Yu Hua 1960-
YU Hua 1960-
Born 1960, in Haiyan, Zhejiang, China.
Agent—c/o Andrew F. Jones, Author Mail, Random House/Pantheon Books, 299 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10171-0002.
Writer. Worked as country dentist in China.
James Joyce Foundation Award, 2002.
Zai xi yu zhong hu han, Hua chen chu ban she (Guangzhou, China), 1993, translation by Michael Berry published as To Live: A Novel, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Wei Lu) Huozhe (screenplay; adaptation of To Live), ERA International/Shangai Film Studio, 1994.
Yu Hua zuo pin ji, Zhongguo she hui ke xue chu ban she (Beijing, China), 1995.
The Past and the Punishments (short stories), translated by Andrew F. Jones, University of Hawaii Press (Honolulu, HI), 1996.
Xu San'guan mai xue ji: Yu Hua wen ji, Nanhai chu ban she (Haigou Shi, China), 1998, translation by Andrew F. Jones published as Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Huo zhe, Nanhai chu ban she (Haikou, China), 1998.
Work anthologized in Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused, edited by Howard Goldblatt, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Yu Hua began his working career as a dentist in rural China and in the 1980s began writing about the country's Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. In World Literature Today, Y. H. Zhao commented, "Yu Hua seems to have had almost no apprentice period: when he emerged around the end of 1987, he already had all the marks of a writer of excellent caliber."
Yu began his career focusing on short stories, which gained him a reputation as a prominent member of China's literary avant garde during the late 1980s. Liu Kang, writing in Modern Language Quarterly, noted, "When Yu Hua began to write fiction in 1986, he set himself the task of scandalizing conventional expectations and, ultimately, subverting the values and rationales that inhabit the Chinese language. In only five years, however, he had given up avant-garde experimentalism." According to Kang, Yu instead turned to realism in his novels and subsequent short stories, some of which have been translated into English.
The first of Yu's writings to be translated was the collection of short stories The Past and the Punishments, published in 1996. Noting that the violence in many of the stories "may discomfit American readers," a Publishers Weekly contributor said that the brutality is "juxtaposed with passages of exquisite grace and layers of symbolic meaning"; indeed, it effectively but subtly mirrors much of the brutality and severity that characterized China during Yu's formative years. Writing in World Literature Today, Fatima Wu commented that the stories are difficult to read and "usually present only questions and enigmas" on a first reading. The reviewer went on to note, however, that persistent readers "will find much pleasure and reward" in these works.
In 2003 two of Yu's most popular novels were translated and published in English: To Live and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant. Published in Chinese in 1993, To Live gained wide recognition overseas when it was made into an award-winning movie with the screenplay written by Yu in collaboration with Wei Lu. In the novel Yu recounts the story of Fugui, the privileged son of a wealthy landowner who squanders the family fortune. Nevertheless, Fugui's family remains loving even as they struggle to survive a series of catastrophic events, including Fugui's forcible conscription into the army, civil war, famine, and the Cultural Revolution. Similar to the characters in Yu's short stories, the novel's characters suffer terribly, some dying horrible deaths. A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that the English version of the book is inadequate and does not support Yu's reputation as "an internationally celebrated author." Donna Seaman, however, writing in Booklist, said that Yu writes "with masterful simplicity about the unfathomable complexities of existence." In a review in Kliatt, Courtney Lewis commented that despite the "deceptively simple language," To Live elicits "strong emotions … and readers should be warned that the spirit of this book lingers long after finishing the last page."
Chronicle of a Blood Merchant reveals the life of a Chinese everyman named Xu Sanguan, who works in a silk mill and barely makes enough money to survive under the communist regime of Mao Zedong. Xu turns to selling his blood to a "blood merchant" in order to survive. Yu, whose parents were doctors, first saw blood merchants in rural hospitals as a boy. As he told Michael Standaert of the Far Eastern Economic Review, "Selling blood has become a means of survival for the poor. Blood-selling villages pop up one after another, and in these villages almost every family sells blood." According to Yu, this trade in body fluids has led to the spread of AIDS. In the novel Xu frequents the blood merchant more and more to help feed his family as a famine reaches its heights. At the same time, he is shamed by his wife's bastard son Yile, until he eventually acquires understanding and compassion and risks his own life to save Yile. Writing in Time International, Bryan Walsh commented, "The book's translator, Andrew Jones, compares its informal structure to traditional Chinese opera—but instead of the public celebration of life experienced in such art, Yu depicts a community that is forced by perverse Maoist mandates to revel in the destruction of its weakest members."
As reported by Christine Benedetti in Northwest Asian Weekly, Yu went on a U.S. national tour of universities and bookstores to promote the novels To Live and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant. In a discussion of his craft as writer, according to Benedetti, Yu noted: "When imagination soars, it's insight that serves as rudder. One might even say that without the measure of insight, imagination is merely a nonsensical, flight fantasy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2003, review of To Live, p. 64.
Far Eastern Economic Review, October 30, 2003, Michael Standaert, "Bloody Tales," p. 64.
International Examiner (Seattle, WA), July 6, 2004, Andrea Lingenfelter, reviews of To Live and The Blood Merchant, p. 9.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2003, review of To Live, p. 937.
Kliatt, January, 2004, Courtney Lewis, review of To Live, p. 17.
Modern Language Quarterly, March, 2002, Liu Kang, "The Short-Lived Avant-Garde: The Transformation of Yu Hua," p. 89.
New York Times Book Review, October 27, 1996, William Ferguson, review of The Past and the Punishments, p. 39.
Northwest Asian Weekly, December 12, 2003, Christine Benedetti, "Author of Once-banned Book Takes Local Stage," p. 5.
Publishers Weekly, June 24, 1996, review of The Past and the Punishments, p. 56.
Time International (Asia edition), November 17, 2003, Bryan Walsh, "Collective Tragedy: In Two Newly Translated Novels, Yu Hua Explores Brutality and Hope during China's Darkest Decades," p. 51.
World Literature Today, summer, 1991, Y. H. Zhao, "Yu Hua: Fiction as Subversion," pp. 415-420; winter, 1998, Fatima Wu, review of The Past and the Punishments, p. 204.*