Monday May 07, 2018
Big Characters, Small Characters
The excerpt below is from the third chapter (“Reading” or “阅读“/yue du) of ”China in Ten Words“ by novelist Yu Hua. It's been translated by Allan H. Barr:
As a little boy in primary school I was terrified of big-character posters. Every morning as I headed off to class with my satchel on my back I would nervously scan the walls on either side of the street, checking to see if my father's name appeared in the headlines of the latest batch of posters. My father was a surgeon and a low-level functionary in the Communist Party. In the early stages of the Cultural Revolution I had personally witnessed the disgrace of several of my classmates' fathers who were officials; they were denounced for being ”power holders following the capitalist road.“ Activists in the revolutionary rebel faction beat them till their faces were black-and-blue, and they were forced to wear wooden signs over their chests and tall dunce caps on their heads. I would see them every day with brooms in their hands, trembling with fear as they swept the streets. Passersby would give them a kick if they felt like it, or spit in their faces. Their children naturally shared the ignominy, being constant butts of their classmates' insults and targets of their discrimination.
Not many movements have terrified me more than the Cultural Revolution. Maybe because it doesn't seem too far removed from the anti-intellectualism I‘ve experienced in the U.S. most of my life. I know it doesn’t compare, but it still feels close. The right push, from the wrong man, could send us there. And we have wrong men everywhere.
”Ten Words,“ a memoir, is much recommended. The Telegraph calls it, ”Yu Hua's humane, sceptical take on China's changing identity.“ I've just finished Chapter 5, ”Lu Xun,“ and am looking forward to the others—particularly ”Bamboozle," a word I associate with just one man. Well, maybe two now.