Respect for our Juniors (aka, The Kids are All Right)
By Eric Abrahamsen, published January 30, 2009, 5:18a.m.
Some publishers came to talk about a manuscript, and left me one of their own books as a sample of their work. The writer's name is Feng Tang, both of which characters you can find in the Hundred Names [a compendium of the most common surnames in China]. My guess is that his father was surnamed Feng and his mother surnamed Tang; I've met other people who got their names that way. The title of the book is You Live and Live and Then You're Old (活着活着就老了), which caught my eye. I looked through it and it's excellent, I couldn't put it down once I'd started, and read it all the way through in a day and a half.
Apart from a few later pieces about Beijing and Hong Kong that weren't that good, and apart from a few places where the same phrases were used repeatedly in different essays (was the writer too busy to read the whole thing through before publication?), and apart from some harsh evaluations of Wang Xiaobo, the book was very, very good.
In it he mentioned laughing out loud twice while reading Wang Xiaobo's books. Reading someone's books and laughing however many times: I'll borrow this phrase, and say that I laughed out loud seven or eight times while reading his book. I developed asthma after I came back to China in 1988, and though it got better it never entirely went away: I have an athsma attack every time I have a laughing fit; listening to crosstalk is a risky business for me. This book nearly did me in; there were eight times I almost had an attack. If I ever have the opportunity to meet this person I'll have a bone to pick with him.
In the book he divides writers into those who "spit out" one book, those who "spit out" two books, and those who "spit out" many books. His use of the word "spit" hit me like a thunderclap: I had once imagined that real literature might be in my future, but the word "spit" dispelled my fantasy for good. I asked myself if I really had anything I needed to spit out, and concluded that I should just stick to my sociology, and enjoy life in my spare time.
They say that the media is in the hands of the generation born in the 1970s. Of the people mentioned in Feng Tang's book, I've read the writing of Luo Yonghao [whose Bullog blog site was recently shut down] and He Caitou; they must be approaching 40 now. They're 20 years younger than us, a whole generation. They've already become the pillars of modern China's intellectual world; we should have respect for our juniors.