Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (2020) - full transcript

Prominent Chinese writers and scholars gather in a village in Shanxi, a province of China and the hometown of Jia Zhang-Ke. This starts an 18-chapter symphony about Chinese society since 1949. Narrated by three important novelists born in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s respectively, telling their own stories with literature and reality, the film weaves a 70-year spiritual history of the Chinese people.

"One, Two, One"

"Be united, alert..."

"... earnest and lively"

"Unite to win yet greater victories!"

Back in 1949...

Everyone called Jia Family Village

a pit

The place made people ill

Alkaline soil and foul sewage

There were just three treasured assets

Sow thistles, willow shoots...

... and phragmites reeds

Why were these assets?

People could eat sow thistles

They're an edible foodstuff

That was one of them

The reeds were also edible...

They fed the livestock

So these assets...

... were essentials for life in the village

Nothing else would grow there

It was desolate land

We couldn't cultivate it

The soil was too salty!

I won't go into the history of it

Let's jump ahead to when Ma Feng convened a meeting

A general discussion

That was the start of the big change

One evening we talked with Ma Feng

He asked us to gather twenty or so people

Maybe thirty, people with skills

Smart people with good memory

To have a group discussion

So we sent out a call

And more than forty people showed up

Ma Feng raised the issue of
filtering water before irrigation

We needed to treat the water first

The water was causing the alkalinity of the soil

It's like the clothes we wear

When our clothes get soaked in sweat...

... it's harder to clean and dry them

You end up with stains you can't get out

Ma Feng was implementing...

... what Chairman Mao said about strength in unity

If one family...

... tried to solve the problem of alkaline soil...

... it couldn't be done

How to make it happen?

We needed to mobilize everyone in the village

We took Ma Feng's advice

With three families, then five, then ten...

... we formed...

... what we called 'mutual aid groups'

We mapped out a plan for the village

When we'd figured it all out...

... there were thirty to forty people in each group

And each group took about ten days...

... to finish the preparations

We started by filtering the fresh water

Then drained away the salty water

And then let the sun do its work

It was just like drying clothes outdoors,
under the sun

Bit by bit, the seeds took root

They germinated

Nothing died, the seedlings flourished

They grew

The mutual aid groups...

... speeded things up

We went on to form a production team

It was based on individual production units

We were highly motivated

As a result of all this hard work...

... Jia Family Village became quite famous

Lots of people came to see our progress

Other villages were still short of grain

They couldn't feed themselves

Relied on food coupons

But we had plenty to eat

We even had surpluses!

In fact we had enough surplus...

... to sell grain to the government

We ended up contributing one million kilos to the state

"Working the land, standing tall..."

"Raising his work-tool even higher..."

"He holds the hoe up in the air..."

"As if he were holding..."

"... a flag of toil"

He holds the hoe up in the air

as if he were holding a flag of toil

- Yu Jian

I like what you are

And I like how you behave

- Straightforward, optimistic...
- It's true

He could hear you with his hearing aid

How old are you?

I'm Ninety-one

Bring it over

I can hear now

In the past, the village had three "too many"s

Too many unmarried men

Too many young children sold away

And too many beggars

Life was so hard here...

... that no-one would marry our men

There was a saying...

"Don't marry your daughter into Jia Family Village"

Those who came here to marry would suffer

So no-one did

That's why there were so many unmarried men

Ma Feng...

The first time we met was in 1953

In the spring of that year

I was First Secretary of the Communist Youth League

We were having a meeting that evening

Talking about...

The county League had given us
three promotional tasks

One was to promote the Marriage Law

It came into force in 1953

Second, to promote the collective procurement
and distribution of grain

And finally, to promote collectivization

To encourage people to join co-operatives

Mutual aid

We were in the middle of the meeting...

Assigning tasks...

... when Old Jia arrived with Ma Feng

Old Jia came in and said...

"This is our League's First Secretary"

We knew that he was a writer

But we didn't know he was such a big name

We just knew that he was a writer

He loved joking,
making fun of this and that

Our members loved listening to him

He smoked a fat little cigar

About this thick, but quite short

He invited us all to try it

He even invited the girls who were there!

We were all teenagers

But he offered his cigar regardless

Laughing, we said we couldn't smoke

You could have it all yourself!

That made us laugh

Lots of us were there that night

He said that to promote the Marriage Law...

... we should take the lead ourselves

Find ourselves partners!

"What about you with him? Or you with her?"

He was fooling around with us

"You look like a good match for him"

"You two look good together"

He became the League matchmaker

She and I...

In fact he matched three couples in our League

We got together and married

So to speak...

He planted a seed in people's minds

A seed of love

That was when people starting seeing each other,
forming couples

When love became a freedom of choice

Arranged marriages were outlawed

We were free to choose marriage partners

"In the mountains and rivers"

"I would like to hold your hand"

"To cross the bridge"

"On the bridge are red flowers, green leaves"

"Families and rivers are nearby"

"On this side of the bridge, hair is black"

"On that side, hairs have turned white"

On this side of the bridge, hair is black

On that side, hairs have turned white

- Shen Congwen

My father Ma Feng was born in 1922

23 May in the lunar calendar

It was in Juyi Village, in Xiaoyi County

When my father was born...

... my grandfather was over fifty

And my grandmother was still in her twenties

When grandfather died...

... the family went downhill

Nothing went well

My grandmother wanted to raise this son herself

So she refused to remarry, despite being so young

She sold the house and land

Took the money

And returned to Dawang Village, in Fenyang

So my father, from the age of six or seven...

... grew up in Dawang Village

When he finished school...

Not long after that...

... the Anti-Japanese War began

When he was in the army

His squad leader was...

Sun Qian

The writer Sun Qian

His involvement in the arts began by accident

Father liked painting when he was young

Back then, the platoons...

... held a blackboard newspaper competition

He remembered a magazine he'd once seen

The illustrations in it...

... were woodcut prints

They showed soldiers with machine guns
in the undergrowth

Taking aim at the enemy

There were no paints available

Only ink

He made the best of it

He did a big ink drawing

No paintbrushes, only an inkbrush

So that's what he used

The competition was judged
the day after he finished it

And his platoon ended up as the winners

So they decided he was a talent

He seemed to be talented

That got him transferred to the publicity team...

... which was actually a performance troupe

In 1940, the troupe...

... crossed the Yellow River and went to Yan'an

He was very impressed by Yan'an

He said there were so many books in Yan'an

A great cultural climate

Later on, someone told him...

The Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts...

... had a school for the military

My father applied...

... and was admitted

My father applied for the art major

He was a life-model for the art class

Why did he want to do that?

Because he could read while posing

You know which book had the biggest influence on him?

It was 'And Quiet Flows the Don'

After he graduated from the Academy...

... he became a journalist

At the start of 1945...

It was either the end of 1944 or the start of 1945...

... there was a conference on outstanding workers
at Mount Lüliang

They were sharing stories of heroes

My father and his colleague were sent there

As both journalists and volunteers

After that, they began writing their...

'Heroes of Mount Lüliang'

He and Xirong, the two of them...

They took turns writing it...

... "You do today's, I'll do tomorrow's"

It was serialised in 'Jinxi Public Newspaper'

They kept up daily instalments for a while

Then they thought they should take a break

They stopped for a couple of days

But the readers complained about its absence

So they went back to writing it

That's how that book took shape

They'd begun it in the spring of 1945

Japan had not yet surrendered

The war was still on-going

In the run-up to October 1949...

... my father attended a Youth Conference in Beijing

He went as a Youth Leader

And after that, he stayed in Beijing to work

That was when he came to know the literary world

He was almost thirty by then

But he wasn't married,
and didn't even have a girlfriend

One time he went back to Xiaoyi
to see his mother...

... and saw a couple of newlyweds on the train

Observing this young couple...

... he thought how interesting they were

It inspired him to write 'Marriage'

His story was about how marriage...

... changes the lives of young people

When it was published...

... it caught someone's eye

He had the idea of filming it

When this man found out
my father wasn't married himself...

... he thought he should intervene

This was a director called Guo Wei

He'd once been my mother's supervisor...

... at a theater in Hebei

He was plotting to make this introduction

But he didn't have a photo of my mother

All he had was a group photo of the theater company

When the time came,
he showed my father this group photo

He told him...

"I want to introduce you to one of
the girls in this photo"

"Guess which one it is"

My father studied the photo

He thought, she looks nice...

But some seem a bit too...

Anyway, not suitable

Some were too pretty

Some were too old

Some, probably already married

In the end, he pointed to one girl in the photo

"Is it this one?"

And yes, he picked my mother!

He tried writing about city life in Beijing

But he wasn't happy with the results

But when he left Beijing for Shanxi...

... and started writing in and about the countryside...

... his fiction became quite popular

'Stockman Uncle Zhao' for example

And 'Han Meimei'

It became very popular

Both those short stories were selected...

... for student textbooks

Chinese studies

He'd thought he should focus on rural topics

That's why he went back to the countryside

Back to Shanxi

The one who objected strongly was my grandfather

He was originally from Hebei

He thought since they had a place in Beijing...

And were settled there...

What was the point of moving back to Shanxi?

He had no idea what Shanxi was like

There was no comparison between Beijing and Shanxi

It's the difference between a capital city
and a provincial town

There's a huge gap

It was not at all pleasant when we first moved

Our lives were entirely different

And the local dialect was different

Being from Hebei, he could understand the Beijing dialect

But he could barely grasp a word of the Shanxi dialect

I came to Jia Family Village when I was very little

With my parents

We arrived and lived in the village

Actually, his writing had a very intimate connection
with this place

He was writing non-stop

My father wrote about many people

When the villagers read it,
they knew who it was about

"That character is you!"

"That's about you" and so on

'The Young People of Our Village'...

... depicted China's first generation of
educated farmers

How should they appear?

They should be literate...

The characters were about those educated farmers

The People's Republic had celebrated
its tenth anniversary

People were getting decent educations

How was their life
when they returned to their villages?

What you can see here...

... is a general view of Jia Family Village

It shows both the village as it is now...

... and the plans for its future

What are you doing here?

Nothing, Sir

We're just chatting


Show me what's in your bag

I've been thinking, at the Literature Festival...

... I'll be able to see the writers in person

I can listen to what they say

It's a site for literary encounters

No particular obligation this time

I'm there to have fun

Jia Zhang-ke told me I'd have fun any time

Jia Family Village

Good afternoon to all our Festival friends

Let's hear it for our next guest

He's a renowned writer...

Let's welcome Mr Yu Hua to the stage

We've come to Fenyang

Coming here...

... feels like...

... being Brahms...

... when he went to visit Schumann
in his country house

So being here...

All of us, whether we're authors or readers...

We're all like Brahms

We're in Fenyang

We're in Jia Family Village

It's a group visit to our country home

We use our own...

... individual voices...

... to make...

... the so-called lonely countryside...

... lively again

God created the village

Man created the city

Take our house...

Back then, it was my grandfather's house

Situated below the dam

Coming back here...

A lot has changed

We've used the word "nostalgia"
many times today

Girls in the villages most likely...

From the point of view of equality...

It's very hard to win a real place

Since there's been so much rebuilding...

... the layout has changed a lot

I couldn't even orient myself

Knowing a place is...

... like being in an airport

You can take off...

... and fly back some time later

Opera is like an open classroom
for the people

Actors are teachers in make-up

You became a rabbit

I became an eagle to catch you

We always miss things that are lost

Modernization needs...

... to be interpreted differently

Fenyang Middle School has a history of 113 years

That's twelve years more than the history
of Chinese modern poetry

I think villages...

... are the reality

I notice how people wait for trains

Some of them squat down

In my hometown,
not least in my extended family...

... almost every family unit has someone
working in Guangdong

We usually drink tea from Hanzhong

It's also...

... Anji white tea

Actually, I don't like Anji white tea

I prefer Shangluo white tea

There's a Shangluo white tea?

Shangluo white tea is good

One time...

... I went out with some Xi'an University teachers

One of them told me...

He managed to get you to drink white tea


I'm bringing out my poetry collection

The second?

The second and third will both come out
later this year

It will include unpublished earlier poems?

These are all new

I wrote them after the first collection came out

Writing poetry...

I have nothing against it

But the first thing...

... is to live a good life

First, be a good person

Fulfill your duties as a wife
and mother in the family

And then write poetry

And be a good daughter too!

Actually, I don't care about that

The main thing is that...

... writing poetry doesn't mean living a poetic life

Dihua lies in the basin of the Qin Mountains

There's a river near the village

Nowadays it's called the River Dan

Back then, it wasn't called that

We used to call it the State River

"State" as in city-state, that character

When I was very young...

... I could see boats on the river from the village

Of course boats can't sail there now

The water's too shallow for boats

I remember when I was in primary school...

In the third or fourth year...

I went to my aunt's place

And she had a copy of
'Dream of the Red Chamber'

A hardcover copy,
I don't know where she got it

It was in four volumes

That was the first time I ever read it

That time, visiting my aunt

At first sight, all the poems at the start...

And all the mythological stuff...

That made no sense to me

When I reached the main text...

And it was about daily life...

I felt I understood it

It was an interesting read

Although it was about life in a great mansion...

... and I lived in a village...

... it nonetheless intrigued me

I enjoyed reading it

Since I could stay for only one night...

... when I left the next day...

... I 'borrowed' two volumes

When I got home...

... my cousin noticed that
two volumes were missing

He knew I loved reading
and must have taken them

So he came to demand them back

In my early years, in my family...

... there were already more than twenty people

When I was in primary school...

... I remember there were already twenty-three

If everyone was there...

... we had to serve twenty-three mouths
with one wok

At that time...

... my 'po' was still alive

'Po' was our word for grandmother

My father had three brothers

And they each had more than one child

Twenty-odd people, all squeezed together

The conditions were rather difficult...

... with so many people

If you can imagine, this huge family...

... was like the one in 'Dream of the Red Chamber'

Every daughter-in-law of my father's generation...

... all my aunts...

... including my mother...

... took turns to cook for everyone

Each had to do it for a whole week

Whoever was handling the ladle...

... she'd be sure to serve her own kids...

... the thickest congee

The rest of us made do with what was left

All from the one wok

Everyone served themselves

In the end, people tried to hide the ladle

Why was that?

Because the ladle could reach the bottom

Where the best stuff was

The burnt rice at the bottom tasted better

Everyone tried to get to it first

Anyhow, times were pretty hard

But we didn't split up

Because my 'po' was still there,
she held the family together

Until 1958

That was when mandatory communal kitchens came in

People couldn't get along,
and the family split up

The year I started junior high...

... the Cultural Revolution began

the schools were already closed by 1966

We'd just reached mathematical simple equations

My father was a teacher

... urban and rural separate

... urban and rural separate

My mother was a housewife

If a mother was classed as a 'rural citizen'...

... her children were also classed as 'rural'

There was 'household registration'

And that was linked to food coupons

Without that piece of paper...

... you couldn't even stay in a hotel

Without food coupons...

... you had nothing to eat

"There's an old saying..."

"The place you're born..."

"... is the place that half-buries you"

"That's why 'birthplace'
is also called 'blood land' "

That's why 'birthplace' is also called 'blood land'

- Jia Pingwa

The college my father went to...

... was later renamed 'Shaanxi Normal University'

He studied there, and when he graduated...

... he was assigned to a suburb of Xi'an

A teaching post in Tianjiawan Primary School

The Chinese civil war was coming to an end

When it ended in 1949,
the Communist Party took power

Xi'an had been ruled by Hu Zongnan

He was a KMT general,
and he was in charge here

He was known as 'King of the North-west'

He had both political and military power

Not long before the KMT retreat...

... he convened a big meeting in Xi'an

Later, during the Cultural Revolution...

... this meeting was reclassified...

... as training for the KMT secret service

And whoever had been at the meeting...

... was for the 'secret service training'...

Well, my father and five or six other teachers...

... came by foot from Tianjiawan to attend it

About halfway there...

... my father sneaked away with another guy

They went to Yisu Theater to see Shaanxi opera

So they never went to the meeting at all

But his name was on the attendance list!

They checked the record
during the Cultural Revolution

And there was his name!

The record said he was there

The matter...

... was reported to Xi'an

Since the meeting was now classed as
'secret service training'...

... my father was accused of
being a KMT secret agent

He was fired from his job

Sent back to his birthplace to do forced labor

We had to move back too

When he arrived...

... under armed military escort...

... I was working on the land

I was doing some farm job
on the mountain and I saw him

He was walking along the road

With two armed escorts behind him

The moment I saw him,
I rushed back home

He'd already been reassigned...

... to the local production brigade

At home, Father was lying on the kang bed

When he saw me, he cried

That was the only time I saw him cry

Because, in his mind, my father...

... always thought of me as a scholar

He thought I'd go to high school

And then to college

But now I'd been sent back to the village too

I probably wouldn't get to university...

... since he was a 'counter-revolutionary'

He thought my future was hopeless

My brother, three years younger...

... was as tall as me

We two brothers...

... started working in the production brigade

One day's work earned three points

And one point, at that time...

... was worth twenty cents

The normal rate for
an adult male was ten points per day

Worth twenty cents per point

For women, it was eight points per day

That made one Chinese dollar and sixty cents

I could only earn three points

That amounted to very little money

Sixty cents per day

Just sixty cents

Back then, the villages...

... were preparing for war with the Soviet Union

All of the young people...

... had to register in militias

Every day there was training to prepare for war

... until my father was named as a

And sent back to his birthplace

That disqualified me from being in the militia

They threw me out

When they recruited, I applied to rejoin

But I could never pass the background checks

I remember having the physical examination

Someone checked your ears

This part of you and that

I passed those tests,
but never made it on to the list

Later, they started hiring geological workers

I tried that too

They accepted my application...

... but disqualified me
after two or three rounds of checks

Still later,
they needed road maintenance workers

We didn't have asphalt roads then

They were still sand roads

They always needed maintenance workers...

... to shovel sand from the roadside ditches...

... and flatten the roads

That was the job

Very often the work was in...

... quite remote areas

I applied, and the checks took forever

In the end, I was rejected again

Then, in 1969,
there was mass mobilization...

... in water conservation for agriculture

At the time, Chairman Mao said...

"Water conservation is the lifeblood of agriculture"

Everywhere began building reservoirs

Our county planned three of them

And one was in my home village

One rainy day I put on a back-pack...

... with a bag of corn grits in it

Even though it was a construction job...

... you had bring your own grains
for communal cooking

I rushed to be first in line for the job

I paced in front of the construction office...

... hoping someone would notice me

As I hoped, the commander greeted me

I said "I'm here to work"

He knew I had good handwriting

Then he asked if I'd be willing
to work for the office

I was more than happy to

So he gave me a bucket
of paint and a broad brush

And that afternoon he assigned me...

... to paint slogans on the rocks

I climbed up the rocks...

... tied a rope around my waist...

... and hung down to paint the slogans

Everyone was pleased

That's how...

... I came to work for the construction office

That was a good preparation for college

Soon after that,
universities started enrolling students...

... based on recommendations

The ones they took were called
'worker-peasant-soldier students'

They were the children of workers,
peasants and soldiers

Hence the name

My father's case had not yet been re-examined

But there were signs...

... that he might be rehabilitated

Since I was classed as a 'reformable child'...

... I was allowed to apply

I've been in Xi'an ever since

"Cast a cold eye on the world"

I studied arts at Northwest University...

... and published twenty-two pieces
during my college years

In September 1975
I was assigned to Shaanxi People's Publishing House

Strictly speaking, the Cultural Revolution wasn't over

There was barely any market for literature

Given the times,
I tried writing revolutionary stories

Essays, novels

Even traditional songs

And poems

I wrote everything

When we reached the 1980s...

... Chinese writing in general
came to be thought of...

... as literature of the new era

That marked the start
of real modern literature


Well, there was foreign literature

Modern work

It began appearing in Chinese translations

The first I learned about
the west was from the arts

From introductions to foreign artworks

Van Gogh

Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso

Cubism, Fauvism,
Impressionism and Structuralism

There were books...

... about all these movements

I thought I could become
an artist by learning this

But when it came to my writing,
it was hard

I didn't know what path to take

Because at that time, you either...

... imitated western models, or...

Whenever something new comes along...

... people tend to absorb it by imitating it

What they're really trying to
see is what's the boundary

Is there a breakthrough?
Can it be improved?

But I was facing a different blockage

I didn't know what I wanted to write

I was young, impulsive and curious

I wanted to write down everything I saw

Looking back at that time...

... I called myself a roving bandit

My work had no roots

I just wrote whatever my gun was aimed at

I was sure it wouldn't work,
I feared the worst

Then, sometime between 1982 and 1984...

... that was when it struck me

I should go back home

Back to my birthplace, Shangluo

So off I went, and found someone I knew

Someone who could take me around

There was no public transport,
so it was hard to get around

We only had bicycles...

... and cycled back to base every night

Every morning, at random,
we'd visit nearby villages

It was delightful

There was nothing to worry about
in the countryside

Nobody to supervise you

Just two or three of us, riding our bikes

It felt free! We ate wherever we went

When we were hungry,
we simply stopped to buy some food

Or paid local people
to cook for us in their homes

In the evenings...

... we slept wherever we could

But that was when my body failed me

I got sick

I was in the worst pain I've ever experienced

Those times brought me great joy...

But also the worst pain

I'd caught a cold and
been to a clinic for a shot

The clinic had an alcohol stove

Lots of needles in the boiling water

They used boiling water to sterilize back then

Everyone who came with a cold...

... would get a shot with a new needle

They gave me the injection

And it made me very ill

I was infected with...

... Hepatitis B

I found only later that
there'd been a local hepatitis epidemic

I've been treated for it ever since

It took fifteen years to recover

During that period, I wrote a lot

Stories, novellas, essays...

The main essays were the
'Three Records of Shangzhou'

There were so many short pieces

The novellas included
'Chicken Coop Valley'

After that...

In 1985, 1986...

I wrote the novel...

... 'Turbulence'

Since that time...

... I've slowly established myself here

From Shangluo...

From the hometown I live in,
I'm looking at China

Looking at the whole world

I was born on 3 April 1960,
in Hangzhou

My father worked in the provincial center
for disease control

And my mother worked in Zhejiang Hospital

When I was three years old...

... my father was assigned...

There was a severe outbreak
of snail fever (schistosomiasis) in Zhejiang

My father was transferred to Xiamen

And he ended up in Haiyan

They were establishing
a new hospital in Haiyan

So he stayed there

He wrote to my mother...

... saying that things were good in Haiyan

So she took my brother and me to Haiyan

Later she told me...

... there weren't even any bicycles
in Haiyan back then

We lived in the workplace

Right opposite the surgery...

... was the morgue

The surgery faced it

It was just a small bungalow

My brother and I came and went freely

The operating theater
was inside the bungalow

while my father performed surgeries
and we could even go in there

Many times, after midnight...

... we'd hear crying

The cries of grief would wake us up

Haiyan had particularly hot summers

When I woke up from a nap...

... I saw that my sweat...

... left the outline of my body on the mat

Homes didn't have
their own bathrooms then

We used the public toilet

That was next door to the morgue

There was a concrete slab in the morgue

About this wide

It was kept very, very clean

In my mind, I feel in the world...

When I think about the cleanest place there is...

... it's not the lobby of a five-star hotel...

... but that morgue I passed by as a child

One time I took a nap there

At least, I tried to...
It was nice and cool

When we were little...

... people thought that was unbelievable

But my generation took it in its stride

We don't believe in ghosts

We're all atheists

As an adult,
I came across a poem by Heinrich Heine...

"Our death is in the cool of the night"

When I read that, I thought...

That's me, in the morgue!

That was exactly how I felt

In primary school

We had a classmate...

... whose father...

... he killed himself

He jumped down a well

Southern wells are about this wide

If you jump head-first,
there's no turning back

The well is too narrow

In a northern well,
you could still hope to change your mind

You could try lifting your head

Roll forwards and paddle in the water

Not possible in a southern well

So, just like that, he killed himself

We didn't know

Our classmate showed up with his satchel

But he was crying,
he stood in a corner and cried

... did we realize that
his father killed himself the night before

So we asked our classmate
to play ping pong with us

We asked him twice and he finally came

He was still crying
while he waited for his turn

And when he played...

And even when he won, he was still crying

When he won again, he smiled

In our high-school years...

... we managed to read some novels

Mostly books...

... which had survived the Cultural Revolution

Books which hadn't been
burned or confiscated

They'd been hidden away

Passed through many hands

By the time they reached me...

... they'd lost pages at the front and back

You'd have no idea how the story started...

... or how it ended

Didn't know the title, or the author

I soon realized that
the title and author didn't matter

And I could manage without
knowing how the story started

But it was very frustrating
to not have the ending

You got through it

But the next book that came along
was in the same condition

And by the time another book
came into your hands...

... a month or two had passed

I was so frustrated...

... that I was haunted by
those missing endings

I figured out what to do

As the line in the 'Internationale' goes...

... "There are no supreme saviors"

We need to save ourselves

Since I lay awake at night,
thinking about endings...

... I came up with my own ending

And if it wasn't good enough...

... I'd think of another one

At that time,
boys and girls didn't really speak to each other

It sometimes happened
that girls were bolder than boys

A girl classmate once handed me a note

In our school, she was given a job...

... as a school librarian

The note she gave me was an accusation

I'd recently returned a book

And apparently I'd damaged it

The pages were slightly torn

But she accepted it anyway

Her note made a very strong impression on me

It was the first time
a girl ever handed me a note...

... and it was to criticize me

The note ended by
saying she'd let it go this time

But if it happened again,
she wouldn't let me return the book

I'd have to pay for the damage,
something like that

I got her real meaning right away

Back then,
nobody would write "I like you" in a note

Nothing of that sort

They'd use indirect
or oblique expressions instead

Expressing affection had to be implied,
not explicit

It seemed like
a common-or-garden note

You have no idea
how complicated this all was

The girl folded...

She'd folded the paper down
to a tiny square

It probably took her only
a minute or two to do it

But it would take me twenty
minutes to unfold it

I was scared of tearing it

It might have contained something beautiful!

And I might have lost it!

So I was very careful

I worked hard to unfold it

And it turned out to be a criticism!

But I got her real point

In the following days...

... I noticed she kept looking at me

It made me a bit nervous

Eventually I decided to tell her...

... that I was interested in her too

But I suddenly realized...

... that she'd lost interest in me

Not long after that...

... we went to a place called Ganpu

We were in the middle
of some military training...

... when we heard
a loudspeaker announcement

The Gang of Four had been arrested

After that,
college entrance exams started again

I took the exam in 1977 and failed

I failed again in 1978

So I gave up trying...

... and went to become a dentist

In 1977,
the government had already ended...

... the 'Learn from Peasants
and Workers' movement

Urban students were still stuck
in the countryside...

But nobody was being sent to
remote villages any more

Some of my classmates
were assigned to factories

Some went to work in department stores

I ended up in Wuyuan County Health Center

Maybe it was my fate...

... to become a dentist

I didn't like the work at all

All day staring into people's open mouths!

The worst view in the world

Day after day

I was still young

I wanted to see the world
and the rest of the country

I could barely imagine
what the world was like

But I wanted to travel and see things

The dental hospital had one merit

It was bang in the center of the town

And my window happened
to look out on a bridge

And the adjoining road

Whenever there was no patient to see...

... I stood looking out of that window

I was feeling quite despondent

Was my whole life going to be like this?

I was desperate for a change

I began notice that people
from the Cultural Bureau...

... were always strolling about on the street

The town had a small population

Eight thousand people,
and they all knew each other

I asked them why they weren't at work

And they said strolling
in the streets was their work

I thought, that's for me!

I'd love a job like that!

I asked them how I could get a job
in the Cultural Bureau

So I started writing fiction

To begin with...

... I had no idea how to write

I couldn't even get punctuation right

So I looked for a short story to learn from

I figured out how to build paragraphs,
and began writing

I had big ideas

I didn't know if my story was any good or not

But I sent it off to
'People's Literature' and 'Harvest' magazine

When they rejected it,
I tried less prestigious places

Such as 'Beijing Literature'
and 'Shanghai Literature'

And if that didn't work either...

... I'd try sending it to random magazines
in places like Lüliang

The postman...

Every time...

He didn't knock to deliver the mail

He just threw my rejection letters over the fance

Every time we heard one land...

... my father said "Another rejection letter"

I was determined

Being rejected...

... would depress me a bit

But I mainly wanted to see who'd rejected it...

... so that I could aim a bit lower next time

In November of 1983...

... very late in the evening...

... I received a long-distance call

This was before we got direct dialling

Long-distance calls had to be connected
through a switchboard

We had only one switchboard operator
for the whole of Haiyan

The person calling was the chief editor
of 'Beijing Literature'

The executive chief editor

he nominal chief editors were Yang Mo...

... and his deputy Wang Meng

This was the executive chief editor, Zhou Yanru

When I picked up the phone...

... the operator asked if I was Yu Hua

I said yes, and was told...

... that someone in Beijing was calling me

It took another half-hour...

... for the call to be connected

It was Zhou Yanru

She wanted me to come to Beijing
to edit my story

My very first reaction was to wonder...

... who would cover my travel
and accommodation costs

Zhou Yanru was really nice, a lovely old lady

And an experienced editor

She said "Yu Hua..."

Those were her first words

"I placed this call this morning"

"The day's almost over,
and I was about to give up"

"I thought I wouldn't get through today"

"So I'd try again tomorrow"

"Then suddenly I got connected"

She talked about
the three stories I'd sent them

I'd already forgotten that I'd sent three

"One of them needs some editing"

She went on...

"We'll pay for your travel
and accommodation"

"Plus an allowance"

I was on the coach next morning

To Shanghai

I bought a standing-class ticket
at the rail station

And stood all the way to Beijing

There I met my editor

I met Zhou Yanru

She discussed the editing with me

"Your stories were very well written"

"But one of them..."

"... has a gloomy ending"

"In a socialist country like ours..."

"... such things cannot happen"

I asked her "Teacher Zhou,
what do you suggest?"

She said "You need to change it"

I asked "Do you mean
giving it a happy ending?"

She said yes

I asked if she'd still publish it
with a happy ending

You see, I was bargaining

That was me being me

Even the people at 'Harvest'
heard about this later

She said "If it has a happy ending,
we'll publish it"

I said "If you agree to publish it,
I'll make it happy all the way through!"

She replied...

"You young people!"

"A happy ending will do,
it doesn't need to start happy"

"The beginning isn't very dark anyway,
not so dark"

"It's just that the ending is a bit gloomy"

"A happy ending will do,
it doesn't need to start happy"

It took me just one day to change it

I remember there was a writer from Henan,
famous back then

He was bursting with pride

Because he'd just won
a National Short Story Award

Zhou Yanru introduced me to him

"This young man is Yu Hua"

"He's only twenty-three"

"He writes good stories"

"He's very bright"

"It took him one day to edit his story"

"Some writers need half a month..."

"A whole month or
even two months to do that"

"But he got it done in one day"

I was thinking, it's just a happy ending

Nothing to it!

She told me my stories would appear
in the first issue of 1984

I was ready to head home
once the editing was done

But Zhou Yanru was really kind

She said "Yu Hua,
it wasn't easy for you to get to Beijing"

It never crossed my mind that
I'd live in Beijing one day

I just said "Well..."

She said "Enjoy yourself a bit"

So I stayed for a month

I went everywhere I could

Eventually I had to ask her...

... where else I could go

Every place she mentioned,
I'd already been to

In the end she had to say
"Time to go home"

She calculated the allowance
they were giving me

I felt rich for the very first time

Since I had to take the train...

... they bought me a ticket back to Shanghai

Since it was a business trip,
I was entitled to civil service treatment

That meant I got a sleeper berth

But I changed it for standing-class

I didn't even choose a seat!

And I pocketed the difference in price

I'd been there for a whole month

My per diem was two Chinese dollars a day

That was the going rate in 1983

When I got home, I had in my wallet...

... eighty-odd dollars, almost ninety

I felt very rich

When the train stopped in Shandong...

... I bought four roast chicken for my father

Four roast chicken

Because he was originally from Shandong

After that, I became a Haiyan celebrity

My editor had been very thoughtful

She asked if I needed a letter
to explain my absence

I agreed that I did

I'd been gone for a month

And the hospital didn't even know about it

So she gave me a letter...

... vouching for the purpose of my trip

The hospital chief was furious at first

But the letter...

... convinced him that I was someone important

The leaders discussed the matter

They concluded that it was a big deal

In all the years of the People's Republic...

... I was the first local person
to be published in Beijing

They suggested transferring me
to the Cultural Bureau

So that was when I changed my job

Towards the end of 1987...

Or maybe in early 1988...

I took delivery of some letters

I forget if it was three or four

They were all asking for stories from me

And they all wanted them within a week

One was from 'October' magazine

I showed my father these letters

Laid them on the table and said, "Look."

My father took a look
and asked what I was getting at

I told him, "This is fame"

I started out submitting work,
now they're asking for it

"Your son is famous now"

People ask me what it's like to be famous

I tell them that was the only time
I had that feeling

Since then, never

"Remembering the past or longing
for your native place..."

"... are, in reality,
ways of reaching for reassurance..."

"... when we feel some disorientation in life"

"Even if feelings are involved,
they're purely decorative"

Remembering the past or longing
for your native place...

... are, in reality, ways of reaching for reassurance

- Yu Hua

We swam here every summer as kids

One time I wondered where
I'd get to if I kept swimming

But then I got caught in a current

I knew not to fight it,
I just had to let it carry me

I was carried along
for some twenty kilometres...

... before I finally scrambled ashore

I had to walk all the way back, barefoot

Dawn was almost breaking

In October 1989,
I entered Beijing University

Life on campus was all peace and joy

Through open windows...

... you could hear people playing mahjong

Around Weiming Lake,
you saw couples dating

And then in the 1990s, especially after
Deng Xiaoping toured southern China...

... the whole nation went into business

The result was economic prosperity

Some who'd become writers like me...

... abandoned their careers
to become entrepreneurs

People who'd been together
went their separate ways

Exploring their own paths

I finished writing 'Cries in the Drizzle'

And in 1993 I published 'To Live'
I wrote about a man's whole life

notice: "Wanted by the Police"

Let's listen

Let's share

This is Haiyan People's Radio Station.

FM 106 MHz

Physics is the opposite of metaphysics


Socrates said that

Then that's philosophy, isn't it?


Since you bring up Socrates...

How many pupils did he have?

Yeah... Plato

Socrates and Plato

Plato was Socrates' student

In September 1997...

... I was mastering in Chinese
at Zhengzhou University

That was the year that Hong Kong
reverted to China's sovereignty

But I wasn't really conscious...

... of such momentous things

I seemed to be immersed...

... in my own world

I moved to Beijing in September 2000

My first impression of the city was quite good

I was studying literature at
Beijing Normal University

September was the best season in Beijing

Autumnal, with clear skies and nice weather

But when I'd applied to do
the PhD in April...

... the city was hit by
the most severe sandstorms

That was in April 2000

From the start, I was greeted with
thick, sandy dust

That was 23 April,
the day we had to sit the entrance exam

Despite the sandstorm
I couldn't understand...

... why all the girls on the street
covered their faces with scarves

Come 2007...

I'd got my PhD four years earlier

I'd given birth to my son

He was two years old

And I felt that a chapter in my life
was coming to an end

It was time to move on to a new phase

But it suddenly felt very difficult

It's hard to explain

Life seemed to be good

Living conditions were improving

But everything felt wrong

The word 'betrayal' lingered in my mind

I couldn't shake it

During the summer break,
I made the decision that I'd go home

Though I couldn't quite say why,
even though I did not quite know why

I knew I was going to write something,
I wasn't sure what

But I absolutely needed to go back for a while

This was different from previous trips home

They'd been more like short visits

Village tourism, hanging out by the river

Seeing what it all looked like...

But this time, what I had in mind
was something more serious

I wanted to write

In 'China in Liang Village'...

... I wrote about Liang Village

Its elders, its women and its children

I included the river by the village

The natural environment

Also, the current situation in the village

When I interviewed the people, for instance...

... when a family received
a call from far away...

... everyone was so joyful

Or when someone sent money back,
the day became so festive

I gradually came to realize...

... that the workers
who've migrated to other places...

... are still part of village life,
even though they're usually away

I was born in the 1970s

The rural order was beginning to recover

I could still recall the days of the 'production unit'

But not in any detail

I think my earliest real memories...

... were formed in the 1980s

At that point, my sisters and brothers
were all in school

My family was very poor

But my father was very insistent
on one point

He insisted that we were all educated

Nobody was migrating to other places yet

You pretty much lived on
what you could harvest

Everyone lived on farmland

Food was very limited

Sometimes you had to look
for edible wild plants

Or grow some tobacco or peppers

Stuff you could sell...

... to cover some of the cost of living

At Chinese New Year or other big festivals...

... we could get up to a kilo of meat
from the county

There were six girls in the family

And my mother had medical issues

In the years...

... before I became sensible and responsible,
she was already paralysed

I was admitted to high school at fifteen

Before that...

... time passed...

... extremely slowly

My elder sister was another worry

As she reached puberty,
she got into a relationship

I already knew that things like that,
could be difficult

And my younger sister had asthma

Anyhow, it was...

... all very hard

It's even hard for me
to talk about these things

Not to mention my mother

She rarely spoke

It's as if she's a shadow in my heart

... which never goes away

Even now that I'm an adult,
it seems I still can't talk about it

I guess there may be many things in life
which you never get over

I once said,
if the day comes when I can...

... speak freely and frankly
about my mother...

... then that will be the day
I have my emotions under control

That day hasn't come yet

I was six years old
when my mother had a stroke

That was common enough in the rural areas

Probably caused by mother's high blood pressure
but we knew nothing about that then

We had access to only
very basic medical services

And we had no money for doctors

It started with hemiparesis,
she could still walk

But one side of her body was weakened

During my time in primary school...

... my mother exercised every morning

When I walked home after school...

... she was often nearby on the same road

I later realized
she was probably waiting for me

Maybe she wanted to
pick me up from school

But she felt embarrassed
because of her disability...

She was quite shy

Anyhow, we'd head home together

By the time she was confined to her bed...

That was
when she suffered complete paralysis

She was in a near-vegetative state

Even then, she was eager to communicate

The family kept up the basic courtesies

When we left for school,
we'd call 'Bye, Ma!'

By then she couldn't speak

She would shed a tear...

... to respond to us

That had a huge impact on me

I can't really talk about it

Her state...

She was breathing

But she couldn't say a word

It was so painful

My father had a really good reputation

He was the one
who took my mother to hospital

And he cared for her devotedly

We were all like that in our family

I still went to school,
despite all the problems

I remember
when we didn't have the money...

... to pay for the tuition,
maybe six or eight dollars

Couldn't afford it

So I had to stand outside the classroom

Until we'd saved enough money

The teacher had no choice if we couldn't pay

He made us stand outside

I stood there for a month

That was the longest period
I had to stand outside

As I recall,
the experience wasn't at all shaming

Just rather sad

Then my father would take me...

Together with my sisters, I think...

From door to door in the village
to borrow money

Twenty cents here, thirty cents there,
or even one dollar

He had ideas
and really wanted to make more money

Because we were so poor

But every business he started
failed in the end

After my mother passed away...

... his reputation went down

He was in his forties

Just as I am now

Maybe he could find a new wife
and have more children?

Actually, there were no more children

In those days, country villages
gossiped about such matters all the time

Anyhow, my sisters and I reached adolescence...

And we were always fighting

Father tried to start a business
We didn't know where he'd got to

Actually, he went to Shanxi

It should be

I forgot what was it called

And this friend introduced him to a local woman

We knew almost nothing about it

Hardly anything, in fact

The woman was a victim of domestic violence

I heard later that
her husband used to beat her

She wanted to leave

My father's friend asked him to help out

Since we're on the plains

Henan is on the plains

He asked my father
to get her out of the mountains

He didn't ask him to marry her

Next thing...

... he brought her to live in our house

She'd been with us
for about a month when...

... we said we'd try to find her a husband

But she didn't want to marry anyone
other than our father

She said he was such a nice person

My father was indeed very kind to women

His only weakness was being so sweet to his wife

Very sweet indeed

When my father brought this woman...

... back to our house in Henan...

... my instant reaction was to cry

Conflicts followed

The local villagers,
it seems to me now...

... saw her as something of a joke

Many of them watched our family
as if we were a soap opera

I hated that feeling of being watched

Since I was scared...

... I hid myself away in dark corners

My brother was fifteen or sixteen at the time

He was quite obstinate

And my sisters were seventeen and eighteen

It was an all-round difficult situation,
as I look back

Lots of fighting...

... both with father and with the woman

She was very unhappy...

... because she also contributed to the family

If you ask me now,
I'd say it was all unnecessary

But none of us could control their anger

And we didn't know
how to deal with the new relationship

And my father was kind of helpless

Since he was such a kind man...

... he wanted to please his new 'wife'...

... and us too

In the end, no-one was pleased

And he faced a big dilemma

I used to think I no longer liked him
Didn't love him

But when I reached this age and...

... came to write about Liang Village

My father was deeply involved
in my research for the books

He came back with me for
'China in Liang Village'

And for 'Leaving Liang Village'
he joined me

... as I went around the country,
recording interviews...

... finding people who came from Liang Village

During that period...

... we got to know and
understand each other again

Eventually, the woman left

She left my father

She probably couldn't stand
the situation any more

One time, when we'd grown up,
we went looking for her

We were all married by then

My father missed her

He nagged us

We just had to take him to see her

I didn't go

Three of my sisters took him

When the two of them saw each other,
they broke down in tears

"Father has always been my question"

"And the biggest question of all..."

"... is his white shirt"

"In those days..."

"... the old road from Wu County
to Liang Village was still nice and flat"

"Tall, straight poplar trees on both sides"

"Father was hurrying home from Wu County..."

"... and I was on my way to school"

"We passed each other on the road"

"In the shade of the trees..."

"... Father's white shirt was clean and neat"

"Soft, tidy..."

"It shone like a beam of light"

Father has always been my question

- Liang Hong

"What trouble did Father
have to save enough money..."

"... for such a costly
unnecessary, luxurious white shirt?"

"How did he keep it
stainless all year round?"

One of my sisters was
the eldest in the family

There was a saying in the village

My father liked to repeat it

"People would rather be mules or horses..."

"... than eldest sons and daughters"

Our family is a case in point

My eldest sister went to a vocational school

That used to be considered
a high qualification

Once she completed the course...

... she had a choice between working in Beijing
and a job in Zhengzhou

She had plenty of good offers

Because of the family...

She came back to the county
to work at a local health center

This was in the 1980s

A high-school diploma counted for a lot

She could earn
twelve Chinese dollars a month

Unimaginable to the rest of us

She would keep two dollars for herself

And give the rest to us

And every time she visited...

...she'd bring me a gift,
such as a pair of sneakers

They cost more than one dollar

I'd be so excited,
running around the village in my new shoes

I still keep...

... the letters between my father
and my sister

They depended on each other

And tried to solve the
family's problems together

In some sense, I think...

... my father's trust in her
made her more important to us

She was always the one we counted on

We could hide behind her back

We could cry

But she could not

She had to solve problems

When there was no money,
she had to make money

And we were always short of money

What with my mother's illness...

With our schooling...

With our food and clothing...

It was like a big black hole

And she was the one who had to fill it

She worried about it for years

But my sister has a big heart

If life's hard, you have to be optimistic
She's pretty and open-minded

But because the rest of us were
so dependent on her...

... men from good family backgrounds
would be scared off...

... when they heard about us


She found her husband

My brother-in-law is great
A very nice person

His family was as poor as ours

So neither side looks down on the other

My sister...

... organised the wedding...

... and the banquet all by herself

My father was as usual...

... caught up in lots of hassles

She made it easy for him

On the eve of the wedding,
we shared a bed

In the middle of the night,
I knew she was crying

I'm lost for words

"Xiumei, your letter was received
and read with care"

"Your father's tears run down his face"

"And drop on to this paper"

"You remind me of many things in my life"

"I shed many tears, I cried out loud"

"You said you had things to say
to your loved ones"

"You're right"

"When family members talk together,
their words can relieve heartaches"

"It's been a long time
since I last had a letter from you"

"Or heard your voice"

"It felt like losing my guide"

"As if the machine had run out of gas"

"Family life seemed to have ground to a halt"

"Daughter, you have so much on your mind"

"Studying, housekeeping..."

"Teaching your siblings..."

"Caring for your mother..."

"And persuading your father"

"Thank you for all of it"

"It makes me fee I..."

"... as if I'm the daughter"

"Wheat, plant"

"It's hard to detect growth"

"Life on this earth is one and the same"

"In the field, the three elms fall into silence"

"Like Father..."

"Mother, and Child"

In the field, the three elms fall into silence

Like Father, Mother, and Child

- Xi Chuan

My name is Wang Yiliang

I remember I was born in Henan
and raised in Beijing

My mother is Liang Hong

And my father is Wang Hengtao

I turned fourteen this year

I study at Renda Middle School

I like physics

In my spare time, I sometimes
watch TV and play video games

I read about this river in my Ma's book

She says the river used to be
much closer to the village

Over many years,
the river has changed its course

"Thirty years on the east,
thirty years on the west"

I find that saying especially touching

When I was younger, I had no idea
how time would change things

Every time I came here...

Mostly I just hung out with my cousins

I didn't see much of my grandfather

We didn't see much of each other

And towards the end of his life...

... I had few chances to see him

I'd like to have known...

When he was young,
did he have enough to eat?

I'd like to have asked him...

Did he ever want to see the world?

See how other people lived?

Can you introduce yourself in Henan dialect?

I've pretty much forgotten my Henan dialect

Give it a try!

I'll teach you

My name is Wang Yiliang

I turned fourteen this year

I was born in Henan and raised in Beijing

I study at Renda High School

My hobby is physics

I'd like to be a physicist in future

Okay, your turn

My name is Wang Yiliang

I turned fourteen this year

I was born in Henan and raised in Beijing

I study at Renda High School

My hobby is physics

I'd like to be a physicist in future

When I was little...

... the sea was yellow

But the textbooks said it was blue

We liked to swim here back then

One day, I think I'll swim right out...

Swim out till the sea turns blue