Chronicle of a Blood Merchant


“Today is my birthday. Everyone come and taste my sautéed pork liver.”


When we reached page 50 we wanted to beat up whoever recommended this reading to us; by page 135 we had already cried three times; once we finished the book we were looking for the author’s complete bibliography. (Note to the reader: “The City That Doesn’t Exist” was released in recent days by Feltrinelli.) Yu Hua has mastered the ancient art of the bard: his story catapults us into the epic dimension of the near-past, however, not remote. The story of Xu Sanguan, the seller of blood, is imprinted in the folds of our memory as grandmother’s fairy tales would do, with their hypnotic sway that we wish would never end.

These days the publishing industry is increasingly churning out hybrid texts that straddle non-fiction, fiction and memoir, it seems that the public is hungry for them, that they are asking for something more than a “simple” story. The philosopher Byung-chul Han in his “The crisis of narration” says that we are in search of data and information that we bundle together without distance and without memory, without enchantment. He says that the only connection that interests us is the causal one, which excludes poetic and magical relationships. He says we wallow in the “cold obscenity of transparency.” He says (then that’s enough, read it for yourself) that what makes narration peculiar is the ability to arouse emotions and create opaque bonds of meaning, within which everyone can find, among other things, their own dose of hope. Why this long parenthesis? Because the quality of this book is instead deeply narrative, we would like to listen to it sitting around the fire, while feeling the hunger, the cold, the limp legs – all of it.

The thirty years of life of the protagonist and the China around him are simultaneously in time and outside of it. There are many elements that make us think of a society distant from ours (perhaps less distant from that of our great-grandparents): relationships in the village, the sense of shame – which is a social feeling, which comes from the community -, the concreteness of daily rituals. But the irreducible complexity of the human being is so close and evident that it breaks one’s legs.

“It’s just a passing moment of crisis that the world and I are going through”, sang The Lights – and yet, one might think, that passing moment could be the history of humanity: the articulation of friendly, filial, couple, with the State, with life, with History, with hope, with death. Are we perhaps making the crisis a perennial existential condition, depriving it of its state of contingent urgency? Why not, an expanded crisis, an eternal panic: perhaps the only way to stop being afraid. As in every fairy tale, the life of Xu Sanguan, his wife Xu Yulan, and his children Felice Uno, Felice Due and Felice Tre is nothing but a series of obstacles and tests to overcome. Like every life with its phases, its achievements, its adversities. Like when you think “There’s always one!” and spoiler: there will always be one. The time will always come to sell blood, to put a part of us on the line to try to reach the end of the game hoping it was worth it. Emblematically, the only time Xu Sanguan wants to sell his blood for himself, he will not succeed and it will be his wife who will make him understand that it is not necessary, because yes, it was worth it.

What keeps us in the story is a certain involuntary irony, the genuineness with which the protagonists welcome the continuous change in opinions, conditions, existence and in so doing they build a family, a life that can float even on a tidal wave.

“In a very distant place the sky rose from the earth, rose up cloaked in red and illuminated the distant fields, coloring the crops.” We begin and end like this, with the red of the blood, which is life, with the distant sublime and the eyes that contemplate it, with our history in front of us and all, all the possibilities flowing through our veins.


Written by Delis 


Yu Hua, Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, Feltrinelli, Milano, 2019

Original Edition: Xǔ sān guān mài xuè, Beijing, 1995

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