A note from the translator:
I regard Mr. Yan Lianke as the Papa Hemmingway of China. In his speech on accepting the Franz Kafka Award for Literature in Prague, he cites a lot of personal experience including some truly great stories, which I can see Mani telling in Mandali Hall, or applauding if told by others.
This author is a venerable character for me, so I have left this document free of any comments of my own. I believe this will be enjoyed by those interested in contemporary Chinese literature, Chinese culture, the Chinese mass mind, good stories, Meher Baba’s Manifestation, or the art of witching energy off the dark side, at which this author is a past master.
Avatar Meher Baba ki Jai,
The Full Text of Mr. Yan Lianke’s Speech on Receiving the Franz Kafka Award for Literature, Prague, 22 Oct 14
Translation from the Chinese: Mike Pettingill, web handle Vishveshwar
Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, and my respected judging panel:
From a certain perspective, authors live for the remembrance and feelings of people and humanity. For this reason remembrance and feelings make us become enthusiastic writers.
And also for this reason as I stand here I start to think about the so-called “Three years of natural disasters” that transpired from 1960-62, more than 50 years ago, in the fading twilight of the “human disaster” that then shocked the world, and the nightfall and autumn wind in my destitute and lonely village in central China, and moreover of the surrounding village barricade that the wars had made like a city wall. At that time I was only a few years old, and following my mother to throw garbage at the foot of the barricade, my mother took my hand, and pointing to the pieces of Guanyin (white) clay and the scattered bits of yellow clay that had been applied to the barricade, said, “Child, you must remember that when people are tormented by hunger to the point of death, this Guanyin clay and elm bark can be eaten, but if they eat that yellow clay or the bark of any other tree, it will only make them die faster.”
Having spoken her piece, my mother returned home to prepare dinner. Her departing form was like a sheet of dried leaves blown by the wind. And as for me, standing before that stuck-on edible clay, and gazing at the setting sun, the cottages, the fields, and the twilight, a huge curtain of darkness slowly appeared before my eyes.
Because of this, I became a person who most feels the darkness.
Because of this, I prematurely remembered a word: torment – its meaning is to be persecuted by inherited suffering in darkness.
At that time, every time I was hungry and pulled at my mother’s hand begging for food, it only made my mother speak this word: torment. Then I could just see an indistinct expanse of darkness.
At that time, the lunar New Year festival was especially for children, and my father, like many other fathers, whenever they caught sight of us elder and younger children, in preparing to cop happy faces because the Near Year festival was coming, they would speak this word under their breaths: torment. Then I would steal away from my father and hide in bleak loneliness and in the obscure darkness in the depths of my heart, never again being happy that New Year’s was coming.
At that time, life and survival weren’t the important things for the Chinese; it was revolution that was the great matter for the nation. And when the revolution required mother and father to walk the streets carrying red banners and yelling, “Long live Chairman Mao!” , my mother and father and most of the villagers would twist their heads back and willy-nilly mutter this word: torment. And as for me, whenever I heard this, I had to see the descent of a black curtain before my eyes, like dark night falling in broad daylight.
Thus I prematurely understood that darkness is not only a kind of color, but it is also the nature of life. It is China’s inescapable destiny and its method of inheriting its destiny. Afterwards when I went into the military, and left that destitute village, and left the earth that gave me birth and raised me, no matter what happened in my life, there could always be the descent of that black curtain before my eyes. And so I, standing behind that curtain, took that inherited darkness and used it to oppose darkness, in the same way as using the force of inherited suffering to oppose the suffering of people.
Of course China is not today what it was in the past, and its change to prosperity is wonderful, because it has provided adequate means of subsistence and disposable income for a population of 1.3 billion, like a sudden glaring light-beam, sparkling througout Asia. But beneath this glaring beam of light, it’s as if the more it glares, the deeper its shadow becomes, and along with that the darkness develops and deepens in the same way. Some feel well provided for, bright, and euphoric in that radience, and some due to natural depressiveness, worry, and unrest, feel the shadow beneath the radience, and the chill and gloom of enveloping fog and mist.
And as for me, I am that person who is predestined to feel darkness. And because of that, when I look at contemporary China, I find it vigorous but also twisted, developed but also mutated, corrupt, absurd, chaotic and disorderly, and that what happens on a daily basis goes beyond the normal sentiments and common sense of humanity. The emotional order that has been established by humanity over thousands of years , the ethical order, and the degree of dignity, are disintegrating, collapsing, and dissipating, as if the ground rules of the law were degraded to the jump ropes and elastic bands of childrens’ games. In discussing the country’s reality by the light of an author’s eye, it all seems to be not up to par, inadequate and woefully threadbare, so with respect to that author’s speech, because there is no improvement, but rather continuous worsening, all increasing in intensity — the new difficulties of survival in people’s most specific issues of drink, food, housing, transportation, and in medicine, nurture, birth, and old age, cause all the diverse popular feelings of all sentient beings ((that Buddhist term exactly – vshr)), and their emotions and souls, to be excited by hitherto unfelt worry, dread, and unrest, in the eyes of that author. They look forward to anything, and fear anything, just like a critically ill patient anticipating an imaginary dose of good medicine, but while thirsting and hoping for the good medicine to arrive as quickly as possible, are also worried that after it arrives their false hopes will be dashed, which will be followed by the descent of death. The unrest and dread from this kind of expectation has brought about a worrisome state of mind in the people which has not previously existed.
Nobody ever told that author where that high speed train of economic development would take the people.
Nobody also ever told that author, even up until today, whether what the diverse revolutions and campaigns that have not stopped for a century would brew on top of the individual’s head would be a dark cloud, a clap of thunder, or a flash of lightning that could split open dark clouds.
Even more what nobody could tell that author is what kind of price would have to be paid to transform popular opinion, human nature, and human dignity, after substituting communism, capitalism, and democratic ideals for money and authority.
I recall when I repeatedly visited that AIDS village over ten years ago. That village had a population of over 800, but over 200 of them were AIDS victims, and in that year, most ofthem were laborers between the ages of 30 and 45. The reason that a large group of them were infected with AIDS was that they wanted to become prosperous in the midst of the revolution, and in order to rise to better lives, they organized to sell their blood collectively. In that village, death was like the setting of the sun, it was necessary and inevitable, and the darkness was like the sun being perpetually fallen from the sky, long and eternally. And as for my experience there, every time I recall it, every time that in reality I see dazzling radience and bright color, it all can become huge shadows and darkness that make me unable to escape from them, that envelop me in their midst, so that there is no place to which to flee.
I know that in that vast land which is full of chaos and opportunity, I am a redundant person.
I understand that in that vast land which is full of chaos and opportunity, I am a redundant author.
But I firmly believe that in that in that vast land which is full of chaos and opportunity, me and my writings, whether many or few, will have their irreplaceable meaning. Because I know that in that respect — life, destiny, and Providence, I am that person designated to only be capable, and only able to feel darkness — I am like that child who could see that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes, in the sunlight I can discover the shadow of a large tree, in the drama of joyful song I am standing on the other side of the curtain. When people are all talking about pleasantries, I am feel the chill; when people are all talking about luminosity, I see darkness, when people are all singing and dancing about good fortune, I have discovered that there are people tethering their feet, really wanting them to collectively stumble and be bound together. I have seen souls of men that are inconcievably ugly, I have seen the humiliation and great efforts of intellectuals in standing with straight spines reflecting independence; I have seen spiritual lives on the part of more Chinese, right when they were being hollowed out and disintegrated by the authorities.
So I have come to consider the 70 year old blind man living in our village, who at sunrise every day always faced Dongshan (Eastern Mountain), gazing at the rising sun, silently mumbling to himself like this: “Sunlight was originally black-colored, and that’s fine too!”
But what was even more bizarre was that this blind man from the same village, had several different flashlights since his youth, and every time he walked on the road at night, he always held a lit flashlight, and the darker the sky was the longer the flashlight in his hand was, and the brighter its light was. When he walked the pitch-black street late at night, people could see him from very far away, so they weren’t liable to run into him. Moreover whenever we had a brief encounter in going past him, he always lit up the road in front of you with his flashlight, allowing you to smoothly walk on very far, very far.
From this blind man’s person, I have come to appreciate a kind of writing — the darker it is, the lighter it also is; the more frigid it is, the warmer it also is. The whole existing meaning (of this kind of writing) is to make people evade its existence. So as for me and my writing, they are just that blind man shining his flashlight in the dark, walking in the midst of darkness, and using that limited brightness to illuminate the darkness, to cause people to see the darkness and so to avoid it and evade it purposefully and with goals, to the greatest extent possible.
In today’s global literature, Chinese literature which is important in the ecology of Asian literature, has never before developed in this way, encountering such a reality and world which is both full of hope and full of despair; never before has there been such an encounter, that in the midst of realities which are abundant, absurd, and monstrous, there are so many legends and stories — of the utmost ordinariness of the surreal; and the most authentic being the most dark and murky. There is no historical period in the Central Country of the East (China) that resembles this one, in that in the midst of unlimited brightness, no place is without cover-ups, shadows, and fuzziness. Today’s China seems to be the sun and radiance of the entire world, and yet it also has that which causes the world huge angst and dark shadows. And for those living there, on every day and in every hour there is always an unfathomable passion and an unfathomable uneasiness, a reasonless timidity and a reasonless rudeness.
What constitutes today’s China’s greatest shadow under the sunshine, and the greatest darkness in the bright places is the fear and forgetfulness in looking back to history, the anticipation and worry about the future, and in the present — the growing reality of being shaken to the core every day and every hour, the denial of common sense, of inner truth, of inner logic, of the absurdity of spiritualism, of the complexity and of the disorder which are not consistent with logic and which the average person cannot see. And with respect to authors and literature in the context of present Chinese historical reality, the great brightness that we see is also a kind of reality, the sound of the melodious songs that we hear is also a kind of reality; nihilism and aesthetics are also the existence of a kind of reality. China’s reality is a huge forest, and sunshine, lush green grass, flowers and plants, birds, brooks, every single one of them together are all existing realities and the eminent authors of the last several thousand years all felt in that forest a China that was both abundant and twisted, both contradictory and complicated, both flourishing and ripped apart, as they expounded their own truths in their writings.
I know that darkness is not merely of time, place and events, but is also of water, air, people, human nature and the most ordinary breath and existence of humanity. If we merely take darkness to be of the former, that is gigantic narrow-mindedness, however the genuine implicit and unlimited darkness is the darkness that all people do see, but they all talk about brightness just to feel good. The greatest darkness is people’s adaptation to darkness; the scariest darkness is the neglect and forgetfulness of the light by people in the midst of darkness. It’s just for this reason that literature has its greatness. This is because it is only when there is literature that we can discover the faintest light, beauty, warmth, and sincere love. Therefore I spare no effort in attempting to feel the life and breath of the people from within this darkness, to feel light, beauty, and that great sort of warmth and compassion; to feel the chill and heat of the soul’s hunger for being well-fed and well-clad.
Because this is how it is, having passed through “time, place, and events,” I have seen the most ordinary darkness in the midst of today’s reality — in this China of thousands of years of civilization, most of today’s people, when repeatedly coming upon elders fallen down in the street, no one gives aid for fear of extortion, when perhaps the elder initially started bleeding hot and red blood.
Because this is how it is, when a wife giving birth dies on the operating table, so that all the medical staff have made a clean getaway for fear of taking responsibility, the only thing left on the scene is the faint breath and piercing cries of a human soul.
Because this is how it is, when I myself experienced eviction from my home, I felt darkness that was more ordinary, more universal, and even more intense. And as for me, in confronting those times, the people involved, my ongoing life, and the darkness that cannot be driven away from reality and the world, I can only let the whole thick fog pervade my deepest heart, my life, and my styled writings — I percieve that world by means of my own style — and I also can only use my most personal style — to percieve and write of that world. I do not have the capacity to push open the window to see the illumination of the world, I do not have the strength to percieve through to an orderly existence with people, having come from within the history and reality of chaos and absurdity.
It’s down to the point that I say that I am just a person of darkness. I am an author who is dark from independence, and a writing ghost who is found disgusting by the light and driven out to the four quarters of the compass.
In coming this far, I have thought of Job of the Old Testament, who having undergone innumerable miseries, said to his wife as she cursed him: “Surely you don’t mean that having recieved good fortune from God’s hand, we cannot also recieve disaster?” This very simple answer makes clear that he understood his miseries, and that he was selected by God for a trial by fire; it makes it clear that the equal existence of light and darkness is a sort of necessity. And as for me, I’m not like Job, the only person chosen by God for a trial by fire. But I know that I am the person chosen and designated by Providence and life to feel darkness. I hide in the gloom on the margins of the light. In that gloom and darkness I feel the world, and take up my pen to write, and from the midst of gloom and darkness seek light, moonlight, and warmth, and seek love, and a good and an eternally lively spirit; and attempt to walk out of the darkness and to gain the sought-for light, through writing.
For me — that author for whom literature is the highest ideal and faith, no matter whether I’m working for my personal livelihood or for my existence as a writer, it’s all by virtue of the unrest decreed by my innate nature of feeling darkness in the midst of light. And also due to this, I thank the homeland of my blood, thanking it for allowing a person fated to only be able to feel darkness to exist and write; for permitting an individual who always stands behind the great curtain then to bring out perception about reality, history, and the existence of the human soul. Also due to this I add even greater thanks to the Kafka Literature Award judges, for giving me this white and pure award this year. Your giving of this reward to me is not the illumination and riches that Job reaped upon the exhaustion of the sequence of darkness and misery, but it is given to that servant feeling misery to whom the only award report jumped out — one ray of light for that blind man walking the road at night. Because of the existence of this one ray of light, that life henceforth is just for the faith of those feeling darkness, there is brightness before them. Due to that sheet of brightness, people are thus able to see the existence of darkness, and so can avoid darkness and misery with even greater effectiveness. And as for that personage being a servant or blind person, he can also on his advised night road, when people brush by him in passing, illuminate a part of their way forward — and have what fear that it will be a short stage on their journey?