A Chinese writer whose marriage has fallen apart travels to Tibet. As he wanders through the countryside, he witnesses the sky burial of a Tibetan woman who died during childbirth, shares a tent with a nomad who is walking to a sacred mountain to seek forgiveness for sleeping with his daughter, meets a silversmith who has hung the wind-dried corpse of his lover to the walls of his cave, and hears the story of a young female incarnate lama who died during a Buddhist initiation rite. In the thin air of the high plateau, the divide between fact and fiction becomes confused and the man is drawn deep into an alien culture he knew nothing about, and which haunts his dreams.
Banned in China in 1987, Stick Out Your Tongue, is the hugely influential book that set Ma Jian on the road to exile.
Ma's five evocative stories concern a young Chinese journalist's travels to the wild plateaus of occupied Tibet in the late 1980s. In the first story, "The Woman and the Blue Sky," the spiritually curious journalist, whose marriage has collapsed, hopes to witness a sky burial, in which a corpse is hacked up and fed to vultures; he meets a Sichuan soldier who invites him to the imminent burial of a 17-year-old pregnant woman, the soldier's lover as well as the wife of two local brothers. Incest and sexual violence figure in some of the stories, such as "The Eight-Fanged Roach," in which the journalist, seeking shelter in a tent at the edge of the Changtang Plateau, hears the awful confession of a nomad obsessed with the daughter he has sired by his mother and drunkenly raped. "The Final Initiation" is the account of a chosen Living Buddha, a 15-year-old girl whose yogic skills desert her after the monastery's sanctioned ritual rape and who dies during her last ceremony immersion for three days in an icy river. Ma (The Noodle Maker) has a keen sense for both the feral and the deeply spiritual in his characters. The book was published in China in 1997; all of Ma's subsequent work has been banned there.