The main plotline of Yan Lianke's Lenin's Kisses involves a village of disabled people organised into a travelling freak show exhibit by a Communist Party official who wants to raise money to buy Lenin's corpse and put it on display, thereby attracting "Red Tourists" to a remote part of rural China and making everybody rich. So it's not surprising that critical opinion on Yan's work has tended to put it in the absurdist, magical realist quadrant of literature, as something designed to expose what is by writing about what cannot be.
In fact, there's a case for saying that Lenin's Kisses is a good example of the author as naturalist, and something of a prophet as well. The book was originally published in China in 2004 and is set at the end of the 1990s. In 2009, something called Dwarf Empire opened near the city of Kunming in southern China. It's a kind of real-life Land of Oz complete with munchkins, singing, dancing and generally cavorting about in a charmingly vertically challenged manner for tourists. Just to make things more bizarre, just to give it that authentic capitalism under communism touch, Dwarf Empire is partly owned by a local biotechnology company.
So there is nothing magical about Yan's realism. In fact, he's as surreal as Chinese reality itself. He's also a detailed observer of everyday rural life under Communist Party of China folk. There are pin-sharp portrayals of the informal speech patterns of lower level cadres, a combination of pointless swearing and boastful rhetorical questions. He notes that Chinese bosses who reach a certain level tend to dress like they have fallen out of a laundry basket while requiring perfect sartorial correctness from their underlings.
There is, however, no such place as the village of Liven, the Under Milk Wood-style sanctuary established in the remote Balou Mountains by a small group of disabled people allowed to drop out of a Ming Dynasty era forced relocation scheme, and it seems out of Chinese society altogether. The village attracts the crippled and the lame: all learn to prosper together under whatever imperial China has for radar. That changes with the arrival of Mao Zhi, a veteran of the People's Liberation Army's struggle against the Kuomintang before 1949. Mao is still an enthusiastic revolutionary: at her insistence Liven rejoins society under the New China. And so the trouble starts.
Much of the trouble is told through footnotes woven into the text through supposed explanation of Henanese dialect terms; it's here we learn what happens to Liven when the cadres turn up to hunt for counter-revolutionaries or confiscate everybody's kitchen goods to force them into production brigades. Fifty years of this convince Mao and the villagers that it's high time they dropped out of society again. For that to happen, they have to accept a deal offered by County Chief Liu. Liu is what the Scots would call a son of the manse, only more so; adopted as a baby by the principal of the local party school and raised in a kind of supersaturated solution of CPC internal culture to the point where it never occurs to him that he might not have an absolute entitlement to as much power as he can get.
This does not stop Liu from harking back to older conceptions of power. He worships the communist elders in a personal hall of devotion; his inner life resounds with the constant knock of heads, as his grateful flock perpetually kowtow to him in gratitude for his fatherly care.