To Live (simplified Chinese: 活着, traditional Chinese: 活著 Huózhe) is a 1993 novel by Chinese novelist Yu Hua. It describes the struggles endured by the son of a wealthy land-owner after the Revolution fundamentally alters the nature of Chinese society. The contrast between his pre-revolutionary status as a selfish fool who (literally) travels on the shoulders of the downtrodden and his post-revolutionary status as a persecuted peasant are stark.
It was originally published in the Shanghai literary journal Harvest.
Yu Hua wrote in his introduction that the novel was inspired by the American folk song Old Black Joe.
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Xu Fugui, son of a local rich man, is a compulsive gambler. After he gambles away the entire family fortune, his father dies with grief and indignation. The Chinese civil war is occurring at the time, and Fugui is forced to join the army. By the time he finally returns home two years later, he finds his mother has died of a stroke, and his daughter has become mute and lost most of her hearing from a fever. Years later, Fugui's only son dies due to medical negligence while he was donating blood. The daughter finally grows up and finds a husband. They are a happy couple until she dies from dystocia. Soon after that, Fugui's wife dies of osteomalacia, and his son-in-law dies in a construction accident. Eventually, even Fugui's last relative, his grandson Kugen (renamed Mantou in the 1994 movie adaptation), chokes to death while eating beans. Finally out of relatives, Fugui buys an old ox to accompany him. While it seems like the world holds nothing left for Fugui, he never gives up. Fugui believes there is still hope that things will get better.
The novel includes first-hand descriptions of some of the less successful aspects of Collectivist policy, such as communal agriculture and the attempt to build a village-based steel industry.
A film based on the book was released in 1994, after numerous discussions between film director Zhang Yimou and the novelist author Yu Hua upon the proper film adaptation, keeping the plot within the frame of Yu Hua's artistic vision. Despite being less grim than the novel, the movie was banned in China, and director Zhang Yimou was banned from film-making for two years.
Yu Hua said of Fugui "After going through much pain and hardship, Fugui is inextricably tied to the experience of suffering. So there is really no place for ideas like "resistance" in Fugui's mind--he lives simply to live. In this world I have never met anyone who has as much respect for life as Fugui. Although he has more reason to die than most people, he keeps on living.",
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license