The Explosion Chronicles

(Zhalie Zhi)

Yan Lianke

Nominated for The Man Booker International 2017
Bestseller in China

The Explosion Chronicles

‘As much a parody of communist rule in China as a devastating critique of capitalist excess, power, greed and self-destruction, Yan’s novel is nothing short of a masterpiece.’ Guardian

‘A hyper-real tour de force, a blistering condemnation of political corruption and excess masquerading as absurdist saga.’ Financial Times

‘Exuberant and imaginative’ The Sunday Times (Ireland) Must Reads

‘[Yan’s] fiction has lampooned some of the darkest moments in Chinese history. . . . In this latest work, however, Yan shifts his irreverent gaze from the past to the present and toward projections of the future, taking stock of China’s vertiginous economic rise and the astonishing dissolution of its collective social conscience. . . . The formal inventiveness of The Explosion Chronicles is impressive and its fictional universe vividly drawn. . . . I can think of few better novelists than Yan, with his superlative gifts for storytelling and penetrating eye for truth.’ The New York Times Book Review

‘The Explosion Chronicles is not as unrelentingly dark as The Four Books, but it may be even more politically daring. The official line on the Great Leap Famine is that it was a disaster, but that the government’s culpability for it should be downplayed. The official line on the post-Moa boom is that it has helped China to move steadily towards a national revival. In Explosion brightly hued roses may bloom out of season when something good happens, but the vision is closer to a nightmare. Even the most majestic of sights in this novel are distractions designed to mask the pervasive moral rot that lies beneath the surface.’ Times Literary Supplement

‘The Explosion Chronicles, a satirical extravaganza by Yan Lianke, brilliantly translated by Carlos Rojas, has its roots firmly embedded in Chinese reality. In an uproarious cavalcade of boom and (Yan hints) bust, the four Kong brothers and their resourceful womenfolk mastermind the ascent of their home town. Explosion becomes China in microcosm, as it “replicated in miniature the pain and prosperity undergone by the nation itself”. The novel’s farce, fantasy and fun stay just a step or two ahead of China’s gravity-defying truth. Not surprisingly, Yan’s work has been repeatedly banned in China.’ Boyd Tonkin, The Economist

‘This darkly absurd history trucks freely with the fantastic . . . but many of the more brazen events are taken straight from the news . . . Yan’s burlesque of a nation driven insane by money is equally a satire of some of the excesses of the Chinese Revolution.’ Wall Street Journal

‘Welcome to “mythorealism” and Yan Lianke’s extraordinary novel. The Explosion Chronicles wields a different take on reality to present a provocatively illuminating and perceptive insight into contemporary China.’ The Sunday Times

‘Mordant satire from a brave fabulist’ Mail on Sunday

‘A rip-roaring Swiftian satire from a contemporary Chinese master. . . .Yan Lianke, one of China’s most forthright and versatile novelists, enlists extravagant comedy and far-fetched fable to propel his critique of a society where ‘power and money have colluded to steal people’s souls.’. . . The reader slips into a literary China of poetry and mystery that flourished long before the boom. The Economist

‘An epic page-turner . . . a multi-layered marvel . . . combining unflinching observation [and] stinging satire . . . Yan’s mesmerizing ability to pull readers into this raw, subversive, not completely fictional world will continue to build his international audiences.’ Library Journal (starred review)

‘The Explosion Chronicles is both madcap satire and engrossing dynastic epic, as three rival clans compete to turn the idyllic Chinese village of Explosion into a booming megacity.’ Good Housekeeping’s Hot Reads

The remote village of Explosion, nestled between Henan province’s Yi River and the Balou mountains, was founded a thousand years ago by refugees fleeing a devastating volcanic eruption. In the post-Mao era, the name gains new significance as the community grows exponentially to become a vast metropolis. Behind this rapid expansion are members of three prominent families. Kong Mingliang is a conman and a thief who builds a fortune by robbing trains. His rival is former secretary Cheng Qing, the founder of a powerful political and industrial dynasty. Then there is Zhu Ying, the daughter of the village chief and a former prostitute, who now runs a chain of brothels. An unholy but unbreakable alliance between Kong and Zhu usurps her father and places Kong at the head of the community as the town’s first mayor.

This is a brilliantly acerbic portrait of modern China and a world driven mad by the twin forces of power and money. Brimming with absurdity, intelligence and wit, Yan Lianke examines the high stakes and low dealings of passion and power, the consequences of greed and corruption, the polarising dynamics of love and hatred between clans, and the seemingly unstoppable excesses of capitalism. Forming a loose trilogy with LENIN’S KISSES and THE FOUR BOOKS, THE EXPLOSION CHRONICLES is a smart, flamboyant and poetic tale of ambition, lies and vice from China’s master satirist.

‘Yan Lianke paints a metaphorical and absurd portrait of contemporary China so obsessed with growth that her moral values have been left by the wayside… a great novel of rare profundity.’ Le Monde

‘Yan Lianke is, together with Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan and Yu Hua, one of the most important Chinese writers today. With THE EXPLOSION CHRONICLES he gives us a surprising, fantastical vision of the upheavals in China over the last thirty years.’ Rue 89


  • Shanghai99 China
  • Rye Field Press Taiwan
  • Grove Atlantic USA
  • Chatto & Windus UK
  • Text Australia
  • Verzone Czech Republic
  • Editions Philippe Picquier France
  • Jamo Book Korea
  • Kawade Shobo Japan
  • Automatica Editorial Spain & Latin America
  • CAN Turkey
  • Atlantis/Natur och Kultur Sweden
  • Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy Poland
  • Relogio d’Agua Editores Portugal
  • Cappelen Damm Norway
  • Nottetempo Italy
  • Taodanbooks Vietnam

Material: Chinese and French editions (370pp); English editions