Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Yu, Hua "China in Ten Words"

Yu, Hua (余華/Yú Huá) "China in Ten Words" (Chinese: 十個詞彙裡的中國/Shi ge cihui li de Zhongguo) - 2012

Our latest book club suggestion. I am happy somebody thought of it because it is a remarkable book. I love to read about different cultures but I also love to read about language and find out what kind of words are used in which connection. To read about "disparity" or "copycat" and what the meaning of that is in modern day China is pretty interesting. Whether it's about Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution, the ever present Little Red Book or just the ordinary Chinese person, the author has experienced it all first-hand.

My favourite chapter must have been "Reading", there are some fantastic quotes that recap my feelings brilliantly:

"I did once sum up my experience in the following way:
'every time I read one of the great books, I feel myself transported to another place, and like a timid child I hug them close and mimic their steps, slowly tracing the long river of time in a journey where warmth and emotion fuse. They carry me off with them, then let me make my own way back, and it's only on my return that I realize they will always be part of me.'


"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 time, a different country, a different race, a different language, and a different culture  and there encounter a sensation that is one's very own. 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."

The book teaches us a lot about life in China during the lifetime of the author (born 1960) so far as well as about the author himself. I thought it fascinating to learn about a life that could have been mine since I am about the same age as Hua Yu. Intriguing.

From the back cover:

"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."

We discussed this book in our international book club in July 2019.


  1. This sounds amazing! Must go on my lists.

    1. I'm not surprised. There is so much in this book that we don't know about - and I've read quite a bit about China.