四书 Sìshū PDF/EPUB µ Hardcover

四书 Sìshū 35 A camp for re education during China's Great Leap forward created a very disturbing read Have thought about this book on and off for days None of the characters have actual names they are called by the profession that landed them in this no mans land The author sent to write a tell all book about her fellow internees the Doctor the artist and so on all try to retain parts of their pasts Books forbidden are hidden in various places ferreted out and turned in by someone else for a reward The camp is run by The Child a very good name for one who throws tantrums and has unrealistic expectations This was written in a surreal but matter of fact depersonalized manner Usually this would keep me from becoming involved in the story but in this case it represented the fact that no individual really mattered only the collective and what they could produce Of course The Child's reward system did reward the individual turning the camp into a reporters paradise anyone who reported on anyone else for wrong doings was sometimes allowed a weekend home even the chance of leaving the camp altogether The matter of fact tone made this story for me all the chilling As we know the cultural revolution was a failure producing famine and starvation which we also learn A book that I am finding hard to get out of my head Not for its graphic horror but because of its insidious evilARC from the publisher I have a few conflicting feelings in regards to this bookIt was interesting and definitely kept me hooked to the end but still I was lost during the entire bookI think this was in part due to the reason that I have minuscule knowledge when it comes to the history of China So when I went into this book all I knew was that it is based on a true event that actually did occur but I knew nothing about this event until I read the book The other issue was that there were a lot of biblical references in this book and not being Christian most of the allegory went over my head In hindsight I probably should have researched a bit about the history before delving into the book but ue sera sera So what were the pros?Well despite having the allegory go over my head I know that Lianke knew what he was doing The amount of satire and allegory put into this book was clearly something that was planned and masterfully written It's just a shame that I wasn't able to pick up on itAnother thing is the characters You could I guess say that there were no main characters You could also say that there was only 1 that being the man only known as author These characters that are shown however are all people of high learning and position They are all put into this almost prison camp to work hard labour It's an interesting breakdown of human behaviour as if Lianke is trying to show that despite being well educated man is still man And when put up against nature nature wins as the mask that man wears breaks down in order to survive Also it shows how easy it is to fend for yourself and betray others We in our modern world and society are often shocked by reading about humans creating chaos in the world but is it really shock worthy? Are we so unaware of our true nature? It may surprise you to see how easily people will turn on you in order to survive and this book is filled with that Everyone hides and hurts each other but not in an obvious or physical way It's subtle and really explains why trust is often the hardest thing to gain in a human being Now let's move on to the consWell like I said there were a lot of references and allegory that went over my head It made it hard to enjoy the book because I wasn't getting the full meal it had to offerAnother thing is that there is this one character who is only known as Child He is basically the coordinator Now in the preface before the book he was described as dictator like in behaviour Having read the book I honestly don't feel that way I kind of feel bad for him I also don't even know how old he is At first I thought he was a short old guy with a baby face but apparently he's a very young teen because the book mentions much much later that he has fuzz as a mustache? He never abused or harmed the criminals which they were referred to as He did his best to motivate and push the people into doing the work If someone didn't feel like it or showed anger he never beat them In fact the only weird thing was that when he asked them to do something and they didn't want to he would always say Then just kill me if you don't want to Now I can see why the didn't want to as 1 They didn't want to be murderers 2 They knew he was their only ticket to food and freedom But he treated all the criminals humanly So I don't understand why he was described as such He also develops a fascination with reading the banned books and rewards their hard work with blossoms that he developed a system for in order to free the workers I still don't understand why he chose the path he did at the end of the book ; in fact this is another issue that I had with most of the characters Overall I felt that because Lianke never went into detail with his character we missed out an a very interesting character The other issue I had was that the motives of many of the characters were unclear I don't understand why they thought the way they did or how they mind started to change as their health and lifestyle deteriorated A lot of the characters didn't really act their age Author is 50 but really doesn't seem like it His frailty only shows as the grows weak from the lack of food but that's not something that occurs until 34 of the book It's very hard to have a grasp on any of the characters Who they are Why they act the way they do How their behaviour and mindset affects their actions and thoughts It's not something that Lianke focused on and I feel as if the characters really suffered because of this as there was no distinction between voices They all could have been 1 character and I wouldn't be able to tell the difference Finally the plot It was both hooking and confusing It was supposed to be told as segments of 4 different stories Two were written by the same person Author One was technically written by I think Child The final by a character named Scholar First of all the reason why author has 2 books is because one was for the higher ups and one was supposedly the truth of the on goings of the camp But they were not distinct from one another It felt like it was just one book The stuff he writes in one book is the same that he writes in the other I didn't understand what was suppose to be the truth There is also this random farming simulation in the middle of the book where I really uestion the author's mental health It's random and makes me wonder why that was included I could see it's relevance later in the plot but by then there are a bunch of other uestions popping up that it just further confuses rather then elaborates In the end I really don't know how I'm supposed to feel about this book Maybe it's something you will understand if you know the political history of China or were alive and aware of the news back when this even occurred Not a review This book could have been far enjoyable if I wasn't so ignorant about Chinese history But that last chapter still made the book so worth it If you too find yourself struggling with symbolism the following link might be of help This is truly a masterpiece I bet even as late as halfway that Yan could not sustain this incredible satire Satire should be short I was wrong Instead of short this satire is simple and repetitive in very effective ways and it moves with circumstances which change slowly often seasonal just in time to keep the reader from being frustrated by this slow measured novel preserving its form as it becomes darker and darker In fact measurements are important to this novel measurements always left in Chinese which works because they are essentially meaningless Numbers are given great meaning by the characters in the novel but they actually have little intrinsic meaning This is one of Yan’s brilliant ways to characterize ideasThis is a satire on what happened in the Re Education labor camps of the Great Leap Forward late 50s early 60s but in today’s New York Times there is mention of current Re Education camps for over a million Uighurs Muslims in western ChinaI can't recommend this novel enough It's not for everyone especially the last section which is calmly horrifying But this is a great novel for its structure its tone its story and its characterization of ideas that deserves to be a classic I've read Wild Swans And loved it But there isn't a lot of material out there that shows us what happened inside China's Cultural Revolution about those sent for 're education' This book helps with thatIt felt insane enough to be compared to books such as Catch 22 the absurdity of it all It felt brutal and demeaning and somehow hilarious at the same timeInside a huge labour camp set up to house and re educate 'criminals' ie intellectuals such as teachers and writers one group becomes our focus those of the 99th district Forced away from jobs and families to slave away for the state the Musician Theologian Scholar and Author are each part of the unnamed group watched by a faceless Child their gaoler who has the power to bestow red flowers and stars that can send them home The Child sets them to work growing or declaring increasingly ridiculous uotas of crops or smelting steel Informing on each other brings reward spying on each other brings rewards The criminals themselves write about each other and their own true feelings to make up the four books of this story Eventually famine arrives and we see just how a state does or doesn't take care of its peopleSo ridiculous you hardly believe it could ever have happened and all the shocking when you realise that it did The ideology is terrifying the 99th's experiences incredibly moving and appalling It's an eye opening readThe Child is a sinister creation who wouldn't be the same as a character if he was an adult mature yet childlike in his delight at punishing and rewarding his story did confuse me somewhat the arc it tookI wasn't always sure which of the four books I was reading and who was narrating but the story flowed seamlessly despite this and I really wanted to see what would happen to the group It's not a beach readIf you are interested in Chinese social history this may interest you It's not comfortable reading but there is no extreme violence It's horrific only because it is based on lifeDarkly funny but bleak I'm glad I read this A good choice for book groups with plenty to discussReview of a NetGalley advance copy A very cleverly written book covering 1958 1962 in China the reeducation camps the shambolic uest to make steel making a village industry and the resulting faminesThe inmates have no names and are known by their occupations author theologian doctor musician The camp commandant is young uneducated and ignorant and is known as the Child There are ludicrous agreements for crop targets a joint belief that steel can be made from sand and a motivational scheme based on winning paper flowers and stars The book is one long satire on what the government did to the country My only issue was it was a bit repetitive but maybe that was part of the structure of the book to reveal how repetitive life was for those being reeducated The Four Books is set in a Chinese re education camp during the Great Leap Forward The inclusion of both fable and satire made it difficult to determine what was realistic and what was surreal The pacing seemed off as well The first 70% of the book really drags while the final 25% flies by but covers some repulsive topics In the end this book left me with far uestions than answers I read an interview with the author that just confused me further The only takeaways I got from this book really resulted in goggling the Great Leap Forward to learn Of the four texts that make up this manuscript Criminal Records was initially published in the 1980s as a collection of historical documents while the Author's nearly five hundred page historical account Old Course was not published until around 2002 by which time circumstances had changed to the point that it was greeted with almost complete silence A copy of Heaven's Child meanwhile was purchased several years ago in a secondhand book stall It had been published by China's Ancient Books and Records Press and where the author's name normally appeared there was instead only the word Anonymous The only one of these four texts that was never published was the philosophical manuscript titled A New Myth of Sisters which the Scholar worked on for many years but never finished This text contains three chapters and eleven sections and it is said that it is on account of the Scholar's eccentric and abacus views on the survival of human society that the manuscript was never published I happened upon it in the National Centre for the Study of Philosophical Literature and readers may be able to gain some murky understanding of it from the introductionThe Four Books by Yan Lianke ably translated into English by Carlos Rojas is a surreal and partly allegorical tale of the Great Leap Forward in China which followed Mao Zedong's speech in Moscow in 1957 Comrade Khrushchev has told us the Soviet Union 15 years later will surpass the United States of America I can also say 15 years later we may catch up with or exceed the UK The campaign that followed to transform the country from an agrarian economy into a socialist society through rapid industrialisation and collectivism Wikipedia is now often cited as the leading cause of the Three Years of Great Chinese Famine of 1959 61 although this period is officially referred to as the Three Years of Natural Disasters making Lianke's book highly controversial and censored in his native ChinaIn Lianke's story the Author the Musician the Scholar the Theologian and the Technician only ever referred to by these titles are undergoing compulsory Re Education under the supervision of the Child in the 99th district there were 127 criminals of whom 95% were intellectuals the remainder being national cadres and high officials As the opening uote taken from the end of the novel suggests the story is told through parallel excerpts from four different booksThe Author introduces himself I was already over fifty years old and in addition to five novels than twenty novellas and several hundred short stories I had also published several essay collections My fiction had been translated into English Russian German French and Italian as well as Korean and Vietnamese Movies translated from my novels had become household names and won prizes at international film festivalsHe is commissioned by the Child to write Criminal Records an official account of the Red Ed of the criminals sample line on the surface everyone was undergoing labour reform but in reality the capitalists were secretly cursing and plotting against the proletariatBut he also writes Old Course is own private account named after the location of the Re Ed camp on silted ground where the Yellow River had once runThe bulk of the novel's text consists of excerpts from Old Course and from the anonymous Heaven's Child which is written in the form of a biblical text For example Heaven's Child explains the creation of the Re Ed camp in creationist terms The higher ups said Let's designate the people land and crops scattered along the Yellow River as a Re Ed region In that way Re Ed came into existence The higher ups said Let's assign all the people in the region a number and re educate them through hard labour Heaven will look after the earth and the earth will look after the people Let them labour day and night so that they may therefore be re formed and re made Regardless of where they were originally located the capital the south in the provincial seat or a local area and regardless of whether they were originally professors scholars cares teachers or painters they must come hear and work and create to educate and become a new peopleSo it came to pass This is how there came to be labour and how there came to be Re Edand begins its account with the Child's Ten Commandments although in the style of an extract we only get 7 in the novel including the important 5 All books and ink shall be collected Thou shall not read or write unnecessarily nor think unnecessarilyThis theme of censorship of the written and spoken word is one key thread The Child confiscates most of the books in the camp in part to read them himself his preference is for simple children's bible stories but largely to burn as firewood They all burn just the same Regardless of how good the illustrations may be they are still printed on paper and will burn like any otherAnother character is the Linguist sent for Re Ed after he turned up late for a work unit meeting because he was limping due to absent mindedly putting his shoes on the wrong feet The Linguist was the former director of the National Centre for Linguistic Research and had overseen the editing of dictionaries throughout the country but now found himself lost for wordsThe Great Leap Forward comes as the Child pushes them to produce and from their grain fields On average peasants can produce about two hundred jin of wheat per mu but all of you have cultural ability and therefore I ask you to produce at least five hundred jin per mu In two or three years heaven and earth will be overturned as we catch up with England and even surpass the United StatesIn Old Course the Author initially laments that if everyone hadn't insisted that a mu of farmland definitely wouldn't be able to yield six hundred jin of grain then virtually everyone would be able to read whatever books they wanted and think about whatever they wanted but in reality the targets spiral fictitiously as they are driven by competition both with other districts and amongst themselves everyone started reporting like crazy Some reported five thousand jin others reported ten thousand and one person even reported having produced fifty thousand jin per mu They were shouting and waving their hand One person loved his country so much he reported production of a hundred thousand jin per muWithin the 99th District competition is driven by a simple reward system based on paper blossoms Five entitle the recipient to a medium sized blossom and five of these a pentagonal star once you have five stars you will be permitted to return home to your family your work unit and your lectern You'll return to your laboratory and your library and won't ever have to come back here to be re educated with the other criminals As the Author observes to tell the truth the Red Blossom and Pentagonal Star system that the Child implemented was a stroke of genius and it encouraged everyone to enter a self governing trackThe biggest rewards are for informing on others Whoever reports someone else for stealing blossoms will be awarded one or two medium sized blossoms and the Author himself uses Criminal Records to make accusations against his fellowsAs the story progresses the creation myth morphs into something much apocalyptical The Author literally waters his crops with his own blood and a frenzied steel smelting campaign combined with the aggressive over farming leads to environmental destruction and famine The wind was strong enough to uproot entire trees but there were no trees left It was strong enough to blow away the grass though all of the grass within an extended radius of the district had already been eaten by famished criminals Therefore all the wind could do was blow the sand and dust into vast clouds like an enormous pile of bedding in the sky The sun and moon disappeared from view and everyone's mouths were filled with sandOverall a powerful novel blending Communist Confucian and Christian symbolism and providing a daring account of an underexplored period of history although the rather surreal nature of the story and abstract identity of the characters can serve to I imagine accidentally undermine the brutal reality of what really happened in China in the periodMy other reservation is that the execution of the Four Books concept isn't entirely successful In reality 90% of the text comes from two of them Criminal Records and Heaven's Child the distinction even between these two blurs as the tale becomes increasingly fantastical and the idea that we are reading extracts from larger books three are apparently 400 pages long yet the overall novel is only around 300 pages is conveyed simply by page numbers on each extract but is otherwise unconvincing From master storyteller Yan Lianke winner of the prestigious Franz Kafka Prize and a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize The Four Books is a powerful daring novel of the dog eat dog psychology inside a labor camp for intellectuals during Mao’s Great Leap Forward A renowned author in China and among its most censored Yan’s mythical sometimes surreal tale cuts to the bone in its portrayal of the struggle between authoritarian power and man’s will to prevail against the darkest odds through camaraderie love and faithIn the ninety ninth district of a sprawling reeducation compound freethinking artists and academics are detained to strengthen their loyalty to Communist ideologies Here the Musician and her lover the Scholar—along with the Author and the Theologian—are forced to carry out grueling physical work and are encouraged to inform on each other for dissident behavior The prize winning the chance at freedom They're overseen by preadolescent supervisor the Child who delights in reward systems and excessive punishments When agricultural and industrial production uotas are raised to an unattainable level the ninety ninth district dissolves into lawlessness And then as inclement weather and famine set in they are abandoned by the regime and left alone to survive I happened upon ‘The Four Books’ amongst the library’s new acuisitions then subseuently realised it’s a Man Booker finalist It deals with the Great Leap Forward a disastrous attempt at rapid economic transformation instituted by Mao from 1958 to 1961 that resulted in appalling famine The translator’s note at the beginning comments on the structure of the novel which ostensibly weaves together extracts from four different documents I was therefore expecting a uite experimental narrative so was surprised to find it distinctly linear and coherent On the other hand there is an interesting and unusual mixture of symbolism metaphor and literalism The language and imagery of Christianity and Ancient Greek myth are sprinkled throughout None of the characters are named rather they are labelled the Musician the Author the Scholar etc Jeff VanderMeer also uses this rhetorical conceit to create atmosphere in Area X The Southern Reach Trilogy Yet these labels are all outdated as the story takes place entirely in a Re education camp where these intellectuals have been sent to reform themselves through hard labour Presiding over this is the Child a naif who is capable of great cruelty and sympathy arbitrary sadism and masochism The prison camp is controlled not by anything so crude as walls and guards but rather the psychological manipulation of the Child the physical isolation of the place and the apparent fact that there is nowhere to escape to Sisyphus references reinforce the sense that the Re education camp is hell or rather a very small outpost of itAs well as such references the novel includes excruciating descriptions of the camp’s inhabitants starving to death during the famine During this part the Child his means of control and all other abstractions recede in the face of the bodily imperative to find food and survive It is powerfully written however the most memorable part of the book for me was elsewhere The Great Leap Forward focused on two commodities wheat and steel Rural inhabitants there for re education or not were mobilised en masse to cultivate wheat at absurdly intense levels competitive targets were set to get vast amounts from every field and smelt iron and steel in tiny furnaces without any proper iron ore supply My favourite seuence in ‘The Four Books’ describes the Author retreating from the Re education camp in order to carefully grow wheat with ears ‘the size of corn’ for the Child This macabre and beautifully written section shows him watering the wheat plants with his blood allowing them to grow huge The imagery of crops being literally watered with lifeblood is a powerfully unsubtle metaphor for the Great Leap Forward as a whole Given the subject matter I wouldn’t describe this novel as enjoyable It paints an excellent picture of the surreal cruelty of the Great Leap Forward which is the subject of very little literature Today the Chinese government still ascribes it to natural disaster and the full death toll remains unknown Estimates are in the tens of millions Although the geographical scope of ‘The Four Books’ is very limited to a secluded and desolate riverside camp it conveys something of the nationwide scale and toll of events Given the damning portrayal of party officials referred to as ‘the higher ups’ it’s hardly surprising that Lianke failed to find it a publisher in China Although I didn’t find it as viscerally devastating as Vasily Grossman’s Everything Flows which deals with the USSR’s post collectivisation famine I don’t think it was trying to do the same thing The methods of the Child show the reader how the seeming madness of the Great Leap Forward eventuated in an astute and damning fashion Lianke explains causes and effects with great clarity and purpose ‘The Four Books’ is a distinctive chilling novel

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