Dystopia with Chinese Characteristics: An Excerpt from Sheng Keyi’s “The Metaphor Detox Centre”

Journalist Yao Minzhu became acquainted with a few fellow patients at the centre. Like them, she’d heard of shelters, treatment centres for drug addiction, mental health clinics
and so on, but only once she was dispatched to the Metaphor Detox Centre did she learn of its existence. She read the following introduction on the wall of the centre’s reception

As a society’s level of civilization progresses, new illnesses will always emerge to threaten the physical and mental health of the people. The Metaphor Malady is one such disease. It is a form of mental illness, but one that does not entirely belong to the psychological domain. During its initial stage it is not easily detectable; in its middle stage it affects social stability; and in the latter stage involves descent into a manic state of which the patient is unaware. Its potential for contagion and harm is not inferior to a ton of dynamite placed within a crowd.

At present, newly diagnosed cases are growing at a rate of over fifty per cent, sufferers in the mid- or late-stage account for eight per cent of the total affected population, and the mortality rate is four per cent. The government has allocated specialists and funds to establish the Metaphor Detox Centre, which is devoted to servicing the afflicted. The great majority do recover, and relapses are rare. Since the Centre was established it has repeatedly won praise from the authorities.

(The Metaphor Detox Center, excerpted from Sheng Keyi’s new novel, 锦灰.  This passage translated from the Chinese by Bruce Humes. Foreign language rights agent: Andrew Nurnberg)


  1. Edward Teja says

    Detoxing from metaphors… yes! How great. I mean, it’s like getting rid of emotional baggage, right? No, that’s a simile. Sorry.

  2. Are people allowed to write and publish this kind of stuff?

    • @ Bathrobe Of course not. In President Xi’s “New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” such authors will undergo the usual treatment — provide DNA sample, undergo finger-printing and face scan — before their works are taken off the shelf, their Weibo accounts are closed, and they are given a choice as to which detox center they wish to attend. A whole series of deluxe centers has recently come on stream in Xinjiang (The Economist), but detainees may not fully benefit unless they speak a Turkic tongue.

      This excerpt is taken from the soon-to-published Chinese novel by Sheng Keyi (盛可以), entitled 《锦灰》. You may have to travel to Hong Kong or Taiwan to get a physical copy, though, since it is being launched in Taiwan in September by 聯經出版, not on the mainland.

  3. Keyi Sheng says

    hi,Thanks Bruce. YOU are very 幽默。

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