Born April 3, 1960, in Haiyan, Zhejiang, China; son of Hua Zizhi and Yu Peiwen; married Chen Hong (a poet); children: one son. Addresses: Home: Beijing, China.
Writer. Worked as country dentist in China.
Premio Grinzane Cavour, Italy, 1998, for To Live; Crystal Simorgh, Fajr Film Festival, 2001, for Guo Nian Hui Jia; James Joyce Foundation Award, 2002; Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Government of France, 2004; Barnes & Noble Discovery Great New Writers Award, 2004; Special Book Award of China, 2005; Prix Courrier International, 2008.
- Zai xi yu zhong hu han, Hua chen chu ban she (Guangzhou, China), 1993, translation by Michael Berry published as To Live: A Novel, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2003.
- (With Wei Lu) Huozhe (screenplay; adaptation of To Live), ERA International/Shanghai Film Studio, 1994.
- Yu Hua zuo pin ji, Zhongguo she hui ke xue chu ban she (Beijing, China), 1995.
- The Past and the Punishments (short stories), translated by Andrew F. Jones, University of Hawaii Press (Honolulu, HI), 1996.
- Xu San'guan mai xue ji, Mai tian chu ban gu fen you xian gong si (Taibei Shi, China), 1997, translation by Andrew F. Jones published as Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2003.
- Huo zhe, Nanhai chu ban she (Haikou, China), 1998.
- Xian xie mei hua, Mai tian chu ban (Taipei, Taiwan), 2006.
- Cries in the Drizzle (novel), preface and translated by Allan H. Barr, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2007.
- Yin yue ying xiang liao wo de xie zuo, Zuo jia chu ban she (Beijing, China), 2008.
- Brothers (novel), translated by Eileen Cheng-yin Chow and Carlos Rojas, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2009.
- Shi ge ci hui li de Zhongguo, Mai tian chu ban (Taipei, Taiwan), 2010, translation by Allan H. Barr published as China in Ten Words, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2011.
- Lu xiang dai dian ying, Mai tian chu ban (Taipei, Taiwan), 2013.
- Di qi tian, Mai tian chu ban (Taipei, Taiwan), 2013, translation by Allan H. Barr published as The Seventh Day, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2015.
- Yin yue ying xiang le wo de xie zuo, Zuo jia chu ban she (Beijing, China), 2014.
- Boy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden China, translated by Allan H. Barr, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2014.
- Mei you yi tiao dao lu shi chong fu de, Zuo jia chu ban she (Beijing, China), 2014.
- Wen nuan he bai gan jiao ji de lu cheng, Zuo jia chu ban she (Beijing, China), 2014.
Also editor, with Thomas Keneally, of Dimsum: Asia's Literary Journal, Chameleon Press (Hong Kong, China), 2005. Work anthologized in Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused, edited by Howard Goldblatt, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1995. Work has been translated into French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean
Yu Hua began his working career as a dentist in rural China, and in the 1980s he began writing about the country's Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. In World Literature Today, Y.H. Zhao commented: "Yu Hua seems to have had almost no apprentice period: when he emerged around the end of 1987, he already had all the marks of a writer of excellent caliber."
Yu began his career focusing on short stories, which gained him a reputation as a prominent member of China's literary avant garde during the late 1980s. Liu Kang, writing in Modern Language Quarterly, noted: "When Yu Hua began to write fiction in 1986, he set himself the task of scandalizing conventional expectations and, ultimately, subverting the values and rationales that inhabit the Chinese language. In only five years, however, he had given up avant-garde experimentalism." According to Kang, Yu instead turned to realism in his novels and subsequent short stories, some of which have been translated into English.
The first of Yu's writings to be translated was the collection of short stories The Past and the Punishments, published in 1996. Noting that the violence in many of the stories "may discomfit American readers," a Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the brutality is "juxtaposed with passages of exquisite grace and layers of symbolic meaning"; indeed, it effectively but subtly mirrors much of the brutality and severity that characterized China during Yu's formative years.
Writing in World Literature Today, Fatima Wu commented that the stories are difficult to read and "usually present only questions and enigmas" on a first reading. The reviewer went on to note, however, that persistent readers "will find much pleasure and reward" in these works.
In 2003, two of Yu's most popular novels were translated and published in English: To Live: A Novel and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant. Published in Chinese in 1993, To Live gained wide recognition overseas when it was made into an award-winning movie with the screenplay written by Yu in collaboration with Wei Lu. In the novel Yu recounts the story of Fugui, the privileged son of a wealthy landowner who squanders the family fortune. Nevertheless, Fugui's family remains loving even as they struggle to survive a series of catastrophic events, including Fugui's forcible conscription into the army, civil war, famine, and the Cultural Revolution. Similar to the characters in Yu's short stories, the novel's characters suffer terribly, some dying horrible deaths. A Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that the English version of the book is inadequate and does not support Yu's reputation as "an internationally celebrated author." Donna Seaman, however, writing in Booklist, noted that Yu writes "with masterful simplicity about the unfathomable complexities of existence." In a review in Kliatt, Courtney Lewis commented that despite the "deceptively simple language," To Live elicits "strong emotions ... and readers should be warned that the spirit of this book lingers long after finishing the last page."
Chronicle of a Blood Merchant reveals the life of a Chinese everyman named Xu Sanguan, who works in a silk mill and barely makes enough money to survive under the communist regime of Mao Zedong. Xu turns to selling his blood to a "blood merchant" in order to survive. Yu, whose parents were doctors, first saw blood merchants in rural hospitals as a boy. As he told Michael Standaert in an interview posted on the website of Ohio State University's Modern Chinese Literature & Culture Resource Center, "selling blood has become a means of survival for the poor. Blood-selling villages pop up one after another, and in these villages almost every family sells blood." According to Yu, this trade in body fluids has led to the spread of AIDS. In the novel Xu frequents the blood merchant more and more to help feed his family as a famine reaches its heights. At the same time, he is shamed by his wife's bastard son Yile, until he eventually acquires understanding and compassion and risks his own life to save Yile. Writing in Time International, Bryan Walsh commented: "The book's translator, Andrew Jones, compares its informal structure to traditional Chinese opera--but instead of the public celebration of life experienced in such art, Yu depicts a community that is forced by perverse Maoist mandates to revel in the destruction of its weakest members."
As reported by Christine Benedetti in Northwest Asian Weekly, Yu went on a U.S. national tour of universities and bookstores to promote the novels To Live and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant. In a discussion of his craft as writer, according to Benedetti, Yu noted: "When imagination soars, it's insight that serves as rudder. One might even say that without the measure of insight, imagination is merely a nonsensical flight of fancy."
In 2007, Yu's novel Cries in the Drizzle, was published with a translation by the author of the book's preface, Allan H. Barr. The novel centers around Sun Guanglin, a boy growing up in Mao's China in the countryside. The dysfunctional life of his family and his neighbors results in Sun being taken by another family, who also crumble in spectacular fashion. At the age of twelve, and without any guardians, Sun tries to piece together his existence and his past by returning to his hometown.
Michael Greaves, writing for the BookLoons, website, remarked that "the friends and relationships that Sun makes are all very interesting, if not a little too flamboyant." Expecting to read more about daily life under Mao, Greaves pointed out that "there is little of the dynamics of Chinese society" in the novel. Vivek Sharma, reviewing the book for the Blogcritics, website mentioned that "the complexity of father-son relationships that dominates the undercurrent of the book makes Cries in the Drizzle worth pursuing. Yu Hua['s] work captures the vulgar and irregular life of Sun Guanglin's father, who represents a despicable stereotype. The trifl[ing] issues that keep men and women busy with petty arguments and the glamor that city life has for villagers surface in the quite accurate portrayal of rural societies." Sharma also wrote that "the love-hate, respect-disrespect, fear-awe, anger-cordiality contradistinctions are all suggested ... and illustrated in a manner which is both heartrending--and fascinating for the reader." A contributor to Publishers Weekly commented that "the narrative flits between time and space to create the landscape of Sun Guanglin's youth." Another reviewer, writing in Kirkus Reviews, described the novel as "a grainy montage of suffering and survival, by turns morbid and mordant."
In his novel Brothers, Yu intertwines the story of modern China and its Cultural Revolution with the stories of two stepbrothers who are orphans. Once totally dependent on each other, the brothers turn into enemies because of their love for a beautiful girl. First published in China in two parts in 2005 and 2006, the novel became "one of China's biggest-selling literary works," according to Pankaj Mishra in an article for the New York Times. Mishra went on to note in the article: "The reasons for the novel's commercial success seem clear. It invokes the widely experienced violence and suffering of the Cultural Revolution while also drawing on another resonant theme in China: the outlandish lifestyles of the rich and famous, especially nouveau-riche entrepreneurs."
The novel opens with "Baldy" Li Guang, who is a Chinese entrepreneurial success story. He is sitting on a gold-plated toiled thinking about his lack of any serious relationships on Earth while also pondering the purchase of a space ride with the Russian space program. Baldy also begins thinking back to his past as he recalls the humble communal latrine of his poor youth and how he was arrested as a peeping Tom when he spied on women's bottoms in a public toilet. His father was doing the same thing when he fell into an open pit toilet and died. "For the remaining 600-odd pages, Yu will wrestle with these two toilets and the two Chinas they represent--one past and one present, one humble and one grand, both, in Yu's waggish but merciless depiction, equally tragic and equally ridiculous," wrote Ben Ehrenreich in a review for the LA Times Online.
The novel follows Baldy and his stepbrother Song Gang as they witness the Cultural Revolution take shape and eventually the Red Guards torture and kill Song Gang's father. Noting that the first section of the novel "focuses on the agony of that period as seen through the eyes of two young boys," Gregory McCormick, writing for the Quarterly Conversation website, added that "the entire arc of the story is defined through this first section. Starting just before the Cultural Revolution demonstrates the power that the Revolution itself had in shaping the modern Chinese citizen and the dichotomies that divide China to this day."
The two soon grow up and both eventually fall in love with Lin Hong. Song Gang ultimately marries her after a long struggle between the two brothers to win her affections. Devastated, Baldy decides that he will invest his energies into making as much money as possible. He builds his financial empire as a trash collector and scrap dealer. After he becomes wealthy, he decides to conduct an all-virgin beauty competition, not to celebrate virginity but so he can have sex with its contestants.
As for Song Gang, Quarterly Conversation website contributor Gregory McCormick noted that he "represents the moral core of Chinese society long ago relegated to history: his virtue is a foil against Baldy's crass selfishness, his humility held up against Baldy's egotism, his honesty against Baldy's exaggeration and lies." Also noting that "each brother represents an aspect of contemporary Chinese reality--one embodying the runaway success of capitalism, the other representing the honest and earnest folk left behind," Jeremy Paltiel went on to write in his review for the National Post that "this is neither a simplistic quasi-Marxist roman a clef nor a dissident political tract" and that the author "shows that morality does not follow a political script."
Unlike his rich brother, Song Gang has been working in a factory but loses his job and ends up selling breast-enlargement cream. His huckster boss convinces him to get breast implants, telling him that it will enable Song to be a virtually walking advertisement for the product and lead to more sales. Eventually Song becomes sick. Baldy steps in and helps Song but also uses his finances to seduce Lin Hong even as his brother his dying.
Justin Hill, in a review for the London Independent, wrote that the author "tries to make sense of the last fifty years of China's history," adding: "This is modern China coming to terms with itself in a mixture of gore, laughter and self-mockery." Calling the novel "gruesome and erotic, uproarious and shrewd," Booklist contributor Donna Seaman remarked that the novel "boldly embodies the striving of China and the aberrant frenzy of the global marketplace."
In a review for the National Public Radio website, Maureen Corrigan compared the author to Charles Dickens, writing: "In Dickens' hands, artifice is a technique that's more profoundly affecting than realism, and Yu Hua also possesses this mysterious Dickensian gift. The world and characters of Brothers are ostentatiously exaggerated; at times, readers might feel as though they're reading a fairy tale or even a bawdy limerick. But the emotions that these self-conscious narrative techniques elicit are powerfully genuine."
Yu first published China in Ten Words in 2010 under the title Shi ge ci hui li de Zhongguo. The essays in this collection center around ten words from the Chinese vernacular. Yu discusses the ways in which China has changed since the Cultural Revolution and its "economic miracle."
In a review in Library Journal, Allan Cho found the account to be "a marvelous book for those interested in contemporary China, by one of China's foremost intellectuals." Booklist contributor Carol Haggas stated: "Introspective, provocative, persuasive, and inspiring, Yu Hua's insights into this mystifying land are refreshingly insightful." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews remarked: "More engaging than profound, Yu Hua's essays say much about the continuing enigma that is China."
Barr's English translation of Boy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden China was published in 2014. The stories in this collection revolve around the lives of the average Chinese citizen, a contrast to the higher-profile individuals who receive international attention. From factory workers on overcrowded buses to homemade video makers, the stories take the mundane and show the difficulties or ironies of life of the characters.
"Even when the stories are without redemption," according to an Economist writer, "the vigour of Mr. Yu's storytelling and his precise, elegant prose make for a compelling, if rarely comforting, read." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews described the collection as a series of "menacing vignettes from a crowded, hardhearted corner of the globe." In a review in Library Journal, Terry Hong insisted that "aficionados of the short form will savor these stories as both adroit literature and a sharp cultural lens."
Yu's 2013 novel Di qi tian was translated by Barr in 2015 and published as The Seventh Day. When Yang Fei dies, he finds he is stuck in limbo between the living and the dead as he has no burial place and no family to mourn his death. He takes this opportunity to search for the parents who abandoned him, the ones who raised him, and his ex-wife in search of some answers to his life and existence.
Writing on the National Public Radio website, Nishant Dahiya commented that "these stories might sound unsubtle, a little too ripped-from-the-headlines, but they represent an increasingly important reality of modern China: The wanton greed, the desire for material objects in what is increasingly a consumerist society, the vicious social climbing, the nepotism. Yu doesn't shy away from the harshness of modern China." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Ken Kalfus opined: "In The Seventh Day, a materialistic, greedy, increasingly impersonal society has made these obligations difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill. For many, this fantasy may be Yu's most devastating critique of the new Chinese reality." Booklist contributor Haggas claimed that Yu writes "with a mesmerizing vision of what the afterworld might look like."
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Booklist, September 1, 2003, review of To Live: A Novel, p. 64; October 15, 2007, Kristine Huntley, review of Cries in the Drizzle, p. 31; December 15, 2008, Donna Seaman, review of Brothers, p. 23; October 1, 2011, Carol Haggas, review of China in Ten Words, p. 18; October 15, 2013, Carol Haggas, review of Boy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden China, p. 15; November 15, 2014, Carol Haggas, review of The Seventh Day, p. 24.
- California Bookwatch, September 1, 2014, review of Boy in the Twilight.
- Economist, January 11, 2014, review of Boy in the Twilight, p. 71.
- Guardian (London, England), April 18, 2009, Julia Lovell "Between Communism and Capitalism," review of Brothers.
- Independent (London, England), October 21, 2009, Justin Hill, review of Brothers.
- International Examiner (Seattle, WA), July 6, 2004, Andrea Lingenfelter, reviews of To Live and The Blood Merchant, p. 9.
- Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2003, review of To Live, p. 937; August 15, 2007, review of Cries in the Drizzle; December 15, 2008, review of Brothers; October 1, 2011, review of China in Ten Words; November 1, 2013, review of Boy in the Twilight; November 1, 2014, review of The Seventh Day.
- Kliatt, January 1, 2004, Courtney Lewis, review of To Live, p. 17.
- Library Journal, September 1, 2007, Shirley N. Quan, review of Cries in the Drizzle, p. 131; February 1, 2009, Shirley N. Quan, review of Brothers, p. 68; November 1, 2011, Allan Cho, review of China in Ten Words, p. 98; October 15, 2013, Terry Hong, review of Boy in the Twilight, p. 93; October 15, 2014, Terry Hong, review of The Seventh Day, p. 86.
- Los Angeles Review of Books, October 25, 2013, Megan Shank, "The Challenges of Conveying Absurd Reality: An Interview with Chinese Writer Yu Hua."
- Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2009, Ben Ehrenreich, review of Brothers.
- M2 Best Books, October 23, 2008, "Brothers Shortlisted for Man Asian Prize."
- Modern Language Quarterly, March 1, 2002, Liu Kang, "The Short-Lived Avant-Garde: The Transformation of Yu Hua," p. 89.
- National Post (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 21, 2009, Mark Medley review of Brothers.
- New Yorker, February 2, 2009, review of Brothers, p. 67; January 19, 2015, Fan Jiayang, review of The Seventh Day, p. 75.
- New York Times, January 25, 2009, Pankaj Mishra, "The Bonfire of the Chinese Vanities."
- New York Times Book Review, October 27, 1996, William Ferguson, review of The Past and the Punishments, p. 39; March 8, 2009, Jess Row, review of Brothers, p. 15; March 22, 2015, Ken Kalfus, review of The Seventh Day, p. 22.
- Northwest Asian Weekly, December 12, 2003, Christine Benedetti, "Author of Once-Banned Book Takes Local Stage," p. 5.
- Publishers Weekly, June 24, 1996, review of The Past and the Punishments, p. 56; August 6, 2007, review of Cries in the Drizzle, p. 168; November 24, 2008, review of Brothers, p. 37; August 1, 2011, review of China in Ten Words, p. 34; September 30, 2013, review of Boy in the Twilight, p. 42; October 20, 2014, review of The Seventh Day, p. 28.
- Time International (Asia edition), November 17, 2003, Bryan Walsh, "Collective Tragedy: In Two Newly Translated Novels, Yu Hua Explores Brutality and Hope during China's Darkest Decades," p. 51; December 3, 2007, "Sob Story," p. 6; March 9, 2009, Austin Ramzy, review of Brothers, p. 48.
- World Literature Today, June 22, 1991, Y.H. Zhao, "Yu Hua: Fiction as Subversion," pp. 415-420; December 22, 1998, Fatima Wu, review of The Past and the Punishments, p. 204.
- Blogcritics, http://blogcritics.org/ (October 21, 2009), Vivek Sharma, review of Cries in the Drizzle.
- Bookbag, http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/ (October 21, 2009), Melony Sanders, review of Brothers.
- BookLoons, http://www.bookloons.com/ (October 21, 2009), Michael Graves, review of Cries in the Drizzle.
- CNR Reviews, http://cnreviews.com/ (October 21, 2009), "Yu Hua's Brothers: 4 Decades of Social & Cultural Change in China."
- Fiction Desk, http://www.thefictiondesk.com/ (October 21, 2009), "How to Not Read a Book: Brothers by Yu Hua."
- International Institute, University of California, Los Angeles Website, http://www.international.ucla.edu/ (October 21, 2009), Xin Zhang, author interview.
- Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (October 21, 2009), author profile.
- Modern Chinese Literature & Culture Resource Center, Ohio State University Website, http://mclc.osu.edu/ (October 21, 2009), Michael Standaert, author interview.
- National Public Radio Website, http://www.npr.org/ (October 21, 2009), Maureen Corrigan, "Brothers Offers a Sweeping Satire of Modern China"; (January 19, 2015), Nishant Dahiya, review of The Seventh Day.
- Qhnews.com, http://www.qhnews.com/ (October 21, 2009), "Writer Yu Hua."
- Quarterly Conversation, http://quarterlyconversation.com/ (October 21, 2009), Gregory McCormick, review of Brothers.
- Shanghaiist, http://shanghaiist.com/ (October 21, 2009), review of Brothers.*