To Live Book Summary And Characters – Yu Hua

To Live Book Summary And Characters - Yu Hua
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To Live, a novel written by Chinese author Yu Hua in 1993. To Live narrates the difficulties experienced by Fugui, the son of a wealthy landowner, while also addressing a period in Chinese society where historical events caused and prolonged by the Chinese Revolution fundamentally changed the nature of the society. The contrast between his pre-revolution status as a selfish, idle rich man, literally riding on the shoulders of the oppressed, and his post-revolution status as a persecuted peasant, is quite pronounced.

Summary of To Live Book

To Live includes a total of 11 chapters and a preface from Yu Hua Summaries of all chapters of the book of To Live are as follows:

    Chapter 1

    While collecting popular folk songs in the countryside, the narrator, referred to as “I”, encounters an old man named Xu Fugui who talks to an ox. With only one ox present, he shouts the names of six or seven oxen, so “I” engages in conversation with him, initiating a discussion about his past. As the son of a landowner, Fugui identifies himself as the prodigal son of the Xu family. He spends most of his life in gambling dens and brothels. He also mistreats his pregnant wife, Jia Zhen. She chooses to kneel and beg Fugui to come home, but Fugui opts to throw Jiazhen out instead.

    Chapter 2

    Eventually, Fugui loses all of his family’s wealth to Long Er. To pay off his debt, Fugui’s father is forced to exchange their lands and houses for copper and allows Fugui to choose a way to pay off his gambling debt. Long Er becomes the owner of the lands and the house. Shortly after moving away from their family home, Fugui’s father sadly passes away. Jia Zhen, along with her unborn son, is taken away by a cart sent by Fugui’s father-in-law. Fengxia, Fugui’s eldest daughter, stays with the Xus.

    Chapter 3

    To support his family, Fugui leases five mu of land from the new owner, Long Er, and becomes a diligent farmer. Fugui also meets Changgen, a loyal former servant who has become a beggar since the Xu family’s downfall. However, he still refuses to stay with Fugui’s family. He gives a gift to Fengxia once and Fugui never sees him again. Finally, a few months later, Jiazhen returns with her newborn son Youqin. However, Fugui’s mother falls ill, and while Fugui searches for medicine for her, he is forcibly conscripted by the Nationalist Army.

    Chapter 4

    In the army, Fugui faces hunger, cold, and the threat of death. He experiences the brutality of the Chinese Civil War with Chunsheng and Old Quan. After serving in the army for about two years, Fugui is finally sent home by the Liberation Army. Years later, upon returning home, Fugui learns that his mother passed away months after he joined the army. High fever leaves his daughter Fengxia deaf and mute. During the land reform, the five mu of land he had leased before the war now belongs to him. During the reform, Long Er is executed as a landlord.

    Chapter 5

    To send Youqing to school, Fugui and Jiazhen decide to give Fengxia away to their families to marry. A few months later, Fengxia returns on her own because she misses her family. Fugui doesn’t want his daughter to leave because he realizes how much he loves her. In 1958, people’s communes are established. Most of the family’s possessions (land, animals, etc.) are confiscated by the village. The Great Leap Forward also begins, with villagers’ iron objects, including pots, being confiscated to be melted down.

    Chapter 6

    Unfortunately, Jiazhen contracts “soft-bone” disease and her condition worsens day by day. She can hardly stand or work. Meanwhile, Fugui’s family accidentally produces steel and receives praise from the team leader.

    Chapter 7

    The commune shuts down the canteen, leading to starvation in the village and town. Many people can’t even eat a single grain of rice for months – Jiazhen’s father supports the Xus with a bag of rice, with basic needs and shells the Xus survive.

    Chapter 8

    After the harvest, things improve. However, Youqin dies from excessive blood donation to prevent the county magistrate’s wife from losing too much blood. When Fugui discovers that the magistrate is his old friend Chunsheng, he can’t bring himself to take revenge. A crying Jiazhen, refusing the ban, also refuses compensation from Chunsheng for Youqing. Years later, the Cultural Revolution begins.

    Chapter 9

    Fengxia marries Erxi, a crooked-headed man. However, he is a reliable and considerate man. Each member of the Xu family is happy with their marriages.

    Chapter 10

    As the Cultural Revolution intensifies, the Red Guards punish the team leader and county magistrate Chunsheng as “capitalist roaders”, accusing them of oppressing and despising the people and peasants. Chunsheng sneaks in to see the Xus once and Jiazhen forgives him, telling him to choose to live and “You still owe us a life, you must stay alive to repay it.” However, after a month of torture, Chunsheng commits suicide. After that, Fengxia and Erxi return to serve the elderly Fugui and Jiazhen. Fengxia later gives birth to her first son Kugen.

    Chapter 11

    Fengxia dies from bleeding in childbirth. Shortly after, Jiazhen passes away. Fugui moves to town and lives with Kugen and Erxi. When Kugen is four years old, Erxi is killed by two concrete blocks. After that, Fugui is forced to live in the village with his only remaining family, his grandson Kugen. Fugui saves up a small sum of money and names an old ox bought by the butcher to accompany him “Fugui”.

    To Live All Characters

    Narrator “I”: A popular folk song collector who encounters and listens to the story of Fugui, a rural resident, and records it.

    Xu family’s Xu Fugui: The main character of the book. As the son of a landowner, Fugui spends his youth in a luxurious lifestyle, indulging in gambling and relationships with prostitutes. After losing everything to gambling and overcoming all difficulties, Fugui becomes an honest and compassionate peasant. The story also narrates how events like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution affect Fugui’s and the Xu family’s lives. At the end of the story, Fugui is alone in the field with only one ox.

    Yu Hua comments on Fugui: “After suffering much pain and hardship, Fugui is deeply attached to the experience of suffering. Therefore, there is really no room in Fugui’s mind for ideas like ‘resistance’ – he is simply living to live. I have never known anyone with as much respect for life as Fugui. Despite causing more deaths than most people, he continues to live.”

    Jiazhen: Fugui’s wife and the mother of Fengxia and Youqing. Jiazhen is the daughter of rice merchant Chen Ji. After Fugui loses all family wealth, Jiazhen initially leaves. However, upon learning that Fugui has stopped gambling, she returns to support Fugui, enduring all hardships and difficult tasks alongside him, no matter what kind of challenges lie ahead. Despite all the struggles and difficulties, she never complains, being a caring and determined woman, but she dies from soft bone disease as a result of losing both her son and daughter.

    Xu Fengxia: Fugui and Jiazhen’s daughter, Youqing’s older sister. Fengxia becomes deaf and mute due to a fever, but she is as beautiful and caring as her mother. This hardworking and caring girl later marries Erxi happily. However, after a short period of happiness, she dies while giving birth, losing her son Kugen in the process.

    Xu Youqing: Fugui and Jiazhen’s son. Due to the difficult family situation, Youqing learns to take responsibility and help the family from a young age. The long distance between school and home makes him a great runner, and it earns him the affection of the physical education teacher. This kind child later dies from donating too much blood to the county magistrate’s (Chunsheng’s) wife.

    Wan Erxi: Fengxia’s husband. Erxi is a crooked-headed construction worker. This quiet and honest man deeply loves his wife Fengxia and decides to live only for his son after her death. Erxi later dies in a construction accident.

    Kugen: Fengxia and Erxi’s son. After the death of both parents, Kugen starts living with his grandfather Fugui and cannot escape poverty. He dies from choking on the beans prepared for him by Fugui.

    Other Characters of To Live

    Long Er: A gambler who comes after the Japanese surrender. He takes over Mr. Shen’s place as the town’s best gambler. After Fugui loses all his belongings to him, Long Er also takes the Xu family’s house. Long Er is eventually executed as a landlord during the Chinese Land Reform Movement.

    Chunsheng: A young boy whom Fugui meets on the battlefield. There is a good friendship between Fugui and Chunsheng. He later becomes the county magistrate. He forces students to donate blood to save his wife, the principal. Youqing dies from excessive blood loss. He makes a lot of effort to gain forgiveness from Fugui and Fengxia. Later on, Chunsheng is labeled as anti-government during the Cultural Revolution and commits suicide.

    Old Quan: A former soldier whom Fugui meets in the artillery battalion. He is a deserter who has escaped seven times. Whenever he deserts from one unit, he is usually captured by another unit shortly afterward. Old Quan, Fugui, and Chunsheng support each other when their unit is besieged by the Liberation Army. He dies accidentally on the battlefield.

    Team Leader: The person responsible for the production and management of the village. He is accused during the Cultural Revolution. He also arranges Fengxia and Erxi’s marriage.

    “Fugui” the Ox: An old ox purchased by Xu Fugui from the butcher, pleading for mercy. Thus, the ox spared from the butcher’s knife actually serves as a backup of Xu Fugui himself, as a survivor of the harsh realities and pressures, akin to Xu Fugui.

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