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One Million Characters

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948,140 Characters to Go



In the last few days I read two short stories: 《我没有自己的名字》 by 余华, and《手》by 萧红.


The two stories address a common theme: the humanity of damaged people, juxtaposed with the cruelty of everyday people.《我没有自己的名字》is the story of a boy with very low intelligence, 来发, and the harassment he receives from other boys in his village.《手》is the story of a poor girl with abnormally-colored hands, 王亚明, and the harassment she receives from her classmates and her school president. While 来发 and 王亚明 are dimwitted and dirty, they are good people who do not deserve the abuse they receive from their peers. They also do not object to this unfair treatment, which emboldens their abusers.


I have noticed a theme appear in several 20th-century Chinese stories. There is a maligned but ultimately sympathetic person (e.g.: 来发, 王亚明, 贞贞 in 丁玲’s《我在霞村的时候》). The person is damaged or compromised in some way, either by birth (来发, 王亚明), or by societal circumstances outside their control (贞贞). The damaged person is righteous, while the “normal” people in society are callous and cruel. The damaged person suffers loss, but faces this loss with equanimity. 


Both《我没有自己的名字》and《手》are short (under 10,000 characters). They are also easy to read. I would not recommend《我没有自己的名字》. The story is stylistically underwhelming and less engaging than 余华’s longer works, like《活着》and《许三观卖血记》. I would recommend《手》, although I don’t know quite what to make of 萧红’s style. I have added two longer works of hers,《生死场》and《呼兰河传》, to my reading list.


Text of《我没有自己的名字》:


Text of《手》:


Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 51,860
Characters left to read this year: 948,140
Percent of goal completed: 5.2%


List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲  (4,567 characters)
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华  (8,416 characters)
《手》by 萧红  (7,477 characters)


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I know you’re not counting works in progress, but it still makes me nervous when I see you 1/12th through the year and 1/20th of the way....

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I don’t know quite what to make of 萧红’s style either, I like her stories but find her writing rather difficult to read. Does anyone here know where the style comes from? there's a lot of odd grammar in it. Is it local dialect influence? 

I liked her《生死场》very much, but found it rather hard to read. 

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13 hours ago, roddy said:

I know you’re not counting works in progress, but it still makes me nervous when I see you 1/12th through the year and 1/20th of the way....



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@Luxi, interesting. Do you have an example of odd grammar that makes《生死场》difficult to read?


《手》is relatively easy to read. The difficult-to-understand “style” is the story’s pacing and narrative arc. In《手》, the main character 王亚明 gets mistreated again and again, with increasing frequency and severity. This abuse seems to be building to something—a tragedy, perhaps, or 王亚明’s vindication. But then another bad thing happens and the story ends. There is no payoff to—or attempt to address—the over-the-top humiliation 王亚明 receives.

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@murrayjames, it's a long time since I read it, I don't have any concrete examples, but I remember some very long sentences, a lot of 着 where I had to decide between zhao and zhe, lack of measure words where expected, and generally having to read many paragraphs 2 or more times to understand them. Maybe 'odd grammar' isn't the right term for what probably was mostly syntax difficulties. Here's an example from near the beginning of Chapter 1 of 生死场:


Added: Link to online reading version http://www.99lib.net/book/1837/index.htm

(This seems to be a safe site, free of advertising and with some useful tools including a dictionary link. Registration free via Weibo etc.)


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@Luxi, wow, I see what you mean. The text you quoted is far more sophisticated and literary than anything in《手》. I look forward to reading it.

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I'm not familiar with 蕭紅, but I've read a fair amount of 魯迅, therefore not surprised by the style. It was 1935. 白話文 or written vernacular Chinese was far from mature. There's a lot of experiments going on. Sometimes a writer would even deliberately pursue a 'translationese' style.

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9 hours ago, Publius said:


Of course!!! It pins down a lot of the 'oddities'. Why I never thought of it?

Very helpful, thanks!

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