China in Ten Words

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Overview

From one of China’s most acclaimed writers, his first work of nonfiction to appear in English: a unique, intimate look at the Chinese experience over the last several decades, told through personal stories and astute analysis that sharply illuminate the country’s meteoric economic and social transformation.
 
Framed by ten phrases common in the Chinese vernacular—“people,” “leader,” “reading,” “writing,” “Lu Xun” (one of the most influential Chinese writers of the twentieth century), “disparity,” “revolution,” “grassroots,” “copycat,” and “bamboozle”—China in Ten Words reveals as never before the world’s most populous yet oft-misunderstood nation. In “Disparity,” for example, Yu Hua illustrates the mind-boggling economic gaps that separate citizens of the country. In “Copycat,” he depicts the escalating trend of piracy and imitation as a creative new form of revolutionary action. And in “Bamboozle,” he describes the increasingly brazen practices of trickery, fraud, and chicanery that are, he suggests, becoming a way of life at every level of society.
 
Characterized by Yu Hua’s trademark wit, insight, and courage, China in Ten Words is a refreshingly candid vision of the “Chinese miracle” and all its consequences, from the singularly invaluable perspective of a writer living in China today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In these moving and elegantly crafted essays organized around 10 common terms from the Chinese vernacular, internationally acclaimed novelist Yu (To Live) looks back on his childhood during the Cultural Revolution and examines how China has changed in the decades since. Yu's first work of nonfiction translated into English, the book offers rare insight into the cause and effect of China's "economic miracle," focusing close attention on the citizens of the world's most populous country. With an intimate tone and witty prose, Yu looks at the "effects that seem so glorious and search for their causes, whatever discomfort that may entail," training his incisive eye on the quotidian as well as the grand. Chapters such as "People," "Leader," "Disparity," "Grassroots" and "Revolution" weave memoir and commentary with a clear-eyed economic, sociological, and political appraisal, taking on poverty and oppression on the small and large scale. "Writing," "Lu Xun," "copy cat," and "bamboozle" examine Chinese cultural realities, past and present, extrapolating truths about growing up, family, friendship, sexuality, literature, and morality. Yu's book describes his particular experience, but hints at something much more expansive. As he writes in "Reading," "If literature truly possesses a mysterious power, I think perhaps it is precisely this: that one can read a book by a writer of a different... culture and there encounter a sensation that is one's very own." (Nov.)
Library Journal
Yu is one of contemporary China's most celebrated but controversial writers. With much wit and elegance, he reminisces here in separate pieces (only one has been previously published) about his country's experiences over the past several decades, using personal stories as well as a piercing, critical examination of China's political, economic, and social transformation from what was essentially a Third World state into a superpower. Best known for his novels, e.g., Brothers, which satirize the country's moral depredation and its devolution into a hypercapitalist society, Yu chooses ten phrases—"people," "leader," "reading," "writing," "Lu Xun," "disparity," "revolution," "grassroots," "copycat," and "bamboozle"—that capture what he sees as China's most pressing issues over the last 60 years. His commentary is wide and varied, touching on everything from the country's severe economic and social disparity since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s to his own rise from uneducated, small-town "teeth puller" to one of the most highly regarded writers of his time. VERDICT A marvelous book for those interested in contemporary China, by one of China's foremost intellectuals.—Allan Cho, Univ. of British Columbia Lib., Vancouver
Kirkus Reviews
Acclaimed Chinese novelist Yu Hua (Brothers, 2010, etc.) offers a series of essays that combine memoir and trenchant social critique. Born in 1960, Yu Hua is of a generation that has been witness to China's astounding and perplexing economic and social transformations. While each essay is loosely themed around a common Chinese word—e.g., "People," "Leader," "Reading," "Writing"—the book reflects on the author's experiences during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s and expresses his feelings on how China has and has not changed since then. As a boy during that time, Yu Hua was mostly bored, as there was little to do and little outside of Mao Zedong to read. Still, his stories of the cruelties and inanities of the time make clear his conclusion that the Cultural Revolution made for "a life made up of equal parts stifled instincts, dreary freedom, and hollow verbiage." For no particular reason he could discern, the Chinese government decided in 1978 that Yu Hua should be a dentist. And so he was, until his literary career took off in the '80s, just as the market economy in China took flight. His curmudgeonly conclusion is that China has entered into "an era of impulsive self-indulgence" and "moral bankruptcy and confusion of right and wrong." For Yu Hua, revolution in China never disappeared "but simply donned a different costume." The mad dash toward change remains. The author is hardly pedantic here, however, as he makes his points in sharply observed tales about everyday life. The translation preserves both his simple, direct style and subtle sense of humor. More engaging than profound, Yu Hua's essays say much about the continuing enigma that is China.
Ligaya Mishan
China in Ten Words depicts a morally compromised nation, plagued by escalating unemployment, class polarization and endemic corruption and waste…the tone here is populist, with many comic digressions. This is a tale told by a raconteur, not an academic—an uneven mixture of memoir and polemic, farce and fury, short on statistics but long on passion.
—The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
“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, you will be introduced to a country that is unlike anything you have heard from travelers or read about in the news.” —The Wall Street Journal

“An outstanding set of essays on the general topic of why modern China is the way it is, each essay centered on a Chinese word or phrase. . . . Very much worth reading.” —James Fallows, The Atlantic

“Yu has a fiction writer’s nose for the perfect detail, the everyday stuff that conveys more understanding than a thousand Op-Eds. . . . Perhaps the most bewitching aspect of this book is how funny it is. . . . He comes across as an Asian fusion of David Sedaris and Charles Kuralt.” —Laura Miller, Salon

 
“This is a tale told by a raconteur, not an academic. . . . The most powerful and vivid sections reach back to Yu Hua's childhood during the Cultural Revolution. . . . It is a cautionary tale about the risks of subterfuge, of trying to sneak something past one's father—or, perhaps, one's ever vigilant government." —The New York Times Book Review
 
"If Yu Hua never wrote anything else, he would rate entry into the pantheon of greats for ‘Reading,’ an essay in his new collection China in Ten Words. Nothing I've ever read captures both the power and subversive nature of youthful reading as well. . . . For American readers curious about the upheavals of China, this may be the right moment to discover Yu Hua." —Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
 
"It's rare to find a work of fiction that can be hysterically funny at some points, while deeply moving and disturbing at others. It's even more unusual to find such qualities in a work of non-fiction. But China in Ten Words is just such an extraordinary work." —Los Angeles Review of Books blog
 
"At times humorous, at times heartbreaking, and at times fierce, these ten moving and informative essays form a small kaleidoscopic view of contemporary China. . . . Written with a novelist's eye and narrative flair, China in Ten Words will make the reader rethink "the China miracle." —Ha Jin, National Book Award-winning author of Waiting
 
“A collection of 10 quietly audacious essays that blend memoir with social commentary. Yu Hua, who resides in Beijing—a significant detail, given how many important Chinese authors live in exile, where they can write more freely—builds each piece on the foundation of a familiar Mandarin term. The approach is smart literary politics: The Chinese adore their language and consider devotion to it an act of cultural patriotism. . . . The insight it offers and the force and authority it packs is of a kind that few, if any, of those louder, more attention-seeking must-read books can even pretend to match.” —The National Post
 
“A discursively simple series of essays explaining his country’s recent history through 10 central terms. . . . Caustic and difficult to forget, China in Ten Words is a people’s-eye view of a world in which the people have little place.” —Pico Iyer, Time (Asia)
 
“One of China’s most prominent writers. . . . In his sublime essay collection, Hua explores his often spartan childhood during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s and the rampant corruption of modern China.” —Newark Star-Ledger
 
"In this era of the China Boom when Communist Party officials are so inclined to erase the travails of their country's past from public consciousness, Yu Hua's insistence on "remembering" comes as an almost shocking intrusion into a willful state of amnesia. His earthy, even ribald, meditations on growing up in small-town China during Mao's Cultural revolution remind us of just how twisted China's progress into the present has been and how precariously balanced its success story actually still is." —Orville Schell, Director of the Center on US-China Relations, The Asia Society

The Barnes & Noble Review

How many tomes do you suppose it might take to describe the almost indescribable complexities of modern China ? its staggering growth pains and infinite ironies? Yu Hua does it with ten words.

"This tiny lexicon," he writes, "gives me ten pairs of eyes with which to scan the contemporary Chinese scene from different vantage points." The goal of China in Ten Words is nothing less than compressing "the endless chatter of China today" into a rich, sympathetic, yet unsparing portrait of a nation in near- constant transition. The chapter titled "Leader," for instance, allows him to convey a pungent sense of the paradoxes of Mao worship. We all know that the Great Supreme Commander was revered during his reign, of course, but did you know that his immortal sayings were stenciled on the interior of spittoons and his image inscribed inside toilet bowls? This during the time when he was in full official favor.

In 225 pages of ten chapters with such titles as "Grassroots," "Disparity," and "Revolution," the author manages to make palpable the follies of the nouveaux riches, the grotesque plight of the rural poor, the corrupt and tragicomic missteps of the ignorant charlatans who make up the passing parade of local politicians, as well as the blazing brutality of what took place on the Square that night when the army rolled over student demonstrators in their tanks. (That iconic shot of the student halting the tank was taken before the implacable orders came down from on high.) Miraculously, he does all this without seeming to oversimplify.

Clearly, Yu Hua was the man for the job. The fifty-one-year-old author was raised in China?s impoverished outback and served as an ardent member of the Red Guard youth (in whose ranks he proved himself a consummate, self-confessed bully) long before attaining international recognition as the first Chinese writer to win the James Joyce Award. He knows, in other words, whereof he speaks. But mostly he was qualified to undertake such a project because of his gift for compassion. Speaking of his time dispensing inoculations to weeping schoolchildren with needles reused so often their barbed tips yanked out a dollop of flesh from each young arm, he admonishes himself for not pricking his own arm to see how painful it was. Only then would he have understood their pain, he says. "It is when the suffering of others becomes part of my own experience that I truly know what it is to live and what it is to write. Nothing in the world, perhaps, is so likely to forge a connection between people as pain, because the connection that comes from that source comes from deep in the heart. So when in this book I write of China?s pain, I am registering my pain too, because China?s pain is mine."

That?s right in the introduction, so you know what you?re getting in for. Pitched at a level of heartbreak that may be almost unbearable for Western sensibilities, the final two chapters, "Copycats" and "Bamboozle," are nevertheless essential reading for anyone who hopes to get a sense of both the ingenuity and breathtaking chicanery that together drive so much of life in modern China.

Daniel Asa Rose is the author of Larry's Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with My Black-Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant...and Save His Life, named one of the top books of the year by Publishers Weekly. Reviewer: Daniel Asa Rose

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307379351
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/8/2011
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Yu Hua is the author of four novels, six collections of stories, and three collections of essays. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. In 2002, he became the first Chinese writer to win the James Joyce Award. His novel Brothers was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize and awarded France’s Prix Courrier International. To Live was awarded Italy’s Premio Grinzane Cavour, and To Live and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant were named two of the past decade’s ten most influential books in China by Wen Hui Bao, the largest newspaper in Shanghai. Yu Hua lives in Beijing.

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Read an Excerpt

China in Ten Words


By Yu Hua

Pantheon

Copyright © 2011 Yu Hua
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307379351

From the Introduction
 
In 1978 I got my first job—as a small-town dentist in south China. This mostly involved pulling teeth, but as the youngest staff member I was given another task as well. Every summer, with a straw hat on my head and a medical case on my back, I would shuttle back and forth between the town’s factories and kindergartens, administering vaccinations to workers and children.
 
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: The needles and syringes would be washed, wrapped separately in gauze, and placed in aluminum lunch boxes laid in a large wok on top of a briquette stove. Water was added to the wok, and the needles and syringes were then steamed for two hours, as you would steam buns.
 
On my first day of giving injections I went to a factory. The workers rolled up their sleeves and waited in line, baring their arms to me one after another—and offering up a tiny piece of red flesh, too. Because the needles had been used multiple times, almost every one of them had a barbed tip. You could stick a needle into someone’s arm easily enough, but when you extracted it, you would pull out a tiny piece of flesh along with it. For the workers the pain was bearable, although they would grit their teeth or perhaps let out a groan or two. I paid them no mind, for the workers had had to put up with barbed needles year after year and should be used to it by now, I thought. But the next day, when I went to a kindergarten to give shots to children from the ages of three through six, it was a different story. Every last one of them burst out weeping and wailing. Because their skin was so tender, the needles would snag bigger shreds of flesh than they had from the workers, and the children’s wounds bled more profusely. I still remember how the children were all sobbing uncontrollably; the ones who had yet to be inoculated were crying even louder than those who had already had their shots. The pain that the children saw others suffering, it seemed to me, affected them even more intensely than the pain they themselves experienced, because it made their fear all the more acute.
 
This scene left me shocked and shaken. When I got back to the hospital, I did not clean the instruments right away. Instead, I got hold of a grindstone and ground all the needles until they were completely straight and the points were sharp. But these old needles were so prone to metal fatigue that after two or three more uses they would acquire barbs again, so grinding the needles became a regular part of my routine, and the more I sharpened, the shorter they got. That summer it was always dark by the time I left the hospital, with fingers blistered by my labors at the grindstone.
 
Later, whenever I recalled this episode, I was guilt-stricken that I’d had to see the children’s reaction to realize how much the factory workers must have suffered. If, before I had given shots to others, I had pricked my own arm with a barbed needle and pulled out a blood-stained shred of my own flesh, then I would have known how painful it was long before I heard the children’s wails.
 
This remorse left a profound mark, and it has stayed with me through all my years as an author. It is when the suffering of others becomes part of my own experience that I truly know what it is to live and what it is to write. Nothing in the world, perhaps, is so likely to forge a connection between people as pain, because the connection that comes from that source comes from deep in the heart. So when in this book I write of China’s pain, I am registering my pain too, because China’s pain is mine.



Continues...

Excerpted from China in Ten Words by Yu Hua Copyright © 2011 by Yu Hua. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 2, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Not what I was expecting, but certainly worth picking up

    With a name like China in Ten Words, I was anticipating a book that would give you a perspective on China in ten differing metaphorical contexts. This book does do this but not in the manner which I had anticipated. You have to remember that Yu is a novelist, not a historian or a cultural anthropologist when you are reading this book. As such, this book is built largely on personal anecdotal narrative, not cultural analysis. It recounts Yu's personal experiences growing up and coming of age during the Cultural Revolution and his path to becoming one ofChinas most internationally well respected writers. I had thought this book would be a little more academic than it turned out to be, but after getting through the first few chapters and having to reorient my expectations for this book, I found Yu's experiences to be extremely valuable and insightful in their own right. His chapters addressing the socio-political cllimate of Maoist China were especially interesting. This sort of firsthand account, especially written as it is, is something that you won't find in a historical text. Instead it is very human oriented. Yu makes no apology for his childhood zeal for the Communist regime in his youth and gives the reader a very real image of what normal life was for a child growing up in that time. While Yu is quite critical and satirical of China at times, you don't get the sense that he is writing as an apologist. Rather, you get a book that tells you about the story of a Chinese everyman who experienced one of the most remarkable transformative periods in modern history. I would recommend this book to anybody interested in learning about the human side of Chinas rapid rise to prominence

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2013

    Leo locked out help

    How dio i unlock

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2013

    Main Camp #3

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