In The Shanghai Union of Industrial Mystics (June 2006, Allen & Unwin) Nury Vittachi again excels at telling a fast moving hilarious detective story involving, as usual, Feng Shui Master C.F. Wong and his assistant Joyce McQuinnie. The scenario is Shanghai and the story revolves around a terrorist group of Vegans who have plotted to assassinate the Chinese Leader and the President of the United States at a summit meeting in the city. In order to do so they have placed a bomb inside a white elephant which is to take part in a performance in honor of the American President. Wong, Joyce and their helpers manage to rescue the elephant but the question remains; how to move a large white elephant through the densely populated city during rush hour and where do you find a big enough space to either defuse the animal or let it explode while at the same time avoiding capture by either the Chinese police or the American secret security agents? Amusing as the story is, Vittachi does not leave it there. The novel becomes a social commentary on the difficult political relationship between China and America. Vittachi leaves no stone unturned in his criticism of China and America; the persecution of the Muslim Uyghur people in Xinjiang, the patriarchal and neo-colonial attitudes of the American secret agents, rampant materialism in Shanghai, corruption and a long list of etcetera. His most important point, however, is that of the Muslim Uyghur people whose plight, struggle for recognition and the presence of implacable persecution on the part of the Chinese authorities, has gone largely unnoticed by the rest of the world, unlike that of the Tibetans. The situation in Tibetans also forms part of Vittachi’s analysis of Chinese colonialism and the grass roots of totalitarian suppression.
Critics have praised Vittachi for his sense of humour but you do not have to be a very discerning reader to realise that humour serves a purpose: an analysis of modern China and its weaknesses. Furthermore, he scrutinises the term “war on terror” and terrorism as a global phenomenon.