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The Chinese are intensely curious about how their government works -- they just don't have the same level of access to politics that Americans do. As a result, officialdom novels, tales of low-ranking government administrators navigating China's murky political system, have become increasingly popular in the country over the last decade, as interest in civic affairs has grown. Often written by former local officials, the novels don't entirely peel back the curtain on the opaque world of elite politics -- recently shaken by the ouster of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai -- but they do provide a tantalizing glimpse of the corruption and intrigue at the heart of the Chinese bureaucracy. Here are five of the most popular and intriguing officialdom novels published in China over the past five years.
Director of the Beijing Reception Office
Published in 2007, Director tells the story of a mildly corrupt official trying to manage the relationship between Beijing and his home city, the fictional Dongzhou. Widely considered the don of the officialdom novel genre, author Wang Xiaofang drew from his experiences in the late 1990s, when he worked as a secretary for a Shenyang deputy mayor who was later executed for corruption. (Wang wasn't implicated, but his political career soon ended.) While he was fictionalizing many of his experiences in his books, journalists dug into Wang's real life. In an interview with the Guardian, Wang scorned reports that a gang leader had given him an envelope containing more than $30,000 in cash for his boss. "They are just writing stuff from the Internet, not what I said," he vowed -- before clarifying, "It was $20,000."
Party Secretary's Male Secretary
Although more than 20 percent of Chinese Communist Party members were women as of 2010, high-ranking female officials are rare, and only one sits on the 25-member Politburo, China's highest governing body. In this novel, the vice mayor of the fictional city of Pingzhou is found dead in her office under mysterious circumstances, throwing the city's bureaucratic cadres and ordinary citizens into confusion. As a result, Pingzhou's female party secretary, Ding Luzhen, must balance a search for the truth with both political expediencies and her own feelings. One of the leading suspects in the murder case is the city's chief inspector, who -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- happens to have been Ding's first love. The book's author, Yan Bo, studied at a Communist Party institute in the city of Tianjin and claims to have published more than 3 million words, including The Female Secretary of the Deputy Governor, subtitled "A Woman Overturns the Men's Officialdom Universe."