Chronicle of a Blood Merchant – Yu Hua

Chronicle of a Blood Merchant
Twelve times, a hope,
Twelve times, a plea,
Twelve times, the letter ‘O’,
Thirty-five yuan, a stack,
Twelve times, it flowed,
The blood of a patriarch.

What would you do if money ran through your veins? The resource of currency was within you and as you breathe the stench of poverty, the crimson wealth mocked your deplorable life. What if the final hope of a venerable survival sailed in the profound metallic waves of warm blood? Would you, like Xu Sanguan let the crimson money flow into the cold exteriors of a beaker or let it darken within the emaciated carcass of life?


“Is it true that people who sell their blood are really healthy?”

The white puffy cocoons are meticulously sorted out with nimble fingers and then the high-quality ones are boiled in water for several minutes examining their subtle watery swirls. After the cocoons have been taken out of the water, a shiny dissecting needle is tenderly pierced picking up the silken strands as it is uniformly reeled around a pencil or related object. The reeled silk is then packed into small bundles and shipped to numerous silk factories. Blood was Sanguan’s silk. The robust needle released the dainty silken threads from Sanguan’s veins, as the splendour of life reeled into the comatose bottles. The crimson silk was pulled out from the socio-political cocoon of adversity. Blood was Sanguan’s sole wealth, his solitary path to becoming an honourable man.

Medically, blood is termed to be a fluid that transports oxygen and nutrients to the cells and removes waste matter from the same cells. Humanly, Sanguan’s blood stayed true to its responsibility too. It imparted oxygen to the collapsing lives around him and eradicated the squalor of destitution. Although, blood selling is conventionally illegal in China, yet for decades the country has witnessed the proliferation of blood-selling black markets mushrooming in every corner of the country, especially its countryside, thus compensating excess currency for blood. China considers blood-selling as a societal failure. There have been genuine cases till date that expose the underbelly of blood-marketing and the despondency of poverty-ridden families. A societal failure, is that the ultimate inference? What sort of circumstances led to this bloody chaos? Did the government even bother to investigate the root cause of this blood selling commotion? Or then as always turned a blind eye to the festering poverty? An impoverished life that has been robbed till the last crumb of sustainable resources, yet advised to be resilient, how will it feed the hungry stomach? When the political elites indulge in pompous propaganda about their country attaining the top rung of the socio-economic ladder, do the government even bother to glance at those who still dwell in the squalor of the lowest rung? For a humble, simple cart-pusher at a silk factory who slowly disintegrated encumbering in the infinite shadows of poverty, blood was the ever growing “money tree”. The energy that came from blood was more valuable than the one which came from the muscle. The “sweat money” that arrived from toiling the fields was able to merely diminish the pangs of starvation. On the other hand, the “blood money” bestowed the luxury of affording a wife and buying a house. Blood had become more precious than a bumper crop in the impecunious existence of the rural areas.

When poverty spews venom into the land, annihilating the crops and dependent lives, the human body is the solitary hope for a dignified survival. Villages ravaged by extreme poverty, lands being snatched by existing hypocritical governmental policies and the ironical fate of human dignity muddled amid socio-political pandemonium; poverty had even passed through the corridors of the city. For Xu Sanguan and the numerous rural folks, blood became their lone possession, something that they essentially owned and would not be snatched or demolished by their country elites. Blood was like that “water well” which never ran dry and could always quench the thirst of the needy. Readers of this book, may not agree to the ways of Xu Sanguan, but in a land where one witnesses his children howl with hunger, the bones of his loved ones protruding from their shriveled skin, the very symbol of a robust patriarch fading helplessly in an impecunious abyss and when life around you crumbles into the circling sphere of despair, one is compelled with desperation to look for indescribable resolutions. Only when one reaches to the edge of desolation, one tries to find a way back to safety. Blood safeguarded Xu Sanguan and his family and thus he was not ashamed of its usage. Blood restored reverence and dignity in Sanguan’s life and where money failed, it was those several bowls of blood that remunerated dignity binding the fragments of a collapsing life simultaneously.


“My dad used to tell me when I was little that your blood is passed down from your ancestors. You can sell fried dough, sell a house, sell off your land, but can never sell your blood…………Selling your blood is like selling your ancestors………”

Were Xu Yulan’s accusations of Sanguan selling his ancestors accurate? Was the act of selling blood insulting to one’s ancestors? In what way did Sanguan become a criminal, when his blood saved the cherished lives of his descendants? Did Sanguan commit a sin, when he sold his blood, so that his children could for once take pleasure in slurping hot noodles, rather than starving themselves on watery corn flour gruel? Was Sanguan immoral when his ‘ blood money’ bought rice and meat to his hapless wife as she stood in the blazing sun, malnourished and crouched under the heaviness of being publicly labelled as a prostitute? Did Sanguan really offend his ancestors when he became a symbol of a sincere patriarch by taking care and saving his family from the most adverse circumstances?

Yu Hua’s dark humour –The Chronicle of Blood Merchant primarily revolves around the trials and tribulations of Xu Sanguan, his wife- Xu Yulan and three sons (Yile, Erle and Sanle), as the family endures a changing Chinese Society through the political storms of The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; where blood was made as watery as the corn flour gruel to nourish a famished existence and maturity was not gained through the growth of life but by the loss of it.

The ostentatious big-character posters that were plastered on every street corner during the Mao dominant Cultural Revolution era fascinated Yu Hua and were the source of his literary aspirations. Yu Hua once said:-“This is the earliest genuine literature I read. On the street, in front of big-character posters, I began to like literature.” Resembling an artistic satirical poster, Yu Hua’s novel stays faithful to its titular plot. In the course of Sanguan’s resilient journey, Yu Hua articulates the element of critical realism through literary depictions of social changes, highlighting diverse themes of family, acceptance, resilience, sacrifice and impoverished survival. Xu Sanguan’s affectionate acceptance of Yile during the tussle stuck between nature and nurture; Xu Yulan’s makeover from the exquisite “Fried Dough Queen” to an industrious wife who vigilantly calculated every ‘fen’ that entered her home; Sanguan’s sons who faced their own internal conflicts while surviving in external adversities and Sanguan’s vital sacrifice of his own blood for the well-being of his family. The hospital plays a crucial role in the deciding factor of the novel as it becomes a sort of a heavenly sanctuary for Xu Sanguan where he finds a breathing space from every merciless and sadistic calamity. Yu Hua’s characters explode bursting through the printed words, becoming animated through their sorrows and epigrammatic happiness binding all individualistic characters into a family as a sturdy principal unit. One can hear the poignant song of Sanguan’s blood as it trickles into the highly hung bottle; the fragrance of juicy braised pork that Sanguan’s cooks through his mouth, painfully stings the heart; Yile’s copious tears that fly through the streets, Xu Yulan’s public and personal defamation and the whimpers of impoverished populace pleading the Blood Chief Li to help them make money; generate a few heart wrenching moments. Through the web of wispy threads reeled out from the cottony gloves, the echo of melancholic survival bathed in red gold.


“All I want is fried pork livers and yellow rice wine………”

The gains of nationalistic fervor, the vivid socialist dreams, the communist farce of equality; all these agendas are non-existent in an ordinary life. A common man who toils from daybreak to sunset does not care about the bickering of politics; all he cares is about bringing ample food to the table and see his children grow in a liberated world of contentment. He wants his country to flourish but fears the persecution of his family’s well-being. All Xu Sanguan desired was to breathe a blissful life with Xu Yulan and his three sons. All Genlong wanted was to marry his beloved woman and the rural folk in China yearned to provide a healthier life for their kin. For men, whose foreign language skills were restricted to couple alphabets relating to varied blood groups (A, AB, O, B…), the felonies of their administration flowed through the streams of their blood. The aroma of fried pork livers and the tingle of warm rice wine blended in the corroded smell of the blood; the pious meal that too came for the price of blood. The modest meal of pork livers and wine had been embedded deep into Sanguan’s blood cells and in the end its cravings haunted Sanguan, decades later in a much freer Chinese society, for the reason that selling blood had become Sanguan’s weapon in the war of poverty and humiliation and the subsequent meaty feast, a reward for winning the war.

I’m privileged for not having to experience the malice of poverty. I’m fortunate enough to have only seen my blood flow in mere couple drops and not like an angry river. Sadly, I truthfully know that there are several Sanguans, Ah Fengs and Genlongs with bursting bladders queuing in the sinister shadows of a medical clinic, wondering if their blood will fetch them a serving of fried pork liver and warm rice wine and maybe the child’s school fees. I can hear a steady affirmation from Xu Sanguan, after all we do share the same letter ‘O’.

4/5****

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