Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out

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Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out
Mo Yan-Life and Death cover.jpg
AuthorMo Yan
TranslatorHoward Goldblatt
Publisher(Eng. trans.) Arcade
Publication date
Published in English
19 March 2008
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages552 pp (Eng. trans. edition)
ISBN1559708530 (Eng. trans. edition)

Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (simplified Chinese: 生死疲劳; traditional Chinese: 生死疲勞; pinyin: shēngsǐ píláo) is a 2006 novel by Chinese writer Mo Yan. The book is a historical fiction exploring China's development during the latter half of the 20th century through the eyes of a noble and generous landowner who is killed and reincarnated as various farm animals in rural China.[1] It has drawn praise from critics, and was the recipient of the inaugural Newman Prize for Chinese Literature in 2009.[2] An English translation was published in 2008.


The story's protagonist is Ximen Nao, a benevolent and noble landowner in Gaomi county, Shandong province.[3] Although known for his kindness to peasants, Nao is targeted during Mao Zedong's land reform movement in 1948 and executed so that his land could be redistributed.

Upon his death, Nao finds himself in the underworld, where Lord Yama tortures him in an attempt to elicit an admission of guilt. Nao retains that he is innocent, and as punishment, Lord Yama sends him back to earth where he is reborn as a donkey in his village on January 1, 1950. In subsequent reincarnations, he goes through life as a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog, and a monkey, until finally being born again as a man.[1] Through the lens of various animals, the protagonist experiences the political movements that swept China under Communist Party rule, including the Great Chinese Famine and Cultural Revolution, all the way through to New Year's Eve in 2000.[4] The author, Mo Yan, uses self-reference and by the end of the novel introduces himself as one of the main characters.[3]


Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out garnered highly favorable reviews, though some critics suggested the narrative style was at times difficult to follow. Jonathan Spence described it as "a wildly visionary and creative novel, constantly mocking and rearranging itself and jolting the reader with its own internal commentary. This is politics as pathology...a vast, cruel and complex story."[3] Steven Moore of the Washington Post writes it is "a grimly entertaining overview of recent Chinese history...Mo Yan offers insights into communist ideology and predatory capitalism that we ignore at our peril. This 'lumbering animal of a story,' as he calls it, combines the appeal of a family saga set against tumultuous events with the technical bravura of innovative fiction."[4]

The book's translator, Howard Goldblatt, nominated it for the 2009 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, writing "it puts a human (and frequently bestial) face on the revolution, and is replete with the dark humor, metafictional insertions, and fantasies that Mo Yan’s readers have come to expect and enjoy."[5] Kirkus Book Reviews called the novel "epic black comedy...This long story never slackens; the author deploys parallel and recollected narratives expertly, and makes broadly comic use of himself as a meddlesome, career-oriented hack whose versions of important events are, we are assured, not to be trusted. Mo Yan is a mordant Rabelaisian satirist, and there are echoes of Laurence Sterne's Tristam Shandy in this novel's rollicking plenitude."[6]


  1. ^ a b Barnes and Noble, Overview, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out: A Novel.
  3. ^ a b c Jonathan Spence, Born Again, New York Times, Sunday Review of Books, 4 May 2008.
  4. ^ a b Steven Moore, Animal Farm, Washington Post, 25 May 2008.
  5. ^ Howard Goldblatt, Statement nominating Mo Yan for the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature
  6. ^ Kirkus Reviews, Review:Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, 15 February 2008.