Contemporary Chinese Thought 30 (3):29-40 (1999)

Twenty-five years ago, when I went down to the countryside to live and work in a production team, I took a few books with me, one of which was Ovid's Metamorphoses. The people in our team looked through it many times, read and reread it, until it was as ragged as a roll of dried seaweed. Then people from other teams borrowed it, and I spotted it in several different places, looking more and more dilapidated. I believe that in the end the book was read to death. Even now I still can't forget what a sorry state it was in. Life in the team was very hard—We didn't have enough to eat, we couldn't get used to the climate, and many people got sick; but the worst hardship of all was that there were no books to read. If we had had a lot of books to read, Metamorphoses would not have disappeared so tragically. On top of this, we never had the pleasure of thought. I do not believe I was alone in this experience: As you sat lonely and forlorn under the eaves in the twilight, and watched the sky slowly darken, you felt that you'd been deprived of your life. I was young then, but I was scared of having to go on living like that, of growing old like that. To my mind, that would be even more frightening than death.
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DOI 10.2753/CSP1097-1467300329
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