China in Ten Words Book Review

Chinain Ten Words: Book Review

YuHua is one of the most famous writers in China (Johnson, 1). Being afiction novelist, Yu Hua brings both exposure and experience inproducing a master peace of the century, “China in ten words”.“China in ten words” is part of Yu Hua memoirs on theChinese cultural and economic revolution. It also contained a richmeditation of the cultural and social life of an ordinary Chinese inChina today. There is no doubt that there is a huge social discontentin China which is widespread and likely to result into seriousconsequences if it is not dealt with urgently. However, how muchabout China can be said in ‘ten word’? There is no doubt that‘ten words’ are enough to describe China considering that thecountry is the most populous and has the fastest industrialrevolution in the world today (Goldblatt, 1). Yu Hua has also writtenseveral books mainly novels which include “brothers”, “tolive”, “the seventh day”, “chronicles of a blood merchant”and “boy in the twilight” (Xiaoran, 1).While his previousnovels were fiction novels, “China in ten words” in non fictionand the first of his book to be translated and published in Englishwhile retaining the original humor and idiomatic vigor of a renownnovelist. The book is a narrative of Yu Hua experiences in modern dayChina using ten key words people, leader, reading, writing, Lu Xun,disparity, revolution, grassroots, copycat and bamboozle.

AlthoughYu Hua gives a detailed account of his experiences during theCultural Revolution, it is important to note that he was relativelyyoung when the revolution started. Perhaps Yu Hua was between fiveand ten when the revolution started and about twenty years old whenit ended (Richard, 14, Johnson, 22). However, he was able to observethe milestones and absurdity of the Cultural Revolution and theemergence of the modern day China.

Eachof the ten words describing China in the book is accompanied by anessay which exhibit Yu Hua’s artistic and writing skills. Likelogical commentary that are common in daily newspapers, social mediaor blogs, the novelist Yu Hua describes the transformation of Chinain the last four decades using his crystalline and imaginativedescription of the nation. Although majority of Chinese books arelargely influenced by western literature that have been translatedinto the Chinese language, “China in Ten Words” is anoriginal piece with Chinese characterization. The structure of theessays in the book is typical Chinese where the essay is distinctwithout rigorous display of interlocking arguments. The essaysembrace a wide range of ideas with no particular order and curiouslygoing back to the being. This typical Chinese essay structure israther disoriented especially due to the fact that the author takesthe reader round and round and suddenly brings him back to beginninglike an accident. Yu Hua explains this writing style where hecompared his essays with “a bus driver who drives back and forthalong the same route” (Hua, 15). Thus, in the course of his essaysome stories will board or disembark before he goes back to where hestarted.

Together,the ten essays form a clutter of China question, but the contents ofeach essay are diverse and sundry in how they frame the personalexperience and accounts of the national development in the last fewdecades. A chaotic combination of humorous story and preposterouscharacters portraits and excellent overview of the accounts ofChina’s political, social and economic history makes the book amust read. The accounts in the book are relevant to the period inquestion and maintain a narrative footing characteristic of theauthor’s sparkling intelligent and glistering prowess in the art ofwriting. The main unifying factor for all the ten essays is theconstant reference to the Mao’s era and how it is different orsimilar to the modern China. There is no doubt that the era ischaracterized by clashes as well as parallels, perhaps the darkestperiod in the modern history of china. The essays also refer to theobsessive idealism in the recent history of China and its role in therapid and breakneck expansion of the Chinese economy under theinfluence of Deng open door policies. The infamous Tiananmenincidence is also addressed extensively in the “China in TenWords”. Although the main concern of the author in this case is howthe historical moment impacted on China, the political passions andideological changes are very evident. Since the Cultural Revolution,the traditional political ideologies in China have been steadilyreplaced by the desire to get richer (Hua, 20). Nonetheless the mainconcern of Yu Hua essays in the book is how the two periods inhistory compares. As a result, revolution is the most important word,among the ten words describing China. According to Yu Hua, since thelate 1970s, the cultural revolution in China has not changes, butrather has “donned a different costume” (Hua, 167 ).

Accordingto Yu Hua, although the society is radically different, there areseveral similarities when the mid 20th century is comparedto the late 20th century in China. He gives an example ofthe rapid development of the steel industry in the late eighties,which he describes as an echo of the hyperactive steel rash in the1950s. In both cases, the frenzied dash had serious consequences onChina. In the 1950s, it resulted into widespread disaster due tofamine in the early sixties which were directly attributed to thesteel rash. On the other hand, the recent dash has resulted into thesteel industry outstripping the economy resulting into over 200million tons of excess steel by 2008. Despite this, Yu Hua notes thatthe vibrant and expanding steel industry in China has been one of themost important indicators of a rapidly growing economy (Hua, 2011,168).

YuHua also highlights some of the similar policies in the recent pastthat are comparable to the disastrous Great Leap Forward policies. Inthe essay on revolution, Yu Hua notes that some aspects of thepolicies applied in the 1950s and 1960s have been replicated in someof the recent policies. In theory all projects must be approved bythe central government before commencement. However, due tocorruption and bad leadership, local government commences theirprojects before approval resulting into extravagant and duplicationof projects. A very good example was the construction of ports, whichare underutilized (Hua, 174).

Thereare several government initiatives which have cost the government alot of money but do not add value to the people of China. The authorgives an example of the decision by the ministry of education toincrease the number of students enrolled in higher educationinstitutions. In 2006, higher education institutions in Chinarecruited over five million students, about five times the numberenrolled in the late 1990s. As a result, the number of student inthe higher education was increased to about 25 million students.However, this created several problems in the Chinese educationsystem. The capacity of Chinese universities to handle the increasednumber of student, which maintaining relatively high quality oflearning, remains an important question. Majority of theseinstitutions are struggling with huge debts which has an impact onthe financial institutions if they are unable to repay. While the jobmarket is becoming saturated, the cost of higher education has skyrocketed. Yu Hua estimated that every year, one million graduates inChina are unable to find a job. Within a short period of time, theexpanded education system has become partially dysfunctional whichforced a number of young Chinese to opt for not going to theuniversity (Hua, 175).

Accordingto Yu Hua demolition of structures and resettlement of populationsbeing experienced in the modern China is a reminiscent of thepolitical violence that characterized the Cultural Revolution era(Hua, 186). Additionally, the widespread use of blogs and theirpopularity in the modern society is not a new phenomenon. It is theequivalent of posters which were used to denounce and criticizepolitical systems and leaders in the 1960s and 1970s. Although theyare both different, the have served the same purpose, expressing the“value of one’s own existence” (Hua, 98). The revolutionaryactions which are initiated by the common man against the rulingclass have also been a resilient characteristic of the Chinesepolitical and economic development over the years. The copycat wave,shanzhai in the modern era is the equivalent of violentactivities against self appointed leaders in the past era, copy catwaves has an impact on the political system in china as well as thebusiness sector. Hua notes that in china, there are copy catelectronics such as copy cat cell phones, copy cat politicians,copycat stars in television shows, copy cat song, and copy cat news(Hua, 261). According to Hua, “in some way, it (copycat) representsa challenge of the grassroots to the elite, of the popular to theofficial, of the weak to the strong” (copycat, 271).

Althoughthe slogan huyou, which translate into bamboozle is arelatively new catchphrase, it does not escape the comparison withthe past era. Bamboozle describes the misrepresentation, dishonestyand fraud in the modern China mainly perpetrated through the massmedia. The author gives examples of misleading and dishonest reportsin the media especially during the Beijing Olympics in 2008 wheredishonest reports were used to attract attention for economic gains(Hua, 291). According to Yu Hua (302), the Great Leap Forward hymn inthe Chinese society which says “the more boldly a man dares, themore richly his land bears” has evolved into the most appropriatedescription of bamboozle in the modern China.

YuHua identifies some of the most important development in the recenthistory of China political and economic systems. Only China has hadone leader during Yu Hua era, the essay on leader is a relativelyprominent in the book. Some decades ago, China political system wascharacterized by communism and therefore, social classes wererelatively inexistence. Life was relatively easy since all peoplewere equal. Despite the inadequacies associated with Moa’s era,author notes that according to public opinion, majority of people inthe modern era would prefer his leadership (Hua, 48). He argues thatsince the Cultural Revolution, the terms leader and people in thecontext of the Chinese society have semantically been bankrupted andlost meaning, although he seem to disagree with the public opinionpreferring Moa’s era leadership. (Hua, 48).


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Hua,Y.. China in Ten Words, ISBN: 0307739791, Vintage. Translatedby Allan H. Barr. (2011)

Johnson,I. &quotAn Honest Writer Survives in China&quot. The New YorkReview of Books. (2012). Web

RichardC. K. The Cultural Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. NewYork: Oxford University Press. (2012).

Xiaoran,Z. Stranger than Fiction, a Q&ampA with Yu Hua, (2014), web,