WHAT A CHINESE NOVEL TOLD A MAN WHO HAS TURNED SIXTY-ONE

08/24/2015 22:16

The sea moves steadily towards the beach. Wave follows wave. I cannot see if they are turning back again. After a rainy day the sand is cool and in the evening light it has the color of a shrew-mole. Stagnant water gleam like silver by the shore. The cloud cover has cracked and the sky is now deep blue, while fleecy cumulus clouds garland the horizon, colored by the sun's red orb slowly descending into the sea between Circe´s island and the rock by Terracina. If I turn my gaze to the right I can see how Sperlonga's white houses on their cliff also are colored by the setting sun; pale pink and beige intercepted by sharp, black shadows.

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I am standing by the hotel's open French window, behind me the room glows with a warm yellow light. While listening to the Mediterranean´s incessant murmur I feel privileged. It is evening after my sixty-one-year birthday. Actually, I should be a slightly depressed since another year of my allotted life span now has elapsed. I should probably think about all those I have abandoned, about my own abandonment. Feel some anxiety about an uncertain future. But, tonight I am enveloped by a soothing feeling of happiness. Aging does not concern me, perhaps since I so far have been spared physical ailment. I feel forever young and wonder when I will be abandoned by that feeling.

 

I often get stuck to a melody or song. I listen to them over and over again, until they one day cease to occupy my mind and another tune takes their place. For the  last few days it has been Leonard Cohen's latest CD - Can't Forget, on which he uses his old and some new songs to portray the shortcomings of aging, a translucent, soothing music. As I stood looking out over the darkening sea a phrase was churning in my head:

 

And I can't forget, I can't forget

I can't forget, but I don't remember what.

 

This feeling that there are certain things that have influenced my life, something important that I either want to preserve, or forget, though I cannot seize them, being unable to grasp Das Ding an sich, the mystery of existence. Like when I am looking at the landscape that spreads out in front of me; so big, so open and liberating - beautiful and incomprehensible.

 

In my attempts to grasp the unfathomable, things I have read come back to me. A Spanish short story that told how God sends an angel to Earth, trying to find a way to amend human egoism, mankind´s ever-increasing wickedness. After completing his mission, the angel was supposed to return to God and provide him with a report about his success or failure. However, the angel does not turn up again. For sure, God is indeed all-seeing and all-knowing, but it seems as if the angel had found a way to hide himself from his God and Master. Increasingly worried God sends another angel to seek out his runaway servant. After some effort the angel succeeds in locating the missing seraph and when catching sight of  his colleague, the angel  understands why God lost track of his messenger, he has namely ceased to be an angel and turned into a common man. The runaway envoy has placed himself on a rock and looks out over a lush landscape and the open sea. The wings have fallen off him and his cheeks are wet from tears.

 

- What are you doing here? What happened to your wings? Why did you not come back? asked the heavenly messenger.In my attempts to grasp the unfathomable, things I have read come back to me. A Spanish short story that told how God sends an angel to Earth, trying to find a way to amend human egoism, mankind´s ever-increasing wickedness. After completing his mission, the angel was supposed to return to God and provide him with a report about his success or failure. However, the angel does not turn up again. For sure, God is indeed all-seeing and all-knowing, but it seems as if the angel had found a way to hide himself from his God and Master. Increasingly worried God sends another angel to seek out his runaway servant. After some effort the angel succeeds in locating the missing seraph and when catching sight of  his colleague, the angel  understands why God lost track of his messenger, he has namely ceased to be an angel and turned into a common man. The runaway envoy has placed himself on a rock and looks out over a lush landscape and the open sea. The wings have fallen off him and his cheeks are wet from tears.

 

- What are you doing here? What happened to your wings? Why did you not come back? asked the heavenly messenger.

 

With a faint smile the fallen angel explained to his former colleague:

 

- I could not bring myself to return. This place is so incredibly beautiful. I ended up seated here taking in all this beauty, forgot my mission and the wings fell off me. Now I cannot return anymore, but it does not sadden me. I´m happy here.

 

I have forgotten the details and perhaps the novella would turn out to be completely different if I read it again. Like when I got this idea that I in Samuel Johnson's Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia read that the young prince stood on a hill and looked out over a gorgeous landscape, got gripped by despair and told his companion:

 

- It's so beautiful. I do not know what I should do with it. One cannot eat a landscape?

 

With a faint smile the fallen angel explained to his former colleague:

 

- I could not bring myself to return. This place is so incredibly beautiful. I ended up seated here taking in all this beauty, forgot my mission and the wings fell off me. Now I cannot return anymore, but it does not sadden me. I´m happy here.

 

I have forgotten the details and perhaps the novella would turn out to be completely different if I read it again. Like when I got this idea that I in Samuel Johnson's Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia read that the young prince stood on a hill and looked out over a gorgeous landscape, got gripped by despair and told his companion:

 

- It's so beautiful. I do not know what I should do with it. One cannot eat a landscape?

 

 

I have the book and have in vain searched for the text. I can' forget, but I don't remember what. But wait … while I am writing this I came to think that I must have mixed up the memory with something else and  I suddenly remembered that my thoughts about the incomprehensibility of a beautiful landscape originates from something I had read in Colin Wilson´s fascinating The Occult. A book I have with me here in Rome:

 

In Samuel Johnson´s Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia there is a scene in which the hero looks at the peaceful pastoral scenery of the Happy Valley where he lives, and wonders why he cannot be happy like the sheep and cows. He reflects gloomily: ´I can discover within me no power of perception that is not glutted with its proper pleasure, yet I do not feel myself delighted. Man has surely some latent sense for which this place affords no gratification. Or he has some desires distinct from sense which must be satisfied before he can be happy.´

The italics are my own. The ´latent sense´ is man´s evolutionary appetite, the desire to make contact with reality. But that is not all. Who has not experienced this strange sensation that comes in moments of pleasure and fulfilment? As a child I had this feeling about water. If my parents took me on a bus excursion, I used to crane out the window every time we went over a bridge; something about large sheets of water excited a painful desire that I found incomprehensible. For if I actually approached the water, what could I do to satisfy this feeling? Drink it? Swim in it? So when I first read the passage from Rasselas, I understood immediately what Johnson meant by ´some latent sense … or desires distinct from sense which must be satisfied before he can be happy´.

 

 

Many of us suspect that there is a meaning, a code, behind existence. If the mystery of existence is solved, we can maybe comprehend it and transform human being all together. A scary thought, which also has been described by Leonard Cohen. In his chilling song The Future, in which he claims to have seen the future and it is - MURDER! As in the movie The Shining, where the psychic little boy, Tony, is chased by gruesome visions of a frightening future. In his mind the word Redrum  appears time after time. He tries in vain to interpret it and on one occasion writes it with lipstick on the bathroom door. When his mother comes in and sees the word reflected in the bathroom mirror, she gets a shock when it turns out that the word was reversed, in fact it spells out as - MURDER! Soon, she and her son are on the run from her insane husband, who pursues them with an ax.

 

 

In his song Cohen lists one disaster after another, alluding to man's vicious cynicism. Among other things, he mentions:

 

There´ll be the breaking of the ancient Western code

Your private life will suddenly explode

There´ll be phantoms, there´ll be fires on the road.

 

What kind of a code is Cohen singing about? When Rose more than a month ago traveled to Singapore, she asked me if she could bring something back to me. If she could find one of the great Chinese classics in a Penguin edition, I would be happy. I had only read Journey to the West, and two volumes of Outlaws from the Marshes. However, one of my best friends is very fond of Chinese classics and plows one after the other, and because he has a sure taste I also wanted to make an effort. Rose did not find any of the Chinese classics in English, but brought a novel that according to the bookseller was one of the most popular books in China; Decoded: A Novel  by Mai Jia. The cover declared that the author was "China's response to John Le Carré", only one of the book's many mysteries. For the novel was far from being a spy thriller, it turned out to something entirely different.

 

 

When I began reading Decoded, I found that it initially gave the impression of being a Chinese classic; the meticulous, but lively language, in which characters who at first appear as shadow figures, gradually become sharper, though in all their originality they retain a remote strangeness. There was what I assume is a Chinese fascination with food and body functions; winding, enthusiastically narrated stories in which characters who at first do not seem to have much importance appear and disappear, only to unexpectedly reappear again. The common interest in history and genealogy and how mental and physical properties are inherited. A world where dreams and divination affect real and often cruel events.

 

The author directs us through a labyrinth, where every corner appears to reveal new truths, providing us with unexpected information. After a while we find that these "solutions" only lead to new bewilderment and questions. The author's voice is present, often he is all-seeing, though sometimes he hands over the tale to one of the book's characters, occasionally complemented with his own explanations and comments. A chorus of voices – interviews and events in different places. The reader is aware that he is involved in a tale, a construction, the scaffolding is visible and the story lacks essential details and information. It is continuously shifting perspectives and versions. Only far into the novel, we find that the narrator is a journalist who searches for the man behind the myth - Rong Jinzhen, a legendary code breaker, who mostly worked in obscurity, but who by informed individuals was worshiped like a saint; a genius, an incomprehensible champion. However, Rong Jinhzen became part of the myth spun around him. The novel turns into the code he is trying solve. We do not understand how and what the code actually is, how it was constructed and for what purpose. By solving it Jinhzen has saved his country and people. But, in what way? Mystery follows upon mystery. The journalist remains nameless; cities, places, and people are sometimes known by their names or nicknames, but usually with designations like A, B or X. Secrecy and confusing allusions are part of the novel's structure, just as it is a key ingredient in the development of the action.

 

Rong Jinzhen remains a mystery to himself and others. He is a genius, but naïve, helpless and impractical. No one understands him. Many feel intellectually reduced by him, but in his natural superiority Jinzhen is resilient and deeply attached to those how show him loving care, leading him through life and open new doors for him. He devours books, especially novels and poetry. He is an unbeatable chess player and an unimaginably superior mathematician. People who initially find Jinzhen repellent, even repulsive and arrogant, end up admiring him. At the same time, he remains alone and separated from the world. To make use of his genius a totalitarian state isolates and manipulates him. The novel is not the least a depiction of the curse of geniality and its close relationship to madness.

 

 

The reader finds himself entangled in the story, like a fly in a spider's web. I tried to look for clues in a fabric that had turned into a code. In order find stability and gain control over the story I grabbed hold of phrases and allusions that seemed to suggest things I knew something about, or I imagined carried some hidden meaning. But, mostly, they turned out to be false trails.

 

Director Zheng, called "The Gimp", claimed that the legendary cryptographist Klaus Johannes "came from the same place as Hitler, an island called Tars (famous for its gold deposits)". It looked like a clue, a piece of information with several hints. I searched on the web and in my books, but could not find any island named Tars, it was unknown to Google Maps  and was not present in any of my dictionaries of  imagined and mythical places found in legends and literature, like the delightful  Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi. Klaus Johannes was also strangely absent, while Hitler had been born in Braunau am Inn, a border town between Germany and Austria. There were some small islands in the river Inn, but none was called Tars. The house where the future Führer was born still stands in Salzburger Vorstadt No. 15, but there are no gold deposits anywhere near the town.

 

 

 

The author mentions that Rong Jinzhen is deeply moved by Klaus Johannes “famous book” The Writing of the Gods, which he reads in an English translation by the "Eurasian writer Han Suyin ". I knew something about her. My father had in his bookcase kept a novel by her, A Many-Splendoured Thing. As a kid I had been fascinated by its cover, but I never read the novel and now I cannot find it. What I read was Han Suyin´s tributes to Mao Zedong, The Morning Deluge and Wind in the Tower. They were well written but did not come with much new information. I read them at a time when I had become annoyed by all tributes to the Great Helmsman. In the early seventies I had with InterRail traveled back and forth across Europe, often in the company of good friends, sometimes alone. One time I had ended up on the ferry between Dover and Calais and by the railing, while looking out over the nightly sea, I had a conversation with a Chinese girl from Hong Kong. We came to talk about the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and to my great surprise, it must have been in 1974 and I had started at the university that to a great degree was infected by a blind admiration for Chinese communism, she told me that for several years there had been famine and mass slaughter in China.

- How can you tell? I wondered.

 

She told me that her father was the head of the dog handlers by the Hong Kong Police and for a long time had one of their main tasks been to find and take care of the large number of corpses that were washed ashore on the beaches of Hong Kong.

 

- We know that everything is not right in the People's Republic. People are dying like flies.

Shocked, I came back to my student dormitory and found a kindred spirit in my neighbor Mats, together, we read China critical books beginning with Simon Leys Chinese Shadows. Han Suyin, was in many ways an admirable woman, despite her friendship with Zhou Enlai and her admiration of the Chinese Communist Party. She was a medical doctor and a great philanthropist, but she had definitely not translated any book by the nonexistent code breaker Klaus Johannes. However, is it not so that any efficient code contains both false and true tracks? I am still convinced, though I do not know if I am right or wrong, that Mai Jia´s allusions to Tars, Hitler, Suyin and Johannes might contain some elements of truth. It did in any case the title of Klaus Johannes book The Writing of the Gods. It is actually the title of the English translation of a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, La escritura del dios, which deals with hidden codes.

 

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The story tells of a Mayan priest named Tzinacán. He is tortured by the Spanish conquerors and thrown into a dungeon, where bars separate him from a ferocious jaguar. In his loneliness and mounting despair the priest calms himself by watching the predator´s magnificent fur. He imagines that he in its pattern finally will discern the holy script that can explain how everything fits together. Tzinacán´s mind floats back and forth between dream and waking. At one point, he dreams that he sinks deep into sand, which threatens to drown him, when he wakes up he has a vision of a mighty wheel of fire and water that slowly turns round above him. Bemused Tzinacán turn his gaze towards the jaguar and the pattern of his fur suddenly makes sense. The priest reads fourteen words and finds that if he combines them in a certain manner and speaks them out aloud he will be able to order the jaguar to attack and kill his tormentor, Pedro de Alvarado. Nevertheless, Tzinacán choose not to utter the magic words, but are instead content to remain in his cell, fascinated by his ability to explain one mystery after another by combining the signs on the jaguar´s fur. The reader does not know whether Tzinacán has gone mad, or if he has been able to track the mysteries of Universe. Maybe I´m wrong, but I suspect that Borges's short story actually is a kind of parallel to Mai Jia's tale about the gifted Rong Jinzhen, who went mad during his efforts to break a code. 

 

There are several such traces, imagined or real, which I tried interpret in accordance with what I had heard and read. The strange Unit 701, the secret place  where Rong Jinzhen is brought to solve the code, gives the impression of being composed of military barracks and bunkers, but can also be some kind of Shangri-La, separated from China's revolutionary chaos, famines, violence and oppression. A privileged world characterized by dedicated research, plenty of food and honest appreciation from authorities, it even has lush gardens, comfortable, modern housing and access to uncensored, Western literature. The place is however heavily guarded and controlled by tough laws, a kind of 1984 world with Big Brother watching you, where everyone is spying on each other and report colleagues' thoughts and activities to leaders who manipulate, threaten, and favor their enclosed scientists in order to be able to get as much as possible out of them.

 

 

The designation Unit 701 reminds me of the sinister Unit 731, which the Japanese occupying forces in 1940 established in Ping Fang in Manchuria, where thousands of victims (the figure oscillates between 3,000 and 250.000 men, women, children and even newborn infants)  by medical expertise was subjected to merciless experiments. Chinese detainees were injected with coliform bacteria and various forms of epidemic-causing microorganisms, while the effects were carefully observed and documented. Scientists and medical doctors experimented with vivisection without anesthesia, studied the effects of frostbite on prisoners submerged in ice water, or exposed naked in the snow, prisoners were tied to stakes circling sites where fragmentation grenades were detonated to investigate body injuries in relation to the explosion center. Prisoners were intentionally starved to death, infected with mites and other pests. If some of the victims survived, they were called maruta logs, they were killed. Everything had to be kept secret. Officially Unit 731 was called Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army. It was not the only death factory in China. After the War, the perpetrators were never sentenced by the war tribunals, and even worse - many were favored and hired by the victorious powers and their results were eventually widely used in the development of biological and chemical warfare and epidemiology.

 

Similarities between the Unit 701 in Mai Jia's novel and the Japanese Unit 731 could possibly be found in the coldly scientific objectivity of the secret code breaking unit, where only the capacity of its captive staff was appreciated and everything was done to extract their knowledge. A certain intellectual iciness emanates from the unit's executive director Zheng, "The Gimp", an intelligent master organizer, rock solidly faithful to the Party, regarding everything and everyone with chilly acumen, yet he treats his subordinates with understanding and even if he is remote, he is not depicted in an off-putting manner. He strives through various methods, it is he who invites the investigative journalist, to fathom Rong Jinzhen´s hidden depths and find the origin to his dazzling intelligence.

 

Given Zheng doctorate, his injured foot, manipulative intelligence and unyielding fidelity to the Party, make it probably not entirely without reason to associate him with the likewise limping Doctor Goebbles. Similarly his opponent, the Polish, Jewish mathematical genius Jan Liseiwicz, alias Georg Weinacht, who defected from the Chinese sphere of influence to help its adversaries to develop the incredibly complicated codes PURPLE and BLACK, have a lot in common with the brilliant philosopher and math genius Ludwig Wittgenstein. Like him Liseiwicz came from a wealthy, Jewish background and has studied and taught at Cambridge University and consider life as an existence codified by different language games. Liseiwicz is Rong Jinzhen´s mentor and later his intellectual sparring partner and opponent. It is Liseiwicz´s ideas that make Rong Jonzhen´s intellect flourish and it is Jinzhen´s efforts to find solutions to codes constructed by Liseiwicz that eventually become his triumph and downfall.

 

 

A group of imprisoned scientists engaged with encryption within a Communist system made me think of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's grand novel In the First Circle. In February 1945, Captain Solzhenitsyn was arrested at the German front and sentenced to eight years in the Gulag for his politically incorrect correspondence. After a year in Siberia, Solzhenitsyn ended up in Marfino, somewhere in Moscow´s outskirts, where he and a select group of political prisoners worked for the MGB, Ministry for Security, which was in charge of intelligence and surveillance. In Marfino was MGB´s “radio and telephony laboratory”, which concentrated on encryption and eavesdropping.

 

In the First Circle draws its title from a place in Dante's Inferno where philosophers and writers live a decent life, separated from the suffering in the rest of Hell, but that does not mean they are not part of the torture system. Of course, Solzhenitsyn's difficult, but well-written and interesting book, is through its occasionally long-winding philosophical discussions and real-world descriptions, very different from Mai Jia's Decoded . However, the environment is the same - confined scientists involved with encryption, privileged, but strictly supervised by a Communist system. Contrary to the majority of the prisoners In The First CircleUnit 701 researchers are far from being dissidents. Solzhenitsyn's novel is unlike Decoded realistic and detailed, but like the Chinese novel it combines different voices, various perspectives and a wealth of interwoven stories and subplots.

 

 

A few years ago a critical book examined Solzhenitsyn´s biography and questioned large sections of his reality-based fiction. It was written in Russian and I have of course not been able to read it, but the name of its author brings me back to Decoded - Alexander Ostrovsky.

 

Di Li, the woman who Rong Jinzhen ultimately will love, is fond of the novel How the steel was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky. Di Li was one of the "assistants" who Director Zheng sent to Rong Jinzhen, with the intention that they would conquer his confidence and notify Zheng about all doings and utterances of  Jinzhen. An important task for these assistants was to periodically deliver Rong Jinzhen´s notebooks to Director Zheng.

I remember How the Steel was Temperd from the October Bookstore in Lund, in which café I was reading through it, somewhat dismayed by its simplified view of humanity and that it was (and is) so admired by people with leftist views. It is remains one of the world's most widely read novels.

 

 

In Nikolai Ostrovsky´s Stalinist classic work the implausibly heroic Pavel Korchagin works for the Cheka, the secret police. His language is simple, his voice firm, his eyes reassuring, determined and vigilant. It cannot be denied that Korchagin is a noble man who fought and found his purpose in life against almost insurmountable odds. In the war against Poland, he received shrapnel through one eye and one temple was fragmented, but the fierce Pavel Korchagin fought on tirelessly against an increasingly failing body, his main enemy. He remains firm in his support of admiring friends , though what keeps him alive is the strength that his stern belief in the Party provides him with. His struggle is furthermore a battle against saboteurs and traitors, who, like demonic parasites, are threatening his beloved Bolshevik Party, though he cannot fight them if he does not overcome the threat of his weakening body, approaching blindness, his death wish and the overwhelming passion he feels for the woman he loves.

 

Of course, Pavel Korchagin is too good to be true, but remains a mighty ideal for  those who believe in total submission to a cause and nowadays we find his statue is all over Russia, a country in which many still celebrate the ideals he stands for. A few years before Mai Jia wrote his novel, a Russian TV series based on How the Steel was Tempered was a great success among Chinese TV viewers. That Ostrovsky´s story became a bestseller when it in 1932 and 1934 was published as a serial in the magazine The Young Guard, was due to strong Party support, but also to the author's tragic fate. At the age of 23, after a hard life as soldier and navvy, Ostrovsky was stricken by crippling polyarthritis, became bedridden and eventually blind.

 

After repeatedly been turned down by the authorities, they finally came to value Ostrovsky´s novel. He was provided with writing and editing support and the final product was turned into a book it immediately sold millions of copies. Stalin appreciated and understood the immense value of this literary discovery. The disabled author received the Lenin Order, was appointed political commissar, granted a large State-subsidized apartment in central Moscow, a dacha in the countryside and a grand state funeral when he died. We find similarities between Pavel Korchagin/Ostrovskij and the disabled, but widely acclaimed Rong Jinzhen who helplessly lingers at a home for the elderly, while he gets the best possible care, respect and admiration, as well as the love of his devoted wife, Di Li.

 

 

It seems as if I have lost myself in the maze of Mai Jia's novel. I became attracted by the sidelines and allusions he slyly places in his book. Another reader would probably find other distractions in it. Decoded seems to consist of Chinese boxes that opens and closes. It is strangely abstract, like a conjuring trick; it is difficult to comprehend how it really works, the true nature of the machinery might be suspected, but no solutions are given. The author sometimes dazzles us with a language interspersed with aphorisms and images. The novel itself becomes a code looking for its solution.

 

Part of the novel describes how Rong Jinzhen in a short time solves the, by all experts considered as insoluble, Code PURPLE, only to be close to choking during his struggle  with the successive Code BLACK - by all accounts both codes were created by Jinzhen´s mentor, Jan Liseiwicz, who was familiar with his student's keen intellect, but also knew his human failings. Liseiwicz knew his Kabbalah, that a code really is a reflection of how the human mind works, which with all it its flaws and glories constant and ultimately futile attempts to interpret and understand the mysteries of existence. We do not know if Liseiwicz tried to crack Jinzhen as part of his mission as a foreign agent, or if he wanted to open up his mind and reveal Universe´s immensity to him, release Rong Jinzhen from his geniality´s crippling limitations.

 

 

When it appears as if Jinzhen is becoming paralyzed during his attempts to solve BLACK, Director Zhang, for a moment, releases him from his confinement and allows him to travel to a meaningless conference. For Jonzhen the conference´s only benefit is that he was able to buy and read Klaus Johannes book,The Writing of the Gods. He senses that the solution to the enigma of BLACK is to be found within himself. The immense is mirrored by the infinitesimal. Macrocosm equals microcosm. Previously, Jinzhen searched for the code´s solution by playing chess and immerse himself in mathematical equations, but now he understands that answers are to be found within his dreams.

 

During his trip back to Unit 701 Jinzhen contnues to write down his thoughts and dreams in a notebook. He is very close to a solution when the notebook is stolen and his world falls apart:

 

Maybe it was because I had prized it too much, had hidden it too deeply in the heart of my heart, that I had failed to see … Perhaps I had subconsciously come to understand that my notebook was no longer my solitary companion, no longer a real concrete thing, just like my glasses … Something so necessary can so easily be lost! For so long my notebooks had been part of my life, they had become part of my blood, a bodily organ … I never felt them, just like a person is never truly of his heart or his blood … It is only when sick that a person becomes cognizant of his physical body: only when your glasses go missing that you discover that you need them: that´s what happened with my notebook …

 

 

When the notebook was stolen, Jinzhen lost his sanity. He ends up in a treatment facility owned by Unit 701, where he live in a vegetable-like condition, though highly respected, he is gradually being transformed into a symbol, an ideal and statues are erected in his honor.

 

After an insane, extensive hunt for him all over China, the thief does anonymously return the notebook. Based on his master´s notes one of Jinzhen´s assistants succeeds in solving BLACK and the Homeland is safe again. However, Jinzhen is already far beyond all human contact. It turns out that the solution was to be found in the code´s absurd simplicity, something that Jinzhen in all his geniality genius had been unbable to comprehend, though in the end he had glimpsed the solution in his dreams. However, to combine the essential fragments to a pattern he needed the lost notebook. It was during the futile search for his stolen thoughts that Jinzhen suddenly understood how he could solve BLACK, but the realization came too late, just after his sudden illumination he entered the twilight zone of madness. It was when he in his boundless despair had rushed out in a nightly downpour that Jinzhen began to see the light. During his entire life he had searched for something:

 

But what was this thing?

He had been circling around this thing, but had only seen the ´proper´ side. Now, however it was inevitable that he would witness the reverse.

This thing could be nothing else but God, the omnipotent Holy Spirit. Because he felt that this ´thing´ must be God, it possessed a complicated and yet absolute nature.

All that was this and that, all that was everything.

“How could I oppose it?”

Gods laws are just. Gods laws are entirely unjust.

 

 

Director Zhang explains to the investigative journalist:

 

For Rong Jinzhen everything possessed a duality: on the one hand was reality – the realness of things, the living world; on the other, the dream, virtuality, chaos. As the idiom “baseless gossip” suggests, we only accept the real world on evidence. But for Rong Jinzhen, there was always a duality: the real and the dream, and he only knew of the latter. It goes without saying that his dreamworld was more absurd, more incoherent, than reality …

 

Director Zhang suggests that it was Jinzhen´s ability to dream and interpret his dreams that made him useful to the State and the  Party´s purposes, but it was also this capacity that devastated him. Jinzhen disappeared into a parallel world, though fortunately he had left the key to BLACK behind him. He went down with his glory intact. Director Zhang is a successful mathematician, but no dreamer. While I deliberated about Zhang's character I searched for his name on  Google Translate, in Mandarin Chinese it apparently means "correct".

 

At the end of Mai Jia's novel, we read some excerpts from Rong Jinzhen´s retrieved notebook. It is one of several, and we do not know if it's his last one. The journalist was given it by Di Li as a photocopy. Several sections are crossed out and pages are missing, but while we read the notes we understand that Rong Jinzhen, after a life as an admired genius and a stranger to the world, finally was stricken by love and desire. He loved Di Li. Perhaps it was through this love that he finally approached the solution to BLACK, but he missed his target. His passion burnt his mind to ashes. Or ... maybe not. Perhaps Jinzhen in his unapproachable serenity, in his inner stillness, has reached his goal. Maybe he passed through the gates leading into Universe´s unfathomable immensity, which only can be perceived by those who have reached it, but never be explained to anyone else. Is Rong Jinzhen saved, resuscitated?

 

 

The novel ends with the journalist/author´s last meeting with Di Li. He asks her if she regrets marrying Rong Jinzhen. She answers:

 

´Regret? When you love your country. How can you regret it? No! For ever the answer will be no -!´

Her eyes immediately filled with tears and she began to sniffle as if she was about to cry.

 

After a last look at the sunset over the Mediterranean, I turned around. There was the unmade bed and on top it Mai Jia's novel. Had it been good or bad? I was not sure of which, but had for a couple of days walked through its maze, been confined between its covers. Comprehend the universe? Understand my life? My sixty-one years? The codes of existence, was there a pattern to behold? A code? I did not have a clue and did not care. I might just as well like Pablo Neruda state - Confieso que he vivido. I admit that I have lived. What more is there to say? Maybe  - I´m sorry for the ones I have disappointed? Such an admission cannot hurt.

 

Borges, Jorge Luis (2000) The Aleph. London: Penguin Books. Harris, Sheldon H. (2002) Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932 to 1945, and the American Cover-up. New York: Routledge. Mai Jia (Jiang Benhu) (2014) Decoded: A Novel. London: Penguin Books. Manguel, Alberto and Gianani Guadalupi (1999) The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. San Diego: Harcourt. Ostrovsky, Nikolay Aleksejevitj (1973) How the Steel was Tempered. Moscow: Proress Publishers. Solzhenitzyn, Aleksandr I. (2009) In the First Circle. New York: Harper Collins. Wilson, Colin (1974) The Occult: The ultimate book for those who would walk with the God. Frogmore, St.Albans: Mayflower Books.

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