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China in Ten Words

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  3,463 ratings  ·  381 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,” “
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Pantheon (first published 2010)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Fishers of Memory

I recently commented to another GR reader that finding oneself in the writing of others about themselves may be the only viable form of ethical philosophy and religion in the modern world. China in Ten Words makes the case better than I ever could. For me the book is a sort of case study in listening carefully to the intended rather than the presumed meaning of the language we use.

I read Yu Hua’s Brothers several years ago. In it he clearly relies on his own experience of the
A remarkable collection of personal and cultural essays, framed around 10 Chinese words: People, Leader, Reading, Writing, Lu Xun, Revolution, Disparity, Grassroots, Copycat, and Bamboozle.

Yu has a distinct voice, and his wit, satire, and humor come across in translation. He recounts stories from his own childhood during the Cultural Revolution, his career as dentist/doctor in rural regions, and his perspective on the rise of China on the world stage over the last 30 years.

Reading and Writing
Feb 28, 2012 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 07, 2014 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
Jul 29, 2012 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 ...more
C.J. Shane
Apr 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china, non-fiction
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
Qing Wang
The book succeeds in giving a quick glimpse of contemporary China, while it's not equally satisfying in finding the cause. The Cultural Revolution is not the only root for today's chaos. And in this chaos there are still hopes and positive attitudes. Some parts of the book read like just a collection of stories, impressive yet also being used to simplify the problems. Anyway, with merely a little more than 200 pages, it could not be better than serving as an appetizer.
Jun 11, 2012 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
Patrice Hoffman
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Yu Hua's China in Ten Words was assigned by the class I was taking, Non-Western Literature. After reading books by authors in Africa and India, we wrapped up the course by reading this first-hand account of China throughout the years.

I'll be honest and say this... memoir?... is amazingly written and very telling. My only issue is that I don't understand China. I told my instructor a few times... The Cultural Revolution makes no sense, the Tiananmen Square incident was awful... and I don't
Aug 11, 2012 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
Feb 21, 2012 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 ...more
Graeme Roberts
Dec 11, 2011 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
Mar 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: facts
Decades of China's mentality and economic development in ten words.
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks, memoir
Interesting and informative memoir/analysis of Chinese culture. My favorite chapters were Reading, Writing, and Lu Xun. Copycat and Bamboozle were also good.
Fraser Kinnear
Oct 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: china
In college, I took a few courses about China, taught by Chinese. But since then most of what I'd read about China had been written by westerners. I picked this up mostly because it was a Chinese author and it was free through my library. I really enjoyed it.

This is a memoir, mostly focusing on either Yu's adolescence or comparing the time of his adolescence (the Cultural Revolution) to China today. The Cultural Revolution stories felt very reminiscent of a book I read about communist Russia
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
There are two things approaches/ ideas in this book that I think make it very valuable.
1. Yu Hua relates each topic to the Cultural Revolution and more recent times. He relies on his own experience during the Cultural Revolution and explores parallels in contemporary China. I agree with this approach because I think that the Cultural Revolution has had tremendous influence on culture in the PRC and the way people relate to each other.
2. The idea of a revolutionary spirit living on in China is
Jul 17, 2012 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 ...more
Nicolas Levy
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book before leaving for a Mandarin immersion program in southern China, in order to get some historical and cultural context on the country I would be living in. Not only do Yu's essays provide remarkably keen observations on how China's history (particularly the Cultural Revolution) resonate today, it's worth reading simply for its compelling writing style. In each of 10 essays about Chinese society, Yu starts with a seemingly innocuous observation and persuasively explains it ...more
Dec 09, 2011 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
Nov 30, 2011 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 01, 2011 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 02, 2012 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.
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you have any interest in Chinese culture, language, literature, history, or politics -- read this now! An insightful, elucidating page-turner; a collection of ten incredible essays. A translation THIS good? An absolute marvel! Cheers to Yu Hua, you are brilliant. You have earned my deep respect, Mr. Hua, as well as your translator Allan H. Barr.
Vijay Menon
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As someone who does not know much about China, this was an eye-opener for me. Yu Hua does a very interesting analysis of contemporary China through a series of ten essays that are filled with personal anecdotes and comparisons with the cultural revolution. I liked it so much that I feel compelled to check out his work in fiction.
Josh Steimle
Pretty interesting insights into the life of someone who grew up during the Cultural Revolution in China. I would have loved more detail. Found it a bit light on his family and what happened to everyone. Seemed more like an extended interview than a detailed autobiography or biography. But fascinating nonetheless.
Judy Herrmann
Mar 03, 2013 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.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
bc the word 'bamboozle' entered my daily lexicon via doggo memes rather than via this book of Essays every time he said 忽悠 (hu1you1, "bamboozle") i said in my head: "hecking bamboozle" and I guess that kind of undercut the enormity of the phenom a lil bit
Nov 26, 2015 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).
Barry Belmont
Mar 15, 2016 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.
Chayan Roychoudhury
Mar 15, 2016 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.
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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 ...more
“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.” 34 likes
“So things remained until one day, many years later, I happened upon a line in a poem by Heine: “Death is the cooling night.” That childhood memory, lost for so long, suddenly restored itself to my quivering heart, returning freshly washed, in limpid clarity, never again to leave me. 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. Heine put into words the feeling I had as a child when I lay napping in the morgue. And that, I tell myself, is literature.” 3 likes
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