Echoes of existence: redefining love, loss, and the intricacies of life in China via Yu Hua’s universe

An earthquake broke through my feed right as I wrapped up a training program — reporting from natural disasters and unrests.

It struck me, 98 minutes had slipped by — a duration that could fill novels with its silence. I reached for my phone and quickly texted, a reflex honed by intuition.

Taiwanese TV channels blared live footage; presenters stood firm amidst aftershocks, under precarious studio lights. Objects were plummeting from the ceiling.

They stayed, prioritising public safety over their own — a notion foreign here in Australia, where the emphasis lies on personal safety.

My ethic, shaped around sacrifice in work, love, and family, has been under scrutiny.

Living here, I’ve learned about boundaries. Watching a presenter risk harm for the job, I’d feel an unwelcome guilt for my needs being indirectly met at their expense.

In Asia’s competitive news scene, dedication also means stretching these boundaries for attention.

It could be a precarious balance. Prioritising safety can invite criticism, despite it being the right choice.

Years of political reporting have made my worldview complicated, especially noticeable after recently finishing The Seventh Day by Yu Hua.

To me, it speaks of love, class and a conventional belief of death. Humorously yet darkly, it suggests the game of over-giving and over-taking — just like the presenters — sometimes could be commonly misinterpreted.

“Do you know it? I think of you at night.”
“After you separated with him?”
“Yes… I had two marriages but only one husband in my life – that was you.”

The Seventh Day, Yu Hua

The woman was drawn to his “loyalty, kindness and honesty”.

She yearned for those qualities in return.

Yu’s narrative resonates, questioning the concept of conditions in love within the framework of a contemporary Chinese family, amidst political impacts and social expectations influencing every decision.

Class divides, tangled with power and wealth, create barriers preventing the working class from pursuing mobility even post-mortem.

However, this, we frequently describe as unconditional love for one another.

It’s a beautiful idea, yet fraught with misunderstandings, often mistaking fear and insecurity for love itself.

Love for someone or a job, I believe, should embody kindness, openness, and acceptance, not a boundless expectation.

What is love? A philosophical inquiry with countless interpretations. Yu’s book offers insight.

A parent reunites with their lost child.

An adopted child returns to his adoptive father.

A man is willing to give his entire savings to his wife upon her request for divorce.

Love should be only defined uniquely by each of us.

In Yu’s narrative, death also transforms into a play of dominance. It reflects solitude, destiny, and simultaneously, acts as a means for acknowledgment and absolution.

As former spouses come together again.

As the count of the departed is erased.

As the impoverished are divested of their sense of belonging.

Thus, the essence of death loses its significance, mirroring its antithesis — life.

The true meaning lies within who we are.

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