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One Million Characters

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860,913 Characters to Go

murrayjames

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Since my last post, I read a collection of four short stories by 沈从文. The short stories are titled 《虎雏》, 《黔小景》, 《三三》, and 《医生》. The stories were written in 1931. They are easy to read and understand.

 

The stories contain a diverse cast of characters from different parts of China: The Shanghai-based author and his military brother stationed in Hunan. Merchants traveling a public road in Guizhou. The mother and daughter with a grain mill and their visitors from a nearby city. The itinerant doctor and the crazy man in the mountains of Sichuan. Each of the four stories has a different setting and tone. The plots are quite different, though there is a thematic connection between them: in each of the four stories, a person dies in a peculiar way.

 

The stories range from pretty good to very good. One story is engaging but anticlimactic. Another story is boring. Yet another story has touching characters but no plot. 沈从文 is a gifted storyteller. Certain parts of 《虎雏》 and 《医生》are exciting and hard to put down. 《医生》is also funny. A doctor goes missing for several weeks. He returns to find his co-workers waiting for him inside his home. The doctor thinks they have gathered to welcome him, but actually they gathered to divide up his possessions. The titular young woman 三三 is strong-willed and sweet and is probably my favorite character from these stories. The stories are an enjoyable read, but none of them are as good or as powerful as the author’s《牛》.

 

This is the longest text I have read in 2019 so far (about 47,000 Chinese characters total).

 

Link to the short story collection:
https://www.ixdzs.com/d/117/117016/

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 139,087
Characters left to read this year: 860,913
Percent of goal completed: 13.9%

 

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)
《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters) 
《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)
《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)
《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》by IBM   (25,098 characters)
《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)
《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters)



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The stories were written in 1931

One of the things I most enjoyed about reading literature from early last century was seeing how certain aspects of Chinese culture hadn't changed despite the huge upheaval China went through in latter half of the century.  Not sure if any of that came across from these writings?

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On 2/25/2019 at 10:56 PM, imron said:

One of the things I most enjoyed about reading literature from early last century was seeing how certain aspects of Chinese culture hadn't changed despite the huge upheaval China went through in latter half of the century.

 

@imron,

 

While thinking about your question it struck me that most Chinese fiction I’ve read was written before 1949. The stories I’ve been reading—by 沈从文, 丁玲, 萧红, 老舍, 施蛰存—are now nearly one hundred years old.

 

The themes in these old stories are pertinent to China today. Some examples: the relative simplicity of life in the countryside compared with life in the city; idyllic portraits of rural living; the poverty of farmers; parochialism and superstition among the 老百姓; the neurosis of modern city life; young people falling in love but never saving so out loud; crowds of people, bright lights, fireworks, bustle, etc. Many of the events described in these stories could plausibly occur in China today. The entire plot of 萧红’s 《手》, for example.

 

These old Chinese stories are 非常中国 in another, hard-to-describe way. (Sorry for the tautology.) They would not be the same if they were written in a different country. Take 沈从文’s 《牛》. The story has this universal, parable-like quality. But no one would think it was written in France.

 

I think part of the reason that these stories do not seem dated is because they were written pre-Liberation. They are not political—not overtly, at least. The stories were written before authors really had to grapple with the actions and ideas of Mao and the CCP. So they seem timeless in a way that a land reform story or a Great Leap Forward story or a Cultural Revolution story might not.

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3 hours ago, murrayjames said:

Many of the events described in these stories could plausibly occur in China today.

This was one of the things that struck me too.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

3 hours ago, murrayjames said:

So they seem timeless in a way that a land reform story or a Great Leap Forward story or a Cultural Revolution story might not.

This is an insightful observation.

 

3 hours ago, murrayjames said:

These old Chinese stories are 非常中国


中国可中国,非常中国

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