Realism’s Return: Yu Hua’s ‘China in Ten Words’ Reviewed

Perry Link reviews Yu Hua’s ‘China in Ten Words’ which, in common with his earlier writing and in contrast with many Western views, portrays contemporary China as “an outgrowth of the Mao era”. From The New Republic:

To my eye, the most poignant of Yu’s observations on the Mao legacy are those that describe the death of empathy. He writes that “two scenes [from the Cultural Revolution] linger before my eyes, one that sums up for me the beauty of human character and another that epitomizes its ugliness.” The beautiful scene is of a father, under horrendous political pressure, who is saying good-bye to his young son without revealing to the son that he is about to commit suicide. I then brace myself for Yu’s “most ugly” scene. What will it be? Gouged eyes? Fried human livers? Cultural Revolution history, as well as Yu’s own writings, leave much to choose from.

But Yu surprises me with this story: when he was in second grade, he and his friends would show up early for school and play on a playground until school began. A cluster of teachers watched over them. The teachers always chatted jovially, occasionally cackling over some amusing story, and obviously had good rapport. One day, when Yu was the first child to arrive at school, one of the teachers beckoned to him “conspiratorially” and told him, “with obvious relish,” that another of the teachers had been found to be the daughter of a landlord. Fresh news! Delicious! Time to pile on! Now the camaraderie meant nothing. Young Yu was shocked to see “how this teacher was savoring the other’s downfall.” Yu recalls that later, as teenagers, he and his friends themselves adopted Mao’s spirit and “got a kick out of bullying those weaker than ourselves.” In a chapter on the growing gap between rich and poor in China today, Yu writes that “poverty and hunger are not as shocking as willful indifference to them.”

December 24, 2011 12:53 AM
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