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.
"Be united, alert..."
"... earnest and lively"
"Unite to win yet greater victories!"
Back in 1949...
Everyone called Jia Family Village
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
Nothing died, the seedlings flourished
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?
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
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
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
We were in the middle of the meeting...
... 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,
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...
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
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
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
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?
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
... 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
... 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
... 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
... 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 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
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
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
... 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
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
... 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
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
Even traditional songs
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
It began appearing in Chinese translations
The first I learned about
the west was from the arts
From introductions to foreign artworks
Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso
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'
In 1985, 1986...
I wrote the novel...
Since that time...
... I've slowly established myself here
From the hometown I live in,
I'm looking at China
Looking at the whole world
I was born on 3 April 1960,
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
... 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
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,
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
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
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
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
... 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
"Plus an allowance"
I was on the coach next morning
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!"
"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"
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?
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
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
... 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...
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
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
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
... 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
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,
... 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"
"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
... 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"
"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"
"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"
"It's hard to detect growth"
"Life on this earth is one and the same"
"In the field, the three elms fall into silence"
"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