salvation.
The contextualisation of the themes explored also contributed to distinguishing the book from others which have dealt with similar topics. The political and economic situation of the country are not always focused on yet Lijia Zhang manages to make them relevant throughout the novel by showing the way they link to social problems of rural poverty, corruption and lack of opportunities for migrant workers which contribute to the marginalisation of migrant women and sex workers. I found that having the context provided really allows the reader to understand the motivations behind the characters (this does not mean that you will always agree with their choices or empathise with them) in that we view them not as characters whose choices and behaviour are isolated occurrences but rather products of a corrupted system, the wealthy and powerful abuse those beneath them because they suffer little to no consequences and the powerless are left with very few options to survive within the system, with prostitution being one.
I would recommend this book to everyone as I am sure you will all be as captured by the narrative and the characters as I was, but I would especially urge those interested in the kind of impact that China’s rapid development and acceptance of a western style economic market has had and continues to have on the country’s marginalised groups as the book looks into their struggles, the social stigmas against them but most importantly it gives readers a chance to understand the root cause of the problem and why it is difficult to find a solution. The characters in the novel may be fictional however the story which unfolds is that of many women living in China who are involved in the sex industry.
Lotus is a book that refuses to censor the harsh reality of sex workers, Lijia Zhang does an amazing job of presenting modern China, with all of its contrasts, a country which offers its new generation a better future, a chance to succeed in life and achieve their China dream yet one which still fails to protect the vulnerable and the disenfranchised and to provide tangible solutions for their problems.
Ruth works in our MARAC team