Dai Wei has been unconscious for almost a decade. A medical student and a pro-democracy protestor in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, he was struck by a soldier's bullet and fell into a deep coma. As soon as the hospital authorities discovered that he had been an activist, his mother was forced to take him home. She allowed pharmacists access to his body and sold his urine and his left kidney to fund special treatment from Master Yao, a member of the outlawed Falun Gong sect. But during a government crackdown, the Master was arrested, and Dai Wai's mother—who had fallen in love with him—lost her mind.
As the millennium draws near, a sparrow flies through the window and lands on Dai Wei's naked chest, a sign that he must emerge from his coma. But China has also undergone a massive transformation while Dai Wei lay unconscious. As he prepares to take leave of his old metal bed, Dai Wei realizes that the rich, imaginative world afforded to him as a coma patient is a startling contrast with the death-in-life of the world outside.
At once a powerful allegory of a rising China, racked by contradictions, and a seminal examination of the Tiananmen Square protests, Beijing Coma is Ma Jian's masterpiece. Spiked with dark wit, poetic beauty, and deep rage, this extraordinary novel confirms his place as one of the world's most significant living writers.
The outcome of this bleak, wrenching generational saga from Ma Jian (Stick Out Your Tongue and The Noodle Maker) is known from early on: the politicization of Dai Wei, a diligent molecular biology Ph.D. student at Beijing University, ends in Tiananmen Square with a bullet striking him in the head. As the book opens, Dai Wei is just waking from a coma that has continued over 10 years following the June 4, 1989, massacre still apparently unconscious, but actually aware of his surroundings. The narrative then alternates between Dai Wei's very conscious observations as a nonresponsive ''vegetable'' over the years of his coma, and his childhood and student life. Ma Jian evokes the horrors of an oppressive regime in minute, gruesome detail, particularly in quotidian scenes of his mother's attempts to care for Dai Wei, which eventually lead her to a member of the banned Falun Gong movement. The book's behind-the-scenes portrayal of the nascent student movement hinges on repetitious ideological bickering and sexual power plays. Lengthy expositions of Dai Wei's condition slow the book further, but Ma Jian achieves startling effects through Dai Wei's dispassionate narration, making one man's felled body a symbol of lost possibility.