The Dream of Ding Village is based on the government encouraged blood-selling tragedies in Yan’s hometown, Henan, China in the early 2000s. Through the medium of the grandson’s ghost narrative and the dreams of Grandpa, Yan narrates the demise of the AIDS-stricken Ding village while raising a series of moral questions in a detached and surreal tone.
The novel opens with the sudden realizations of Grandpa, who pinpointed the origin of AIDS to the blood-selling campaign he acquiesced in ten years ago. Pressured to meet development metrics, the local officials aggressively allured the skeptical villagers with monetary benefits, yet failed to inform them the danger of excessive blood sales or unhygienic practices. Consequently, as limited official blood stations in rotation and inadequate regulations of black market gave rise to the explosive growth of private blood collectors, under-informed villagers became the prey of ruthless blood sellers, who prioritized commercial gains at the expense of citizens’ health. The novel thus brings our attention to the devastating implications of a public policy that lacks of a proper set of supporting regulations. It also prompts us with the question of how should a government balance between overall capitalist progress and individual human well-beings. Is it righteous to boost the overall economic growth of the country while inflicting some “unintended” regional sufferings?
On the community level, moral issues centered around the paradoxical theme of justice. In an attempt to revenge on Hui, who exploited them by extracting blood unhygienically and selling coffins they were entitled to, villagers poisoned Hui’s innocent, defenseless child to death. Without the slightest regrets, the villagers believed the sufferings Hui inflicted upon them justified for such acts and that it was only fair for Hui to suffer like them. This similar mindset resurfaced again when the community destroyed their living environment under the excuse of justice. Upon the approval of the new leaders, Jia Genzhu and Ding Yuejin, who were trying to reinforce their popularity, the villagers looted all the property from their communal shelter, the school, and stripped bare of all the trees in the Ding village in a revelry. Again, they were unapologetic, believing that these acts were “righteous” compensations for their coffins taken away by Hui. Are they becoming better off defending their rights to coffins or are they digging their own graves by tearing down their own shelter and environment? Here, Yan also brings into question the role of a leader in crisis. Should leaders conform to popular opinions to maintain popularity, like Jia Genzhu and Ding Yuejin? Or should they prioritize the overall sustenance of their people even if such acts would incur discontent, as in the case of Grandpa and former village head Li Sanren?
Moral questions are also manifested in the degeneration of core relationships between individuals. Hui continued with blood selling, despite the consequential death of his son and Grandpa’s threats to sever relationship with him. Married couples turned their back to their diseased partners, as in the case of Tingting and Xiaoming, while the sick sought to vengefully infect their partners. And to help Genbao get married and be a real man (Yan, 160), the whole village was willing to lie to a girl from another village, while judgement was passed on to Grandpa, the only person who found such act troublesome. One may then ask, did the crisis lead to such degenerations or did it only bring out the dark sides of people?
In summary, the Dream of Ding Village is a sad story ridden with moral issues spread across the government, the community and the individual levels.