[VIEWPOINT]As the world turnsIn “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress,” a novel by Dai Sijie, a Chinese writer who now works in France, two Chinese boys are expelled to a secluded village in the mountains because their parents were defined as enemies of the people during the Cultural Revolution. They are forced to carry human waste to a farm field for a living. How tiring the boys’ lives must be, after having lived in the big city of Chengdu. Even so, there is pure romance, humor and a love of books in the novel. It is a truly interesting book.
The most impressive scene in the novel is the part in which the boys, returning from watching a movie in a big village, tell the story to the villagers in exactly the same time as the running time of the movie. It took them four full days to make the trip to and from the village, and during those four days, they were excused from the labor of lugging containers of human waste. As they had to reenact the film as interestingly as possible to make the village headman and villagers allow them to travel again to watch more movies, both boys must have made a great effort. Of course, the boys’ effort came to fruition.
What is interesting is that the most popular of all the movies they told of was a North Korean film, “The Little Flower Girl.” A Chinese intellectual said that the wave of Korean culture, or Hallyu, swept into China a long time ago, and the “Korean wave of a long time ago” that he mentioned may have been the very wave of North Korean movies.
I have never watched “The Little Flower Girl,” but it must have been a sad movie to jerk tears from the Chinese people. This must be so because this movie appears again in “Waiting,” a novel by Chinese writer Ha Jin that I read recently. In this novel, Ha Jin writes cynically of the movie that the actors and actresses shed tears from the beginning to the end without any plot, yet he acknowledges that the movie turned the seats into a sea of tears.
Watching “the Little Flower Girl” may have been a precious cultural experience to the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution. Therefore, Dai Sijie and Ha jin may have borrowed this movie from the aspect of customs that showed well what the period was like.
I once read the novel “The Little Flower Girl.” It was in 1989 when I was a freshman in college. At that time, I read a variety of North Korean novels. I did so because I could not understand the reasons that I should not, but I did not get fully absorbed in them like the Chinese people I wrote of above. A few years ago, I reread the North Korean novels, including “The Little Flower Girl,” “The Sea of the People” and “the Destiny of a Self-defense Guard.” At that time, what caught my eye were numerous metaphors and descriptions. They were written elaborately as if their sentences had been rewritten many times. Why did I fail to pay attention to such figurative depictions in 1989?
A few days ago, I read a book on the history of the Russian Revolution that nobody now reads. In this book, published long after the fall of the former Soviet Union, Mannheim is quoted as saying, “Politics cannot become a science.” In other words, his argument is that because Marxism and Leninism belong to politics, they are not sciences but ideologies.
The word “scientific” was the adjective that I most frequently heard as a freshman. That is why the saying that politics cannot become a science sounds heart-aching to me now.
Everything in the world changes. There will not be many Chinese people today who would shed tears while watching “The Little Flower Girl.” Likewise, I cannot now read the novel “The Little Flower Girl” in the same manner as I did in 1989. I have changed and so has the world. Everything has changed, but an unchangeable fact is that this world should be changed to become a better place to live in. It is only for this reason that the world changes.
In this respect, I sometimes feel a little empty when hearing of the remarks or behavior of politicians. I sincerely ask them to believe in the improved level of people’s awareness and earnestly seek ways for us to live better.
* The writer is a novelist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Yeon-soo