The Ninth Building is a collection of short stories by Zou Jingzhi about growing up during the Cultural Revolution. The introduction and the afterword give some more context; the book also includes a selection of poems by the author – a poet and playwright known in China, who’s worked, among others, with Wong Kar-Wai.
The plot begins in Beijing in 1966, in the middle of the Cultural Revolution. Zou and his friends, all teenage boys, are planning to form their own Red Guard unit; such troops actively helped to eradicate the enemies of the Revolution, which also included everyone’s relatives and friends. In the second part, Zou himself, now a bit older, is sent to a re-education camp in the north of the country, where he spends eight years toiling and dreaming of returning home.
The collected stories are very personal and show, in a naturalistic way and without embellishment, how the Revolution impacted the lives of ordinary young people. There is little interest in politics or a broader context; Zou focuses on his own experiences, he doesn’t blame and doesn’t criticize. In an intimate and poetic way – although often full of drasticity and black humor – he talks about the difficult everyday life during those challenging times.