Who: Philip Vergauwen, economist, dean of SBE from September
What: Midnight, by Mao Dun
Target group: students of Economics and International Business
“Regardless whether you are a globalist or an antiglobalist, for or against the neo-liberal market economy, you should read this book. Anyone who wants to take part in the discussion about the present financial crisis, will learn in Midnight - a book from 1933 by the Chinese author Mao Dun - that at the centre of economic depression there are human beings. That this is a crisis which we have brought upon ourselves (as is the case with most other ones) and in which we are both victims and culprits.”
Midnight is set in Shanghai in the late nineteen-twenties, early nineteen-thirties, during the worldwide economic depression. In this novel, we follow a prosperous Chinese family. The head of the family, Wu Sun-fu, is an industrialist who brings in the money, but who cannot always count on appreciation from his occasionally critical family members, who doubt whether the role of the economy should be so great. Eventually he loses his fortune through unlucky trading in shares.
“The language is exquisite, really very beautiful. Even those who are not so interested in economics will enjoy this. You get a unique picture of China and Shanghai, full of culture, economics, politics and everyday life of a well-to-do traditional family. It is about the relationship between men and women, between intellectuals and ordinary people, rich and poor, communism and capitalism. The novel opens up this period. Midnight is like a written 3D film. The image sketched by Dun is correct, it is fiction without fiction. The book was never prohibited, it was actually tremendously popular in communist China, but it is not a communist book. The writer raises many questions, but does not give any answers and definitely does not portray himself as a moralist. When you put the book down, you will have more questions than answers: how does our desire for more wealth relate to the inclination towards greed? How can people who are not scoundrels, still derail?
“The Chinese economy is booming. We think that this is new, that China will now finally achieve on an economic level what the West has achieved at a much earlier stage. But that is absolutely not the case. China has been a civilisation for thousands of years and the only one in the world to still exist. Shanghai is today experiencing its third golden age.”
One last remark: the same theme, but then taking place in a world we know – the world of banking in contemporary America – can be found in Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. “Very readable, it gives a true image of reality without any financial jargon. A wonderful literary work, but Midnight is of a higher level.”