The bow moved horizontally gently tickling the erhu, the melody of a folk song lingered amongst the chilly air as it fleeted through several blank stares, hopeful hearts and frail bodies. The bones shivered in the starry night while the robust voice of Ma Xianglin danced to the tunes of the fiddle; the smell of stale blood fading in the stench of a blood merchant. As Ma Xianglin sang, the bright-red bridal jacket matched wits with Lingling’s cheeks as they blushed to Ding Liang’s flirty stares. As Ma Xianglin sang, Li Sanren saw his fate in the red sesame dots plastered on his arm; the grunting of a pig made Zhao Xiuqin quiver at thought of the animal feasting on her last rice bag. The anxiousness of finding a cure prevailed in the vindictive heavens, the wrinkles on Grandpa Ding’s forehead deepened like the concave shadows of the coffins. As Ma Xianglin sang, Ding Village trembled as the blood thickened. Faces popping out through serpentine lines, hopeful souls jutting out blood- filled veins, feeding the hungry mouth of a needle; the scent of money coagulating in the sharp odour of fresh blood, the optimism of a better life floating in the swirls of endless blood streams, the remnants of fate engraved on the discarded cotton balls. The cry of a child piercing through the brick walls, as its parents shook their “blood tree”. The people of Ding Village had found a treasure which flowed within their bodies. Gazing into a bloody puddle, there I stood watching my own reflection amid the squalor and chaos wondering about my survival in this battle between life and death, only to it being trampled by Ding Hui’s greedy grin. The puddle was gone, so was my reflection and gone was the blood from the veins; the fiddle had stopped playing but Ma Xianglin’s melodies lingered through the lanes of the Ding Village and I was still standing on the barren land, whiffs of rusty blood emitting from crying souls.
“Ever since the blood came. Ever since the blood ran red.”
Blood is like a “natural spring” which never runs dry; the words of the government official were magical to the impoverished villagers. How foolish they were frolicking in their own illiterate ways of ploughing the fields when they had a gold mind resting within them. How scheming was the government to target impoverished existence for their egotistical monetary gains. What a mess of humanity! When stomachs burn with hunger, when a single bag of rice becomes the fetching prize of livelihood and when societal discrepancies value an ounce of life on monetary scales of rich and poor, one can’t really blame the need or the immense desire to acquire money. Thus, it did not shock me when the villagers were mesmerized by the economical rise of the neighbouring county even as the blood banks proliferated simultaneously. Life had become scarier than selling blood. The blood boom planted the very first seedling of prosperity in Ding Villages. Life had become much more pleasing and affluent. As the blood ran more fervently into various blood banks, new houses saw the light of the day. Domestic amenities that once were only a luxuriant illusion were now a reality. The farmers of Ding Village bathed in the remunerations of their “natural spring”. Ever since the blood came to Ding Village, the villagers were in high spirits. Selling blood had become a commonplace with self-nominated ‘blood heads’ going door to door with their medical equipment buying blood like boisterous salesmen. Blood plasma had become a crisp 100-yuan gifting benefactor. Blood had replaced the shrine of Guan Yu hailing its power of wealth.
As the veins puffed-up bursting with blood, so did the insatiability for money. As the leaves became red with the ambiance of blood, corruption seeped through the streams of blood and money. The birth of ‘blood heads’ or ‘blood merchants’ saw the growth of middle-men who strived solely for pecuniary revenues and supremacy. The blood ran red and with it fetched immorality of human sensibilities embedding the dreaded fever that muted the voices of Ding Village.The dream of Ding Village was a bloodied reverie.
“The fever hid in blood; Grandpa hid in dreams. The fever loved its blood; Grandpa loved its dreams.”
Grandpa Ding’s dreams are an important part of the prose as they preserve the quintessence of the narrative. Ding Shiuyang knew that the fever ravaging the bodies was the dreaded AIDS. Death had become a routine scenario and the yearning for life as muddled as the infected blood that ran through the veins. The hope of finding a cure was as feeble as the bodies of the villagers. The fever brought with it the bedlam of corruption, greediness, the omnipotent ruthless world of real estate, love, infidelity, treachery, the raging callousness of government officials and ultimately the horror of death. The meteoric rise of prosperity was bloodied amid the angry “red sesame –seeds like dots”. The ‘fever’ had wrecked the body’s immunity, but the fight for life had to be continued, because until the last breathe one has to go on living and one has to find a concrete reason to live in that period of time, just like Ding Liang had found one in Lingling and Zhao Dequan in Lingling’s red jacket. To those who find death daunting than life, have not yet met the people of Ding Village. In the world of blood-selling there were no perfect endings. The gluttony of money even prevailed in the fraudulent commerce of coffins. To the people of Ding Village, even the respite of death was marred by deception and betrayal. Grandpa Ding’s school was too a victim of human insensitivity.
Yan Lianke’s novel braved the initial storm of censorship as it stood tall among the numerous malicious controversies, depicting a fictitious take on the real life blood- selling chaos in the Henan province in China in the early 1990s, which claimed lives of several thousand rural folks. Due to the booming research in bio-technological sector, the government of China commenced on the Plasmapheresis campaign that spread drastically in the interiors of the Chinese rural landscape. The popular campaign of ‘plasma economy’ became a prosperous industry of blood and money trade benefiting both the pharmaceutical companies and the impoverished villagers. The financial explosion that ruled for more than decade saw the rise of various fraudulent elements (middle-men) indulging in reckless practice of via the application of used needles and unhygienic medical environment. The ravenous greed for money and power spun a web of fallacy and corruption that ranged from blood trading for profit, the governmental targeting of the naive illiterate and impoverished villages, the illicit sale of free-governmental coffins and other workings of banned activities. Yan Lianke, also touches upon the subject of ‘ghost marriages’. The age old-tradition of marriage beyond life was also marred by corrupted functioning of Ding Hui, becoming another money-making institution. And, analogous to Ding Hui’s efforts to escape the criminal indictment by declining to face the veracity of the crime, the Chinese government too has been turning a blind eye to the entire malicious scandal. The residue of the tragedy still thrives in the malevolent residue that is trickled through blood with every new birthing generation.
“They died like falling leaves. Their light extinguishing, gone from this world.”
In life they inched towards death and in death they crawled towards life. In the quest of finding love for their life, the people of Ding Village bled not only from their arms but from their souls too. The juicy tomato glistened in the blazing sun waiting to be picked; the voice of Ding Qiang ascended beyond the graves resonating into the bloody streaks patterned onto the white funeral scrolls; the cold mountainous terrains guarded its once precious jewel because at the end of it all when the smell of life weakens amongst changing seasons, someone needs to recite the tales of the buried. Some stories must be told. Thank you, Mr. Yan Lianke for being the voice for the voiceless!
The price of blood emptying in stolen coffins and mislaid humanity.