I hoped that this book was about subversives and criminals in China: reporters, human rights lawyers, whistleblowers... I read news about China's internet censorship measures; I can follow the internet-ish parts, but I know very little about the people who get shot in the back of the head for speaking up. There's a little of that in this book, but that's not really what it's about. There are some folks that I think of as "underground". But there are also some recognized artists here, some slackers, some dopers, some folks who'd be considered criminals but not really subversives.
There are gangsters in this book, including one from Nigeria. There are slackers and artists who have taken over a town. There's an Uighur. (And thanks to this book, I finally figured out that Xinjiang city is in an Uighur area. It's not a coincidence that Xinjiang was cut off from the internet while the Chinese government was cracking down on Uighur people.) A girl sold to a massage parlor by her uncle.
There are polluted cities. Mining towns and steel towns tend to be dirty; China's are very much so. There are homosexuals—legal now, but still subject to discrimination; officials don't need a reason to say that your parade petition is not in order. And... and there's the Werewolf Game, aka the Mafia game.
I thought that game was only popular with Open Source Software development weenies, but apparently it's big in China, too. There clubs where people meet to play the game. They have dedicated clubhouses. You think I'm making this up, but I'm not. Look, there's an excerpt online. He mentions the software geek connection:
THE KILLING PEOPLE Game is actually an American invention, created by a group of computer programmers in Silicon Valley who played it as an exercise in procrastination to blow off steam while working on challenging projects. A group of students from Shanghai who were studying at Stanford in the mid-nineties learned the game and brought it back to China.
Searching around on teh internets for more info, an article makes me think that the clubs are called "杀人游戏" and the game is called "杀手". To me, that doesn't look like "Killing People", more like "<something> hand," though, so I might be messing something up.