#Interview with YuHua. Official translation from HarvardX ChinaX.
Introducing Yu Hua
On Suffering in Contemporary China
Yu Hua, it is a great pleasure,
a privilege of a lifetime,
to meet you in China.
To meet the man who wrote those essays,
"China in Ten Words" which educated me,
and the man who inspired,
who wrote the book and inspired the movie, "To Live"
I've never seen a better movie than â€œTo Live"
about real people going through terrific challenges.
Let me ask you this,
you were a dentist before you were a writer
and you learned the hard way through dentistry to confront pain.
I wish you'd begin by talking about pain in China today.
In the past, the pain Chinese people experienced
was more conformed, similar.
However, now the pains Chinese people experience
are not exactly the same,
there are completely different painful experiences.
From the point of view of the government,
our officialsâ€™ point of view
recently they always heavily emphasize
the pain we suffered before and after the Opium War,
the oppression from the west we experienced,
make them feel that we have to stay stronger.
It is expressed both in their diplomatic policies
and also in their domestic policies.
They tell themselves they have to stay very strong.
Because of this history
in terms of the experiences of the ordinary people,
their pain has become more practical.
If our pain is historical from the perspective of the government,
then from the perspective of ordinary people
our pain is that of the practicalities of daily life.
First, the price of commodities is rising,
and finding a doctor to treat our sicknesses is
more and more difficult.
First it is difficult to get very good medical care,
secondly maybe they don't have money to see a doctor
and also, real estate prices have skyrocketed in China
and people cannot afford a place to live.
So these are the pains of the majority of our ordinary citizens.
Also these two types of pain,
the pain of the government,
and also the pain in people's everyday life
are actually choices.
Regarding the pain of the government, as I mentioned earlier,
it is a historical pain.
They always talk about the pain we suffered
in the Opium War or how we were oppressed
but they will not talk about
the pain from the Cultural Revolution
and even more will not mention
the pain brought to us from the Tiananmen Square Incident.
These are not acknowledged.
The Cultural Revolution we can discuss
but the Tiananmen case is definitely a taboo in China.
Thus the pain our government chooses to acknowledge
is definitely a choice
to understand, to raise up...
or more accurately, to voice their pain
the feeling of their pain, that is a choice
for them to speak of the pain.
The pain experienced by common people is also a choice,
to choose to express the pain that is immediately relevant to them.
When I get sick,
I discover it is very difficult for me to find good medical care.
When their kids have to go to school, they realize
that it's really hard to go to a good education
that they can only go to â€œnot very goodâ€ schools
they cannot go to good schools
they cannot get an equal education
these are very practical pains
however those pains that are suffered by other people
if they do not suffer from the same pains
they do not realize those pains
so their pains are also by choice.
The government - by that, I mean government officials -
they always emphasize the historical part of the pain.
However they always avoid the realistic part of the pain.
Actually they really deliberately avoid that
because actually they don't experience pain in their real life
that's why they habitually refer back to and always emphasize on history.
As for our common people, the pain they experience is the opposite
because their everyday life is too heavy
so in regards to the historical pains, they have no time or energy to reflect on the pains of history
they are only concerned about the pains of today.
If you were to say pain still existed in today's China
then the pain emphasized by government is a historical pain
and the pain suffered by common people is a type of practical pain.
I want to ask you about the pain
of the economic transformation.
It's a revolution,
we can see it all over the place in Shanghai
but you, you can see the suffering too.
Can you describe it?
The suffering, can you describe what you see
as the suffering in this market transformation of the economy?
The issue you brought up is quite broad
of course when you come to Beijing and Shanghai
and the large coastal cities
and even some big cities in the middle of China
you will feel that China really is very cosmopolitan
but in reality there are still very many places in China that are very undeveloped
In fact you can even say, compared to
before China's Opening up and Reform, there are no obvious differences
In China there are still many places that still remain the same.
In regard to the people who live in a place that has not really changed
It is difficult for me to explain their relationship (to these changes)
For a person who has lived a long time in a place that has not changed for a long time
They may already be numb to these changes.
A lot of people, they haven't left their hometown
they don't actually know the changes that are occurring
they have only seen these changes on television, so many changes
in Beijing and Shanghai and other big cities, they have seen those sort of changes on T.V.
They haven't experienced those changes
by their personal experience.
So they're actually pretty numb toward the changes in China.
For those people who live in Beijing and Shanghai
of course there are many, many successful people
Of course there are also many, many people who were not successful,
or who wish to be successful in the future
and their experiences regarding society's changes are also completely different.
It's quite paradoxical that a lot of successful people actually
realize China is pretty problematic. However, those people who are
not successful think there is still hope in China.
Perhaps those successful in China feel that China is not so full of hope
while those who were not successful actually feel that there is hope, because
I think there are two reasons
those who are successful are afraid to lose their successes
and for people who are not successful
of course they feel they have nothing to lose.
Another reason is that those successful people
know a lot about China,
however those unsuccessful people,
they might not know China that well.
They know to little about China.
It's not that they don't want to know.
but they don't have time and energy to know
because their real life is so heavy and exhausting.
They cannot take the time to know, this is one aspect.
The second reason is those successful people,
they have more ways to get information.
There are a lot of unseen aspects in China,
China is not a country of journalistic freedom.
There are many things that cannot be reported
For the majority of the people, especially for those unsuccessful people,
Anything that is not on the public T.V. they don't know about.
However, those successful people
they may get access to that information
through unofficial sources.
On Revolution in China
Yu Hua, in your wonderful wonderful book of essays,
"China in Ten Words"
one of the key words is "Revolution"
explain your argument that the revolution,
the worst of the revolution,
the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution,
are still driving the Market Revolution.
You remind us of Mao Zedong's famous line
"a revolution is not a dinner party",
it's violent, it's propagandistic,
people suffer in a revolution and they have to.
You say there's still suffering
from government violence
in bulldozing even parts of the most successful cities,
they're suffering from propaganda.
Explain what you mean.
My personal feeling is Chinese people just like revolutions.
If you see the 3,000 years of history of China as a country
of course the Chinese government claims that
we have 5,000 years of civilization
however as a country, our history is about 3,000 years
if you see that history you can see the Chinese history
can be summarized in the way
you establish a dynasty and you overturn it,
you establish a dynasty and overturn it
this continued on through history.
What is the continuity, what is the thread
that connects the Great Leap Forward
the Cultural Revolution and the Market Revolution
the Capitalist Revolution
that we see all around us in Shanghai today
make those connections.
I think the clue between the three revolutions
is that Chinese people just like revolutions.
You can see that through the changing
of dynasties in Imperial China
from the destruction of the Qing dynasty and on
creating the Republic of China
this was a great revolution
an extremely violent revolution
and how the Communist Party beat the Guomindang
and established the Republic of China in 1949
this was yet another revolution.
The Great Leap Forward is another exaggerated,
you could even consider it a fictional economic revolution,
in actuality it was more of a movement
it was actually more of a political revolution
rather than an economic revolution.
How about the Cultural Revolution?
Of course the Cultural Revolution
is a pure political movement with violence,
however it is quite different from the overturning of the Qing dynasty.
also different from how the Communist Party took power
from the Nationalist Party because
the Cultural Revolution was an internal revolution.
Let's not look at China's history
our history is full of revolutions
from 1949 until now
that is in the 60 years that the PRC has been in power the revolution just goes on and on
it's just the way the revolution manifests and continues to change.
The "Opening up and Reform" of our market economy was also a revolution in itself.
but this was purely an economic revolution.
In a lot of ways itâ€™s similar to the Great Leap Forward,
you can see all over China it's like a construction site.
All the buildings, all the houses were almost all torn down at the same time
and they were all built up again almost at the same time, big tall buildings all over the place
It's really hard to imagine this happening in any other part of the world
how can all of the cities be tearing down their old buildings at the same time
and build all their new buildings at the same time
in reality this can definitely be considered a method of revolution.
So when we are building our economy it is certainly in a revolutionary style
highways are being built everywhere
at exactly the same time high speed railways are being built.
I'm saying that everything is happening at exactly the same time
at the same time high rises are being build everywhere
they are building railroads
chemical factories are built at the same time
now up until now almost everywhere has started,
including our environmental pollution, air pollution,
how we solve the problem of environmental pollution
is a revolution by itself again
The ways we deal with the air pollution
as air pollution gets worse and worse,
our solution is almost like another revolution.
First cars are limited by their local government
to limit the cars on the road
for example based on your license plate number
you will know whether you can drive your car or not
and secondly the central government gives orders
to the local government that are very strict orders
that they have to improve their air quality
by a certain level by next year
or a certain number of years from now they have to achieve
a certain standard of air quality
it's almost like a revolution
that involves all the citizens of China.
I think that the most quintessential thing
about revolution in China is that
it involves all the citizens in this nation.
Basically that is a revolution.
For example in the Cultural Revolution
everyone is motivated to overturn the authority
and in the market transformation
everyone is motivated to make money
so making money also became a revolution
and then afterward everyone goes on
to corrupt money so it's also a revolution.
So I think China is a country that likes revolutions
Yu Hua, you write about three revolutions in your lifetime.
The Great Leap Forward, to industrialize
everybody turning in their pots and pans to make steel,
remembered now as a disaster,
the Cultural Revolution,
the Red Guard revolution,
a sort of mind control experiment,
that also was a disaster,
but you make a link also with the current revolution,
the money revolution,
the bulldozer revolution,
the skyscraper revolution.
What is it in the revolution today that troubles you?
Well what really troubles me about the revolution today
is not a secret in China anymore.
It's about the environmental pollution in China,
the air pollution in China,
the food safety in China
almost all the problems existing in today's society
are caused by an economy that because of its revolutionary development style is developing too rapidly.
You write that the new revolution,
like the old ones
is top down, few people deciding,
it's not democratic, also that it relies on violence
at some level or the threat of violence
bulldozers or bullets
and third that it's driven by propaganda.
You say that those big character posters
of the Cultural Revolution
have an equivalent today in advertising
in television bombardment.
Versions of the same thing.
I wish you'd explain it in your words.
Those three connections of top down
anti-democratic, also violent and also propagandistic.
Well there was also a bottom up revolution
that happened in China
that is the Tiananmen incident,
however it lasted for a really short time.
Where is that spirit today? Can we talk about that?
No, we couldn't talk about Tiananmen incident in China
now actually this year is the 25th anniversary
of the Tiananmen incident and
I actually didn't go take a look this year because
"Tiananmen" and "June the 4th" are banned online in China
actually for a while Chinese citizens
created a word called "May the 35th"
because it's May the 31st plus 5 days which makes June 6th
however the government rapidly found out
this great invention and this word is also became banned in China.
Everything related to the Tiananmen incident
is banned in China.
However there is one place online
you can see the things about this incident, and it is reported in Chinese
it's the official website of the American embassy.
And what can you see?
A very simple description, very few words about the Tiananmen incident
it says that how many years ago
there was democratic activity in China
and it ended in bloodshed.
And it expresses a remembrance
that is of China's democratic movement, very simple.
And I have a premonition
that as the Chinese Government's response becomes stronger
the description on the American embassy's website
will become shorter and shorter, simpler and simpler.
There might be one way that this wouldn't be changed
if Hillary Clinton became the President of the United States
And then what?
If Hillary Clinton became the President of the United States
I think that articles and reports
about the Tiananmen incident
would not be reduced.
Anger, Poverty, and Human Rights
You write in the book â€œTen Wordsâ€ (â€œChina in Ten Wordsâ€)
that there's a seething anger
that's the way it was translated
that seething anger is still sort of the main driving emotion
in this country.
Can you explain that?
I think that the anger is not "seething" anymore
it's more and more obvious
All over the place there are, we call them group incidents,
for example, some violent events
this anger is right now changing, it used to only be targeted at the government.
now this anger has been twisted to be directed at the common people.
I'm not talking about the violent incident
that happened in Xinjiang
and also how Uyghur people responded
in the rest of China
because this is related to ethnic minority problems
and it's too complicated to talk about now.
What I'm talking about
are those violent incidents
that happen in schools for example, people go to schools to kill people
people go on public transportation
and detonate bombs
violence towards the common people is being expressed in this way
this illustrates more sharply how China's anger is certainly heightened.
It used to be that people just targeted the government,
at most they break the government's doors, windows, burn their cars,
but now they target common people more and more.
This is extremely frightening, the violence has already been twisted.
What would change or redirect or appease that anger?
I can't see any hope of appeasing this kind of anger
I can only see the possibility that
they become more and more extreme in the future.
Because Chinese society has already reach the point of conflict.
Nowadays people don't have hope anymore
they don't have the same hope as they used to
people's thoughts have become more and more schizophrenic.
Different people have different views so I feel
at this point it is very difficult to see that sort of hope.
People also speak though of prosperity,
their lives are better economically,
there's less extreme poverty,
does this count?
Does this matter?
I couldn't see poverty being reduced in China.
I feel that phrase is not used that accurately
because I don't actually think our country's poverty is decreasing
Maybe it's true in statistics
but I don't think poverty has actually been reduced in China, in terms of daily life.
Where is the poverty that worries you the most?
You can see poverty in any place in China
even in Shanghai
even in places like Beijing
they all have areas where the poor live
this you cannot question
Of course you cannot see poor people living in the Ritz Carlton,
Let's not look at how big our economy is,
"oh, we're the number two economy in the world, or something
how much our GDP has grown every yearâ€
however, we should look at the rank
of the GDP per capita, in reality it hasn't much changed
we always rank roughly around 100 in the world.
We move up a little bit, we move down a little bit
and the best we get is around 90.
I think the real way to evaluate how well Chinese people live
is to look at the average income of Chinese people.
Not the country's overall economy.
You say the average income is 90-100 on the rank of nations?
How do you measure the spiritual, the human damage
of the new revolution,
to family, to identity
to human sovereignty at an individual level?
What's going on?
Speaking of the damage on family,
if we compare this Capitalist Revolution
to the Cultural Revolution
of course in the Cultural Revolution
the family was also destroyed to a large extent.
That is because the family was persecuted
because they were considered rightists, or landlords or for other reasons and the parents divorced
this was still a small group of people because only a small number of people were persecuted.
However after the 1980s, in this economic revolution today,
the rise of the economy parallels the rise of divorce
this may be because of the changing economic dynamics of the family
which influence the families insecurity.
Anyway, today the divorce rate is rising every day.
From the human rights perspective, there was also a huge change
because after the Cultural Revolution ended
we suddenly discovered that generation of Chinese people
had no place for individual activity
after the Cultural Revolution ended
Deng Xiaoping gave individuals some space
for social activity.
Then people started to be concerned about human rights,
be concerned about democratic freedom,
and that's how the June 4th incident broke out.
However, that revolution was short lived.
The Cultural Revolution is a revolution of monopoly
and the Tiananmen Square Incident is a revolution of democracy,
it is a revolution to strive for democracy. It ended very quickly
From the 1990s on when China's economy speedily rose, people all turned to economic revolution
Today, to be honest, the number of people who are concerned with human rights
is not becoming more and more, but rather less and less
unless you infringe on their individual human rights, then they think that human rights should exist
when you do not impact their own rights they may not think about human rights
they might think about how much they made today.
So the influence of the Capitalist Revolution
has a really bad influence on the human rights in China.
This revolution has made Chinese people profit driven.
They care less about other people
which also means they care less about the country.
So this bout of economic revolution, you can also say its a capitalist revolution
Its impact on human rights might be very different than what Westerners think.
They might think that the economic revolution would help human rights
but it actually does not really help.
More and more people have no interest in human rights
Money, Politics and the Chinese Dream
You write in â€œTen Wordsâ€ that the country
that used to be run by politics is now run by money
Can you explain?
China is such a rapidly changing country
There are now more changes, this country changes too fast
â€œChina in Ten Wordsâ€ was written four years ago in 2010,
even in those four years a lot of change has taken place.
Itâ€™s like this, its history is really fascinating.
From the Cultural Revolution to the early 1980s
China was a country in which politics ruled everything.
From the 1990s on, when the economic revolution took place,
money ruled everything.
after the emphasis on money brought on large amounts of corruption
especially in the last one or two years, China is no longer just focused on economics, politics has come back,
so now it's a combination of money and politics.
I have always lived in China
so I know things a little bit
After President Xi Jinping took office
he took a really strong stance on everything
he took a strong stance against corruption, caught a lot of people
at the same time he enacted really strict policies against local government,
a lot of local government officers are really afraid of him.
He also controlled media very harshly
the control is even more strict than in
the Hu Jintao era and even Jiang Zemin era.
He has taken politics, that is, people feel that politics is becoming important again in daily life
However, a very interesting thing is the very strong stances that Xi Jinping took
are largely supported as far as I know.
A lot of intellectuals who believe in liberalism
even support Xi Jinping.
Xi Jinping's oppression of democratic liberalism
he still has lots and lots of people's support
so the situation I wrote about in â€œTen Wordsâ€ is not true anymore
Even though only four years have passed, China today is no longer the China I wrote about in "Ten Words"
Money is not the only ruler in China
It has already become an amalgamation of politics and economics.
This is a hopeful sign?
I have to take some more time to see how this policy plays out.
I can tell you a little story about it.
I have a column in the New York Times.
When the "eight-point" code was issued by Xi Jinping to censor officials' banqueting, drinking and entertainment
after the edict came out the editors at the New York Times asked me
to write an article to comment on it.
That was last year.
However, I told them "I need some time to think about it, if I am to make it meaningful.
I have to see how the local government, the government officials,
actually cope with this policy.
How are they going to secretly going to eat, drinking entertain themselves?"
However, one year has passed since then
I haven't seen this phenomenon come back again.
All the local government officers have been really careful,
they've stopped going out eating and drinking.
So I really don't know right now
At least the really strict policies implemented by Xi Jinping have lasted longer than his predecessors'
as far as I know, meaning that of Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.
Xi Jinping speaks of the China dream,
Chinese dream, and nobody seems to know just what he means.
I want to ask you, what is your Chinese dream?
I actually used to go online and search for "China dream"
to find out what it actually means -
there was a very long description afterwards
and actually I don't understand it
After this China dream thing came out
a friend of mine called me and said
"oh you know everyone is talking about the dream of China.
I also have a dreamâ€
and this friend said, "before I die,
I want to vote for the president of China,
and he asked me "does this count as my Chinese dream?"
and I told him on the phone
"Even if it doesn't count as a China Dream, it was a dream made in China."
so my understanding of the Chinese Dream is a dream made in China.
We speak of this ongoing revolution,
this sort of permanent revolution taking different forms
and always the problem is that it's top-down,
it's not democratic, second, that it's violent,
driven by at least the threat of violence
and sometimes massive loss of life,
and third, that it's not true, that it's not transparent,
that we can't see it honestly
How does a great nation break that habit or change?
Where does it begin?
I couldn't really see a way out of this,
the civilization of the world has been going on for a long time
there are only two ways, two political styles that we can take.
One is Parliamentary democracy
the other is a democratic monopoly.
I can't say that China is not democratic now, there are lots of places where China is democractic, but
but it is a democratic monopoly.
These two types of democracy, you do not have a third choice.
You can only choose one option out of these two
It is not likely that a Western parliamentary democracy will manifest anytime in the near future.
As for our Chinese democratic monopoly, how can it be better? I currently still cannot see a way.
So we can only let time decide the destiny of China.