• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    The HKIA brings Hong… on [788] Island and Peninsula 島與半…
    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,081,336 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,710 other followers

[3] To Live – Yu Hua

To Live(Huozhe) in Chinese means “living continuously” with a connotation of “perseverance.” It’s a quintessential story of a man’s poignant epic transformation that spans over four decades of modern Chinese history. Like Gao Xinjian’s One Man Bible, owing to its quasi-subversive and sensitive content that relentlessly exposes the faulty rule of the Communist Party, To Live was originally banned in China at its first publication in 1992. The language of To Live is cunningly simple but not without terrain. The overall backdrop of the novel is highly historical: it covers the Sino-Japanese War, the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists, Liberation, the founding of People’s Republic of China (beginning of Mao’s reign), the land reform era, the Great Leap Forward (blind smelting of iron that led to famine), the Proletarian Cultural Revolution and modern reform.

Literature detailing the escape of Chinese dissidents and the turmoil during Proletarian Cultural Revolution flourishes, especially after the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989. Stories of individual persecution under the red flag suddenly top most bestseller lists in the Western world. What really distinguishes To Live from this literature and puts it among the pantheon of most influential modern Chinese literature is Yu Hua’s sensitivity to the details of daily life and the verisimilitude of his delineation. Yu’s writing makes an unerasable impression on Chinese people because the protagonist’s experience provokes them to re-live the painful memories.

Fugui lives a most frivolous and extravagant life. He indulges in gambling, debauchery, and prostitution. His pregnant wife comes to the brothel to beg him go home with her. To Live begins with a totally predictable lead that in less than a third way into the book Fugui would have squandered his family’s fortune and settle into the honest work of a farmer. His turmoil as a poor farmer confirms the Chinese saying “calamities never occur singly.” The Nationalist Army forces him to leave his family and fight against the Communists. In utter poverty and devastation after the civil war, Fugui family lives an even more austere life under the land reform policy. He is determined to make his son’s life complete at the sacrifice of his daughter, a typical feudal practice. The Great Leap Forward, which renounces agricultural practice and mandates surrender of all pots for smelting iron. The result is the worst famine in Chinese history that people would kill for a sweet potato.

To Live might have focused on Fugui’s rebirth at the cost of life-and-death episodes against fate, poverty, and adverse social policies, but the heart of the novel is the undying hope for the better. Against the backdrop of his turmoil is the author’s jest on the absurdity of a country that would blindly allow its political turmoil to cost lives of the innocent. The Cultural Revolution, which purged scholardsand banished them to be re-educated in the countryside, is said to have a profound effect on modern China for it pushed the country backward. The purging, the thought policing, the labeling, the parading, the public criticizing session are among the few tactics Yu depicts in To Live.

To Live is depressing to read. The protagonist’s life, which is merely a tiny cross section of his generation during the time of the novel, is infused with hardships one after another, the incessant mourning and funerals, the horrors and ravages of a most ridiculous revolution that wrecked the nation apart.

3 Responses

  1. I absolutely love this movie. I’m wondering what the major differences were between the book and the movie if you have seen both. Perhaps something to add to the list…

  2. The book is much, much better. If you liked the film, you MUST read the book.
    The film alters Jiazhen’s character, and invents some scenes not in the book.
    Well worth the read, not very long.

  3. The book is much better. The novel is one man’s bible.
    The film emphasizes “Chinese” history while the book focus on humanity and universal experience of life.
    In the book Chinese history is just background.
    The film gives Fugui and his life a brighter ending while the book describes 6 major deaths. The book transcendence the “Chinesesity” and shade a light on the significance of “to live”. The book talks about “to live ” through description of death.
    The director Zhang Yimou invented a key element: shadow puppet in film to tell us Fugui is like a Puppet in China.
    The film made change to the death of Fugui’s son Youqing therefore reduces the level of tragedy.
    The film portrays a smaller world: modern China.
    The book tells us an universal story of human life.
    The book talks about how human endure abysmal suffering. It talks about the capacity and multitude of tears, talks about the absence of desperation, talks about people living because they must. They live to live for nothing else. You don’t see any of these in the film

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: