In Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words (2011) we can see alternative meanings of the words people, leader, reading and writing to Hua in Chinese culture since the Great Leap Forward. People does not stand for, as we would think in western culture, as “we the people,” but it is described as a collective under one leader, Mao. In a sense the word people does not stand the plural but the singular person, again Mao. Whereas in a society that is controlled by the Peoples Republic of China is in fact controlled by the a single identity and is a contradiction or even a self-oxymoron because, on the surface, you would believe that a government was in control by the people, but in fact it is ran by a select few with overreaching power.
The term leader is another self-oxymoron within Chinese culture because a leader is meant to lead in a positive direction and if the leader fails if his/her leadership results in failure. Additionally, a good leader will learn from his/her failures. However, with Mao, the only one that could be considered a leader during his life, was major failure as a leader, in my opinion, because he ruled through propaganda and false information. He wanted people to believe that the country was moving in the right direction—when in fact it was moving towards a disaster. He did not realize it or, if he did, he did nothing about it—that is a failure of leadership. He was cocky, self-absorbed, hasty, and reckless. He did not educate himself on the realities of his policies. He could do no wrong and that is the problem. A good leader can admit when he was wrong, learn from the situation, and not repeat it. Because Mao had to live up to his own omnificence, he allowed things to happen that he might of known was wrong, but he could not say that he was wrong because he is never wrong.
Reading was a struggle because there were only a selected few books available to read during the Cultural Revolution. Reading is supposed to enable a person to receive knowledge. However, during the Cultural Revolution, reading was only reading what others wanted you to know and you couldn’t figure things out for yourself or come to your own conclusions. Even when the bookstores were able to bring in new literature from western markets the books and the amount you could buy at a time was limited. Yu Hua states, “If literature truly possesses a mysterious power, I think perhaps it is precisely this: that one can read a book by a different writer of a different time . . . and there encounter a sensation that is one’s very own” (61). We can make literature our very own through imagination. On the other hand, Mao’s propaganda will only allow you to see what he wants you to believe. The same thing with writing. One can only write what they want you to write and therefore not allowing you to tell your true feelings or thoughts on a subject. Because they are/were not allowed to write any negative the writers become drones only producing propaganda or a falsehood that everything is in working order, society is moving in the right direction, or the fields are producing an overabundant amount of crops. They only portray the myth and not the reality. Writing is not creative. It is a creation of the what the country wants you to believe.
One of the criticisms that stood out to me in Yu Hua’s writings is the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of depriving the people of literature and other media that were considered “poisonous weeds.” Supposedly, if the people were not allowed to read these works, then they would not get any counterrevolutionary thoughts. It kind of had the opposite effect, however, as Yu Hua proved that he and his fellow students, either through boredom or curiosity (or both) risked punishment just to read some tattered forbidden literature. Even extreme boredom could not make Yu Hua read the Selected Works of Mao Zedong seriously and become a better communist. In every home he entered, the set of books was brand new and virtually untouched, meaning that no one else had really read them either. So, the attempt to make the people read more communist literature rather than counterrevolutionary literature was kind of unsuccessful.
In Yu Hua’s book, he offers many critiques about China. The most prominent one, especially in the first two chapters, is about the actions of Chairman Mao. In the chapter “people,” Yu Hua writes about how Mao will call for the people to attack and get rid of leaders in character posters, just like the common people would do. He makes it seem as though Chairman Mao wants the people to think he is just like them, but also reminds them that he is still above them. This goes along with wording of phrases used by the Chinese during this time. Any phrase that could be seen as counterrevolutionary would be stopped. The most striking example of this was the anecdote in “leader” about the primary school aged child who said “the sun went down” rather than “it’s getting dark.” For the child, the sun was setting and it was getting dark outside. For the people, especially adults, this was a verbal attack that was against Chairman Mao. Yu Hua looks back on this moment and recognizes how wild it seems now that people would so quickly attack a child for their phrasing rather than understand that they might not have known what the adults thought they were saying. Instances like this, where the people react to what is being said or done about Chairman Mao, are criticized throughout the book.
Yu Hua definitely seems to be critiquing the way that the people responded to what the government wanted. I saw this was most evident in the writing chapter when the family created the poster to hang in their home, as well as when the one teacher was “overlooked” in the posters criticizing the educators. With both anecdotes I felt that Yu Hua was commenting on the ridiculousness responses to the posters. His family was so quick to create a poster to prove their loyalty, but then easily forgot about it and let it become trash on the floor. As for the poster about education, nobody cared about the Chinese teacher not having a poster about him until the propaganda team leader made a comment about the absence. Once this was discovered, Yu Hua made a big deal about making a poster for the Chinese teacher. Both of the responses came off as forced and very reactionary which appeared to be the point. Yu Hua may have been critiquing the way in which the people, including himself, were always eager to prove themselves as loyal, but only when the need arose. He was also very focused on the critique about China’s economic growth in comparison to the Great Leap forward. His commentary was clear that he thought China was making the same mistakes as it had in the past, which is going to continue to hurt the country if they do not come to this realization.
In “China in Ten Words” Yu Hua is presenting a critique in the distinct and significant ideological shift that can be seen around the 1990s in China. This can be seen in his chapter on “People” in which he analyzes the changed meaning of the word and even discusses the dramatic shift from the democracy movements of 1989 and Tienanmen Square protests to the focus of economic success and the acquisition of wealth. Furthermore, you can see it in the chapter “Leader” that the Chinese people have moved away from the idolized leader that Mao Zedong represented. Yu Hua pulls on his own memories to show the ways in which China has changed so dramatically over the course of his life.
I think that Yu Hua has made several criticisms in the five chapters we have read thus far. The most interesting criticism I think Yu makes is how there was very little intellectually stimulating material for the people of China to read/enjoy during the Cultural Revolution. When Yu talks about the first shipment of books that arrives in his town, he describes the “sensation as if today a pop star were sighted in some celebrity-deprived suburb” (53). Yu, and the entire town, were beyond thrilled that books were finally returning. The way that Yu describes the return of books creates such an image on just how deprived the town was of intellectually stimulating material. Yu also describes the return of literary journals and the need for writers as, “like hungry babies wailing for milk, a whole array of fiction columns required nourishment” (81). Again, Yu uses rather stark and powerful phrases to illustrate how welcomed the return of literature was to China. Everyone had been so deprived of literature as well as deprived of an outlet to express any creativity. I think that Yu was making a criticism about one of the ways the CCP handled the Cultural Revolution poorly.
At this point in my research, I am still sorting through my secondary sources. It is that time in the semester when it gets really busy, so my time management skills will definitely be coming into use. What is fortunate, however, is that I am writing a paper in my Philosophy class about the theory of Chinese Feminism, so I’ve been able to build off many of the sources that I am using for this paper (however, I am writing two very distinct papers). I’ve come to find that some of my secondary sources include works written by Chinese feminists throughout the last few decades that focus mostly on theory – this is great for my philosophy paper, but not for this paper. I am still trying to find more articles to fill in gaps in my research and pulling specific stories from the news about the detainment of the “Feminist Five” which will serve as a case study on how the government has reacted to feminist activism in modern China.
This past week I’ve found a new group of secondary sources. I’ve had to ILL a few of them so I’m currently waiting for them to arrive. I’ve also found a new group of primary sources that I’ve been going over. My main struggle right now is mostly analyzing artwork, which I’ve not done a lot of. The next three things that I plan to do are to go through my secondary sources when they arrive, to watch and take notes on the movies I’m using as sources, and to begin putting together my outline.
Since last week, I have started working on an outline for the paper. Although it is only a rough outline right now, it has helped me get a better idea of what I’m trying to write about. Outlining has also helped me figure out what else I need to make my paper stronger. This has also helped me figure out what gaps I have in my paper where I am not sure if the source can be used or if it should be used in a different way then I was originally planning. I’ve also been looking at the Chinese Ministry of Education website that Bree gave me the link to on my post last week. It’s interesting to read the policies that they have on education. There are a few in particular that I want to look at further to decide if they will strengthen my paper because they discuss higher education. In working toward starting my paper, my first step is to finish finding good primary sources. My second step is to determine where my sources will fit in, if at all, to my paper. Finally, I will complete my outline, determining along the way what my thesis is and how I will use the sources to argue the thesis.
I went in to talk to Professor Fernsebner about my project. I had some concerns about how to consolidate all of the research that I had done. She helped me decided on three main topics to discuss in my paper. I also found a few more sources for my research. One of the articles that I found will be the focus of my discussion on why my topic is important to study. I feel much better about my research and topic now that I have a clear outline.