Cultural Lexicon

The Wall Street Journal reviews the newly translated book by Yu Hua, China in Ten Words:

The book’s 10 chapters present images of ordinary life in China over the past four decades—from the violent, repressive years of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when the author grew up, to the upheavals and dislocations of the current economic miracle. Along the way, Mr. Yu ranges widely into politics, economics, history, culture and society. His aim, he writes, is to “clear a path through the social complexities and staggering contrasts of contemporary China.”

And he succeeds marvelously. “China in Ten Words” captures the heart of the Chinese people in an intimate, profound and often disturbing way. If you think you know China, you will be challenged to think again. If you don’t know China, you will be introduced to a country that is unlike anything you have heard from travelers or read about in the news.

The book’s narrative structure is unusual. Each chapter is an essay organized around a single word. It’s not spoiling any surprises to list the 10 words that the author has chosen in order to describe his homeland: people, leader, reading, writing, revolution, disparity, grassroots, copycat, bamboozle and Lu Xun (an influential early 20th-century writer). None is likely to appear on the list of banned words and phrases that China’s censors enforce when they monitor Internet use. But in Mr. Yu’s treatment, each word can be subversive, serving as a springboard for devastating critiques of Chinese society and, especially, China’s government.

Read more by and about Yu Hua via CDT.


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