Can’t Get There from Here:
Deictic Will and the Mapped Life in Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma

By Shiamin Kwa

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 31, no.1  (Spring 2019), pp. 47-78

What does it feel like to live with memories that are unacknowledged by history and that may be sometimes dangerous to acknowledge out loud? What is it like to feel an urgency to express discontent and then to have one’s complaints either unheard or ignored? In Ma Jian’s novel Beijing Coma, these questions are taken to an extreme, and realized in the form of a narrator whose constant stream of thoughts is contained exclusively within his consciousness and is impossible to express to the people around him. The protagonist Dai Wei has been comatose since being struck by a bullet on June 4, 1989, and lies as if buried alive within an inert body that lacks the ability to communicate. Through a close reading of Beijing Coma that draws from theories of memory, posthuman and biopolitical criticism, narratology and speech act theory, and spatial theory, this essay examines a striking example of post-89 fiction that confronts the construction of the subject in relation to speech and embodiment.