Wang Er, whose long affair with Chen Qinyang has attracted the attention of local authorities, is shamed and forced to write a confession of his crimes. Instead, he takes it upon himself to write a modernist literary tract. Later, as a lecturer at a chaotic, newly built university, Wang Er navigates the bureaucratic maze of 1980's China, boldly writing about the Cultural Revolution's impact on his life and those around him. Finally, alone and humbled, Wang Er must come to terms with the banality of his own existence.
... survived early controversy to become a subversive classic. This new translation by Yan Yan captures Wang Xiaobo's absurdist sense of humor, as well as the grimly amusing satire of China's Cultural Revolution that lurks within it ... takes a new, defiantly irreverent approach, reimagining the turbulent era from the perspective of a sex-obsessed, educated youth sent down to the Yunnan countryside ... The seriousness of the subject matter, however, never gets in the way of the novel's penchant for black comedy and lewd jokes. As Wang Er settles down to become a university professor, the novel finds new satirical targets in the ridiculous squabbles of academia as well as Wang Er's still-chaotic love life. Golden Age is never less than entertaining, its sharp insights existing alongside endless sexual innuendo and jokes that mine humor from the darkest recesses of Chinese history.
Tragic-absurd ... One way to read The Golden Age is to focus on the sex — and there is a lot of it. But little of it is described in realistic detail; instead it becomes a device through which the hero and his lover, Chen Qingyang, stand up to the state ... An absurdist critique of unchecked state power.
There is an immediacy to the account that raises the question of whether we should view Wang Er as a stand-in for the author, Wang Xiaobo himself. I couldn’t help but read this novel that way, not just because the book’s author and protagonist share a name, but also because so many parts of the work had the tone and style of a geometric proof, a legal document ... Golden Age has long been admired by Chinese readers for its clever take on sexual rebellion, and its innovative voice and narrative style deserve merit as well. By using the language of the state to highlight the absurdity of their laws, Xiaobo made a satire that is both amusing and effective.