Yu Hua: China in 10 Words

Yu Hua, one of China’s most prolific contemporary writers, simplifies Chinese society into ten words for his latest book. Yu examines the seriousness of economic and cultural disparity, as well as the predominance of trends such as the “mountain stronghold” phenomenon. :Mountain stronghold” (山寨 shān zhài) is a slang word for the manufacturing of fake name brand products such as cell phones or clothing. Yu is the author of several novels, including “Brothers” and “To Live,” which was adapted into an award-winning film. [Translated by Don Weinland]

Like thick weeds, thirty years of societal quandary and dilemma have been concealed by the optimism of high-speed economic development. My work at this time is going in exactly the opposite direction. Starting with today’s apparently glorious results, I will go in search of that which might make some feel uneasy.

This time I hope I’m able to abbreviate contemporary China’s endless chatter into 10 simple words. I hope this narration, which will surpass time and space, can blend rational analysis, emotional experience and intimate stories into one. I hope my diligent work can, from within contemporary China’s earthshaking changes and tumultuous and complex society, open a clear and genuine road of narration.

The people
Each and every one encounters many words in their lives. There are some words that are understood the first time we set eyes on them. And there are some words we interact with our whole lives but still never understand. The word “the people” is this kind of problem.

Leaders consider the future in the light of the past. I feel today’s China is already void of national leaders, and only has heads of state.
With every reading of one of those great works, I am carried away by them … Only after returning do I know that they are already a part of me.

Writing is like an experience. If one experiences nothing, they cannot understand their own life. By the same token, if one doesn’t write, they cannot know what they are capable of writing.

Lu Xun
Lu Xun’s fate in China went from the fate of an author to the fate of a word. And again, from the fate of a word, back to the fate of an author. From him radiated the fate of China as well. The changes in Chinese history, the turmoil of society, can be seen within the name “Lu Xun,” like finding the coming autumn in the colors of a single leaf.

The disparity of today’s China, one could say, is a great disparity. It seems we exist within such a reality where the great pleasures of life flow at once like wine, while the walls of society crumble in ruin. Or it could be said that we exist in a bizarre theater in which a comedy plays on one half of the stage, a tragedy on the other … This is today’s China. Not only do we exist between the great disparity of reality and history, but between that of reality and dream.

What is revolution? In my memories of days past, there is varying opinion on the answer. Revolution pervades lives with the unknown. Between dawn and dusk, a destiny can be split in two. In an instant, one is launched into their prime, while another falls into oblivion. Personal relationships – the buttoning of society – are also in a revolution of fasten and release. Today’s brothers in revolution are distant; tomorrow they may be class enemies.

Since the grassroots Opening and Reform, the Chinese legal system has gradually grown sound. Yet many loopholes exist within law and regulation, granting the grassroots players large quantities of backdoor opportunism. So any humanly possible miracle can be pulled from the sleeves of the grassroots reformers.

Mountain Stronghold
One could say the Chinese societal climate is grotesquely fantastic. Magnificence and unsightliness, advancement and backwardness, austerity and dissipation often exist within a single entity. The mountain fortress phenomenon is precisely like this, demonstrating society’s progress, and its retreat.

The rapid popularization of the word hoodwink is similar to mountain fortress. In the same respect, it illustrates the ethical insufficiencies and chaotic values of contemporary Chinese society. It is the aftermath of 30 years of lopsided development. What’s more, the prevalence of the hoodwinking phenomena in regards to our society is greater than that of the mountain fortress phenomena. When hoodwinking dominates the playing field, we are living in a society which takes nothing to heart or, in other words, a society unyielding to principle.

Vagueness and distance has always existed in the foreigner’s written criticism of China. But only those who have really lived on Chinese soil can produce an earnest description of the Chinese people’s thoughts and feelings. Just as Yu Hua said: “As I recorded China’s pain in this book, so did I record my own pain. Because it is China’s pain, so it is also my personal pain.”


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