I have seen this book on Reader's Corner's shelf for sometime, and never felt I should pick it up and read. The book didn't feel like a kind of book I would like to read, "Personal interviews!?" I thought ot myself, "that is a common cheap method to get some moving and touching feeling to reader while the author/cook puts in nothing much but to collect and compile them." That's my thought, like I always look down on those army of real estate agents hovering around a condo complex in China these days ← what they do own/contribute!? anything!? They didn't own the unit, didn't even do much of a homework to collect information of it. As a matter of fact, many of them deliberately present you the wrong information so they can play a scheme on you, like hooking you with a couple interesting one, one too cheap for your budget and one too much over yours, so the strategy predicts that you will then settle on the next one, the mid-range one, that he is actually selling, which he already knew since the very beginning. What the hell.
But then, I bought the book, read it, and felt deeply sad inside. Not that those personal stories were interesting, probably remote, to my experience. After all, that's a generation or two of which I had little sense of, heard only some from my own family accounts through dad and uncles, and had always felt distant, almost repulsed to absorb, since that age of darkness was too heavy to think about, too depressing to dig in, and don't we also secretly believe/hope that it is not going to happen again anyway, so might as well not to burden yourself with those information.
But then, there was a clip or two, that caught me to think, to feel disturbed, to feel really really sad. I wish there were also hope I felt. But I have to say there was much more sadness than any other emotions. It's not a sadness of a lost love or a lost generation or of their suffering. I can't describe what it is, it is a profound anger, perhaps, now to think of it, and a feeling of sorry for that they had to twisted and turned and made the best out of what they had (or was given) so to survive, yes, just survive, not flourishing, just, survive.
Life is hard, for every single generation. There are always one or two the lucky ones, but overall, it is hard. So religion comes into play, so is any kind of thing that gives you comfort so to balance hardship. It's funny that even yesterday when I dropped Noah at a local Chinese church for his first, and mine too, Sunday school, and I was dragged into a newbie session in which a senior member (I guess he is, though I have no clue how the ranking system works in a church) was discussing w/ three of us (two were a couple and the woman works at Lenovo, too!), and her question was, religion is probably needed because people need something to help go through life's hardtime → a psychological need.
On the one hand, I think everybody would just agree w/ her point, because this is such a universal ask. On the other hand, I also feel seeking it is then a challenge, if not a impossibility, because there are so many to choose from (and doesn't each one clams they are the true one, while others are just plain false!?), but without a reference, how can one choose? Oh well. I'll leave this to another discussion later.
Here, I want to jog down a few sections from this book, which, while reading them, gave me a moment of, silence.
Page 199, "Tea houses and news singers"
Sitting opposite Old Mr Wu, the "written complaint" he had paid someone to write on his behalf clutched in my hands, my heart ached. These peasants who thought that young Westerners in fashionable "begging jeans" were poor, and that doing hard, ill-regarded labour in the city was to "enjoy life and make big money", did not even have the basic information or understanding they needed to live in the same era. But they had never made demands for a better life ot the rich and powerful who requsitioned them into bankruptcy. Yet those "mother and father officials" who have survived until today only because the peasants kept to their work instead of throwing down their hoes to make revolution and class struggle apparently never paused in their daily banquets to consider the price the peasants have paid with their blook and sweat.
China's peasants have been treated as a part of the 10,000 things of nature, a group that nobody notices. People are concerned about the melting of the ice caps, they fret over the disappearance of the Asian tigers, they fume at the desert swallowing up the green lands, they even have interminable discussions over the right combination of vitamins ofr every dish of food. But how man people are calling out for an improvement in the living conditions of the Chinese peasants? How many people pause to consider the bowls of weak vegetable soup in China's poverty-stricken villages, with just a few grains of rice added to stave off hunger? How many people would go to read a story like "The Gourd Children" or "The Monkey King" to the children of poor farmers who don't even know which end to open a book at or where to start reading from on the page, so that those hearts, whose first awareness was of days and nights of hunger, cold and disease, can have their share of goals and beautiful memories like the rest of us? How many people realise that helping those poverty-stricken, uneducated peasants begins with wresting power from local officials who in turn have no education and simply do not understand the law?
China has become strong, China has stood up, but we cannot stand on the shoulders of the peasants for the world to admire how tall we are. We cannot let the peasants' blood and sweat water the tree of our national pride.
— Train from Nanjing to Shanghai, 7 May 2007:
GIRL A: How do you know that your dad has a lover?
GIRL B: I bumped into them, yuck, they were all over each other.
GIRL A: Did you tell your mum?
GIRL B: What would be the point? She said it herself a long time ago, all men eat what's in their bowl while eyeing up what's in the wok!
GIRL A: Not necessarily, not my dad.
GIRL B: That's because you don't know. My mum says, what man with money doesn't keep a mistress these days?
GIRL A: So what're we going to do when we have men?
GIRL B: If they can keep lovers, so can we!
— Ladies' toilets, Shanghai Hongqiao Domestic Airport, 11 May 2007:
MANAER: Why is this paper dispense so loose?
CLEANER: I thought that it would make it more convenient for the customers.
MANAGER: You can't do that, it has to be tight, or it's easy for the customers to pull out a lot all at once, and we're the ones who have to pay for it. Have you wiped down all the pictures?
CLEANER: Yes, all of them, even the new ones they've just hung up. It's just that one over the soap dispenser, there's a mark on the man's face, I can't get it off.
MANAGER: Don't you srub that off, I put that tape over the man's eyes myself. Whatever were they were thinking of, hanging a picture of a man in a ladies' toilet? How come the floor in that cubicle isn't shiny?
CLEANER: I've just mopped it.
MANAGER: Not hard enough, you should mop the floor until you can see the face of the person in the next toilet!
— Zhengda Shopping Center, Shanghai, 12 May 2007:
YOUNG WOMAN: This bran's no good!
YOUNG MAN: It looks really great on you.
YOUNG WOMAN: What do you know about it? Nobody takes this brand seriously. I'll crash and burn in the interview, for certain!
YOUNG MAN: Well, can't you wear that one from Next?
YOUNG WOMAN: That brand's too old-fashioned — as soon as the boss sees it he'll know that I'm behind the times.
YOUNG MAN: Things are really expansive here, and money's tight for me this month.
YOUNG WOMAN: So do you really love me?
YOUNG MAN: Of course I love you!
YOUNG WOMAN: Do you? Then you couldn't let me show up in the clothes that aren't even brand names and lose face in front of a foreign boss, now, could you?
These voices mostly come from the younger generation, I guess, because most of their parents and grandparents don't know how to use a computer — they are a generation who know, instead, of civil war, political madness, and queuing for food. In seeing those young Chinese united in such a way, in their care, their outrage and national pride, I realise I may be wrong about them. I used to think that they were too comfortable and too rich to understand China's hungry past, or those poor, uneducated peasants and the misunderstood last generations.
All of this made me think of that song "Dyed with my Blood", again: why does the national flag have to be painted with Chinese blood? I pray for my motherland — I hope there will be peasce and strength, rooted in love and happy families, and with friends around the world.
— by Feng Xia