Discussion of Two Novels About Blood Selling

This is a translation of an article by Han Shan (寒山) for Radio Free Asia and reposted at New Century Net.  The key focus is the new novel by Chinese author Yan Lianke (阎连科) titled The Dream Of Ding Village 《丁庄梦》.  This novel has been published in Hong Kong, and it is likely that it will never be officially published in China (postscript: The book has been published by Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe).  So mainlanders will have to look for it at the underground book markets or roadside stands.

Chinese author Yan Lianke (阎连科) recently published the novel The Dream Of Ding Village 《丁庄梦》 in Hong Kong.  Ding Village is located in Henan province.  The Dream Of Ding Village refers to the dream by the village of making a living (and even get rich) through selling blood.  Ding Village was a poor place, and the county government dreamed up the sales of blood as a way of lifting the people out of poverty.  The government initiated a mobilization campaign to get all the political organizatios to apply pressure to make the villagers learn and participate.

Under the calls by the government and the party, more than a dozen blood stations emerged overnight in Ding Village, which only had a population of several hundred.  There were the country hospital blood station, the town hospital blood station, the public security bureau blood station, the party organization blood station, the propaganda department blood station, the veterinarian blood station, the department of education blood station, the department of commerce blood station, the military blood station, the Red Cross blood station, the animal breeding station blood station, etc.  It was easy to set up a blood station -- just erect a wooden sign, get two nurses to draw blood and one accountant to pay the money and the blood station is ready.

This blood selling campaign is quite similar to previous political campaigns in terms of mobilization and operations.  But the times are different now, and the purposes are different.  In a market economy, some smart people immediately seized upon the commercial opportunities.  A villager named Ding Fei opened up a private entrepreneurial blood station and put out an advertisement: "If you want to sell blood, please come to see Ding Fei -- they offer to pay 80 yuan per bottle.  Ding Fei offers 85 yuan per bottle."

Motivated by Ding Fei's profits, more than a dozen other entrepreneurial blood stations appeared in Ding Village.  These hastily erected blood stations did not even know where to send the blood, so they all sold them to "blood heads" like Ding Fei who would sell them to the roadside blood selling vehicles at marked-up prices.  These chaotic blood stations and miscellaneous "blood heads" created a frenzy among Ding Village residents to sell blood in exchange for instant cash.  When many people saw the needles, they immediately rolled up their sleeves even though they had just had blood drawn recently.  When they felt dizzy afterwards, the "blood head" and his workers would lift their feet up over their heads, so that more blood flow towards the head.  Afterwards, they didn't feel dizzy but their legs are wobbly.  Still, they laughed: "I have lived half a life already, so what is a little blood letting?"

The people who sold blood got money to buy houses and consumer electronic goods, they got wives and they became well-off.  A few years later, a strange 'fever' swept through the people.  They died one after another.  According to the description in the novel, people died like dogs at the time.  When they died, it is just as if an ant had died.  But those who sold coffins had a good livelihood.  Later on, it was found out that the disease was known as AIDS, and people were infected through the needle tips used during the blood sales.  But since these people responded to the call by the government, there came a government policy to "subsidize the coffin."  Even coffins were categorized into types A, B, C and D.  When someone can get a good phoenix or elm wood coffin, he might say, "it is even worth dying for."

This novel was based upon the true events of the tragedy of blood sellers that occurred in the Henan AIDS villages from the 1990s to now.  In 1998, the writer Yu Hua (余华) also published a book titled Chronicles of a Blood Merchant 《许三观卖血记》 (note: There is a Pantheon translation by Andrew Jones).  Yu Hua's story occurred in the 1950s just after the so-called Liberation had taken place and continued through after the Cultural Revolution.  The principal character Xu Sanguan could not make a living from his job alone and therefore had to sell blood to support his else, his son and even gave a present for his mistress when she fell ill.

As time went by, Xu Sanguan's physical health deteriorated.  To pay for medical care for his son, he insisted on selling blood every 15 days in order to repay the debt.  In the end, he succumbed to illness.  His body was chronically anemic and he felt chills in his bones.  The value of his blood also began to go down, and he was eventually discarded like a used commercial product.  A new "blood head" used economics to describe the value of this life and told him bluntly that he should sell his blood to the painter at the shop underneath the bridge because the blood from his prematurely aged body can only be mixed with pig's blood to paint furniture.

When one reads such novels, one will obviously find it difficult to restrict the social meaning of the story to a particular blood seller or the experiences at a particular blood-selling village.  Poverty has co-existed with human society for several thousands of years.  To make a living and to create wealth, people have come up with all sorts of ways, but there is nothing that has greater tragedy and irony than selling blood.  The tragedy comes from the fact that blood is the source of life.  To sell blood to make a living is like drinking poison to quench thirst.  To become infected during blood sales is poisoning the body.  The irony is that the drawing of blood and production of blood-related products fully reflects modern medical technology and concepts, and it is a way of using money to buy some people's lives in order to sustain or improve the lives of others.

The even deeper thought is that Yu Hua's story occurred during the Mao Zedong era.  That was a time when the Chinese people were supposed to have not only "stood up" but they had also left behind the era of poverty.  Yan Lianke's story occurred at an era when China entered into a large-scale "well-off" stage or even a "flourishing age."  Actually, the overdraft on life and poisoning of the body must surely be calling into question the so-called "accomplishments of the development" of China.  Many scholars have pointed out repeatedly that using the GDP growth in China as the only development strategy has caused China to pay far more in terms of resources than the rewards.  This is actually expending the resources needed for the future generation to survive, and the large-scale environmental pollution is a poisoning of the national body.  In that sense, the stories of these two authors about blood selling can be regarded as a part of the Chinese intellectuals' concerns and worries about the future of the nation and its people in totality.