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To Live

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  8,329 ratings  ·  972 reviews
From the author of Brothers and China in Ten Words this celebrated contemporary classic of Chinese literature was also adapted for film by Zhang Yimou. This searing novel, originally banned in China but later named one of that nation's most influential books, portrays one man's transformation from the spoiled son of a landlord to a kindhearted peasant. After squandering hi ...more
Paperback, 250 pages
Published August 26th 2003 by Anchor Books (first published 1992)
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Yifeng Tong
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Average rating 4.32  · 
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 ·  8,329 ratings  ·  972 reviews

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Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
It had been slightly more than 14 hours since my stomach had its last morsel of food. Compared to those numerous stomachs that for months become a perfect stranger to the concept of food, a mere 14 hours seems negligible. Yet, my stomach was growling in agony. Call me silly or juvenile! It was then that I had decided to confirm my skepticism over Youqing’s words. The cup of rice that lay in a comatose position couple minutes ago, was now ferociously gulping the simmering salted water. The rice a ...more
A spare and wrenching tale of rural life in China and the tragedies of one family’s survival of the social and economic hardships associated with the Nationalist Revolution and later the Communist Cultural Revolution. There is a lot of similarity to “The Good Earth”, but I liked it better for not feeling so much like a didactic morality tale. Written much later (1993) by a resident of modern China, it slips an almost absurdist, comic view of the mistakes and excesses of former regimes past the c ...more
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Lynn by: Issa Deerbany
First off, I want to thank my friend Issa for recommending this book to me. Secondly, in order for me to rate a book as five stars, it has to be well-written, grip me, intrigue me and touch my heart. This book did all this.
Sad, tragic tale of a Chinese man who went from being an irresponsible, insensitive man of inherited wealth, to one who experienced hard labor, the loss of everything he had, including all that he loved and cherished. I felt like crying and laughing along with the main charact
Sep 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: take a step back and look
Recommended to Kay by: mao laoshi
I was surprised to see that Yu Hua wrote this. My first and most lasting impression of Yu Hua is The Past and the Punishments, an excruciatingly gruesome novel with poignant political commentary. Though set against the backdrop of Nationalist and then Communist takeover of China, To Live isn't surreal nor is its narrative misty and shaded like in Punishments. Rather, the tone of To Live is a strange mix of slapstick funny mingled with sorrow. The writing style was also more casual and blunt. It ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, china
The last of my Fall 2017 Best Of Chinese Literature project; more here, and a cool list of books here.

I had been wondering where the great literature of parenting was. Western novels are often about children but rarely about parents, who appear, if at all, as a series of Medeas and Undine Spraggs and, God help us, Anse Bundrens. It's here, in China, that I finally found novels wrestling with what it's like to be a parent. It's a consistent theme in novels like The Vagrants, Wild Swans, The Good
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites

THE GOOD: At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book or not.

The story of "To Live" is really a sad one, but a realistic one at the same time. Life is suffering, and nobody seems to suffer more by the fate of their loved ones than the main character Fugui. What is truly remarkable is that even though fate can be cruel at times, Fugui never ever gives up and even seems to find the positive in a little things as life goes on.

THE BAD: There are no chapters, and the style of writing (ev
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Honestly one of the best books I have read. I had to read this for a college level World Lit class and fell into the book really quickly. The characters are believable. They are flawed and broken and Yu Hua writes them in a way that I connected with very easily. Each character I related in a different way and I can see faults, shortcoming, as well as good characteristics of each character in myself.

The favorite part of this book was the look it took into being human and what it means to be huma
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have to confess I didn’t know about this novel. Neither did I know about the movie based on it. “To live” was originally banned in China, and I think I know why. It’s a heart-wrenching, sad, but also with an extraordinary sense of humor story of Fugui, a man who lost everything he cared about during the times of the so-called Cultural Revolution.
Yu Hua drives us through an emotional roller-coaster, full of lessons about life and the miserable living conditions of normal people, just scraping t
Aug 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
I read the original Chinese version by the way, so it might have had a different effect on me.

It's so touching. ^^ Feels like I just lived a whole life after reading this. I also really love that philosophy at the end of it all--you've gotta keep living no matter how much miserable your life is. The important thing is that you're still alive, you're still living on.

(view spoiler)
Apr 24, 2011 marked it as to-read
Yu Hua's novel, To Live, is truly a great piece. As great writing should do, Yu does a nice job of helping the reader get a bit of a feel of what it was like to live in rural China around the time of the cultural revolution. But this is just part of what makes the story compelling. Fugui, the main character, experiences significant character transformation as goes from being the son and heir of a wealthy landowner to a poor, struggling farmer who seems to continually suffer great losses. Despite ...more
Mark LaFlaur
Mar 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Briefly for now—I’ll add more later—this is one of the best books I have ever read. The story ranges all over human experience, from birth to death (and more death, and birth again), squandering of fortune, learning the hard way what really matters in life. One quick example will show: The main character, Fugui, goes from his house on the outskirts of town into the village to get a doctor (that he can barely afford) to come see his mother, who may have had a stroke, but before he can get the doc ...more
Oct 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
A very moving, short novel about one man's life during the upheavals of 20th century China. I love political novels, and though I'd argue in this one the politics serves mainly as a backdrop, it does a very admirable job of depicting the struggles of the rural poor - often incomprehensible to the modern and urban. Fugui, the main character, experiences the Chinese civil war, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and more, though he doesn't know much about them ("we are simple people wh ...more
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Such a wonderful tale of survival. Poignant, heart-wrenching, tear-inducing. The inclusion of farm animals in the story, and their feelings, is the kind of detail that elevates a book for me from just another good story to a great one. I live in China, yet my Chinese friends haven't heard, or perhaps only faintly heard, of this book and its novelist. Of course even the famous movie made from To Live was censored in China, despite any evident criticism of governmental policies in the story. But t ...more
Aug 27, 2007 rated it liked it
This book felt a little forced. It was kind of like a Bugs Bunny cartoon where Wile E. Coyote gets squished by anvils, falls of cliffs, and gets cut in half by trains, but just keeps on coming. Except it's about horrible poverty in China instead of... whatever Bugs Bunny cartoons are about.

I did like Yu Hua's writing style though. I recommend Chronicle of a Blood Merchant instead of To Live. It's similarly tragic, but its social commentary was more interesting to me.
Aminzul Shijir
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It was really heart touching novel. The life is full of suffering.
Renping Song
Jan 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Book Review (书评): To Live by Yu Hua (活着 余华著)

This is actually the first book I finished on my newly-bought Kindle. Since Chinese is my mother tongue, I chose to start with a Chinese version. Before I started the book and even before I finished it half-way through, I was expecting an inspiration type of story: the kind of story in which the major characters have ups and downs and then finally make it to the top. Yet To Live turns out to be nothing like that. It is a grieving story with tragic endi
Graham Wilhauk
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Absolutely fantastic. This was even better than I thought it would be. This book centers around Fugui Xu and starts with the end of the book. He is a poor worker with only an ox he owns to his name. The rest of the book tells his story of how he got to this stage. This book brings in the family side of stories, the depressing side of stories, and, occasionally, a glimmer of hope for everything to turn out alright. Yu Hua's writing is very similar to Ha Jin's writing in "Waiting" as it is compact ...more
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
As this is a book originally written in Chinese and translated into English I can only assume that much is "lost in translation". (thus a missing star) That aside, I found the story of Fugui and his family with all their trials and tribulations (and there are MANY) oddly piercing. Descriptions of their meager lives and the dire poverty they endured will not be forgotten by this reader.
The writing is very spare, not a wasted word. Yu Hua has indicated that he got the inspiration for this novel fr
J.M. Hushour
Mar 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
With "The Outward Room" a contender, this might be one of the best novels I've read all year. Only someone with a heart made out of chiseled and finely white and crumbly shit would not like it.
Xu Fugui is a shit-ass who loses everything through his shit-assery and then some. And then he loses everything again. And again. Simple, often frenetic, and downright gut-wrenching, like in that sense that shit's so bad, what the fuck, but then there's the title, which pretty much sums it all up.
Forget al
Kamila Kunda
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, china, fiction, asia
Reading “To Live” by Yu Hua, one of the classics of contemporary Chinese literature, I kept thinking about the irony of fate. Fugui, the main character, a black sheep in the landowning family, addicted to drugs and visits at brothels, loses the family fortune, land and mansion in a gambling den. He is forced to move with his aged parents, wife pregnant with a second child and his young daughter to a thatched-roofed hut and is given a tiny plot of land to farm. Soon he must leave the life he just ...more
Aug 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
I should have read this in the original language but I would have taken forever. So I read this in English with bits and pieces in Chinese. Most of it looks correctly translated, but with a few liberties, especially the use of Western expletives.

This story is an epic tragedy. It traces the misfortunes of the Xu family over a few decades as they face one catastrophe after another. Their trials and tribulations stand out against the backdrop of military and civil strife in China from the 1930s to
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a very beautifully written and poignant Chinese "prodigal son" story. Well, I can't say the early chapters are "beautiful" because Fugui's life as a rich young ruler takes him straight to the house of prostitution and gambling. Those brief, early chapters contained language to match his lifestyle. [I generally weed out books with a ton of profanity, unless I feel the value of the story outweighs the kernels that need to be discarded]

Fugui falls hard and fast. He goes from a privileged p
Richard Needham
Mar 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
I’ve heard this was made into a decent film by Zhang Yi Mou; unfortunately the actual book did nothing for me. Set in post-war China, during the civil war and the rise of the Communists, there is little in the way of character development or narrative that gives a feel of what was actually going on, although historically momentous things were happening.

The characters are strangely two-dimensional, dialogues are sketchy and seem superficial (I know these are uneducated peasants, but still…), and
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
A grim, sad but compelling story. Since I finished it last week, it has been on my mind almost every day. I have been reflecting on the importance of relationships, of small kindnesses under unbearable circumstances, of overcoming obstacles. The author kills off characters right and left, with little fanfare. Some of the characters aren't developed as well as they could be --- a problem that may be the result of translation.

I have read several other books on this subject, but this is possibly t
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read this for class and really ended up... I wouldn't say enjoy, because I think it's difficult to enjoy this incredibly sad story, but I really appreciated it. Chinese history is an area I'm incredibly deficient in, and learning the history of China's cultural revolution and Mao's communist takeover in a textbook really just doesn't do it for me like a great book. I look forward to reading more by Yu Hua in the future.
Marc Gerstein
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary-fiction
Wow! What am amazing novel.

The writing is simple and sparing, but the character and story are powerful. Fugui, the protagonist is something like a Chinese version of Job, who lives a life afflicted with one hardship after another. A reader familiar with mid-20th century Chinese history can probably predict most of the plot turns, but the reactions of the characters are not nearly as predictable, although they are quite uplifting.
Yu Hua is a master storyteller. Very happy to have read the book in its original Chinese language.

I had the English edition of this book ("To Live" by Yu Hua) for a while, finally read it in August [2015]. Yes, the story is tragic, the circumstances bleak, the political stage turbulent; but, this poignant story of this one man's will to LIVE, to hold on to this thin thread of happiness is absolutely uplifting!!

Happy to re-read it in its original language :-)
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The story is very painful, a lot of bad stuff happens to the characters, but is told in a way that contains a lot of humor. I cannot explain how or what makes the writing so light, but it reflects the strength and humor of the main character. Very deep story as well, about life in general and the fine dance with destiny. Beautiful masterpiece.
Mar 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-read, chinese
To Live is the story of Fugui's life, told as an old man, he recounts his wealthy youth, the debauchery that leads to his family's coffers being depleted, his experience in the civil war, and eventually the life he lives with his wife and children through the decades afterwards.
Amal Ae
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a really wonderful little novel. I read the whole thing in one sitting - the story of Fugui is poignant, heartbreaking, and utterly human. It also speaks volumes about the history of China from the 1940s to the 1970s.
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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 Re ...more

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