The world of a Chinese childhood

the book:

Cries in the Drizzle by Yu Hua

First published in China in 1991

[ Sun Guanglin’s grandfather shares his time between the homes of his two sons. After a month away he would return to the narrator's house]

At such moments, my big brother and I would race exuberantly towards him. Our little brother could only stand at the edge of the village and watch us as we ran, a smile of vicarious excitement on his face. Sun Youyuan’s eyes would brim with tears, and his hands would tremble as he ruffled our hair. In reality, our mad dash was inspired by sibling rivalry, not by any great delight at Granddad’s return. The umbrella in his hand and the bundle on his back were what triggered our enthusiasm: whoever was first to grab the umbrella was undisputed champion. There was once, I remember, when my brother seized the bundle as well as the umbrella, and them marched along at Granddad’s right side, proud as a peacock. I, on the other hand, was heartbroken to be completely empty-handed. On the short walk home, I kept complaining to Granddad about how unreasonable my brother was. “He’s got the bundle too!” I sobbed. “He took the umbrella, and then he took the bundle!”

observations: Yu Hua sounds like a lovely man. He says he became a writer because he was a dentist and noticed that people at the Cultural Center didn’t work nearly as hard as he did, though he must work quite hard still because he has produced a fair amount. The book has a young man (apparently of Yu Hua’s age) recounting his memories of childhood in a small Chinese village. Many of the anecdotes are familiar childhood tropes, but written in a fresh and fascinating way, especially for those of us who know little of Chinese life in those years – and who are probably missing layers of meaning, and references to Chinese politics. All the family relations in the book are shown as harsh, and the grandfather above has a particularly bad time with his son, although the book is strangely bouncy and cheerful for all that. The writer Ha Jin says Yu Hua has a cold eye but a warm heart, which is about right. And then, how dumbed down would it be to suggest that drizzle is not a good word for the English title? - as it summons up a comfy lemon cake to most people, not a slightly miserable rainshower.

Yu Hua’s most famous book is
To Live, a huge bestseller all over the world, which was made into an award-winning and stunning film. Asked what he thought of the film, Yu Hua said that Zhang Yimou was a wonderful director, because he paid for the rights to the book on time.

Links up with: childhood point of view
here and here. The Casson children loved their grandfather, and umbrellas are important here and here.

The photograph is from the
Smithsonian Institute.


  1. Can't agree with you about drizzle, I'm afraid. I have been hearing that word almost daily recently, spoken not by bakers but weather forecasters!


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