Local Name: “Zhōngguó” in transliterated Mandarin. Roughly translated, it means “Center of the Universe.”
Title: To Live
Author: Yu Hua (Chinese)
Published: 1993 (the Year of the Rooster) Pages:235
Acclaim: One of the last decade’s 10 most influential books in China; a Chinese bestseller
Time Period: The late 1930s through the late 1970s – a turbulent four decades that included the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedung’s victory and the formation of the People’s Republic, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the Reform Period.
Summary: In his portrayal of Fugui, a Chinese “everyman,” Hua shows how a country’s politics affects the lives of even its most ordinary people. Fugui endures war, communism, famine and the loss of of those closest to him but is ultimately able to find contentment working the fields with his ox.
My opinion: The suffering the characters undergo is wrenching, but the simple beauty of the writing makes this novel almost meditative. Reminiscent of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth.
In my book, (or, how China has affected me and maybe you, too):
1970s: I remember running around the playground, pulling on the corners of my eyes and saying, “Me Chinese, me play joke, me go pee-pee in your Coke” and “Confucius say…” And I also remember getting in trouble for it.
1980s: One of my favorite albums was Rick Springfield’s Tao, which I pronounced “Tay-o.”
As a teenager, the only parts of the world that mattered to me were home, school and Hollywood. The Tienanmen Square Massacre of 1989 was one of the few world events that broke me out of self-absorption. Seeing that lone figure face down a line of hostile government tanks was a revelation – I couldn’t even muster the will to defy my own parents.
1990s: Finally learned that the word “Tao” rhymes with cow (and that the “t” is pronounced as a “d”) when I was assigned to read Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching for a college English class. Those 81 mystical poems describing “The Way” still intrigue me; I read through them about once a year.
I traveled to China!…Town in San Francisco. My boyfriend took a picture of me petting a Fu Dog at the China Town gate; we goggled at and dared each other to taste the mysterious foods in the markets; and at one of the dozens of shops selling cheesy China-themed trinkets we bought 99¢ Buddhas (resisting the more spendy $1.99 “Weepy the Wee-Wee Doll” – yes, the real name of a plastic toy that pulls its pants down and pees water when you press a button).
2000s: Traditional Chinese Medicine has a 3,000 year history. In America, most people feel secure patronizing a business that’s been around for 20. Intrigued, I decided to seek out alternative treatments for a chronic illness. Acupuncture’s unique sensations gave me a more defined awareness of the energy currents running through my body, and relaxed me into a state that could have justified a DUI charge. I also visited a Chinese herbalist who gave me tongue and pulse diagnoses, dietary suggestions and prescribed herbs along with bitter-tasting teas. My caregivers gave me a new perspective on healing and helped improve my condition.
2010s: Just a few weeks ago, China was headline news because Google shut down its Chinese search engine rather than continue to undergo censoring by Chinese authorities. The site had been operating since 2006 under the stipulation that it filter banned topics from its search results.
China’s Publicity Department (previously known as the Propaganda Department) monitors all media and detains anyone (citizen or foreigner) who they believe might pose a threat to the “security, honor and interests of the motherland.” In 2009, Reporters without Borders ranked China a reprehensible 168 out of 175 countries in its Press Freedom Index (the U.S. came in at 22).
One of the main reasons I chose to read To Live was that description on the back cover stated that the book had been banned in China. Curious, I did some research and found an interview with Hua in which he declares that only the movie version of To Live had been banned, not the book.
Seems that our media likes to manipulate the truth as well.
On Food and Fight Scenes
I’ve been chowing down on moo goo gai pan and watching flying fists and feet for almost my whole life. Don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
The Chinese Restaurant Experience:
Going out for Chinese, especially budget Chinese, always involves the following iconic items:
- Paper placement listing descriptions of the Chinese zodiac animals
- Wooden chopsticks in sealed paper pouch
- Plastic-wrapped fortune cookie
- Shiny cardboard take-out box with wire handle
At what other type of restaurant can you expect to get a psychological evaluation, advice on whether you have chosen the right friends, a dexterity test, a prediction of the future and the best-designed doggie bag ever?
Ki-ai! Pow! Bam! Chinese Martial Arts Movies & Stars
- Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. The movie debuted before I was born, but Lee was so popular that I remember seeing posters of him everywhere in the 70s and early 80s. He had sex appeal even to an 8-year old.
- Jackie Chan. His agility is beyond belief. Skip the painfully bad story lines and lame humor and play and replay the incredibly choreographed kung fu action sequences.
- Jet Li. I have an Aikido friend who looks like this guy. And who moves just as fast.
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s rare that a martial arts movie has an intelligent storyline, credible acting, star power, captivating fight scenes and strong female characters. This one does. See it if you haven’t.