“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
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 academican uneven mixture of memoir and polemic, farce and fury, short on statistics but long on passion.
The New York Times Book Review
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.)
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
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.