Chinese novels take up a special place in the world’s literature. When getting acquainted with these texts, one gets absorbed in the mysterious eastern culture full of multi-layered value and meaningful images. Hua’s To Live and Hsun’s The True Story of Ah Q represent fine examples of Chinese literature of the twenty-first century. While telling the life stories of two men, the authors simultaneously enlighten the key features of the relevant period.
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The common traits of the society are reflected in the main characters; the spirit of the Revolution penetrates the fortunes of Fugui, and Ah Q. Hua and Hsun, each in his manner, try to depict a life of an average Chinese man of the relevant epoch. Their characters have to face a lot of difficulties and challenges on their way; in fact, their life paths are so troublesome that they can easily provide competition for those of the well-known The Miserable.
To begin with, one should necessarily point out the originality of the depicted personalities in both the novels. Thus, one is accustomed to the fact that the long-suffering main character is depicted as a brave man that honorably overcomes all the troubles he has to face. Meanwhile, the personalities illustrated To Live and The True Story of Ah Q can hardly be called heroic.
On the contrary, the authors do the best to show these men from the negative side, and they do succeed – from the very beginning of the stories, readers cannot help feeling a certain contempt for the described personalities. Moreover, whether it is Ah Q, who is yet again despised by the locals or Fugui who loses all the family fortune, one would rather claim they deserve it.
Therefore, one might presume that the authors did not pursue an aim to make their readers sympathize; instead, they might have tried to draw the public attention to some acute problems that are present in every nation regardless of time and location.
It is important to note that although both Ah Q and Fugui have truly doleful destinies, the character of their suffering is principally different. Hence, Hsun shows the story of a man who is put in a challenging environment from the very beginning. The reader learns that Ah Q “had no regular work, simply doing the odd job for others,” and, despite “some uncertainty regarding his background,” the reader might guess that the situation is unlikely to have been better in the past (Hsun, 96).
Things are completely different regarding the main character of To Live. Fugui recalls the time when he and his father would be called “the old and young rich master,” and it is only due to the author’s pretext, that the readers are already aware of the fact that things have radically changed. Therefore, whereas Ah Q’s life is difficult by nature, Fugui’s story is much more complicated and implies significant transformations, both internal and external.
Nevertheless, the mentioned difference is not the only one. One should point out that the parallels drawn between the two life stories are highly symbolic. Thus, if one tries to consider the provided facts as objectively as possible, it will become clear that there is little common about these lives. Thus, Ah Q‘s image looks more like a generalized character of all the social drawbacks of the relevant period.
On the one hand, he certainly belongs to the lower social class; on the other hand, he is full of unreasonable conceit. “How ridiculous!” is his typical response to any action that people around him perform (Hsun, 97). Hence, it is not surprising that the villagers’ attitude towards the man is generally negative; most of his contacts with the society end up with a fight, bringing Ah Q another “bitterness of defeat” (Hsun, 100).
As to Fugui, his portrait is more detailed and complete. Whereas young Fugui has a lot of common traits with Ah Q, the context within which he initially exists is rather different. In other words, whereas, Ah Q’s conceit is absolutely ungrounded and might look slightly surprising, Fugui is put in the conditions favorable for such behavior.
One might even assume that his arrogance is partially not his fault but one of his parents as well. Thus, a boy that recalls that his family “has a hired worker that would carry me on his back” is likely to turn into quite an insolent person as an adult (Hua, 11). Therefore, the difficulties that both men face are mostly the result of their wrong and thoughtless deeds, whereas the deeds, in their turn, are provoked by different factors.
While trying to analyze the way the characters of the two stories cope with the difficulties, one should primarily focus on the character of the difficulties themselves. Otherwise, it might seem that Ah Q passes through the challenges less painfully than the character of To Live.
Meanwhile, one should take into account that Ah Q’s hardships mostly imply the shortage of money and his conflict with the villagers, whereas Fugui tries to cope with true grief – apart from losing all the family money, he has to face the loss of his relatives. Fugui’s life journey is, indeed, extremely challenging. The number of misfortunes that appear on his way makes one think the story is an exaggeration; otherwise, one cannot be made to undergo the death of almost all the beloved people.
The key point about Fugui’s way is that his worst difficulty is the painstaking transformation that happens throughout the book. From the man that “took part in every disreputable thing,” he turns into a loving husband (Hua, 13). In fact, it is not the lack of money or the necessity to work that make Fugui suffer most of all, but the understanding that he is the reason for his nearest and dearest’s miseries, as he recalls speculating about his wife: “…my heart broke watching her doing this heavy labor” (Hua, 56).
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Meantime, although Ah Q’s haughtiness is, beneath any doubt, harmful, it does not have any crucial impact on anyone but the man himself that lets Ah Q treat it rather carelessly and remain eager to “join in any excitement going” (Hsun, 111).
At first sight, Ah Q’s and Fugui’s attitude to the challenges that life has in store for them seems to be quite similar. One might presume that the two men generally adhere to the wide-spread principle, “what does not kill you makes you stronger.” However, such a positive approach has different roots. Thus, in the case of Fugui, one comes across a man who does his best to put right the wrongs of his past. His hope to fix the mistakes is the only thing that supports him.
When his father is gone, Fugui tries to compensate for his fault by becoming a better parent himself. This character constantly feels guilty for the misfortunes of his family; thus, he considers himself to be responsible for improving the situation whatever it might take him. Nevertheless, the reader feels Fugui would never put up with a sense of guilt. He constantly blames himself –he recalls that the first thought that came to him when he looked at his son was, “it’s my son I’ve let down the most” (Hua, 57).
Ah Q’s case is completely different – the man readily blames everyone around him except for his manners and actions. His fundamental principle consists in “…I shall take what I want! I shall like whom I please!” (Hsun, 126). Whether it is a scandal in Mr. Chao’s house, the fight with Whiskers Wang, or the social mocking, Ah Q tends to interpret the incidents as the tricks of fortune.
This point of view deprives the man of the painful speculations and allows him to sleep peacefully whatever incident he might have had during the day. Therefore, while Fugui’s stout-heartedness and endurance are motivated by his persistent wish to compensate for his past mistakes, Ah Q’s positive attitude is more likely to be the result of his narcissism and the incapacity to analyze the root of his misfortunes.
What makes the two men alike is that they do not lose heart no matter what kind of difficulties come upon their ways. Indeed, the reader can hardly call any of them passive and inactive. Thus, when Fugui’s family is broke, the man does all that is possible to improve the situation. He readily spends days in the field and cheers himself up by his mother’s statement that “as long as a person is happy at work, then poverty is nothing to be ashamed of” (Hua, 56).
He performs his duties responsibly until he has to leave the family and join the army. This man does not abandon the hope of changing something up to the very last moments when he buys an old ox saving the animal’s life away. Hence, the idea that “things will get better” remains in Fugui’s mind up to the end (Hua, 217).
Ah Q’s position to stand till the end is somewhat similar to that of Fugui. Whatever difficult the man’s life might seem, one would hardly find an episode when Ah Q gives up. Thus, this character is also used to working and does not try to escape labor – once the reader might see him grinding rice “quite light-heartedly,” next time, the man heads for the town in search of some ways to earn for a living (Hsun, 111).
When the man’s plan, to become a revolutionary, fails, he immediately creates a new one – “So no rebellion for me…I’ll turn informer” (Hsun, 137). Therefore, one might conclude that both men keep fighting with their lives and the conditions in which they put, although the character and the motives of this fight are principally different.
Furthermore, one should also enlighten the manner the two authors apply to the description of their characters’ hard lives. As far as To Live is an undoubtedly larger and more detailed novel than The True Story of Ah Q, its style is more conservative and reserved.
One might suppose that Hua wants his readers to take the story seriously, to pursue all the transformations of Fugui’s personality, to evaluate the outcome of his deeds. The only extracts that hold down the pathetic implication are the narrator’s comments inserted throughout Fugui’s story. Thus, the man’s recollection of the tragic scene at his father’s funerals is in a good balance with the narrator’s confession that he “couldn’t help but let out a giggle” (Hua, 43).
As to Hsun’s style, it is completely opposite. Ironic from the very first line, the author manages to maintain this intonation up to the last chapter when his character, while being capitally convicted, “suddenly became ashamed of his lack of spirit, because he had not sung any lines from an opera” (Hsun, 142). The relevant stylistic approach helps Hsun to depict all the drawbacks of the described society. The irony that sometimes turns into sarcasm works well, indeed, and prevents this short story from becoming excessively dramatic.
In conclusion, one might suggest that despite the difference in the strands to the plot, as well as the opposite depictions of the main characters, both To Live and The True Story of Ah Q touch upon similar questions. Whether it is Fugui’s problem of making crucial mistakes or Ah Q’s unwillingness to notice the wrong aspects of his behavior, both men have to come over the most difficult life periods one can ever be forced to face. Whereas Ah Q’s way to regard the difficulties is not likely to appeal to the reader, Fugui’s unconquerable will to move forward might be called truly exemplary.
Hsun, Lu. Selected Stories of Lu Hsun, Rockville, Maryland: Wildside Press, 2004. Print.
Hua, Yu. To Live, New York, New York: Anchor Books, 2003. Print.