En veckolång snöstorm mitt under högsommaren gör invånarna i den lilla byn utblottade. Häradshövdingen dyker upp med en plan för att både skaffa pengar åt byborna och berömmelse åt sig själv. Han tänker köpa Lenins balsamerade lik och installera det i ett enormt mausoleum för att locka turister det slutgiltiga äktenskapet mellan kommunism och kapitalism. För att få ihop pengar till köpet skickar han ut ortens vanföra invånare på turné. Det visar sig att framgången har ett högt pris.
Utdrag ur recension i The Guardian
Lenin's Kisses is an absurdist historical allegory of the money-making fever that swept China after Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy in the 1990s. It is set in Liven, a mountain village founded by disabled dropouts from a forced relocation in the Qing Dynasty, so remote that it has escaped official attention. The back story of the village and its characters is told through the device of footnotes and further reading, labelled, like the chapters, only in odd numbers as a nod to China's continuing literary and historical censorship.
Liven's 197 inhabitants have a variety of disabilities, but they live a peaceful and abundant life without distinctions of class. This changes when Mao Zhi, a woman who had served in the revolutionary army before fleeing to Liven after a military defeat, discovers, belatedly, that the revolution has triumphed and persuades the villagers that they must join the new socialist society.
There follow a series of disasters based on real events: their pots and pans, tools and farm implements are seized in the "Great Iron Tragedy", a satirical retelling of Mao's backyard steel-making in the late 50s; they starve in the year of "Great Plunder" after officials take all their grain, as tens of millions did in Mao's Great Leap Forward; they are persecuted in the time of "Red and Black Crimes", a retelling of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.
Mao Zhi, now the village matriarch, is so appalled by the results of her actions that she resolves to remove Liven from government attention. Before she can succeed, another absurdity sweeps the village: after a strange summer snowstorm ruins the harvest, Liu Yingque, a greedy local official with imperial ambitions, decides that the solution to the persistent poverty of his fiefdom is to buy Lenin's embalmed corpse from Russia and install it as a tourist attraction. The corpse would attract thousands of visitors, he tells the villagers; the streets would be paved with jade. The only obstacle is the huge sum of money required to buy it and build its grandiose mausoleum. At Liven's annual festival, inspiration strikes: Liu forms a touring theatrical company made up of Liven's disabled residents, each of whom has developed extraordinary compensatory powers: a blind girl can hear a feather drop; a one-legged boy can leap extraordinary distances; a paraplegic woman can embroider with astonishing speed and skill; a polio victim squeezes his deformed foot into a glass bottle. The troupe is a smash hit across the country.
In this dark comedy, government officials are vainglorious and corrupt and able-bodied citizens brutal and dishonest; the mausoleum, which exactly matches the dimensions of Mao Zedong's mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, is absurdly overblown. The theme of suppressed historical truth is unmissable.