Sunday, April 22, 2012

China in Ten Words

I am extremely fond of reading about China's Cultural Revolution. I think it is one of those rare episodes in human history when changes were of such speed, the break from the past so abrupt and dramatic, that human emotions and relationships were tested to their very limits. Hence, giving birth to many, many interesting stories of tragedy, inspiration, absurdity and comedy.

The stories of American-based exile Ha Jin are some of my favorites. Ha Jin presents his stories, funny and tragic at the same time, as works of fiction, but I suspect they were all loosely based on real people and events. Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, about two city boys sent for re-education to a remote mountain village and their discovery of forbidden French authors, is another book that comes to mind.

Now, if you are like me, I strongly recommend you read Hu Yua's China in Ten Words. Yu Hua discusses different aspects of China by using ten Chinese words as take-off points for his essays. There are amazing stories in this book, and the essay on how difficult it was to read books during the Cultural Revolution is heartbreaking to anyone who has fallen in love with reading. I wish I could tell some of the stories from the book here, but I fear I would do them no justice.

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