I’ve been trying to broaden my range of Chinese reading lately. Apart from the stuff I get at work it tends to be just newspapers, and even that’s mostly limited to the more interesting parts of the 南方周末 and maybe 财经 or 中国新闻周刊 if I have the time. This week I got through an article on reform of the petition system which was kind of interesting, and read the first few paragraphs of a load of others which didn’t really grab me.
For the other stuff, I picked up a book of essays by Lu Xun – I’ve read a little of Lu Xun before, and enjoyed a few of these. One that stood out was 我要骗人, if only because of one line, “中国的人民，是常用自己的血，去洗权力者的手，使他又变成洁净的人物的”- The people of China often use their own blood to wash the hands of the powerful, to cleanse them again.” (The translation is my own, and I apologise for it). I’m not sure if that’s an image I would have found so powerful in English. I think sometimes reading something in a foreign language allows the words to have a much more direct effect than the same words translated. It’s as you pay more attention to the words and they sneak right into your brain, so you don’t get a chance to analyse it so much and think ‘Ah, so what he’s saying is that . . . ‘ and so on. I know I can occasionally find myself embarrasingly moved by very bad pop songs if I’m not careful.
This also reminded me of another quote from Lu Xun, “墨写的谎言，决掩不住血写的事实” – “Lies written in ink will never hide facts written in blood” (again, I apologise). The quote arose after a student of his from Beijing Women’s Normal University was shot in a massacre of protestors against foreign encroachment in 1926 (this website, paragraph starting ‘1926 . . .’ and the next one, and also this). If you try internet searches for that quote, and you happen to be in mainland China, don’t expect to be able to actually access many of the results.
I’ve temporarily given up on Lu Xun at the moment, as a friend passed on a collection of essays by Wang Xiaobo, which I find much easier to read – probably because they are a lot more modern. The first one I read was 一只特立独行的猪, and although at the time I couldn’t have told you if Wang Xiaobo was dead or alive (dead, heart attack in 97) I liked the combination of humour and message enough to keep reading. I think the satirical style would actually translate well into English. Once I’ve finished these essays I may attempt one of his novels – I usually stay away from novels in Chinese as I rarely manage to keep track of the plot for more than a few chapters, but I might make a special effort if I continue enjoying the essays.