I have said before that I liked the original Chung Kuo series. Well, the first six books. I read them a long time ago, but I dug them, and that was why I picked up the first book in Wingrove's reworked series, keen to see how he was approaching it as a twenty book cycle.
But, unfortunately, the book is embarrassing. I could say worse and in harsher terms, but I don't think anyone involved in the production of the book, either from the author to the editor to the publisher, is racist and consciously setting out to publish a work of yellow peril, to present a frankly cynical, and fear mongering view of the rise of China in the world. Yet, is what has happened: through bad writing, poorly thought out logic, and just plain regrettable comparisons, Son of Heaven is the worse kind of science fiction novel, one that presents not a progressive society, but rather one that promotes fear and hatred.
It is morally reprehensible.
Set fifty odd years from now, Son of Heaven positions itself from the view point of a white character, Jake Reed, living with his son in a After the Fall village. Twenty years early, the world stock markets crashed, assassinations happened, culture crumbled, and so on and so forth, and Jake found himself starting a new life, away from his old one as a rich financial expert with everything he could ask for. After a trip to another village to buy supplies (which includes the purchase of a wife for another man, which should just about tell you what position female characters have in the book), Jake and his friends are caught in a fly over by a huge ship, one with dragon markings on it. "The fucking Chinese," Jake says, the first reference ever made to the Chinese in the book, which is followed by a backflash that reveals that the destruction of the First World was done by the Chinese, who, y'know, wanna remake the world in their image. All hail the Chairman.
Now, there are ways to do this, ways not to do this. If you want to set up a future where China is dominant and history has been rewritten to exclude most of Western Culture, there is a way to do that, and there is a way to not do it. For example, you can have a slow generational growth of Chinese dominance and culture that erodes other cultures, to the point where schools teach one thing, promote one ideal, and create a monoculture that threatens all other cultures. Such a thing is happening with White, Western culture, for example. If you do it that way, you also avoid making it look like you're writing a cautionary tale against the Chinese. If, however, you have a huge violent market crash, followed by the assassination of the American President, missles being launched, hundreds of sleeper agents, and the assassinations of young women while they sleep in their parents' house... well, perhaps you have started on the wrong foot. Indeed, the sheer hostility of the attack, the destruction of the Western World is ridiculous: it borders on being a farce and is difficult to read. It is followed by the return of China, by a poet general who walks around in silks and composes elegant poetry and his ugly aide who he despises, and who, I might add, gets an erection over torturing people. One of those characterisations is nothing short of silly and the other is a racial cliche.
But, perhaps the most uncomfortable thing is that a number of times in the book that Jake compares what the Chinese are doing to Nazi Germany. It's such an amazing, wrong headed and just downright insulting thing within the book that I don't know who will be more offended: Chinese men and women at the simple idea that the idea of their country being the dominate one in the world would result in concentration camps, or the various races and minorities who suffered in the Holocaust because the comparison is so wrong, so missing the full horror of it, so not understanding the gas chambers, the numbers, the genocide, that a country deciding who will or who will not being citizens is really kind of missing the point.
But mostly, the book is so very unfortunate because of the way it presents Chinese people, of the way it promotes 'yellow peril', of how that concept knocks on to the rest of the books, the old books that will be part of this new cycle, and how it gives the series a subtext of the Western World getting back what is rightfully theirs from those who destroyed their world--as if, in reality, that they were not capable of destroying their own financial markets--of how White will triumph over Yellow.
It is, as I said, a very unfortunate book, one that we as a scene, we as a culture, are beyond, and we ought not to allow such things to be published.
We ought, I think, to know better than to allow such portrayals as these.