Chronicle of a Blood Merchant

Reflecting the trials and tribulations of a people or generation through the experiences of an individual is a well-worn literary and cinematic device.

But it is effective, nevertheless, particularly if the subject is China's traumatic birth as a modern nation.

Yu Hua, one of China's best-known modern writers, has done just this in Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, which I can highly recommend not just to China junkies but to anyone looking for a good read.

In essence, Chronicle of a Blood Merchant is about the failings of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution to help improve the lot of ordinary Chinese, many of whom, like the main character Xu Sanguan, were forced to regularly sell blood to fend off one financial crisis after another.

Of course, blood is a potent symbol and the book has been interpreted as a damning critique of a political system in which the honest poor can only survive by resorting to the extreme measure of selling blood, so sapping their energy and, even, their very lives. The HIV crisis that is now rearing its head in modern China gives the story a chilling contemporary resonance.

But symbolism aside, the book is well worth reading as a tale of everyday people caught in a web of history, personal crises and traditions. My only criticism is the English translation — the frequent use of US English vernacular grates, at least with this Brit. Nevertheless, highly recommended.