I Am China
This week in the Guernica/PEN Flash series, we feature a piece by Xiaolu Guo. Love the series? Pass this on to friends and they’ll get two new stories delivered to their inbox twice a month—no spam or news, just stories.
LINCOLNSHIRE, FEBRUARY 2012
Lincolnshire Psychiatric Hospital
2 Brocklehurst Crescent
London SW1A 1AA
My name is Kublai Jian, but they usually call me Jian—it means strong and vigorous. I’m writing to you from a madhouse in Lincolnshire. I’m sure you know your English towns as well as you know how many toes you have and how many nails are attached to your toes, and that Lincolnshire is where your Lady Thatcher comes from. You may think I am not sober, like the people in this madhouse. But I promise you that at this very moment, I am more sober and steady than anyone else here.
I believe you understand the justice of this world. I think a powerful person like you can really help me out. In China we say if you can talk to the boss then don’t talk to the boss’s secretary, and if you can talk to the boss’s wife then no need to talk to the boss. So, dear Queen, you are that boss lady, you are the top one!
I lived all my life in China. Well, up until a few weeks ago. I arrived in London at the end of December, and ended up in a wet and poky flat near Mile End station. It was quite depressing to live on a rotten carpet all day, but that was nothing compared with what came afterwards. One morning I was downstairs eating two oily sausages, and I found a letter from the UK Home Office and they had turned down my asylum application. I swallowed the second sausage and decided to fight back. I needed to gather £2,000 for an appeal, plus many extra documents which I don’t have. That day I went crazy and began to scream at everyone who was trying to talk to me. Then during the night my stomach declared a war on me, sharp pains in my intestines. Dear Queen, maybe this is not your business but I have had a very troubled bowel since I was a child, which is exactly what Fidel Castro has suffered from all his life. Bad intestine, knotted and throbbed and bubbled. I thought I was going to die that very night.
But I did not die. Next morning someone took me to a hospital. And after an overall check-up with one doctor, he said there was nothing wrong with my bowel but possibly something wrong with my head. I cursed the man’s mother and grandmother and his great-great-uncle. He then immediately sent me to another doctor who specialises on brain but not body. I was so angry and impatient that I hit the brain doctor on his face and smashed his glasses.
Right after that three security guards seized me and put me in a van. Two hours later I found myself in some ugly suburb with sheep walking in the fields. I arrived in a very lonely town that looked like an old people’s retirement village, and only several hours later I find out this is psychiatric hospital! They asked me to remove my own clothes and to change into regulation striped pyjamas, they said I should rest on a bed in a windowless room. “Rest? Rest for what?” I shouted to them, but they didn’t bother to answer me. Next morning a “Consultant Psychiatrist” called me into an office and told me that I wasn’t well enough to leave. “It would be best for you to stay here,” he said. I argued with him and told him they got me wrong: I was being thrown on a truck blindly and driven to a madhouse like a pig being sent to a slaughterhouse. But he said all patients claimed such things when they first arrived. “Soon you’ll get used to being here.” He patted on my shoulder like I was one of his distant cousins.
Now, dearest Queen, let me be direct—why I’m writing to you? I need your help in this country. You may think I am a troublemaker. But I am not. I grew up in Beijing. An ideology-rigid city. That’s where my struggle began. In Beijing I was a punk musician. But I must explain, being Chinese punk is very different from your country’s youth. You may think we are not decent boys, swearing and spitting, burning our guitars or taking out our genitals from our jeans on the stage. No, we are not like that at all. We are disciplined, well educated, and sing about politics and art. But it is not always easy to rage against the government. I think you might like my music so I’m enclosing our most famous album with the leading song: “Long March into the Night.”
Excuse me being wordy, but I do hope you can get me out of here!
Copyright (c) 2014 by Xiaolu Guo. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House.