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Home  /  Inside China  /  Yu Hua’s (余华) Novels – Simple Chinese, Quality Literature
Yu Hua’s (余华) Novels – Simple Chinese, Quality Literature print version
Yu Hua, one of the most famous Chinese novelists, tends to use spoken and simple language, which fits the ambience of his poor characters. The results are books which are quite easy to read and yet comprise of sophisticated literature.
My first Chinese novel (read in Chinese) was Xu Sanguan mai xue ji 许三观卖血记 (translated differently by many translators, literal meaning is Xu Sanguan's blood selling chronicles), a story full of sarcasm, emotional pain and family warmth, portraying Xu Sanguan as the head of family which goes through the difficulties of 1950's and 1960's Maoist China. I was surprised to discover that such a great piece could be written with a vocabulary, which only partly exceeds my level of China at the time.

I heard an interview with Yu Hua a while ago, where he said that in his 1993 novel 活着 Huozhe (‘To Live') he used no more than 900 Chinese words. Yu explained that he wanted to use a vocabulary that describes the experience of the book's main characters, which are Chinese commoners, and therefore chose down-to-earth expressions.  Yu added a funny anecdote, telling that during a lecture he gave in the USA, people from the audience, who read the English version of ‘To Live' were impressed of his rich vocabulary and called him a ‘Chinese Hemmingway'. Apparently some novels are 100% lost in translation...

 余华

 Yuhua in a cheerful moment

 

Using common and spoken vocabulary isn't as easy as it seems and in such novels Yu Hua had to enter the mind of his main characters and carefully consider each word that comes out of their mouth. However, this writing style has also to do with Yu's biography. During the Cultural Revolution Yu Hua didn't spend many hours in school, to say the least, and his knowledge of classical Chinese is inferior compared to other famous Chinese novelists.

To conclude, Yu Hua's books are a great source to improve one's Chinese, comprehend commoners' experience of 20th century China and enjoy great literature. Some of his novels (such as ‘Brothers' 兄弟Xiongdi) are more difficult language-wise than the two mentioned above, but most readers of Chinese language would could great interest in all of them.


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