To Live (novel)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
To Live
AuthorYu Hua
Original title活着/活著 – huózhe
TranslatorMichael Berry
PublisherAnchor Books & Random House of Canada Limited
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)

To Live (simplified Chinese: 活着; traditional Chinese: 活著; pinyin: Huózhe) is a 1993 novel by Chinese novelist Yu Hua. It describes the struggles endured by the son of a wealthy land-owner, Fugui, while historical events caused and extended by the Chinese Revolution are fundamentally altering the nature of Chinese society. The contrast between his pre-revolutionary status as a selfish fool who (literally) travels on the shoulders of the downtrodden and his post-revolutionary status as a persecuted peasant are stark.

To Live is one of the most representative work by Yu Hua. The story begins with the narrator traveling through the countryside to collect folk songs and local legends and starting to hear an old peasant talking about his experiences, which encompass many significant historical events in China including the Great Leap Forward, Three-anti and Five-anti Campaigns and Cultural Revolution. Over the course of the story, the main character, Xu Fugui, witnesses the death of his family members and loved ones.[1]

The book was originally published in the Shanghai literary journal Harvest.

Yu Hua wrote in his introduction that the novel was inspired by the American folk song "Old Black Joe".[citation needed]


Xu Fugui, son of a local rich man, is a compulsive gambler. After he gambles away the entire family fortune, his father dies with grief and indignation. The Chinese civil war is occurring at the time, and Fugui is forced to join the national army. By the time he finally returns home two years later, he finds his mother has died of a stroke, and his daughter has become mute and lost most of her hearing from a fever. Years later, Fugui's only son dies due to medical negligence while he was donating blood. The daughter finally grows up and finds a husband. They are a happy couple until she dies from giving birth to their son. Soon after that, Fugui's wife dies of osteomalacia,[2] and his son-in-law dies in a construction accident. Eventually, even Fugui’s last relative, his grandson Kugen, chokes to death while eating beans. Finally out of relatives, Fugui buys an old ox to accompany him. While it seems like the world holds nothing left for Fugui, he never gives up.  Fugui believes there is still hope that things will get better. 

The novel includes first-hand descriptions of some of the less successful aspects of Collectivist policy, such as communal agriculture and the attempt to build a village-based steel industry.


  • Xu Fugui (徐 福贵)
    • The protagonist of the book. As the son of a wealthy landowner, Fugui spent his youth in a luxurious lifestyle and was only devoted in gambling and interacting with prostitutes. After Fugui gambled away everything and went through all the hardships caused by fate, he becomes an honest and caring peasant.
    • Yu Hua said of Fugui "After going through much pain and hardship, Fugui is inextricably tied to the experience of suffering. So there is really no place for ideas like "resistance" in Fugui's mind—he lives simply to live. In this world I have never met anyone who has as much respect for life as Fugui. Although he has more reason to die than most people, he keeps on living."[3]
  • Jiazhen (家珍)
    • Fugui's wife and Fengxia and Youqing's mother. Throughout the book, Jiazhen chooses to stay and support her husband no matter what kind of challenge is in front of them. She is a traditional rural Chinese woman who always chooses to put her family first. This kindhearted woman has never made a complaint despite all the struggles and hardship.
  • Fengxia (凤霞)
    • Fugui and Jiazhen's only daughter. After a fever she becomes deaf and mute. However she is just as beautiful and kindhearted as her mother. This diligent and caring girl later gets happily married to Erxi, but only after a short period of happiness, she dies giving birth to their son Kugen.
  • Youqing (有庆)
    • Fugui and Jiazhen's only son. Because of the family situation, Youqing learns to take responsibility and help out the family as a child. The long commute between school and home makes him a great runner. This kind boy later dies donating blood to a local official's wife.
  • Erxi (二喜)
    • A construction worker who has a wryneck. This quiet and honest man is deeply in love with his wife Fengxia, and after her death, he decides to only live for their son. Erxi later dies in a construction accident.
  • Kugen (苦根)
    • After both of his parents pass, Kugen starts to live with his grandfather and still could not escape from poverty. He dies choking on beans Fugui prepared for him.


Film adaptions[edit]

A film adaption (To Live) of this book was released in 1994, after numerous discussions between film director Zhang Yimou and the novelist author Yu Hua upon the proper film adaptation, keeping the plot within the frame of Yu Hua's artistic vision.

The film changes the setting from rural southern China to a small city in northern China. The film added the element of Fugui's shadow puppetry. The second narrator and the ox are not present in the film.[1] Michael Berry, the editor of an English edition of the novel To Live, said that the novel has a "darker and more existential" message and a "much more brutal" reality and social critique, while the film renders Communist ideals to be failed, but offers a capitalist China as having promise.[1] Berry says that the film "allows more room for the hand of fate to hold sway."[1]

Despite being less grim than the novel, the movie was banned in China, and director Zhang Yimou was banned from film-making for two years.

Editorial Reviews[edit]

“A work of astounding emotional power.” —Dai Sijie, author of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

“A Chinese Book of Job, To Live is a heart-wrenching saga, written with beauty, defiance, and hope. Yu Hua’s books deserve a place on the highest shelf.” —Wang Ping, author of Aching for Beauty and Foreign Devil

“A major contemporary novelist, Yu Hua writes with a cold eye but a warm heart. His novels are ingeniously structured and exude a mythical aura. Though unmistakably Chinese, they are universally resonant.” —Ha Jin, author of Waiting

“A book of subtle power and poignant drama. You love Yu Hua’s characters because they are flawed, vibrant, soulful, and real: you celebrate with them the small wonders of life, and feel their pain as they overcome tragedy. Ultimately, To Live is a redemptive story of the human spirit, one that is universal in its emotional depth.” –Terrence Cheng, author of Sons of Heaven

“Yu Hua is the most profound voice coming out of China today. To Live reaches not only into the very essence of the Chinese people but into the blood and bones core of what it means to be a human being.” Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain[5]


“The emperor beckons me; he wants me to marry his daughter. The road to the capital is long and distant; I don't want her.”

“Your life is given to you by your parents. If you don't want to live, you have to ask them first.” [6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Doll, Abbie (February 2014). "Analyzing To Live through the Mediums of Literature and Film: Two Vastly Contrasting Presentations of Twentieth Century China's Radical History". International ResearchScape Journal: An Undergraduate Student Journal.
  2. ^ Yu, Hua. Editor: Michael Berry. To Live. Random House Digital, Inc., 2003. 117. Retrieved from Google Books on November 15, 2011. ISBN 1-4000-3186-9, ISBN 978-1-4000-3186-3.
  3. ^ Yu, Hua. Editor: Michael Berry. To Live. Random House Digital, Inc., 2003. 244. Retrieved from Google Books on November 15, 2011. ISBN 1-4000-3186-9, ISBN 978-1-4000-3186-3.
  4. ^ Yu, Hua. "活着 (余华著长篇小说)".
  5. ^ "IST Library and Information Literacy Center | Book Review: To Live, by Yu Hua". Retrieved 2016-10-21.
  6. ^ "To Live Quotes by Yu Hua". Retrieved 2016-10-21.