Censorship, and The Bible

After writing Dream of Ding Village, and with the recent rise in the book’s popularity, Yan Lianke has given several interviews to provide more insight into the book and into his writing in general, and several articles about him have been written. One of these articles written in 2006—the year the book was published—especially interested me.

The article focuses on Dream of Ding Village being censored in China, and how that affected Yan Lianke. Despite his efforts to rigorously self-censor his book and avoid topics that would result in a ban, Dream of Ding Village was quickly banned anyway. Yan Lianke talks about how he regrets this self-censorship, as he feels he could have written a better book if he did not need to worry about censoring it. I think this ties back to Mary’s post. Nearly 14 years later, he told his students to write their own stories from their own experiences, without worry about “nations and other entities engaged in the act of writing histories.” He tells them that, if they cannot speak out loudly, then they must be whisperers.

I think Yan Lianke’s message here is based on his reflections on his experience with Dream of Ding Village. In the time he’s had, I think he’s realized that rather than trying to appeal to those who want his writing to conform to a certain message, it is better to write as he wishes.

The Cupbearer’s Dream

And now, for something completely different that I also wanted to mention. I regret that we completely ignored Volume 1 of the book. I very much want to hear others’ thoughts on the significance of the biblical references in Volume 1. What do each of the three dreams signify?

The Cupbearer’s Dream seems clear cut—it represents the residents of Ding Village, the cupbearers, squeezing ripe grapes and giving a full cup (of blood) to Ding Hui, the Pharaoh.

The Baker’s Dream

The Baker’s Dream, I’m not too sure of. What first came to my head was that the birds again represent the villagers, while the bread (“bakemeats”) represents the trees of the village (or the furniture of the school—it seems to be a general theme throughout). Or does it represent the bloodheads feasting on the people’s blood? Or maybe it is specific to Ding Hui (represented by the birds), who eats the bread (the coffins, or maybe the money from selling blood) carried by the baker (the government) intended for the pharaoh (the villagers).

The Pharaoh’s Dream

Last, there is The Pharaoh’s Dream. Do the ill-favoured cows represent the Ding Hui and the other bloodheads, feeding on the well-favoured cows that represent the people selling their blood? (Especially in the case of Ding Hui, who takes every single opportunity he can get to feed on others and fatten himself up, which is clear when Grandpa at the end sees that Ding Hui has more money than he knows what to do with, stored away in a vault.) Or does it instead represent Ding Hui using the authority of those more powerful than him (who in this case would be the well-favoured cows) to exert his own power over the village? (Ding Hui maintaining a garden with spicy mustard greens solely to curry favour with the deputy governer, and also marrying his dead son to the daughter of a wealthy man both come to mind). Or maybe the dream even represents the villagers as the ill-favoured cows, who repeatedly go to the rich and well-favoured Ding Hui for his help, who ransack Ding Hui’s house when he leaves, and who robbed Ding Liang’s and Lingling’s graves).

Apologies for the late post! But if anyone is willing to share their thoughts, I’m very keen to read them. It’s unfortunate we never discussed the biblical references in class. I am curious to hear thoughts on the interpretations of these dreams, the significance of them being included, and Yan Lianke’s choice to introduce the book with these dreams (and maybe why he considered them important enough to separate these dreams as their own volume).


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  1. I admit, I kind of brushed past the dreams because they were very confusing to me. And I was too engrossed in all of the “drama” within the village. But I do want to add a recent discovery I made (I am not sure if everyone is aware), but during our Hillbrow discussion Ludien mentioned that The Ding Village actually ends much earlier. I dont remember the exact moment, you will have to ask Chinese speakers for that (google search proved useless). This discovery might push this thinking a but further, I think???? Fingers crossed.

  2. Thank you for the post! Like Taman, I did not think much about these dreams when I first read the novel. I figured that I would understand what they represent and why Yan decided to include them once I finish the book (but I have to admit I never had the chance to come back to them until I read your post). My initial interpretation of these dreams is that the cupbearer, the baker, and the pharaoh are all representative of the characters and themes in the novel, and that Yan came up with these dreams himself. It wasn’t until I visited the Chinese version of the text that I realized these dreams are in the Old Testament Genesis (because Yan explicitly cited the Genesis but for some reason the citation was not transferred to the English translation). This makes me wonder what message he wants to deliver across. Is he trying to highlight some truth about human nature, that we are inherently selfish (like Hui) and will exploit others for our own desires?

    • Thanks for pointing out that the citation was left untranslated—seems like quite a few details were lost in translation (some of which we mentioned in class, like the amount of swearing). That’s a good question you ask too. You might be right about the message he’s trying to convey, but I also wonder if it isn’t the case—there are times when characters do good things seemingly for no gain. But doing good things doesn’t necessarily mean otherwise either—to support the message you propose that he is conveying, I don’t think any of these characters are completely free of any wrongdoing. I think literally every (adult) character in the book have their shortcomings.

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