Around the World in Words: China

Chinese stereotypes boil down to noodles and Kung Fu. The Chinese are decidedly great at both, and as I’m fond of all kinds of cuisine and martial arts, these are stereotypes well worth indulging in.

I have no idea whether the dim sum and noodle bowls you find in numerous Asian-themed restaurants in South Africa are typical, accurate, or faithful, but they taste amazing, so the Chinese have certainly inspired a host of great flavours.

Invariably, my travels around the world in words make me consider the movies I’ve watched from the various countries, and China is no exception. Wuxia films beautifully blend martial arts and fantasy as displayed in movies such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers, which made me fall in love with the genre.

China also brings to mind pandas and dragons; but of course, the country is far more than its stereotypes, and there’s more to these stereotypes than the broad pictures I’ve painted. A great example is a recent film I stumbled upon, entitled Revenge of the Green Dragons. Before I hit play, I thought I’d be watching a fun martial art flick, but instead received a hard-hitting docudrama about Chinese immigrants in the United States.

After the book I read for my challenge, Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu, I didn’t think it could get any harsher. Murong Xuecun’s book, while not as brutal as the docudrama, is nevertheless a hard look at modern Chinese life, centred in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu. The characters are not likable – they’re a far cry from the heroes of romantic wuxia films – and consequently it made for a tough read.

Despite this, and thanks to the taut pace, I finished the book quite quickly; or perhaps I just wanted to get away from the characters as quickly as possible. In its rawness, it’s undeniably real. I wouldn’t list it as one of my favourites, but it certainly had worthy, if somewhat bleak, comments to make, and although there is mention of bamboo shoots, tofu, and green tea, it helped me move beyond the stereotypes I’ve grown accustomed to.

“Life; if there was no hope, where would we find the strength to live?” – Murong Xuecun

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