Dream of Ding Village is a fiction based on the AIDS crisis in Henan Province in China. Before writing the book, Yan Lianke, the author had visited the AIDS village seven times and lived with the locals for a while. After the first edition was sold out, the book was banned by the Chinese government with the allegation that it “exaggerated the harm and horror of AIDS with the gloomy way of description”.
In this book, we get a unique perspective from a dead narrator at the beginning of the story, who narrates the acts of his father and grandfather and the consequences faced by the villagers. The commodification of blood is an interesting aspect of the story. Blood is the vital fluid that courses through our veins. The irony is, that the blood that is intended to give life, in the context of Ding Village, takes it away.
Although most of the people who moved into the elementary school are nearing the end of their lives, the corruption of human nature never stops. Though on the verge of dying, people still attempt to steal grains and money. Rather than helping each other and making the rest of their short lives more pleasant, they fight for position and power. When Li Sanren died, he can’t close his eyes without having the official seal, the representation of power, in hand. What does power and position mean to people? Aren’t we also like the characters in the fiction? We all know that we are dying within a hundred of years, yet aren’t we still having the “the more, the better” mindset, striving to pursue something we can’t bring away after we pass away?
Three-Character Classic is the material every Chinese children learn. It teaches them the basis of Confucian morality, especially filial piety and respect for elders. Grandpa Ding has been teaching Three-Character Classic as a teacher throughout his life. However, it’s ironic that both of his sons aren’t behaving well, not even having the basic respect to their father. People start to look down on him because of what his sons have done. When parents have done their best to teach the children, are they to blame for the children’s misconducts?
Dream of Ding Village illustrates the important aspects of human nature. Ding Hui becomes committed in his pursuit of money, not considering ethics whilst doing so. In order to maximize profit, he sold blood wherever it was needed, meaning that he is to be blamed for the spread of AIDS in his country. At the same time, he profited from the government’s weak efforts to aid those diagnosed with AIDS. His approach to this economic opportunity can be compared to those by tobacco companies who profit from selling their tobacco products as well as profiting from the medication to help stop tobacco addiction. Faced with their own mortality, the inhabitants of the village stop caring for one another and the future of those not infected. Instead, they care solely on coffins and “face”. The book is a significantly effective reminder of the negative consequences of placing our financial benefit before the long-term burdens that haunt us down the line. Ding Qiang, Ding Hui’s son, was murdered, using poison, by the villagers in retaliation of his father’s actions. Like the case of Ibsen’s Ghosts, sons are punished for the sins of their fathers.
The majority of the readings that we did dealt with looking for the cause of a plague to find something or someone to blame. Whether it was supposedly caused by the LGBT community or as punishment from God to those that have constantly sinned people always looked for someone to blame. In the case of Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke, The grandfather of the narrator is pinning the blame on his son, Ding Hui, for becoming a blood merchant. Ding Hui’s pursuit of a better life turned him into a heartless man, he did not shed any tears when his Son died but lashed out at the other villagers for the murderer to show himself. Ironically, Ding Hui himself is looking for someone to blame for the murder of his son as well. It is possible that Ding Hui is to blame for the spread of AIDS in their village because of his cheap ways of extracting blood, however nonetheless the villagers still consented to his business. Furthermore, we believe that the Grandfather himself is also looking for someone else to blame for the spread of disease, as he himself was the person that said blood would always flow. In the case of Dream of Ding Village, what would pinning the blame on someone for spreading AIDS bring? Apologies would not bring back the dead nor cure the people currently carrying the disease.
— Lateefa, Abdullah, Kai-Wen, Neha
Really insightful conveners post!
As we finish the book one thing that I am having a hard time understanding is where our sympathy should lie. The characters are all very complicated. It seems clear that certain characters are “bad guys”, Ding Hui, Ding Yuejin, and Jia Genzhu, while others seem to be the “good guys”, like Grandpa, even Uncle and Lingling. However, all of the characters act very selfishly and violently. Grandpa for example is extremely apologetic, understanding, and generous. He however, is also equally violent and sadistic, murdering his own son and proudly parading around the village afterwards. He also is constantly being blackmailed by different characters, as their world is fueled by greed, self-interest, and drama at the expense of others. I think he is a character we should pity. Honestly, I found it very difficult to like any of the characters. I was constantly frustrated by their selfish actions and found them to be rather awful people. So, where should our sympathy lie, if with anyone at all? Uncle and Lingling and their doomed love affair? The dead narrator?
Also what purpose do the italicized passages serve? It is clear that some are Grandpa’s dreams, but what about the smaller ones, for example on page 7 of the book “Ever since the blood came. Ever since the blood ran red.” Throughout the book we see these short, 1-2 phrase, italicized sections in the middle of a normal passage. This gets even more complicated towards the very end of the book, around page 320, when we really begin to hear the voice of the narrator. The italics seems to be less Grandpa’s dreams and more the voice and personal thoughts of the dead narrator. The line between dreams and reality, between the living and the dead, is even more blurred. Whats happens in these “dreams” really do happen in real life.
Would love to hear your thoughts on these questions!