Life And Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan
It’s been a busy transition to Singapore. For the first time in four months, I finally have a chance to sit down and write a blog post. I started this book before the big move, but since coming to Singapore, life has been a whirlwind. Between work and traveling, my top two hobbies (reading and League) have fallen by the wayside. I’ve started reading again, and the temptations to restart leaguing are real. But my 4-year-old mac is doing a good job setting a high activation energy threshold.
This book was a long one. The plot is fairly slow, with almost no climax. It ended up being less political than I expected – although if I tried to read it with that intent, I’m sure it could have been. For me, it read more like a Chinese TV series.
1) “A frozen turnip must thaw out slowly. If you heat it, it will turn into mush.” – Old Zhang
This book is full of Chinese proverbs, which are the best kind of proverbs.
2) “‘Join the commune and stop working for yourself, end your quest for independence.'” – Hong Taiyue
Everything is on a spectrum. How different is this from joining a company?
3) “‘As a representative of a class that is marked for elimination, you could have shot me dead, but that would have made me a revolutionary martyr. The government would have then executed you, turning you into a counterrevolutionary martyr.'” – Hong Taiyue
The more history I learn and the more politics I read, the more I’m convinced that politics is just a pendulum. You can never please everyone, so there’s always a counter force that eventually becomes the dominant force. Rinse and repeat. Is it all a zero-sum game?
4) “‘My young friend, amassing wealth creates enemies, dispensing it brings good fortune. Enjoy life while you can, take your pleasure where you can, and when your wealth is gone, fortune will smile on you.'” – Zheng Zhongliang
Reminder that sometimes you gotta spend. Saving doesn’t make sense if you never end up spending.
5) “‘This street was here before the People’s Commune was created, and so were the air and the sun. They were given to all people and animals by the powers of heaven, and you and your People’s Commune have no right to monopolize them!'” – Lan Lian
Who has ultimate property rights?
6) “‘I just want to live a quiet life and be my own master. I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do.'” – Lan Lian
When you have no boss, your customer is your boss.
7) “‘Any campaign that lacks the participation of students lacks life. Add students, and things start to happen.”
Is it the lack of skin in the game? Money taints.
8) “People in the 1950s were innocent, in the 1960s they were fanatics, in the 1970s they were afraid of their own shadows, in the 1980s they carefully weighed people’s words and actions, and in the 1990s they were simply evil.”
I have never understood the notion that younger generations are always lazier and more terrible. I’m an optimist. I’m pretty sure this world is becoming a better place.
9) “Feigning madness is like a red veil that masks shame; when worn, it effectively covers up all scandals. Once madness appears, what else is there to say?”
I’ve yet to reconcile treating mental illness as a real illness and preventing people from hiding behind it.
10) “A series of rebirths had taught me one simple truth; when you come to a new place, learn the local customs and follow them.”
Very fitting. Of all the places I’ve been to, China has felt the most localized. There’s no desire to be like the west. There’s a Chinese way of doing things, and life is a lot easier if you follow it.
I enjoyed the subtle sarcasm throughout the book even though the story was dragged out for way too long. I also wish I had kept track of the characters better because it was honestly tough to follow the storylines across generations. Based on a sample size of 1, I prefer Yu Hua.