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Chinese author Yu Hua celebrates 40th anniversary of literary debut in Seoul

Visiting SIWF, the author discusses post-COVID side effects, career and Korean readers

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Sept. 11, 2023 - 22:34

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Chinese author Yu Hua speaks during a press event held in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap) Chinese author Yu Hua speaks during a press event held in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap)

Author Yu Hua, a prominent figure in Chinese literature, celebrated the 40th anniversary of his literary debut during a talk event held in Seoul on Friday where he reflected on his career and hinted on the upcoming works.

"I wasn't aware that it was the 40th anniversary of my literary debut until Prunsoop told me," Yu told reporters during a press conference held in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, Friday. Prunsoop, a local publishing company, has been introducing Yu's works to Korean readers since it first published a Korean translated version of the writer's novel "To Live" in 1996.

"I'm grateful for this celebration, because such events are not usually held in China. In China, if you have an event like this, people think, 'Perhaps the author has passed away.' In the future, I hope to visit Korea again for my 80th anniversary,” the 63-year-old writer said.

Yu, who is still recovering since contracting COVID-19 in December last year, said he has two stories on hold.

"I have two stories that I've had to put on hold because I am still suffering from some aftereffects of COVID-19. It has been hard to concentrate for a long time, and I find it difficult to sleep at night,” he said.

"One of them is relatively short and carries a comedic theme. Most of the characters in my previous works endure challenging lives, so I decided to explore something different with this one."

When asked if the other ongoing work features characters grappling with life's hardships, he responded with a smile, “Of course."

The English editions of The English editions of "To Live" (left) and "Chronicle of a Blood Merchant" by Yu Hua (Anchor)

Reflecting on his 40-year journey as a writer, Yu said, "I don't consider myself a writer who has worked exceptionally hard because I haven't produced a vast number of works. Upon my return to China, I plan to redouble my efforts in writing."

After making a debut as a writer in China in 1983, Yu made a global breakthrough with his full-length novel “To Live” (1993), which describes the struggles endured by the son of a wealthy landowner while historical events caused by the Chinese Revolution fundamentally alter the nature of Chinese society. The novel was adapted in into a film by Zhang Yimou and received the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994.

His subsequent work, "Chronicle of a Blood Merchant” (1995) is the story of a silk factory worker who sells his blood over the years to improve the lives of himself and his family members.

The Korean editions of The Korean editions of "To Live" (left) and "Chronicle of a Blood Merchant" by Yu Hua (Prunsoop Publishing Co.)

Expressing his fondness for Korean readers, Yu said, "Korean readers are among my favorite international readers because my works have found great success in this country."

"'To Live' is not only popular in China but also globally, yet I'm always intrigued by how 'Chronicle of a Blood Merchant' has garnered particular popularity in Korea.”

“Chronicle of a Blood Merchant” and “To Live” have sold over 250,000 and 100,000 copies here, respectively. The former was even made into a Korean film in 2015 by actor-director Ha Jung-woo, starring Ha and Ha Ji-won.

“Adapting it into a movie for a Korean audience might have been difficult due to cultural differences, but (Ha Jung-woo) managed to adapt it well,” Yu commented.

Yu came to visit Korea to speak at the opening ceremony of Seoul International Writers’ Festival, which kicked off on Friday. During the opening ceremony, Yu and Korean author Jeong Ji-a delivered a keynote speech under the theme of “Crossing the Bridge of Language.”

He was set to participate in a discussion co-hosted by Literature Translation Institute of Korea and Yonsei University on Monday.