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China in Ten Words

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  1,658 Ratings  ·  209 Reviews
From one of China’s most acclaimed writers, his first work of nonfiction to appear in English: a unique, intimate look at the Chinese experience over the last several decades, told through personal stories and astute analysis that sharply illuminate the country’s meteoric economic and social transformation.

Framed by ten phrases common in the Chinese vernacular—“people,” “l
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Pantheon (first published 2010)
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Community Reviews

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Mar 07, 2012 Joe rated it liked it
3.5 stars. After living in rural China for a few years I lost interest in taking any look (intimate or otherwise) at the Chinese experience. I'm still not very motivated to read about the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution or anything that followed. I exhausted my interest...or at least I thought. Hua's book is really pretty great, especially for readers who aren't very familiar with recent Chinese history. Hua's lived through it all and has a great talent for essay construction. The ...more
Aug 24, 2014 Murtaza rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is a truly remarkable book for its depth of feeling, simplicity, humour and elegance. I can say without hyperbole is one of the most memorable I've ever picked up. As the title suggests, the author uses 10 words to describe China as he's experienced it in his life; and through this he paints an enthralling picture of a country travelling the path of upheaval and revolution to its present state.

Through words like "People", "Reading", "Copycat", the author provides vignettes of his own life e
人民 - 領袖 - 阅读 - 写作 - 鲁迅 - 革命 - 差距 - 草根 - 山寨 - 忽悠
People - Leader - Reading - Writing - Lu Xun - Revolution - Difference/Disparity - Grassroots - Shanzhai/knockoff - Deceive/Bamboozle

Yu Hua, a Chinese fiction author, takes on the momentous task of framing his nation in ten words. His own life parallels the course of his own nation, from chanting crowds, and the Little Red Book (PEOPLE - LEADER) and the sudden jolt into the frenzied race of modern neo-liberal capitalism. (DISPARITY - SHANZHAI - DECE
Jul 29, 2012 Brendan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Much of the book will be familiar to anyone who pays attention to China, but Yu Hua has a knack for choosing *just* the right anecdotes to illustrate his points -- and doing so with an economy and directness missing from his most recent novel, 'Brothers.' He's back on form here, and is very well served by Allan H. Barr's excellent translation. Anyone with an interest in contemporary China will want to read this -- and to recommend it to any friends or family members looking to get up to speed qu ...more
Jun 11, 2012 Sophie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"In the political context of 1989, for a government leader to be hospitalized could mean only that he had lost power or that he had gone into hiding. Everyone immediately understood the implications."

"What other political figure would make a point of waving to his people in a swimsuit? Only Mao could carry this off."

"Leadership contests even extend to geography and technology, so that now we have leaders in natural scenery and leaders among elevators."

"Many Chinese have begun to pine for the era
C.J. Shane
Apr 08, 2012 C.J. Shane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'll admit to being something of China geek. I try to keep up with whatever is being published about this fascinating country and culture. Yu Hua's book is one of my favorite recent finds. His book consists of ten essays based on ten words that he considers relevant to contemporary China. The essays are partly memoir, partly history, and partly social commentary. His childhood and teenage remembrances of China during the Cultural Revolution are especially helpful to understanding how it is that ...more
May 12, 2012 Michael rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, essays, china

I must make a disclaimer. I am out of my depth. I know very little of China. The people. The politics. The economy. The history. I have only the most cursory knowledge of any of it. I know Mao. Or at least I know that no one seems to agree whether he should be on the same historical shelf as Hitler and Stalin or Marx and Trotsky. (Hopefully those distinctions are meaningful for all.)

I’ve met some of the emigrants, chatted with them about how uncomfortable
Aug 10, 2012 Marks54 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because I am preparing myself to read Vogel's long biography of Deng Xiaopeng. It is a series of essays on modern China by a popular Chinese fiction writer who grew up during the Cultural Revolution and grew in stature during the period of economic reform under Deng. The author takes ten words (including a Chinese author of renown) and then presents an essay based on the word to explain how China has developed in the last 50 years. The words focus on ideas/concepts that meant on ...more
Jun 08, 2013 Buchdoktor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, china
Yu Huas Konzentration auf zehn chinesische Begriffe ist ein Hingucker - und sie irritiert auf den ersten Blick durch die ungewöhnlich Auswahl der Wörter. Nicht "Liebe", "Drache" oder "Reich der Mitte", Yu Hua betitelt seine biografischen Notizen u. a. mit "Unterschied", "Graswurzeln" und "Gebirgsdorf". Der chinesische Autor sieht seine 2009 entstandenen Texte als Ergänzung zu seinem Roman Brüder (2009). Dieser Roman sei aus dem Zusammenprall zweier Epochen entstanden, die sich in Europa über 400 ...more
Aug 11, 2012 Kerfe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As one who came of age in China during the Cultural Revolution, Yu Hua is well situated to compare and contrast Chinese communism and the capitalism-run-amok of the present, a system which is so awful in some respects that many Chinese have become nostalgic for the days of Mao. Using words like "people" and "revolution" as starting points, he tells stories about his experiences then and now, creating a colorful picture of the last 50 years in China.

The words are simple and direct and contain bot
Graeme Roberts
Feb 17, 2012 Graeme Roberts rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, highly readable book, well-written and superbly translated.

It uses ten common Chinese words to characterize modern China. Having been to China first in the early 80's, before it took the Capitalist road, I found it deeply shocking.

There is a pervasive sense of greed gone rampant, and a vulgarity that I find hard to believe. The society seems to have swung wildly from the repression and enforced conformity of the Cultural Revolution to a wild capitalism that gives laissez-faire a b
Oct 10, 2013 Self-propelled rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yu's first non-fiction book is a succinct and insightful collection of memoirs and observations. He reveals that his direct, unpretentious style owes something to having started writing when his knowledge of Chinese characters was limited - I can relate to that, if not his gripping vignettes of life as a child amid the Cultural Revolution. I'd like to read something else by a younger author as well; for most of China's youth, the Cultural Revolution that shaped Yu and his generation is mere hist ...more
Dec 09, 2011 A. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't really have a good shelf for this book. As others have mentioned, it's a series of ten essays by the author Yu Hua, each centered around a word that he feels is instrumental in shaping contemporary Chinese culture. In each essay, he relates these words to recent Chinese history (in particular, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution) and his own personal experiences.

It makes for quick, engaging and eye-opening reading, particularly as someone who has a cursory education in mod
Jan 17, 2012 Rob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Yu Hua's simple prose style quite a bit and have enjoyed his novels previously and so this made for a thoroughly interesting (albeit quite brief) memoir of his life, and his take on the changes in China throughout his life (in the last 50 or so years) or at least seen through the prism of his experience first as a student, later as a country dentist, and eventually as a respected author.
China is a complex issue for sure, so I might not recommend this as a starting point to understand the
Christopher Myrick
Dec 08, 2011 Christopher Myrick rated it really liked it
A delightfully witty collection of 10 sharply delivered non-fiction essays by one of the Mainland's favorite novellists. Yu Hua connects the spirit of the Cultural Revolution with that of modern China in a way few outside observers could manage. Touchingly personal, sometimes to the point of embarrassment, always insightful and occasionally laugh-out-loud amusing (not an easy thing to pull off when recalling the Cultural Revolution). Published in Taiwan and the U.S., likely a best seller at the ...more
Jul 05, 2015 Cat. rated it really liked it
An interesting take on looking at changes in the lifetime of the author. His school years match up fairly well with the years of the Cultural Revolution, and he chooses 10 words that have changed meaning between his childhood and now. It might be interesting to look at American culture and language in the same time period the same way.
Aug 28, 2015 fenrir rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

<< Si può dire che la Cina di oggi sia un paese con enormi disparità, è come se ci muovessimo in una realtà di luci rosse e sfarzo da una parte e macerie e rovine dall’altra. Per dirla altrimenti, è come se fossimo seduti in un teatro bizzarro dove, contemporaneamente, vanno in scena una commedia su una metà del palco e una tragedia sull’altra.>>
Barry Belmont
Mar 16, 2016 Barry Belmont rated it really liked it
Maybe it's the form I appreciate most in this text: a brilliant interplay of personal and national history said in as few words as possible. There is a beauty to the simple plain strength of this construction.
Judy Herrmann
Mar 03, 2013 Judy Herrmann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author uses Chinese words at the start of each chapter to describe his life in China. My favorite was when he decided to be a writer instead of his assigned job as a dentist (tooth puller) because jobs at the cultural center were perceived to be leisurely.
Jun 16, 2013 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read any of Hua Yu's fiction, and this reads much more as a memoir. It's a catalog of China's (often appalling) absurdities -- corruption, propaganda, widespread lies. The chapter on "bamboozling" is probably best.
Nov 26, 2015 Alvin rated it it was amazing
An exceedingly readable, informative, and even entertaining introduction to contemporary Chinese culture. Hua effortlessly switches between his personal memories and broader history, explaining just enough of each to satisfy casual readers (such as yours truly).
Chayan Banerjee
Mar 17, 2016 Chayan Banerjee rated it it was amazing
This collection of biographical essays are very enlightening on the state of Modern China and how it is the influence of the Cultural Revolution all over again. The writing is a testament of author's prowess and humor.
Jul 10, 2012 angela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Provides interesting insights into Chinese culture and addresses reasons behind their world view. Really enjoyed this book...easy to read too!
David Dinaburg
Jan 31, 2013 David Dinaburg rated it it was amazing
A single word serves as provenance for the ten sections of China in Ten Words, each structurally identical—personal ruminations mixed with sociopolitical musings—yet, by virtue of the framing device selected, incredibly distinct. The nexus between the words is delicate moreso than subtle, and epochal contrast serves to delineate how Chinese history has informed the modern China.

How the Revolution section discusses a particularly jingoistic slogan, and the consequences derived therefrom:
Even th
Oct 16, 2016 Salty rated it it was amazing
China in Ten Words may be a good introduction for someone who is not very familiar with recent Chinese history, culture, and economy (like me). It is structured as a chronological series of essays, beginning with Yu Hua's perspective as a young boy growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution, and progressing toward his adult thoughts on contemporary China. The content is varied and his honesty is frankly surprising - he is not afraid to discuss politics, culture, economics, and social val ...more
Oct 18, 2016 tomas DERVILLE rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting life experiences from the author, told with a good sense of humour

I would recommend this book for people who don't know much about china, it feels the author gets a true picture of the country in only 10 words.
Oct 13, 2016 Dave rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read16
Really ten stand-alone essays on china "then and now". The author has made his living writing fiction, so I think the book is a bit more interesting than a similarly aimed book written by an economist, foreign affairs correspondent, or the like. Very funny.
Lonna Hill
Dec 30, 2015 Lonna Hill rated it it was amazing
I read a number of adult non-fiction this year. I would give a five-star rating to a number of them, but I reserve the status of favorite for a little-known book called China in Ten Words by Yu Hua. I read this book before moving to China for the purpose of getting some insight into contemporary Chinese culture. China in Ten Words is basically a collection of ten essays, each focusing on a different aspect of Chinese culture.

Yu Hua depends a lot on personal anecdotes rather than statistics or re
I’m always attracted to works by authors who have had other professions in their lives aside from writing, and in that regard this certainly fits the bill. This is a collection of essays by a respected Chinese author, which I picked up after reading a favourable review in the Guardian; Yu Hua was once a dentist, and only turned to writing later on in his life without any particular literary training.

Each of the ten essays here is based around a Chinese word with a variety of meanings: ‘Leader’,
Lisa Eckold
Oct 04, 2016 Lisa Eckold rated it really liked it
Nicely transports a Westerner to the Chinese culture/experience.
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Is the order important to this book of essays? 1 5 Jun 12, 2015 10:50AM  
  • Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China
  • Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China
  • China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation
  • The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up
  • The Little Red Guard
  • Red Dust: A Path Through China
  • Dream of Ding Village
  • The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
  • Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing
  • The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun
  • Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China
  • Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962
  • Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China
  • Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present
  • The Rice Sprout Song
  • China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power
  • The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai
  • Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, And Language
Yu Hua (simplified Chinese: 余华; traditional Chinese: 余華; pinyin: Yú Huá) is a Chinese author, born April 3, 1960 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. He practiced dentistry for five years and later turned to fiction writing in 1983 because he didn't like "looking into people’s mouths the whole day." Writing allowed him to be more creative and flexible.[citation needed] He grew up during the Cultural Re ...more
More about Yu Hua...

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“If literature truly possesses a mysterious power, I think perhaps it is precisely this: that one can read a book by a writer of a different time, a different country, a different race, a different language, and a different culture and there encounter a sensation that is one's very own.” 17 likes
“Three or four years ago, a city education bureau announced a new measure to raise the quality of local teachers and enable graduating high school seniors to be more competitive in the university entrance examination.” 1 likes
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