Book Review – China in ten words by Yu Hua

In ten words that are the root of the accompanying essays – People – Leader – Reading – Writing – Lu xun – Revolution – Disparity – Grassroots – Copycat and Bamboozle, Yu Hua gives us a view of China only someone from the heart of it can do.

He mixes personal stories and anecdotes with the story of the time, where he shifts between childhood and later years. It’s interesting to see the differences between then and now, and also the wide cultural gap between China and the world as I know it. At the same time there is familiarity to me, some childhood stories that reminds me that certain things are universal; hope, love, dreams, and fears. Even though we may not hope for the same things, hope is still hope and even though the dreams we dream may not be the same, the fact that we dream still is.

“Unequal lives give rise to unequal dreams.”

There are passages where he speaks about leaving and coming back, and I don’t know if he himself is aware of the special eye you see things with as a returner to a country you’ve grown up in. Having left for a long time you develop a different culture, sometimes without even realizing it. And returning allows you to see your country both as a familiar love and as a distant foreigner all at once. He talks about not understanding certain things, things that may have developed while he was abroad, and still in the midst of it you can hear his heart beating in time with it. It’s a special viewpoint that few will understand, but look for it and maybe you’ll see it. Some parts of you change when you travel, and coming home again sometimes feels like an old shoe that is perfectly worn after your foot, but may now be a little too small.

“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.”

I enjoyed these essays immensely, they are all funny, interesting, heartbreaking, and infuriating; and I also learned a lot along the way.