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China bans hot tale of heaven

A new Chinese novel, Wrath of Heaven, has incurred the wrath of government censors after its plot about a high-level corruption scandal was deemed closer to fact than fiction.

The book, whose author has adopted the pseudonym Fang Wen (which in Chinese sounds like "just heard"), has been banned, but pirated copies are still in great demand under the counter.

It is almost two years since the Chinese Communist Party's biggest corruption scandal. It resulted in the sacking of Peking's party chief, Chen Xitong, following the suicide of one of the city's deputy mayors, Wang Baosen, who was said to have embezzled $37m (pounds 23m) and to have had a string of luxury villas to his name.

Mr Chen has been under house arrest since then, but has so far escaped a trial, much to the disgust of ordinary Pekingers. Significantly, although he lost his job he was not thrown out of the Communist party. Thus it is no coincidence that Wrath of Heaven tells the tale of an anti-corruption investigator who encounters big difficulties when he attempts to look into a graft scandal after the mysterious death of a deputy mayor.

This month, the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party, the Ministry of Culture and the Press and Publications Administration issued a joint circular banning its sale.

"The novel was banned because it's about real people and real events," a government official said.

There are even suggestions that the author could be one of the real-life investigators of the Chen Xitong case. "It was banned because it leaks major secrets," a second source said. "Prosecutors suspect the author is one of the investigators, because the novel reveals details previously unknown to outsiders."

Despite increasing attempts by the Chinese government to control publishing houses, the lure of a quick profit often means books are printed on the quiet before the censors have a chance to step in.

Wrath of Heaven was published in Inner Mongolia with a print-run of 5,000 copies. Successful Chinese books, just like Western CDs, are pirated the moment they look like becoming hot sellers, making the censor's job more difficult.