I have been fascinated by China for several years. I think what really sparked my interest was reading Jung Chang’s amazing family saga Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. I want to learn more about China so I’ve decided to create a reading list about China. I want to read both non-fiction and fiction, both Chinese writers and others. I’m really looking forward to diving into this huge nation and learn more about this fascinating country with an amazing culture but also such a devastating history.
My second read in this series is my friend Jun’s book about his own life – from his childhood in China to now where he lives in Odense, Denmark.
In my year at university, there was this guy. This Chinese guy. His name was Jun Feng or Jimbut. Jun had fled China and had arrived in Denmark in 1992 and in 1996, he enrolled at university to study philosophy. This is his book.This is a book about why he had to leave China, how he came to end up in Denmark and all the hardship he has gone through. It’s also a book about his time at university. And I know him – he’s the sweetest guy. And I know the people he writes about – Torben, Thomas, Reinholdt, Ann-Lise and all the rest. As well as the professors he mentions – Hass, Favrholdt … So how on earth am I to review this book?
Well, first of, by writing the disclaimer above. Now you’re warned. There’s no way I can write an un-biased review.
Secondly, I’m just trying to be as honest as I can. And my first comment is that this book, or at least the Danish version of it, is very poorly written. This is hardly surprising since Jun had lived in Denmark for only 7 years when it was published. I haven’t seen the English version (Time for Celebration) so I can’t say if it has the same issues. I wish I could say it didn’t matter but it does. It interrupts the flow of my reading when I see a spelling mistake. Still, even with a lot of mistakes, you can tell that Jun is a good writer. And it doesn’t hurt that he has lived a very interesting life either.
So this is the story of Jun’s life – mostly from his 20s and early 30s. This is a time where Jun becomes unpopular with the Chinese authorities because of a long poem he writes. The funny thing is that it’s a love poem, not a political poem. Jun decides to become a buddhist monk and leaves China on foot. He walks through Burma to Thailand and ends up in a prison in Laos. After several incidents where Jun cuts his wrist or cut himself in the stomach, he finally gets the attention of the UN and Denmark agrees to take him on as a refugee.
For me, the most interesting parts where his reflections on himself and how he views himself and his life. It’s fascinating that he can sit at a party and feel that he is boring when he is the one who has lived the most interesting life. I am intrigued by the flower that grows in his eye. He hands it to people, the leaves scatter around him etc. How exactly to understand this, I’m not sure.
Also, because Jun is so honest you can see the difference between the way he views life and the way I view it. He thinks some things that I would never think. He thinks of himself as the greatest modern poet in China, as a legend. He questions his self image when he lives in Denmark because he hasn’t published anything here so here’s he’s just a guy, a guy who’s no longer young. So here he sees the need to play dumb, he has issues with Danish prejudices. In this country, unfortunately, when you ask people for help on the street, and you ask in English, you can get this answer: “We are in Denmark and here, we speak Danish.”
I’ve been working with refugees so I know how we as a people often treat them. And Jun’s book is just another example. A huge group of people think that if you get to our country, you should just forget your culture and your religion – if you’re a muslim, that is – and be exactly like us. Of course, this is never going to happen. Jun is from Asia, normally he would be easier to accept. But still, he has had issues here. He has escaped from prison – and still, we treat him like this. Appalling!
I liked Jun’s book. It’s a very interesting read and I recommend it, especially for people interested in China after Mao. Still, it’s not an amazing book but it’s good. It’s worth the time.
You can read an English translation of the book here.