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To Live: a true story or biased fiction? Research Paper

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Updated: Feb 17th, 2019

The main points of the novel

Some background knowledge on the history of China

To Live is one of Yu Hua’s most famous novels. In this essay, I am going to discuss which period of time is biased and which ones are not. Later, I will argue that the reasons why Yu Hua is biased against a particular period. This essay is written to argue that Yu Hua is biased against Cultural Revolution because in his book he depicts the revolution as violent as it was in reality.

The impact of the revolution was that China experienced a social, political and economical change. The movement begun in 1966 and it is considered to have only ended with the death of Mao in 1976. It was characterized by serious chaos and economic conflicts across the country and many people lost their lives. As far as Yu Hua’s novel is concerned the main character’s family gets dramatically affected by the revolution.

The violence and brutality that raged the nation was embedded in the youths (Tyson and Tyson 145). The movement spread and was eventually evident in military, party administration and other work places (Braester 78). The communists in Fugui village were ignorant of any political movements in their country and consequently, they lost the target.

When they first experienced the revolution, Fugui states that the people were initially average daily workers and understanding the ideology behind it was complex. This was not because they did not care about the nation issues but rather they never understood anything about it. Politics and the concerns of the past lifestyle impacted on his life negatively after the communists took control.

Summary of the novel, To Live by Yu Hua.

Xu Fugui was a landlord’s son. Because Xu liked to gamble, he lost all his wealth and house to his neighbor Long Er. In order to survive, Xu wanted to borrow money from Long Er, but he was refused. In the Chinese civil war, Xu was forced to join the Guomindang’s army, but he was captured by communists.

Xu knew Chun Sheng in the communist army, and he pleased communists by playing the drama, so he received a certificate. In the Land Reform, Long Er did not want to hand in the house and he burnt it, but he was later executed. Xu’s daughter, Feng Xia, became ill. Later Xu’s son died because the carelessness of the doctors at the health facility.

The boy was drained all his blood during the process of donating blood to the wife of Cun Sheng; she had lost a lot of blood while giving birth. Apparently, the doctors there could not stop the bleeding and the alternative to save the life of the magistrate (Cun Sheng) was to get blood donation. It is a very sad occasion when Fugui’s son who happens to the only match for magistrate’s wife gets drained and looses a lot of his blood, gets dizzy and dies while the doctor in charge just watches on.

The same problem is seen later after Feng Xia, Fugui’s daughter dies during child bearing. Wan Erxi brings Red Guard to Fugui and becomes his son in law (Esherick 67). Erxi seems a better future husband for the daughter and even the entire family of Fugui. However, despite that he suffers the impact of communism governance since he loses his wife during child bearing.

Erxi himself dies. The young man intending to marry is a soldier of the Red Guard. Feng Xia later married to this soldier. The two enjoy their marriage, showing great dedication and zeal to live together as lovers and productive members of the society. Unfortunately, the marriage is short-lived. Once again the impact of communism mismanagement is seen. This time it’s the marriage of Feng Xia, at stake.

Fugui once again witnesses the carelessness of the doctors at the health facilities. He had already lost his son during child bearing process. Feng Xia died in the Cultural Revolution because he lost too much blood in delivering her son. There is no doctors in the cultural revolution period as this is evidently shown as Fugui loses three of his loved ones (son, daughter, and son-in-law) in the same hospital.

It’s almost certain that when one goes to the hospital, there are very slim chances of surviving. This is the reason why when Fugui is told about the accident of his son-in-law, and that he was taken to hospital, Fugui is certain that Erxi is going to die. This turns out just as Fugui thought; his son-in-law dies on job while they are caring very heavy slabs for construction. At this point, it’s only Fugui and his grandson surviving.

To Live is not biased to any period depicted in the novel

The novel is not biased against the nationalist period

In the nationalist period, Yu Hua is not biased. The first episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the nationalist period is that Xu Fugui is rich and he did not have to work, but his neighbors were poor. Historically, the landlord did not have to work because many people had to work for them. In fact, the novel reveals Fugui’s family status when lots of people called them “masters”, and did all the necessary work for them.

Some workers even had to carry the young master on their backs. Admittedly, the beginning of the story is basically a predictable one and in a very short length, Fugui has already squandered all the fortune he was left with (Mac Farquhar and Schoenhals 79). This change of the status leads Fugui to Guomindang.

Thus, second episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the nationalist period is that Xu Fugui’s was pulled by the Guomindang to be a soldier fighting against communists. Historically, the Guomindang pulled millions of people to be its soldiers during the civil war. In history, this war ‘civil war’ between nationalism and communism ardent supporters was fought from 1927.

The revolutionary party had split into the nationalists and communists resulting into the worst civil war in the region. The third episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the nationalist period is that the civil war ended in the victory of the communist ideology. Admittedly, the communists took total control of every sphere of Chinese people life (Braester 22).

The fourth episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the nationalist period is that a lot of lives were lost. Historically, there are many people recorded to have died because of the conflict that existed in China. Many people lost their lives in the fight and many families were left in misery (Nicolas 467). Thus, in the novel when Fugui comes home after the war, things are not any better. All of the above four examples support that Yu Hua is not biased against the nationalist period.

The novel is not biased against the Land reform period

In the Land reform period, Yu Hua is not biased. The first episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against this period is that landlords lost their land to the government which in turn redistributed it to the poor people. Historically, a scrupulous land reform by the Communists was initiated in 1946.

Landlords saw their land and other property get expropriated and redistributed to the poor so that every family in the rural areas would get equal share of land (Weili and Xiaodong 121). The second episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the land reform period is that landlords were actually killed if they resisted the directive by Mao to relinquish land.

Historically, there was conflict between the social classes in China with the poor fighting against the rich. The land lord who resisted the change was labeled counter-revolutionist and they were executed by the government. It was in such conflict that Long Er was killed by fate. This is almost the same time that is indicated in history as well as in the novel (Lin 98). The third episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the land reform period is that the land was communally owned by the people and not individuals.

Historically, Mao instituted policies that only allowed community to own land and not individuals. Thus, people have to work hard in the commune fields and have nothing from their harvest since commune gave the “necessary” amount of food. People did not have their own farms or other property, there were communes. The fourth episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the land reform period is that every family brought out their product to the community and they worked under a team leader on the farm.

Fugui‘s son constantly feeds the goats that belong to the community. Historically, the Chinese would cultivate land as a community where they would have food products stored in one central place. Families would then be given food in a rationing program. All of the above four examples support that Yu Hua is not biased against the nationalist period”.

The novel is not biased against the Great Leap Forward period

In the Great Leap Forward period, Yu Hua is not biased. The first episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against this period is that, people were forced to abandon their individual work and farms to concentrate on working for the small iron smelting plant for industrial revolution strategy.

The land reforms activities went on for over a decade and even when the Great Leap Forwards was instituted in 1950s, individual were still being forced to form collectives that had groups of people in categories known as People’s Communes.

Their ownership of property rights was managed centrally. The second episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is biased against the land reform period is that was intended to bring a change from agriculture to industrial development. Historically, The Great Leap Movement was set up by the PRC as its main social and economic plan that would see the country improve its operation form the agrarian economy to the Modern and industrialized society.

The directives of Mao prohibited private forms and those who defied were labeled counter-revolutionist and executed (Esherick 67). The third episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is biased not against the land reform period is that the great leap led to a serious famine in the history of the Chinese people. Historically, when introduction of industry was effected in the Chinese villages, villagers are overwhelmed by the idea because they thought that they would make a lot of products from the smelting plant.

The five year plan of agriculture (1953-1957) failed to work out successfully and the problems worsened. Food rationing was introduced to ensure that at least everybody got some food for the day. The fourth episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the land reform period is that the famine caused the loss of humanity. As indicated in the novel, as families struggle to get some food. In fact, Fen Xia cries and fights when Wang taken her potato, she could have killed her if the crowd had not screamed for Wang to duck.

When Jianzem gets rice from her father to make some porridge, the whole village comes to her homestead after seeing the smoke from her chimney. Historically, food rationing was introduced and that left people with very little food on the table. However, it was not enough and the famine led to over 20 million deaths and it was characterized by horrible crimes. All of the above four examples support that Yu Hua is not biased against the land reform period.

The novel is not biased against the Cultural Revolution

In the Cultural Revolution, Yu Hua is not biased. The first episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against this period is that the death of Youqing was as a result of Cultural Revolution. The act has been linked to the current bloodsucking acts of mismanagement.

Historically, Mao believed that there was so much progress that had taken place in China and that there new class of individuals including engineers, doctors and other prominent, members of the society had gained so much power at his expense. These people became targets of his government. The second episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the Cultural Revolution that Feng Xia died because of negligence on the side of the doctors.

Historically, when Mao took over power, he influenced the youth to leave school and join the Red Guard. The blunders that the red guards group causes in the hospital are so grave that the doctors find that there is nothing they can do about Feng Xia over bleeding, she ends up dying. The third episode from the novel to support that Yu Hua is not biased against the Cultural Revolution is that Chunsheng was killed because of the Cultural Revolution.

Historically, the number of people who were tortured and killed because of opposing Mao was uncountable. The damage caused in the mind of the people is beyond description. The third reason why he is not biased against Cultural Revolution is that the novel depicts how average Chinese people were to sacrifice everything. Thus, Yaqui dies after being drained a lot of blood to save Chunsheng’s wife.

Admittedly, the communist party cared more about the idea than the people themselves. Average communists had to sacrifice everything, even their lives. The forth reason why the author is not biased against Cultural Revolution is that he depicts the Red Guard activities which terrified and killed people. Historically, the Red Guard was a strong but too radical group of young people who killed thousands of innocent people. All of the above four examples support that Yu Hua is not biased against the Cultural Revolution period.

The novel is not biased against any period

The first reason why Yu Hua is not biased against any period (especially the period of the Cultural revolution) is that he was born in 1960. The Cultural Revolution broke out while he was a child. He witnessed the initiation of the movement and as a result, he also saw the devastating outcomes that emerged as people fought each other and also the collapsing infrastructure as evident in bad health facilities. Yu Hua does not explicitly explain the purpose of the revolution.

This makes the movement to be seen as a project without objective (Wen & Jones 104). However, this makes his novel even more explicit since not many people understood the reason for that insanity. Thus, Yu Hua cannot be biased since he takes the inner sight on the life of average Chinese people who wanted to live. Besides, being a member of the society he can grasp the experiences of older people, he watches and listens carefully what is going on in his country.

In fact, Yu Hua reveals the experience of the entire nation. He even once said that he had “the soul of a hundred year old man” since he saw the years of poverty and despair and the years of prosperity and hope (Standaert, “Interview with Yu Hua”). The second reason that he is not biased against any period is that the book is written in 1993 when the China gas opened its door to the rest of the world.

Despite the ban to publish this book in China it is best seller world-wide, and even in China lots of people do read it and have the courage to admit that it is their history. Moreover, nowadays Chinese people are different, they are west oriented, if it is possible to say that. Even Yu Hua admits that young people are totally different and, in fact, they are open to the new life (Standaert, “Interview with Yu Hua”). This new life presupposes all human freedoms, including the right to express your thoughts explicitly.

Besides, that very period, 1993, was favorable for the novel’s publishing since new powers grew stronger and criticized heavily some of previous policies including the Cultural Revolution. Even the government which was at that time controlled by the right wing of the party condemned the suffering and deaths of all the innocent people who were victims of the revolution. One more reason why the novel cannot be biased is that critics say it has become “a cultural emblem” (Standaert, “Interview with Yu Hua”).

Thus, many people see that the book reveals the true story of Chinese people through those hard times. The third reason that Yu Hua is not biased against any period is that after the Cultural Revolution people started paying attention to humanity. Thus, he reveals all those horrors for didactic purpose – to show people what happens when humanity is lost. Historically, many people in the 1970-80 tried to develop the ideas of humanity by cultural actions.

Many literary works, movies and other media sources tried to propagate the major principles of humanity. For instance, the novel reveals the story of a man who lost everything in his life, his fortune, his parents, his beloved and his children, but he still has a “positive attitude to life” (Standaert, “Interview with Yu Hua”). This can be also a reflection of one of the humanity principles. People should remain humans even if their lives bring lots of difficulties.

The novel reveals that many people died because of indifference, ignorance and cruelty. Thus, it is the time to stop, think it over and move on helping and supporting each other. It is very important that modern Chinese people understand that and follow those main principles of humanity. They know what grave consequences may any revolution cause, so they work and build their new great country.

The forth reason why he is not biased is that Yu Hua is quite indifferent to political ideologies. He is not any party’s activist, thus, he can see all the historical events without that ideological prism. He does not believe in the necessity of terror to maintain the order like the communists thought. He should not look for excuses for any party since he is not the leader of any of them. Yu Hua propagates peace and humanity.

He only believes that people need TO LIVE, but not die or kill each other. Of course, he exaggerates some facts and events in his novel, but he is doing that deliberately because he believes that books should be expressive to stay in readers’ memories since simple figures and facts fade away rapidly, but emotions remain forever (Standaert, “Interview with Yu Hua”).

So, even these exaggerations do not make the book biased since they only stress the gravity of historic events. Thus, all of the above four examples support that Yu Hua is not biased against any period.

To Live is not biased to any period due to its historic truthfulness and author’s political disinterest and social activity.

In a word, Yu Hua is not biased against any of depicted periods because he depicts all the periods in accordance with the true historic events which is supported by other reliable sources. Besides, he is not biased since he can be called a witness of many of events revealed in the novel.

Finally, he is not biased due to his political indifference and the absence of some political incentives since the book is published in 1993 when the China is open to the rest of the world. Of course, sometimes Yu Hua exaggerates some of the facts, but this only enhances the realism and truthfulness of the novel. Therefore, while we are reading a novel which is based on historical events, we must be very careful.

Works Cited

Braester, Yomi. Witness against History: Literature, Film, and Public Discourse In Twentieth-Century China. Stanford, Ca: Stanford University Press, 2003. Print.

Esherick, Joseph, Pickowicz, Paul and Walder, Andrew G. The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006. Print.

Hua, Yu. To Live. North Shore City, NZ: Tandem Library Press, 2003

Lin, Qingxin. Brushing History against the Grain: Reading the Chinese New Historical Fiction, 2002. Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong: University Of Hong Kong Press, 2002. Print.

Macfarquhar, Roderick and Schoenhals, Michael. Mao’s Last Revolution. London: Harvard University Press, 2006. Print.

Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panne, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois. The Black Book Of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard: Harvard University Press,1999.Print.

Standaert, Michael. “Interview with Yu Hua.” University of Iowa International Writing Program, 30 August 2003. Web.

Tyson, James and Tyson Ann. Chinese Awakenings. Life Stories from the Unofficial China. Denver, Colorado: Colorado West view Press, 1995. Print.

Vernoff, Edward and Seybolt, Peter. Through Chinese Eyes: Tradition, Revolution, and Transformation, Westborough, MA: Apex Press, 2007. Print.

Weili Ye, Xiaodong Ma. Growing Up In the People’s Republic: Conversations between Two Daughters of China’s Revolution, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print.

Wen, Chihua and Jones, Bruce. The Red Mirror: Children of China’s Cultural Revolution. Colorado: West view Press, 1995. Print.

Yang, Dali. Calamity and Reform in China: State, Rural Society and Institutional Change since the Great Leap Famine. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996. Print.

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