Wang Anyi:In the pursuit of happiness

08:17, April 12, 2010      

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Wang Anyi, born in 1954, is one of the most established Chinese writers. Her most famous novel, “The Everlasting Regret,” was published in 1995 and already is considered a modern classic by many. Currently Wang is the chairwoman of the Writers’ Association of Shanghai.

The global community honored Shanghai by choosing the city to host the World Expo 2010. Our challenge is to use this opportunity to enrich human understanding and advance prospects for enhancing the future. The theme “Better City, Better Life” is an apt choice as we enter the 21st century.

Human civilization has turned many ideas enshrined in myth, fable and dreams into reality, thanks to the industrial revolution, scientific and technological development, and the accumulation of wealth. We have been propelled by almost boundless speed and efficiency.

It is appropriate that we now take stock and define what really constitutes happiness. I would like to thank this World Expo for giving busy people like me the chance for reflection, allowing us to examine our goals and dreams, to test our original intentions and to redefine the concept of happiness. In the ancient legends of each nation, heroes, through persistence, diligence and good luck, have eventually prevailed over danger and suffering to “live happily ever after.”

During the progress of human civilization, people gradually settled out of nomadic living and then congregated from scattered settlements into what was the precursor of cities. The invention of machines freed workers from heavy physical labor, created trade and met diversity of demand. The division of labor encouraged the specialization of skills and talent. All these forces have enabled people to make the best use of their abilities and acquire what they need. It is cities that have endowed upon us the possibility of co-equal existence.

As a novelist, I always search for materials related to social life in novels and other fictional art works. In Lao She’s “The Rickshaw Boy” the author created Xiangzi, a farmer deprived of his parents and a small farm, possibly by a natural disaster or a war, though Lao She never specified the exact reason.

The protagonist goes to Beijing, where he becomes a rickshaw puller and ekes out a living thanks to his strong body. In Mao Dun’s “The Shop of the Lin Family,” a shopkeeper in a small southeastern town struggles to survive and is eventually forced into bankruptcy. The author does not say where the bankrupt owner went, but I would guess he probably headed for Shanghai, a big city of great opportunities.

In Ba Jin’s “The Family,” protagonist Jue Hui, with his modern ideas and great aspirations, dreamed of salvaging a society that had grown corrupt but failed to save his closest relatives and even his own love.

In despair, he left home and took a ship upstream. “The water keeps flowing forward. It will bring him to an unknown city,” the author wrote. Although Mr Ba Jin did not mention the name of the city, we know the author himself went to Shanghai.

In Lu Xun’s novel “Sadness,” Zi Jun and Juan Sheng bonded their marriage in Beijing. After setting up a little household in Jizhao Alley, they were confronted with gossipy neighbors. The collapse of their relationship was caused by Juan Sheng’s dejection. In “Song of Youth” published years later, Lin Daojing and Yu Yongze also lived together in a small Chinese-style apartment in Beijing. Unfortunately, the divergence of their political beliefs eventually tore the relationship asunder.

What I want to illustrate here is that the urban lifestyle and opportunities have enabled people to achieve independence by freeing them from traditional yokes. In other words, a city is a place of comparative equality, where both the strong and the weak can pursue their dreams.

Let us also consider changes in the social status of women and the plight of physically challenged people who need a cooperative social structure to have independence and dignity.

I participated in discussions about the theme of the China Pavilion for this World Expo and found it interesting that despite all the diversity of ideas, all were rooted, without exception, in the vision of an affluent society where people share happiness and prosperity.

That reminded me of the images of Deng Xiaoping’s family, which were highlighted when our nation commemorated the anniversary of the birth of our late national leader. The images show how he played with his grandchildren and enjoyed the happiness that comes from warmth and harmony at home.

I would like to thank this World Expo for giving us a chance to review the history of human civilization, to examine our goals and to remind ourselves once again of our genuine needs.

Source: Expo2010


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