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Reading Yu Hua's "To Live"


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梁文道 has a series of videos on Youku where he pootles around Beijing at night talking to a couple of cameras about books and stuff. Pretty good stuff. Over two consecutive episodes he talked about 余华 and specifically 《活着》: links to the first of the episodes are:





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I just finished this book. Its the first novel Chinese novel I've attempted to read. I'd certainly recommend it as a first novel, but you will need to be able to tolerate a lot of misery. 


I'll have to think of something else to read now...

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Segmentation question:




Would the bolded part be segmented as:


他  出门  时  常   对  我  娘  说




他  出门  时常   对  我  娘  说




In other words, is 时 being used like the shorter form of 的时候, or is it being used as the word 时常?

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I want to give 活着 a go.  🧐


I saw the movie is on Youtube and thought this would be a good starting point. How does the movie compare to the book?


Also, I noticed the  links to the audio book in this thread are all dead. Do you guys have working links to the audio version?


Regarding the vocabulary: obviously I do not know a lot of the words (yet), but I somehow feel the language is a bit dated. Is this true? I am worried I will learn old-fashioned words and use them in conversations later... 😆

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I struggled through the book and had to look up about one-third of the vocabulary on Pleco! But it has very few individual characters in comparison with other novels.

I found it totally different from the film. I loved the film, and the novel too. But the trajectory of the film, as I remember it, is a married couple struggling through good and bad times and the whole of 20th-century Chinese history unfolding in the background. 

The novel is about one particular man, who wants to live, no matter what life throws at him. The events may be the same as in the film, but the emphasis is different. 

I don't think the film had the framework where the narrator is collecting country songs and then hears the main character's story (Fu Gui). Apparently Yu Hua was influenced by the song 'Old Black Joe'. This doesn't really come over in the film. 

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On 11/17/2021 at 9:24 AM, mungouk said:

How does a "read-along" on Instagram work?  Will you be live-streaming?

If so, what timezone are you in?


I think I've chosen the wrong wording :wall:oops: it's more like a book club, if you will. (The studying of an Anki deck is optional.) We all start reading on 01 December and aim for a roughly similar speed (the printed book has 195 pages, so on average 6-7 pages per day), but it's not a must. The main point really is to motivate people to read in Chinese and take away their fear of reading Chinese through the community-aspect. :)


Every weekend, there are questions as part of the challenge regarding the reading experience or view on the plot. Answers should be posted every Sunday around 13:00 CET. But from my experience, most people usually just post any time that is convenient for them on that specific day, and that's fine. :)  The third week is special: we will discuss the movie adaptation and how it differs compared to the novel.


Here is an overview of the questions, if you are interested:

  • Week one: 05.12 - How did studying the Anki list go so far? How enjoyable is reading the novel at your current level? Which Chinese language books or readers have you read before?
  • Week two: 12.12 - Do you have any questions regarding the plot, historical events or some cultural words?
  • Week three: 19.12 - Movie time! Watch the movie on Youtube (https://youtu.be/-s3u8bPZfLU) and tell us how your opinion on it. How does if differ from the novel? Did some aspects surprise you?
  • Week four & five: 31.12 - Final thoughts: Was it tough to read To Live in Chinese? Will you continue reading native material in 2022? 
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On 11/17/2021 at 3:07 PM, abcdefg said:

Good idea, @Red -- Thanks. I'll give it a try. (Assuming I can figure out Instagram. Should not be too difficult, but I never played with it.)  

Glad you like it! :) If/when you (and anybody else from CF) join, please drop me a comment (DMs by new accounts are unfortunately heavily filtered on IG to prevent bots and spam) so I can see your take on the challenge and engage with you.  

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On 11/28/2021 at 4:00 PM, mungouk said:

Personally I would not want to watch the movie (or any movie) before finishing the book... I wonder why you put this at week 3?

Because the ending of the book and the movie are completely different.

Additionally, I know a lot of language learners who prefer the additional help of being familiar with the story to aid comprehension (like re-reading Harry Potter in multiple languages for example). 

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I’m currently lagging a bit behind schedule,  life just happens sometimes. :D But last time I read, I was really happy with my pace. In 45 minutes I did manage to read 10 pages, which I consider a win. :) Especially considering that it is only my fourth book that I am reading in Chinese and I have never read any graded readers (boring!).

I was just wondering if some of the more proficient readers on here would be so kind to put this into perspective. Is that an ok pace as a reading newbie?

For context: I have the physical copy with the white and blue dust cover; the margins on that version are pretty huge compared to other books; and the total length is 197 pages. And I am close to finishing HSK 6 and do hold an MA in translation, but that was all legal, academic, diplomatic and business Chinese.

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On 12/11/2021 at 12:46 AM, RedInkstone said:

I was just wondering if some of the more proficient readers on here would be so kind to put this into perspective. Is that an ok pace as a reading newbie?


When you first start, you're going to be frustratingly slow.  Don't worry about speed, just try to read smoothly.  If you can proceeding at a smooth pace, and you're understanding the material, I'd consider it a win.


If you really want to know though... To Live has about 91k characters, and with 197 pages it's about 460 chars per page.  10 pages @ 45 mins is about 100 chars per minute, which is very respectable.  I'd expect sub-50cpm before you get to ~100k characters (i.e. you've read 1 book as long as To Live), sub-100cpm before you've read ~1 million characters (i.e. when you've read 10 books as long as To Live).  At least according to my experience, and the other charts / numbers posted in the forum threads.


I've become focused with measuring my speed now, but I didn't really start thinking about it until I was 2 million characters in.


Edit: on a second look, since you seem to have read a bunch of legal, academic, diplomatic and business Chinese, you're probably going to break the curve :)  At least until you fill in the data with a count of how much other material you've read.

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