Originally published on Rue89 01/03/2009
Editions P. Picquier have just published a third book by Yan Lianke, “The Days, the months, the years”. His previous books “Serve the People” and “The Dream of Ding Village,” published in China in 2005, had been banned; and the last one has received the Lu Xun prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards.
Is the “hero” of the book the grandfather, his dog or growing corn?
“The Day …” is a superb text that tells us of a village devastated by drought; the only one who stayed is the grandfather with his the blind dog and a single piece of corn that they try to grow.
Drought prevents seeds from germinating in the fields, they are recovered because reserves are exhausted, the holes of rats and their reserves are looted by the old man.
His blind dog is his partner and relationship with him are much stronger than those he had with other men. “The animal did not cry. The man stroked with one hand, the dog was licking the other.That night, they suddenly found themselves linked by a sweet feeling that filled them both. “(P.19)
The old man’s inventiveness to survive is amazing; his courage in front of wolves, drinking from a spring, is impressive. Yan Lianke makes us confident in humans after having shown us the worst (how to use the blood of your neighbor up to his death in “The Dream of Ding Village”).
Son of a farmer, he knows everything in the countryside, animals and diseases of corn. He simply tells us life, death, rats, wolves, hunger, thirst and the genius of the old man in order that corn can survive him.
A peasant educated by the army who became a writer:
The author was born in 1958 in a family of illiterate peasants in Henan, a province of central China. Forced to leave school at 18 years because of short funding, he worked two years in a cement plant.
In 1978, he joined the army in the department of propaganda and wrote stories and plays. He attended the University of Henan and graduated in 1985. By winning a literary prize, he could become a librarian and follow, in 1989, the courses of the Art Academy of the People Liberation Army, where he met another writer/military, Mo Yan …
Promoted in Beijing in 1994, his first book was published and banned, but he is now a famous writer who publishes novels and short stories successfully and he cannot be sent back to his village.
Things got worse in 2004 with the publication of “La Joie de vivre,” a novel about a group of disabled people forced to parade in order to raise money so that county officials can reach their goal: buy the embalmed body of Lenin to develop tourism in Communist China!
The book won the Lao She prize but he was forced to leave the army and then worked in Beijing for the Writer’s Union.
A steady customer:
The trouble with censorship is far from over because the two books he would later publish in 2005 will also be banned. But he said, in an interview to Rue89, during the Olympics, that the situation is improving:
“The difference from the days of Mao,is that you publish first and later comes the control. There is a very effective technique for keeping things under control, but it’s a progress compared to what it was before.
When my first book was banned in 1994, I had to write a self-criticism for six months. … But when “Serve the People” was banned in 2004, no more self-critcisml, just pressure on the publisher. ” In addition, the banned books are published without problems in Hong Kong or Taiwan and in China are also available in pirate editions.
However, the main risk is self-censorship: as he says, it will suppress the passion of the writer and limit the sharpness of his remarks.
The Dream of the Ding Village :
“The Dream of Ding Village is a testing novel for the reader but also for its author.
“In presenting my manuscript to my editor, I felt that I did not only deliver a novel but also a bundle of suffering and despair … This is not my physical strength that writing some two hundred thousand characters has reduced,… it has decreased my life expectancy. (Postscript)”
The AIDS epidemic, following the sale of their blood by the peasants of Henan, was denounced by Pierre Haski in articles as from June 2001, then in his book “The Blood of China, When silence kills” (Grasset 2005). This book is also banned in China.
Indeed, this drama shows an unbelievable blood trade that run, for profit by the local authorities (the home province of Yan Lianke) up to the highest level, “covered” by the central authorities seeking to control the scandal .
Yan Lianka tried to escape censorship :”I limited the book to a single village, I did not mention that senior executives were involved … I have not reported many terrifying details. ” Without success.
“We grow too fast, we have not yet realized … China is chasing utopias. This was the mistake that was made during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960). Even today, China is too eager to make its dreams come true. “
“Serve the People” :
As the Situationists in their time, he twists a famous slogan launched by Mao Zedong in 1944. A picaresque novel in which the assistant of an army colonel will satisfy the sexual needs of the wife of his boss during his travels.
A “Maoist Kama Sutra ” in which the energy of the lovers is increased by the destruction of all objects related to the “Great Helmsman”. A delirious provocation on life in the military camps and its hypocrisies.
His latest novel targets precisely the intellectuals and academics in Beijing. “Elegies and intellectuals” which is not yet translated, is the opposite of a realistic novel, but created angry reactions with some teachers.
As he told Rue89: “I criticized the silence and inaction of the intellectuals who say” there is no way to act, therefore we do not act” … And they all seek to integrate into the system. Intellectuals are victims both of an attactive marketing and political repression. “
He concludes: “There is no independent thought in China.” Yes there is, Yan Lianke.
► “Les jours, les mois, les années” by Yan Lianke, translated by Brigitte Guilbaud – ed. P. Picquier – 125p. – 13 €.