Kingdom of Whispers


The transformation, like a seed becoming a flower, was so gradual, that Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China, Hu Jintao, failed to detect it immediately. Only when the first shoots emerged did his wife, Liu Yongqing, notice the symptoms.

If a door was shut abruptly, Hu Jintao would grimace, lift both hands to his ears, and sweat would appear on his forehead.

Like waves these seizures ascended, then sunk.


‘A neurosurgeon?’

‘Yes, laogong.’

‘For what?’

‘To inspect your head.’

‘Inspect my head?’ Hu Jintao laughed. ‘Laopo, there is nothing wrong with Hu Jintao’s head.’

The symptoms intensified. With hands cupped over his ears, Hu Jintao pleaded, in a barely audible voice, ‘Whisper, laopo, please whisper. Your words, they hurt my ears.’



Emergency legislation outlawing all talk above the level of a whisper has been drafted by the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. This follows the rumour last week that Chinese President Hu Jintao has been struck ill by an as yet undiagnosed dysfunction of the eardrums.

The new law states that all “avoidable and pointless talk” is forbidden. Anybody caught in violation of the law will have his or her tongue “ripped out.”

Sources inside Beijing report that, throughout the city, nothing can be heard except the swish and rustle of whispers, of restrained voices, of people walking softly, in bare feet, and on tip-toe, across the concrete paths. Along the long, wide streets, in every district, nothing can be heard but the delicate sketch of whispers.


Liu Yongqing stands in Hu Jintao’s bedroom doorway, her shadow cast across the floor. She approaches the bed. Her footsteps smash the floor like bombs. Kneeling on the floor beside the bed she looks into her husband’s feverish eyes. He has never looked so scared. Drops of sweat cling to his face.

‘Your breath,’ he says, breathlessly, barely raising his voice. ‘So close, my eardrums, flooded with fire, a furious roar. So…’

Liu Yongqing stands up, and backs away, and walks backward, ever so gently, out of the bedroom.


Dogbark every second; slammed carhorn tearing the air of Beijing; footsteps scrape old alley stone; the Happy Birthday tune streaming creepily from a little circuit that was once part of a birthday cake candle; drills, hammers, bulldozers; aiyo!; cranes tearing earth; a cat in heat five nights in succession; mosquito whining divebomb; popular songs about love and loss echoing aiyo! from mobilephones’ little speakers; caralarm, dogbark; chains latched rattling onto gates; videoarcades; elevator doors sliding plunk open pouring souls; enginerev, spitpath, clattering masses; oh fuck oh fuck even neon has a sound, drips down the sides of buildings multicoloured and hissing; cigarettes extinguished in ashtrays containing water; six quickfire chirps which from computers’ speakers mean a new QQ message; aiyo!; splashsizzle pork thrown on pan; aiyo!: raindrops biblical now pelting plastic, pelting the delicate inside of Hu Jintao’s pelting head.


Medication was prescribed. The condition, however, proved too stubborn for even the most Herculean of pharmaceuticals, and the symptoms further intensified; even the whispers of those in Hu Jintao’s immediate vicinity slashed like hatchets.



The Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) was granted special emergency powers by the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party yesterday. Originally established in 1983 as part of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the ONAC has been revived and reorganised to aid in the recovery of Chinese President Hu Jintao, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Mr Hu has been suffering from an undiagnosed illness since July last.

Among the ONAC’s new special powers are arrest and detention of those suspected of making noise above 20 decibels; closure of establishments, such as nightclubs and bars, which contribute to noise pollution; and capture and execution of animals, both wild and domesticated.

Sixty divisions of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and one hundred divisions of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) have been recruited so far by the ONAC. Acting under the special powers, the newly-recruited platoons and divisions are, in essence, the ONAC’s foot-soldiers. Members of the ONAC carry both decibel-meter and tranquiliser gun.


Silence on the streets of Beijing, Silence on the streets of Chongqing, I wonder to myself, Could life ever be sane again? The dim sidestreets that you slip down, I wonder to myself, Hopes may try to quell fear, But honeypie you’re not safe here, So you run over, To the safety of the border, But there’s silence on the streets of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Harbin, Yantai, I wonder to myself.

Burn down the government, Hang the blessed President, Because the words that he constantly says, THEY SAY NOTHING TO ME ABOUT MY LIFE, Hang the blessed President, Because the words that he constantly says.

On the dim sidestreets that you slip down, Provincial towns you jog round, Hang the President, Hang the President, Hang the President…   


In the garden, outside the mansion, Liu Yongqing speaks with her Personal Assistant. ‘What am I to do? I love him. I want to be with him. I want to be able walk upon sand without leaving a footprint, I want my breath to be so feeble it couldn’t stir even the flame of a candle.’

The leaves of the sycamore tree swish and rustle.

They tree is chopped down.


Hu Jintao was given a set of protective headphones, similar to those worn in factories, except specially designed and of higher quality. Although the special headphones for a while alleviated his pain, or at least muted its intensity, the symptoms deepened over the following month until his eardrums were so sensitive, so delicate, that even the special headphones could no longer block out sound, and the associated pain.



Russia has warned the United Nations that it may need help to deal with the number of refugees spilling over its borders from China. The Russian foreign minister has said that 2,500 refugees crossed the border on foot yesterday. It is estimated that over 3,000 have left the province of Heilongjiang in northern China in the past 36 hours. The total number of Chinese who have crossed the border to Russia is said to now stand at approximately 22,000.

People have also moved to towns on China’s national borders with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, India, Burma, Vietnam, Laos and Pakistan.

The UN Secretary-General has once again appealed to President Hu Jintao to show “vision and leadership” and to keep his pledge to leave China and seek medical help elsewhere, instead of “forcing the ordinary people of China to suffer, too.”


Quarantined in his bedroom, Hu Jintao listens to his fingernails growing, like the grinding of so many stones, and particles of dust, perhaps, bumping into one another, like distant thunder, approaching.


I walk along a silent street. My brain flutters and pulses with a horribly claustrophobic yet compelling desire to scream my head off. I am certain that a howl of some sort will inadvertently escape my larynx, that some awful word is going to spring forth from my throat, some horrible, unprecedented, death-embracing word.


“I can hear molecules of oxygen, perhaps, bumping into one another, like the distant report of shotguns, or bombs in the distance. I can hear so many things, simultaneously. Electrons swirling around the nucleus. My blood flowing. Electricity in my brain. No more, please, I can’t bear it. I can hear the universe expanding, slowly, a sound too horrible to describe. Please, no more.”


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