Zhu Yuan

Opening the mind to new ways of seeing

Updated: 2011-07-07 07:58

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)

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The publication of the Chinese version of One Hundred Years of Solitude in June, 30 years after the first appearance of a pirated version in the Chinese mainland, caused ripples in the hearts of quite a number of Chinese writers. Its author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a name less mentioned nowadays, has left a deep mark on the history of Chinese literature over the past three decades.

Opening the mind to new ways of seeing

The new, authorized version is not so much an overdue rectification of the pirated printing of this book in the early 1980s as a reminder of how much Chinese writers have learned from the magic realism of Marquez and other Latin American fiction.

"Oh, my god, fiction can be written this way," was how many Chinese novelists felt at the time when they first read Marquez. The significance of One Hundred Years of Solitude as an eye opener was in many ways greater than the work itself.

To a large extent, this novel serves as a symbol of the emancipation of mind. It liberated novelists from the solitude and narrow-mindedness that the domination of class struggle ideology had forged in the previous decades.

Novelists are supposed to be much more imaginative than ordinary people and so should be more insightful into life. Yet, Chinese writers then were tightly bound, as the rest of the society was, by the "class struggle", which was held up as the answer to everything during the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976).

I believe there won't be many readers nowadays who will spend much time reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. The youth who were born in the 1980s and 1990s are constantly bombarded by popular culture through the Internet and have an abundance of choice.

However, the shock Chinese novelists felt three decades ago is significant not just to that particular period in history. It is also meaningful today as it can remind us of how terrible it is to shut one's mind off from the outside world and how important the emancipation of the mind is, not just to writing fiction, but to everything we do in life.

Magic realism provides a different way of looking at life. The approach may be absurd but the human nature it exposes can be food for thought in many ways. Novelists should never underestimate the need to find a new approach to deconstruct or display the meaning of life to readers.

I believe that the emancipation of the mind was not just important to that particular generation, it is also important for the nation today. It makes a difference not just to a man of letters, but to anyone that cares about the quality of their lives.

Albert Einstein once said, "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning."

Only by always questioning what is seemingly right and reasonable will we be able to see beyond immediate interest.

Three decades ago when the country's economy was on the verge of bankruptcy, we needed to free our minds from the doctrines of the rigid "class struggle" theory to look at life from a different angle and to break the shackles of a planned economy to bring economic prosperity to this nation and its people.

Now when China's economy has jumped to be the second largest in the world and people have become much better off, what we urgently need to do is looking beyond the immediate economic gains toward a more sustainable growth and long-term political solidarity.

By publishing One Hundred Years of Solitude with copyright we can trace the track of what Chinese literature has achieved in the past three decades. In the same way, by looking back along the road this nation has traveled over the same period, we can be clear about where we are now and where we should go.

Breakthroughs can never be made unless we have enough courage and vision to go beyond the stereotyped understanding of everything.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. E-mail:

(China Daily 07/07/2011 page8)


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