“It Provides Some Understanding of Unpleasant Memories of the Past”: AUC Student Weiyue Tian Shares His Favourite Book from Home

By Natalia Zalega

Illustration by Sabine Besson

AUC’s 900 students come from more than 60 countries. Natalia Zalega has talked to several of them, all coming from different parts of the world, and asked them to share a book that reminds them of a broadly defined home. A piece of literature that they think is representative of their country. The conversations involve the importance of language, nature, history, political situation, and personal family stories. Join the journey through AUC’s cultural diversity via the intimate conversations about literature. Today: Second-year Humanities student Weiyue Tian from China shares his story about the book “Big Breasts and Wide Hips” (original title: 丰乳肥臀) by Mo Yan.

“I would say that my national identity is culture-based rather than ethnicity-based. I am not 100% Chinese; my father is Mongolian. However, I feel a really strong sense of belonging to my community.”

Weiyue Tian
Weiyue Tian reading an excerpt from “丰乳肥臀” by Mo Yan

Translation of the quote: “Where there’s life, death is inevitable. Dying’s easy; it’s living that’s hard. The harder it gets, the stronger the will to live. And the greater the fear of death, the greater the struggle to keep on living.” – Mo Yan

“The book that I chose is “Big Breasts and Wide Hips”. It tells the story of two families across different generations from World War II to modern-day China. A long-life span of different people and changes happening in the society. The last century was quite remarkable for my country. We went from a rather primitive society to what it is now, but the path was not easy. This book depicts it.

It is very brutally realistic; it is not something that anybody could read. It requires a certain maturity. The part that moved me most was the story of a mother that did not have enough food to feed her children. She worked with the corn processor, so she swallowed the corn without chewing it. When she came back, she forced herself to puke it back and made porridge from it for children. This captures how hard the situation was back in the 1960s.

After all, the brutality of the book was not the hardest for me. When you are younger, you tend to think about the world in simplistic manners. If you are good to other people, it will return. But the world is much more complicated. Sometimes very good people meet ugly ends. It challenged my understanding of the world.

Most of the characters in the book didn’t give up no matter what, and I believe this is what made my country. We are the ancient civilization, and this is what kept us for so long, resistance and hard work. I can relate to this quite well.

This book is about a mother’s love. It is a story of a mother of nine children, which was very common in the 1920s, my great-grandmother also had nine children. Each of them chose a very different pathway. One joined the revolution, one worked for the Japanese, and got executed after the war. Each character is very distinctive to their time. The book covers Anti-Imperialist Revolution, Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War and the Communism Reform, the Cultural Revolution. All the characters play a different role in these events and the mother still loves all of them. Yet, in the end, it is heartbreaking to see that all of them parted ways.

My history and culture are encapsulated in this book. Each character’s personality demonstrates how people from my culture tend to act. There is an argument between two people whether they should work for the Japanese – who were the invaders. One of them argued that to keep the family safe they should work for them. The other person was more concerned about all people of the country. You can see both sides of the debate whether you should sacrifice the interests of a small group to benefit a larger community. In this book, each character has a different mindset. Although they contradict each other, all of them are very understandable considering my culture.

I was born in 2000, and the book was written in 1998. I never had a chance to relive the past. But for someone who has been through this history, it can be very heavy. It was for my grandpa. For me, it provides some understanding of the unpleasant memories of the past.

My dad got the book in 2005, but I wasn’t allowed to read it. You can tell by the suggestive title that I should not read it, especially coming from Asian culture. The first time I read it in my junior year of high school, I felt like it was an excellent story, although harsh and heartbreaking. The second time, two years ago, I was speechless. I was able to comprehend more, I was more mature. I felt like part of me has done something very wrong. I felt a void because I was not aware of the brutal past. For the first time, it felt real. I felt like I should have known this, and yet I was so unaware.”

Editor’s note: This article is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was written, edited, and fact-checked by students of the journalism course. Some content may have been altered by The Herring’s editors for clarity and style.

Find the first part of the series here:

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