Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Yu, Hua, [date] [Shige cihui zhong de zhongguo. English] China in ten words / Yu Hua; translated from the. China in Ten Words Combinatorics on words: Christoffel words and repetitions in words Words, Words, Words: Teaching Vocabulary in Grades Editorial Reviews. Review. “Captures the heart of the Chinese If you think you know China, you will be challenged to think again. If you don't know China.

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View Test Prep - from CHIN at University Of Denver. Also by Yu Hua Also by Yu Hua Brothers Cries in the Drizzle. Read China in Ten Words PDF - by Yu Hua Vintage | From one of China's most acclaimed writers: a unique, intimate look at the Chinese. from the book China in Ten Words by Chinese writer Yu Hua, which explains Chinese society by way of ten culturally significant words.

Its facilities were primitive, and the troops lacked guns and ammunition, but this unarmed army maintained strict discipline. A memorable sight greeted us as we entered one of their huts: The increase of faces from ve to six seemed simply to demonstrate that revolution shows no signs of abating. We sang in Chinese, and the soldiers sang in Nepali. They were sung by adults and children, by scholars and illiterates, by politically correct masses and by landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements, and rightists.

Seen in that light, Mao must be rated the most influential author in Chinese history. From city to village, on brick walls and mud walls, interior walls and outside walls, every space was covered with them, along with the gleaming image of Mao Zedong.

Now I realize that these were two places where Mao clearly did not belong, but in those days, strange as it seems, this point escaped us. The most blissful moments in my childhood were when I dreamed of Mao. This happened three times. In one of the dreams he came up to me, ru ed my hair a ectionately, and favored me with a few words. What elation I felt! I went o , pleased as punch, to tell my little companions about my audience with Chairman Mao. To my dismay, not one of them believed me.

The Mao Zedong of down- to-earth reality was hazy and distant; he existed only in symbolic terms. Mao was so remote that, as my childhood playmates said, there was no chance of our ever meeting him, not even in a dream. During the Cultural Revolution one of the locals returned from a trip to Beijing claiming he had shaken hands with Mao Zedong. Crying tears of joy, he told everyone how warmly the chairman had greeted him— even asking him his name!

Chairman Mao had shaken his hand for a good four seconds before somebody else had displaced him. This man naturally became a hero in our town, and I would often see him striding proudly down the street with a faded green military satchel on his back.

Everyone in our town who knew him would make a point of shaking this bear paw of his. When I grew up and exchanged stories about the Cultural Revolution with friends from other parts of China, I would often mention this man, only to nd they knew of similar individuals in their home districts— sometimes more than one.

Almost every day I would see his awe-inspiring image on one wall or another of our little town, and almost every day we would sing a song that went: It was taken not in Beijing but in the photography studio of our town a thousand miles away.

The room in which I was standing cannot have been more than twenty feet wide, and the square was just a theatrical backdrop painted on the wall. When you looked at the photo, you might almost have believed I was really standing in Tiananmen Square—except for the complete absence of people in the acres of space behind me.

This photograph crystallized the dreams of my childhood years—and, indeed, the dreams of most Chinese children who lived in other places than Beijing. My yearning for the Gate of Heavenly Peace was simply an extension of my eagerness to see Mao. Often by the time the newsreel made it to our little town it would be well into winter. I would head o down the street in my lumpy padded jacket as a bitter night wind blew in my face, then sit down in the unheated cinema and watch the grainy images of autumnal Tiananmen, where Mao was waving to the marchers.

What left the deepest impression on me from the National Day newsreels was the pyrotechnics display that took place after nightfall, when Mao and his colleagues sat down at a table so groaning with fruits and pastries it made my mouth drool.

Fireworks illuminated the square as brightly as day: In our town major holidays were celebrated by letting o a few recrackers at most, and to see so many reworks explode in the sky for so many minutes, even if it was only on the screen, was enough to leave me speechless with wonder. I owe my most lasting memories of Mao to the ceiling of my house. My childhood was spent under this canopy of newsprint: I could read all the headlines from my bed, although the text itself was impossible to make out.

When Mao rst appeared on my ceiling, he had Liu Shaoqi standing next to him, but before long Liu had disappeared, to be replaced by Lin Biao, who soon performed a vanishing trick as well; nally Mao was joined by a young Cultural Revolution militant named Wang Hongwen. One morning in September , when I was in my second year of high school, we all stood to attention as usual before the start of class and barked in chorus to the o cial image of Mao above the blackboard: In those days all essays used the exact same phrases to describe Mao: It instructed all sta and students to assemble at once in the auditorium; an important broadcast would follow at 9 a.

We picked up our chairs, all one thousand of us, and shu ed into the auditorium, where we sat down and waited. I instantly had a grim sense of foreboding. Two senior leaders of the Communist Party had died that year— rst Zhou Enlai, then Zhu De, just a few days before—so we knew what was coming.

The long dirge came to an end, and a grief-stricken voice began to intone a slow litany of titles: Another ponderous, doleful recitation began: Chairman Mao Zedong had passed away after a long illness. Our leader was dead. My eyes too lled with tears, and I wept like the thousand others.

I heard heartrending screeches and earthshaking howls, people gasped for breath and choked in anguish—and then my mind began to wander. Grief no longer held me in its sway; my thoughts started moving in another direction entirely. If it had been just a few people weeping, I would certainly have felt sad, but a thousand people all weeping at the same time simply struck me as funny. I had never in my life heard such a cacophony.

This untimely fancy might have been the death of me. If anybody were to see me laughing, I would be labeled a counterrevolutionary on the spot and life would not be worth living. Amid the weeping of a thousand people I was in the throes of uncontainable mirth, my shoulders heaving, and the more I tried to stop myself from laughing, the more the laughs kept coming. My classmates, through a curtain of tears, saw me sprawled over a chair, racked by agonizing spasms of grief.

Commercial Press, , p. Wang Hongwen rose rapidly through party ranks and in was elevated to third place in the hierarchy. By then we were into the seventh year of the Cultural Revolution, and the bloody street battles and savage house lootings were now well behind us. Cruelties perpetrated in the name of the revolution seemed to have worn themselves out, leaving life in our small town in a quiescent state, sti ed and repressed.

People had become more timid and circumspect than before, and although the newspapers and radio broadcasts carried on promoting class struggle day after day, it seemed ages since I had seen a class enemy.

At this point the town library, which had been mothballed for so long, nally reopened. Thus began my reading of ction. The ction shelf featured only twenty-odd titles, all so-called socialist revolutionary literature of the homegrown variety.

I read all these books in turn: This kind of reading has left no traces on my life, for in these books I encountered neither emotions nor characters nor even stories. All I found was grindingly dull accounts of class struggle.

This did not stop me from reading each book through to the end, because my life at the time was even more grindingly dull. So long as it was a novel, so long as there were still some pages to go, I would keep on reading. A few years ago two retired professors of Chinese in Berlin told me about their experience during the Great Famine of — They were studying at Peking University at the time, and the husband had to return home early to deal with a family emergency.

Two months later he received a letter from his wife. The librarian was a middle-aged woman very dedicated to her profession. Every time my brother, Hua Xu, and I returned a book, she would inspect it meticulously and not let us borrow another until she had satis ed herself that the returned volume had su ered no damage at our hands. Once she noticed an ink spot on the cover of the book we were returning and held us responsible. No, we had nothing to do with that, we told her—the ink spot had been there all the time.

She stuck to her guns, insisting she always checked every book and there was no way she would have missed such a glaring stain. So he picked up the book and threw it in her face, then gave her a clip across the ear for good measure. The station chief did his best to console the woman, at the same time cursing out my brother and telling him to sit down and behave.

So Hua Xu sat down and crossed his legs nonchalantly. He had sized me up brie y—I was a puny little boy—and then given me the following tip: But I found this no cause for regret, because by then I had read all the novels in the library.

The problem was that the summer vacation was far from over and my appetite for reading was sharper than ever. At home all we had was the dozen or so medical books my parents had acquired in the course of their professional training, plus the four-volume set of Selected Works of Mao Zedong and Quotations from Chairman Mao—the Little Red Book, a compilation of sayings culled from Selected Works.

I ngered these books listlessly, waiting for some chemistry to develop, but even after much turning of pages I found I had not the slightest inclination to read them. So I had no choice but to leave the house and, like a man with a rumbling stomach on a search for food, I went o on a hunt for books. They would nod their heads: This taught me a lesson, and so the next time one of my respondents told me he had books at home I stuck out four ngers.

When he nodded once more, I could not conceal my disappointment. The boys I met shook their heads—with one exception. This boy blinked, then nodded. He shook his head. I clapped my sweaty hand on his sweaty shoulder and treated him to such an endless stream of compliments that he was practically purring with pleasure by the time we got to his house. There he bustled about, moving a stool in front of the wardrobe, then groping around on top of the wardrobe until he nally got his hand on a small book caked with dust, which he presented to me.

I immediately felt uneasy, for it was a pocketbook much the same size as Quotations from Chairman Mao.

When I scraped away the thick layer of dust that coated the jacket, my heart sank at the sight of a red plastic cover— it was the Little Red Book. I had a cursory glance through the medical books and then put them right back on the shelf, completely failing to notice the wonders concealed inside their covers and so postponing by two years my discovery of their secrets. That was the situation typical of every household then: This time I began to read it carefully and in so doing found something I had missed before, which opened up a whole new world.

China in Ten Words by Yu Hua: review

From then on Selected Works was seldom out of my hands. In summertime then everyone ate outdoors. First we would splash a few basins of cold water on the ground, in part to cool things o , in part to keep the dust in place, and then we would bring out a table and stools. Once dinner was served, we children would walk back and forth with our rice bowls in our hands, inspecting the dishes on other tables as we ate up the food in our own bowls.

I was always quick to nish my meal; then, after putting down bowl and chopsticks, I would pick up Selected Works and read it avidly by the light of the setting sun. The neighbors all sighed in wonder, impressed that at such a tender age I was already so assiduous in my study of Mao Zedong Thought. My parents brimmed with pride on hearing so much praise.

Privately they began in hushed voices to discuss my future, lamenting that the Cultural Revolution had restricted my educational opportunities, for otherwise their younger son would surely be well on his way to becoming a university professor.

In reality Mao Zedong Thought had completely failed to engage me. Although there was no emotion to be found in the footnotes, they did have stories, and they did have characters. Some books had somehow managed to escape the bon res—spirited away, perhaps, by true literature lovers—and these fortunate survivors began surreptitiously to circulate among us.

Every one of these books must have passed through the hands of a thousand people or more before they reached me, and so they were in a terrible state of disrepair, with easily a dozen or more pages missing from the beginning and the same number missing at the end. To not know how a story began was not such a hardship, but to not know how it ended was a painful deprivation.

Every time I read one of these headless, tailless novels I was like an ant on a hot wok, running around everywhere in search of someone who could tell me the ending. Such was our experience of reading: It left me disconsolate, mentally cursing those earlier readers who had been able to nish the book but never bothered to stick the pages that had fallen out back in. How these stories without resolutions made me su er! Nobody could help me, so I began to think up endings for myself.

No one will grant us deliverance Neither god nor emperor To create happiness for man We depend on our own labor. Every night when I went to bed and turned o the light, my eyes would blink as I entered the world of imagination, creating endings to those stories that stirred me so deeply tears would run down my face. It was, I realize now, good training for things to come, and I owe a debt to those truncated novels for sparking creative tendencies in me.

The rst foreign novel I ever read was another headless, tailless thing, without author or title, beginning or end. In it for the rst time I encountered sexual descriptions; they made me anxious and fearful. Only when I was sure nobody was watching would I continue reading, my heart in my mouth. With the end of the Cultural Revolution, literature staged a comeback, and bookstores were packed with new editions of literary works.

I was in the second year of high school by then, and the Cultural Revolution was on its last legs. Later, when I got to read a printed edition, I realized that the manuscript was actually an abridged version. At that point Great Leader Mao Zedong had just died and his chosen successor, Wise Leader Hua Guofeng, was enjoying his short spell in the limelight, before the reemergence of Deng Xiaoping.

I remember a classmate calling me over and telling me in a low voice that he had borrowed a gem of a book. He glanced around nervously. When I heard that, my heart pounded. As we gasped for breath my friend pulled from his satchel a manuscript wrapped in glossy white art paper. Then we conferred about how to deal with the now crumpled portrait of Hua Guofeng. It was written in neat characters inside a notebook with a brown paper cover. My friend said he had it for one day only; it had to be returned the next morning.

We sat with our heads together—an exciting way to read—and before we were a third of the way through, we were already sighing in wonder. But this made us worry about losing it—we wanted to keep it for ourselves. Seeing that the book was not so very long, we decided to stop reading and begin copying, so that we could nish the transcription before the deadline ran out. My classmate found a notebook his father had never used, and we took turns copying the novel.

In the late afternoon, knowing that my parents would soon be coming home, we needed to pull up stakes and go somewhere safer. After some discussion we decided that a school classroom was the best bet. High school classes were on the second oor, middle school classes on the rst. Although the classroom doors were locked, there were always windows not securely latched, so we walked along outside until we found a room whose window would open.

We clambered in and continued our copying in this unfamiliar room; when it got dark, we turned on the uorescent ceiling lights and carried on. As hunger gnawed at our bellies and our eyes and arms grew weary, we pushed some desks together; while one of us copied, the other lay down on this makeshift bed.

We kept going until dawn, one copying, one sleeping, with roles changing more and more frequently. At the start each of us could copy for half an hour or more, but later we needed to take a rest every ve minutes or so. He would lie down on the desk, and no sooner had he started snoring than I would get up and give him a shake. As we parted my friend glanced at the red glow in the eastern sky and handed me our copy.

He was going to return the original manuscript and then go straight home to bed. I got home before my parents were up, hastily gobbled down the cold rice and cold dishes left over from their dinner, and fell asleep right away. I mumbled an ambiguous answer, then turned over and went back to sleep. Frustrated by all the illegible words, I worked myself into a towering rage. When I could stand it no longer, I slipped the notebook inside my jacket and left home in search of my friend.

I found him on the school basketball court, about to shoot a basket. I bellowed out his name, giving him such a start that he turned and looked at me in astonishment. He marched over with sts clenched, sweaty from his game. I took the book out of my jacket, waved it under his nose, then slipped it back under my arm.

Mopping his face, he followed me with a chuckle into the copse next to the school. There I had him stand by my side as I pulled out the notebook and picked up the story from where I had left o.

Why Should I Use Chinese E-books to Improve My Chinese?

Despite all the ts and starts, the story and the characters made my heart ache, and it was with great reluctance that I surrendered the notebook to him, my cheeks wet with tears. That evening I was already asleep when he arrived outside our house, shouting my name furiously.

He had found my cursive hand just as illegible as I had found his. So I got out of bed and accompanied him to a spot beneath a streetlamp where, as the rest of the town slept, he read away, utterly absorbed, while I leaned against the pole, yawning incessantly but always on call, faithfully deciphering scrawl after scrawl of misshapen calligraphy.

In those days, to tear big-character posters o the walls would have counted as counterrevolutionary activity, so new posters had to be stuck on top of old ones and walls became thicker and thicker, as though our town were swathed in an oversized padded jacket. My interest lay in the erce street battles that were taking place. This left me mysti ed. If everyone was out to defend Chairman Mao, I thought, why were they so intent on beating each other up? I was a timid creature then, watching the battles from a safe distance.

When a group of attackers charged, I ran away at once, making sure I was well out of slingshot range. My brother, two years older than me, preferred to observe the hostilities close up and would stand with his arms folded, insouciance personified. A few years later, when wide-screen lms in color appeared in the cinema, our slang was updated accordingly. This must have been around , in the closing stages of the Cultural Revolution, when bloody battles had given way to a glum apathy.

Although there was no change to the streets themselves, what was happening in the streets was di erent. To us street kids, wide-screens were not nearly so much fun to watch as the earlier black-and-whites, when the streets were full of uproar and activity, like animated lms from Hollywood. In the nal years of the Cultural Revolution the streets were silent and subdued, like modernist European art-house movies.

As we grew from street urchins to street youths our lives shifted from one idiom to the other. The rhythm of our lives in the mids had a lot in common with the protracted, static scenes and the slow pans and long shots of art-house cinema. There, caught in that camera frame, that younger version of me was coming to appreciate the pleasure of reading. Just as enjoyment of an art-house movie requires a certain aesthetic perseverance, life in the latter stages of the Cultural Revolution needed to be carefully savored; only then could one discover the wonders hidden behind an unprepossessing exterior.

Now well on their way to losing all relevance, posters were becoming merely wallpaper. People would walk right past them without looking, and I did the same—until one day when I noticed a poster with a cartoon attached. Years after stumbling upon the footnotes to Selected Works of Mao Zedong, my reading had nally discovered another new continent.

The cartoon took the form of a crudely drawn bed on which a man and a woman were reclining; gaudy colors had been applied to make the picture stand out more. This unusual illustration made my heart thump with excitement. On propaganda posters I was used to seeing revolutionary masses—men and women alike—sticking out their chests in heroic poses, but for a bed to appear alongside them was a complete novelty.

I was all agog.

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It was the rst poster I had ever seriously spent time reading. Sandwiched between revolutionary slogans and frequent quotations of Chairman Mao were exquisite little passages that told the story of a pair of fornicators in our small town. Although I failed to nd very explicit sexual details, the associations it conjured up in my mind were enough to set my heart racing, like a little boat bobbing about on the sea. The names of the adulterous couple were written right above the garish cartoon.

I related the story—with further embellishment and gratuitous details thrown in— to my best friends, who listened spellbound. After that we set o in high spirits to nd out where the couple lived and worked. It did not take more than a few days to track them down. The man lived in an alley on the west side of town. We had to wait outside his house for quite some time before he came back from work.

Having been apprehended in agrante delicto, the man was in no mood for further humiliation. He greeted us with a dark scowl and quickly scuttled into his house. The woman worked in a department store in a town three or four miles away. My friends and I agreed on a particular Sunday to make the trip, undeterred by the distance involved, and we soon found the store. It cannot have been more than a few hundred square feet in size.

We stood in the doorway and debated which of the women was the most attractive, before agreeing in the end that not one of them was a looker. One of the women answered at once, turning to look at us in surprise, and we dashed o , whooping with glee.

Such was the barren aridity of that time: As this example suggests, although big-characters posters at this point were as crammed full as ever with sayings of Chairman Mao, passages from the left-wing writer Lu Xun, and revolutionary catchwords of the day, there had been a gradual change in the topics they addressed. As rivalry between factions festered and con icts grew personal, gossip, insult, and muckraking were the new weapons of choice.

Thus I developed a taste for reading the posters and made a point of stopping on the way home from school to see whether any new posters had appeared and any juicy new revelations had emerged. It featured by far the most detailed content I had ever encountered, with certain passages citing verbatim the confessions written by the lovers after their capture.

This episode had elements of a concert program, beginning with a prelude, when the man took a basket of dirty clothes outside to a well and began to do his washing.

His wife, who worked in another part of the country, could go home only one month a year, so a young neighbor began to help him with his laundry. The first few times she put his underpants to one side for him to wash, but before long she took to washing them along with his other clothes. A irtatious minuet followed: That led in turn to a rhapsody, with the consummation of their a air.

Once, twice, a third time—and that third time the trap was sprung. By this point catching fornicators had become a popular sport, largely replacing the revolutionary passions of a few years before. People su ering from sour grapes transmuted their craving for illicit sex into a desire to catch others in the act.

As soon as they sni ed out an improper relationship, they would keep the offending parties under strict surveillance, waiting for the moment to strike, when they would come bursting through the door to catch the naked couple as they frolicked. That evening I called my friends together and we sat down on the riverbank, sheltered by a row of willow trees as the moonlight shone down between their swaying fronds. Why not? But strange to say, my readings in erotica reached their climax not in the street but in my own home.

Since my parents were doctors, we lived in a dormitory for hospital sta. It was a two-story building, six rooms up and six rooms down, a common staircase connecting the two oors, just like the two-story classroom buildings in school. Eleven hospital sta were housed in the building, two rooms being occupied by my family—Hua Xu and I downstairs, my parents upstairs. The bookshelf in their room was where they kept their small collection of medical reference works.

Hua Xu and I had the job of taking turns cleaning the room upstairs, and we were under instructions to do a thorough job of dusting the shelf. I tended to give it only the most cursory wipe, never imagining that those dull- looking tomes might conceal startling wonders.

But my brother had. I was in the second year of middle school by this point, and he was in the second year of high school. Downstairs, hearing all this commotion, I began to suspect something shy. But when I ran upstairs, I found Hua Xu and his friends chatting happily, as though nothing untoward was happening. Though I looked around carefully, I could see nothing out of the ordinary. As soon as I was back downstairs, the weird noises started up again.

One day, when it was my turn to do the housecleaning, I inspected every corner of the room as minutely as a detective, but my search drew a blank. Then I transferred my attention to the bookshelf, suspecting something had perhaps been slipped inside one of the books. I took each book down and turned its pages one by one.

As I began to work my way through Human Anatomy the wonder suddenly came into view: If I had been struck by a bolt of lightning, I could not have been more trans xed.

I hungrily studied every detail of the photograph, as well as the entire written commentary. I have no idea whether I too gave a shout of astonishment on my rst glimpse of the color plate, for I was too stunned to be capable of noting my reaction.

Now that the T Cultural Revolution was over, previously banned books could be published once again.

When the works of Tolstoy, Balzac, and Dickens arrived in the local bookstore for the rst time, this caused as much sensation as if today a pop star were sighted in some celebrity-deprived suburb: Given the limited number of volumes in the rst consignment shipped to our town, the bookstore posted an announcement that customers would have to line up for a book coupon.

Each person was entitled to only one coupon, and each coupon entitled one to download only two books. I remember vividly the scene outside the bookstore that day. Before daybreak there must already have been a good two hundred people in a line outside the bookstore. To be sure of getting a coupon, some had arrived the night before, plunking their stools down outside the door, where they sat in a neat rank and passed the night in conversation.

Those who arrived at dawn that morning soon realized they were very late. They remained hopeful nonetheless and joined the long queue. I was one of these Johnny-come-latelys. When I dashed to the bookstore that morning, I ran the whole way with my right hand in my pocket, clutching tightly a ve-yuan note—a princely sum for me at the time—and because only my left arm was swinging freely, I ran with an odd leftward lurch.

I thought I would be among the rst, only to nd that there were at least three hundred people ahead of me. Up so early and we end up late!

People in the rst camp, having endured a night on their stools, felt that their coupons were in the bag, and so for them the issue was: Rumors ew. The stool-sitters at the front predicted there would be a hundred coupons at the most.

This notion was roundly rejected by the people standing in line, some of whom thought two hundred coupons a more likely gure, although those behind disagreed—there should be more than that, they said. Coupon estimates continued to rise until someone forecast a total of ve hundred. We unanimously ruled this out. There were fewer than four hundred people in line, so if they issued ve hundred coupons, then all the trouble we had gone to in queuing up would seem ridiculous.

An exalted, almost mystical sensation surged through me at that moment. Although it was just a shabby old door creaking open on dirty hinges, I could almost see a splendid curtain being drawn aside on a stage, and the bookstore clerk who emerged appeared in my eyes to have the poise of a theater impresario. This transcendent feeling, alas, did not last long. Some drifted away, disconsolate; some grumbled and moaned; some cursed for all they were worth.

I stood rooted to the spot, my right hand still clutching the ve yuan, and watched, bereft, as the people at the front led cheerfully into the store to collect their coupons.

For them, the fewer the coupons, the greater the value of their sleepless vigil. Many of us remained huddled outside the bookstore and watched as people came out, proudly brandishing their downloads. Having lived so long in a reading famine, we found it a matchless pleasure just to feast our eyes on the new covers of these classics.

For me that odor was a heady scent. Those immediately behind No. They let loose an endless stream of foul language, and it was hard to tell whether they were cursing themselves or cursing something else. My neighbors and I in the last third of the queue felt only a pang of disappointment, whereas those who had only just missed out on a coupon were like people who see the duck they have cooked ap its wings and y away.

Particularly No. He stood there for a moment, then shu ed o to one side, head down, clutching his stool to his chest, watching blankly as others marched out with their books and we gathered around to touch and sni them.

He was so strangely silent that I turned my head several times to look at him; it seemed to me he was watching us with a look of total nonrecognition. Later I heard some gossip about this No. He had played cards with three buddies until late the previous night, then come to the bookstore with his stool. In the days that followed he would greet his friends with a rueful refrain: Once Internet outlets began to sell books at a discount, traditional bookstores soon followed suit.

Books are now sold in supermarkets and newspaper kiosks, and pirated books are peddled by traveling salesmen by the side of the road. Once we saw pirated books only in Chinese, but now we see them popping up in streets and alleys in English as well. It combines b o o k sales with lectures on classical literature, demonstrations of folk arts, photography exhibitions, free lm showings, and cultural performances, along with fashion, dance, and magic.

Banks, insurance companies, and asset management rms promote their nancial products. Loudspeakers blare music one minute, lost-person bulletins the next. In this cramped and crowded space, writers and scholars attend book signings while quack doctors take pulses and dispense advice, scribbling prescriptions just as rapidly as the authors sign their books. A few years ago I was involved in just such a book signing.

An incessant din drummed in my ears, as though I were in a factory workshop with machines humming and roaring around me. What was most memorable for me was to see bundles of books worth several hundred yuan being sold o for a throwaway price, for 10 or 12 yuan. Classics for 10 yuan a bundle! For what it costs to download wastepaper you can get yourself a bundle of classics!

I want to go back to that scene outside the bookstore in Although that morning thirty-odd years ago left me empty-handed, I see it now as the point when I began to embark on a true reading of literature.

Within a few months new books did arrive on my shelves, and now my reading was no longer subject to the vagaries of Cultural Revolution politics. I did once sum up my experience in the following way: It made me think of a faded photograph where you see a grandfather from another era with his sons on either side of him.

That morning took me back to my early childhood, to the hospital grounds where I lived and to an unforgettable moment I experienced there.

For my family to live in hospital housing was quite a common circumstance in China in those days, when the majority of urban employees were housed by their work units. I grew up in a medical environment, roaming idle and alone through the sick wards, lingering in the corridors, dropping in on elderly patients who knew me, asking new inmates what was wrong with them. Every day too I breathed the smell of Lysol; many of my classmates loathed its odor, but I liked it and even had a theory that, since Lysol is a disinfectant, then breathing its fumes would be good for my lungs.

My brother and I often played outside the operating room where my father toiled.

Next to it was a large empty lot where on sunny days laundry was hung out to dry. We liked to run back and forth among the damp cotton sheets, letting them slap our faces with their soapy scent. This memory, though happy, is dotted with bloodstains. When my father came out of surgery, his smock and face mask would be covered in blood.

A nurse would often emerge with a bucket—full of bloody bits and pieces cut from the bodies of his patients— which she would dump in the adjacent pond. In the summer the pond gave o a sickening stench, and ies settled on it so thickly one might think it had been covered with a black wool carpet.

Neither of these structures had a door, and I got into the habit of taking a peek inside the morgue every time I went to the toilet. The morgue was spotlessly clean; a concrete bed lay underneath a little window, through which I saw leaves swaying. The morgue stands out in my memory as a place of unimaginable serenity.

The tree that grew outside its window was noticeably greener and more luxuriant than the others around it, but I do not know if that was because of the morgue or because of the toilet. Patients who had died would lie in the morgue the night before their cremation. Like a roadside rest stop where one breaks a long journey, the morgue silently received those time-pressed travelers as they moved from life to death.

Many nights I would suddenly wake from sleep and listen to the desolate wails of those who had lost their loved ones.

During those years I must have heard every kind of weeping there is, and the longer the weeping went on, the less it sounded like weeping—especially as dawn approached, when the cries of the bereaved seemed particularly sustained and heartrending. To me those cries conveyed a mysterious intimacy, the intimacy of depthless sorrow, and for a time I thought of them as the most stirring songs I had ever heard.

In those days there was no relief from the searing heat of summer, and often I would wake from an afternoon nap to nd the entire outline of my body imprinted in sweat on my straw bed mat; sometimes I perspired so heavily it bleached my skin white.

One day, when curiosity impelled me to step inside the morgue, it felt as though I had exchanged torrid sunshine for chilly moonlight. Although I had walked past the morgue on countless occasions, this was the rst time I had ventured across its threshold, and I was struck by how refreshingly cool it was inside. When I lay down on that clean concrete bed, I found the ideal place for an afternoon nap.

On many baking afternoons that followed, if I saw that the morgue was not otherwise occupied, I would lie on the slab and savor its soothing coolness; sometimes in my dreams I would find myself in a garden full of blooming flowers.

Since I grew up in the Cultural Revolution, my education had made me a skeptic in matters of the spirit. Not believing in ghosts, I had no fear of them either.

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So when I lay down on the slab, it did not carry connotations of death. What it meant to me was a cool haven, an escape from the sweltering summer. There were, however, several awkward moments. Sometimes I had just fallen asleep on the slab when I was awoken by cries and screams, and realized that a dead person was about to visit. All this happened a long time ago. Growing up is, in a sense, a process of forgetting, and later in life I completely forgot about this macabre but beautiful childhood moment: So things remained until one day, many years later, I happened upon a line in a poem by Heine: If literature truly possesses a mysterious power, I think perhaps it is precisely this: Heine put into words the feeling I had as a child when I lay napping in the morgue.

And that, I tell myself, is literature.

We spent hours talking together, sometimes in the warmth and comfort of indoors, sometimes venturing outside for a walk in the icy wind. When we ate out, I made a point of introducing him to di erent regional cuisines, and on his departure my new vegetarian friend complimented me on my skill in selecting dishes. When I cast about for examples of my juvenilia, my thoughts skip quickly over my old composition books and gather instead on the big- character posters that were then pasted everywhere.

Those primary-school compositions are not worth mentioning, because they had only a single reader, my bespectacled Chinese teacher.

I prefer to start with the big-character posters that I authored, for they were the first works of mine to be displayed to the world at large. In the Cultural Revolution era we were even more passionate about writing big-character posters than people are today about writing blogs. The di erence between the two genres is this: Blogs, on the other hand, take a multitude of forms— self-promoting or abusive, disclosing intimate details here and carried away by righteous indignation there, striking a ected poses right and left—and they dwell on every topic under the sun, from society and politics to economics and history and goodness knows what else.

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But in one respect the two genres are much the same: As a little boy in primary school I was terri ed of big- character posters. My father was a surgeon and a low-level functionary in the Communist Party.

I would see them every day with brooms in their hands, trembling with fear as they swept the streets. Passersby would give them a kick if they felt like it, or spit in their faces.

I lived on tenterhooks, anxious that my father might suddenly su er a similarly awful fate, bringing me down with him. What made things worse was that my father had a landlord pedigree, for his family had once owned some thirty acres of land, which de ned them as landlords pure and simple.

Fortunately my grandfather had been a slacker with no ambitions to improve himself; all he knew how to do was to party and play around, and so every year he would sell o a piece of land here and there to pay for his extravagant lifestyle. By this wastrel had managed neatly to burn his way through the whole estate, and in so doing he sold o his landlord status.

Bad things are bound to happen sooner or later, and one morning Hua Xu and I nally saw on the way to school the big- character poster that I had most been dreading.

Hua Xu shrugged the whole thing o , saying there was nothing to worry about, and marched o toward school as though without a care in the world.

His nerve held only for a hundred yards or so; at that point he turned around and came marching back. I held one of these cha dumplings with two hands and nibbled it cautiously. It was bland and tasteless, but I could feel the coarse husks scratching my throat as I swallowed.

It hurt to eat them, and I told my parents so. My father put the best possible face on this. After we had all swallowed our cha dumplings and my mother had cleared away the dishes, my father spread open a huge sheet of paper, bigger even than the table, and we set to work writing a big-character poster.

Neither of us was willing to yield ground to the other, so determined were we to demonstrate our prowess in self- criticism. My parents said I should go rst: But, blinking desperately, I found myself unable on the spur of the moment to quite put a nger on my sel sh, revisionist thinking. As I hesitated, Hua Xu restively pressed to speak, only to be overruled by my parents. They began to coach me, telling me that a few minutes earlier, when I felt that my throat was sore, that was actually sel sh thought rearing its head.

This took a big weight o my mind, but I still felt anxious. My parents conferred. They nodded. I could breathe easily at last.

He announced proudly that he had once found a two-fen coin in the street but failed to hand it in to the teacher, instead downloading himself two pieces of candy. My parents nodded solemnly. Our parents mentioned only a few peccadillos that were neither here nor there, leaving Hua Xu and me quite disappointed. My brother at once challenged him on this score.

My father, stone-faced, shook his head. The family had lost all its property before Liberation, he said, and during land reform they were classi ed as middle peasants. Why, if not for those thirty acres they had once owned, my mother chimed in, they would have ended up as poor peasants. Hua Xu raised his right hand gravely. Again he shook his head.

It skimmed over major issues and dwelled only on trivia, but it was our rst e ort at self-criticism, written on the eve of the Chinese New Year, no less. My father signed his name at the end, then pro ered the brush to my mother, who signed her name and passed it on to my brother.

I added my name at the very bottom. Next we began to discuss where to display our poster. No, it should go up next to the cinema box o ce, Hua Xu argued—big-character posters had more readers there.

Our parents must surely have been inwardly cursing us little devils, because for them this was purely a show, designed to display their revolutionary spirit and political awareness; they had not the slightest desire to have others view the poster.

However dismayed our parents may have been to hear our suggestions, they simulated a warm sympathy for them, nodding vigorously and commending our initiative but pointing out that there was a problem with putting the poster up outside, for this would make it impossible for us to see it at all times. We ourselves were the objects of criticism in this poster, they explained patiently, so it should be placed on view in our own house, alerting us constantly to our past errors and ensuring that in the future we would always stick closely to Chairman Mao and travel far on the correct path.

In those days we had not yet moved to the hospital dormitory and lived in a house in a little street named Sunnyside Lane. It was one big room, divided into two by a partition made from a bamboo lattice over which old newspapers were pasted. My parents slept in the inner sanctum, while my brother and I shared a bed by the door.

We felt they had a point and agreed to put up the poster inside the house, but we insisted on one thing: This was a condition to which they happily consented. Not long afterward my father was sent down to the countryside. With a medicine chest on his back he roamed from village to village, dispensing medical care to the peasants.

The simple country folk had hidden him for his protection, and so by great good fortune he avoided the revolutionary violence of the early stages of the Cultural Revolution. That glorious poster maintained its position above our bed for a good year or more, but as it gathered dust and its paper yellowed and tore, it slipped down the wall and under the bed, where we forgot all about it.

At the beginning, however, the last thing I did before I went to bed and the rst thing I did after I woke up was to look with awe at my spindly signature at the bottom of the poster. In the Cultural Revolution the most illustrious writing group came from two universities: Peking and Tsinghua.

This was when the Huang Shuai incident was making headlines all over the country. Huang Shuai, a twelve- year-old, had criticized a teacher in her diary. She wrote: Teacher called him to the front. A pointer is to be used for teaching purposes, not to hit pupils over the head with. I hope you will patiently correct students if they make mistakes and be more careful about what you say in the future. When the teacher saw the diary, he hit the roof, convinced the girl was bent on undermining his authority.

In the weeks that followed he subjected Huang Shuai to constant criticism and told her classmates they should have nothing to do with her. Lonely and forlorn, she resorted to writing a two-page letter to the Beijing Daily. She protested: I am a junior Red Guard who loves the party and Chairman Mao. For so many days now I have been unable to eat, and when I try to sleep, I have nightmares that make me cry. Just what is this terrible mistake I have committed? Huang Shuai was a celebrity for a time, an anti-establishment hero and role model to students all over the country.

Three years later, with the death of Mao and the fall of Madame Mao and her cronies, Huang Shuai fell from heaven into hell, labeled at sixteen a lackey of the Gang of Four. Her mother wrote a long self- denunciation, and her father was arrested, emerging with his name cleared only in Before the week was out we had completed close to forty big- character posters, which we plastered over the walls of our school. In them we ercely criticized every member of the teaching sta , with one exception: He would often slip me a cigarette, and every time I swiped a few cigs from my father I would make sure to repay his generosity.

When one of these teams moved into our school, its leader became, in e ect, the top administrator. He was a worker in his fties, and as he perused our posters he scribbled away in his notebook and greeted me with a smile.

Good job! Little did I realize that those forty posters our Spring Shoots group had cooked up served to bolster his revolutionary credentials. He was not at all happy about that, for this revealed a blind spot in the campaign. He summoned the blind spot to his o ce and there banged on the desk and burst into a stream of expletives, expounding his belief that the only thing that could possibly explain the absence of criticism was that this blind spot was oppressing and mistreating his students.

Our teacher sought me out, grim-faced. He led me to a secluded corner beyond the school walls and handed me a cigarette, which he lit with a match. I sucked on my cigarette. Now I understood. I was as good as my word. After dinner I summoned my writing-group partners, and we wrote away in the classroom until late that night.

We had allotted one poster each to the other instructors, but we went one better with the teacher of Chinese and wrote two full posters about him. Then, clutching the posters, we went to his home, and as he slept soundly inside we conferred about where to stick them up. The following morning the teacher ushered me once more to a quiet spot outside the school—not to thank me, as I was expecting, but to lodge a complaint. Seeing me nod, he raised another sore point: Well, that was to elevate him to a higher category, I told him.

Then he coached me on what to say when I came at lunchtime to carry out this mission. I nodded and reassured him that everything would be done just as he instructed. He groped around in his pocket, brought out a half-empty pack of cigarettes, and handed me one. He took a few steps, then stopped, turned around, and gave me the rest of the pack. He deliberately lingered inside and failed to emerge, and only after the neighbors had rushed out to watch the excitement did he venture forth, bowing and scraping.

Go and read it right away!

We made a great show of tearing down the posters outside his house, explaining to the neighbors that they lacked su cient depth, not like the newly written poster stuck up in the school, which we welcomed them to read. Instead I tried writing a play, which I suppose counts as my rst literary work. I must have spent the best part of one semester writing a one-act play, about nine or ten pages long.

I revised it several times, then copied it out carefully onto squared writing paper. Its subject matter was very popular at the time: In our town there lived a well-known red pen, quite a bit older than me, who had made a name for himself by publishing a great many poems and essays extolling the Cultural Revolution in the mimeographed magazine of the local cultural center.

A few days later, when I went to visit him for the second time, he had read my play and had also written a lengthy paragraph of comments in red ink on the nal page. He returned the manuscript to me with a very self- important air.

Soliloquies, he informed me, were the sine qua non of playwriting. I was about to take my leave when he brought out a three-act play that he had recently completed. It dealt with the same kind of story as my own: As he thrust the bulky manuscript into my hands he asked me to pay special attention to how he handled soliloquies. First I carefully read his comments on my play.

They were all criticisms, basically, apart from a few words of praise at the end, when he said I wrote smoothly enough. University Of Denver. CHIN Uploaded By charlotte Also by Yu Hua.

Pantheon Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc. A portion of this work was originally published in different form in The New York Times. Barr, Allan Hepburn. PL This mostly involved pulling teeth, but as the youngest sta member I was given another task as well.

China during the Mao era was a poor country, but it had a strong public health network that provided free immunizations to its citizens. That was where I came in. In those days there were no disposable needles and syringes; we had to reuse ours again and again. Sterilization too was primitive:Share this link with a friend: Audible book Switch back and forth between reading the site book and listening to the Audible book with Whispersync for Voice. If it had been just a few people weeping, I would certainly have felt sad, but a thousand people all weeping at the same time simply struck me as funny.

Just as the plane lifted o from the runway I suddenly realized who he was, for I had seen the very same picture inside a Chinese edition of Peer Gynt: A walking stick stood propped against a vacant chair, suggesting that Ibsen had just stepped away from his table and might return to his seat at any moment. Beijing Literature was the rst magazine whose editorial o ces I ever visited: As I cycled back from the square an icy wind blew in my face, making every part of me shiver—and every part of my bicycle, too.

The Little Red Book, as it was called, had given them a chance to wave as well, though they never dared raise their hands as high as Mao or swing them in as wide an arc.

I currently live in China and this book opened a world which I formerly did not have access to. In philosophical terms, the problem is real but transcendent.

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