Armed with a Pen

Views from a worker and student

Tag: China

Cultural Revolutionary: Lu Xun as an Author and Marxist

Now more than ever, it’s crucial for communists to not only be well versed in theory but also cultured. Attention must be given to propaganda, agitation, and ideological work via art. Perhaps no other artist channeled the feel of the times into such renowned communist art as Lu Xun, who created rousing, entertaining, and accessible works which continue to inspire today.

Early Life

Born into a wealthy family only a few years before their fall from grace, the life of Lu Xun in many ways mirrored the experience of his generation, as well as the history of China itself. During his childhood, Xun’s father and grandfather, both civil servants, were caught and nearly sentenced to death for bribery, beginning a downward spiral which would drive his father to drink, smoke opium, and eventually die having squandered much of the family fortune. Once moneyed and respected, they suddenly found themselves ostracized by their neighbors and without adequate means in a rapidly worsening economic and political climate.

Sick of China’s declining feudal society and angered by the inability of traditional medicine to cure his father, Xun enrolled in Sendai Medical School in Japan to study western medicine in 1904. It was here he discovered his passion for literature. Reading and discussing with friends in the book stores of Sendai, Xun found himself unable to ignore the turmoil in his home country, drawn to matters of national liberation and ideological rejuvenation. He idolized authors from oppressed countries, with a particular fondness for the Polish and Hungarian poets Adam Mikiewicz and Petofi Sandor. Xun quickly realized that no medicine could save China if it remained politically and ideologically backward. Barely two years after enrolling, Xun dropped out of medical school to begin his literary career. This was motivated not by artistic passion but from a burning desire to awaken the Chinese people.

Despite such lofty ideals, Xun was chronically in need of money and so his aspirations were initially uninspiring. Joined by his brother, Zhou Zhouren, the two worked to translate and publish an anthology series of eastern European fiction but without much success. Only two volumes were ever completed, and less than fifty copies were sold in total. The failure of Xin Sheng, a student magazine he became involved in, marked the beginning of a twelve year hiatus wherein Xun would write not a word.

During this time, he returned to China to be married. Though he did not love or even know his bride, Zhu An, an illiterate woman with bound feet, he felt obligated to please and serve his widowed mother. As his wife, An loved her husband deeply and cared for her mother-in-law dutifully. Xun respected and trusted her but never returned her feelings, eventually returning to Japan and beginning a relationship with his true love, Xu Guangping. (Despite all this, it’s interesting to note that he continued to send money to his wife up until his death; as did Guangping afterward.) In 1909, he returned to China yet again to teach at Zhejiang Normal School, eventually earning a position in the Ministry of Education. He also studied numerous subjects during his hiatus with a focus on literature.

Writing

Though he certainly made professional achievements, his once great dreams were all but forgotten. Only when urged on by a comrade did Xun finally write his first original story in 1918. A Madman’s Diary, written as the journal of an ill and paranoid farmer who discovers that the members of his village are cannibals, won him the recognition of radical and especially leftist writers and activists both for its accessibility and revolutionary themes. Bucking the traditional academic style, Xun’s use of vernacular Chinese made it an instant classic. The realism and grit of his style, something so lacking in the work of his contemporaries, continues to shock and inspire writers and readers to this day.

The story itself explores Chinese society through the eyes of an ideological heterodoxy, stripped of sentimentality. Thus, the main character’s “madness” only appears as such because it runs counter to the rest of his village. The cannibals remain “sane” while the only person trying to stop them becomes more and more panicked.

Upon discovering the plot, he explains to his brother that “probably all primitive people ate a little human flesh to begin with. Later because their outlook changed, some of them stopped … But some are still eating.” Hearing this, his brother merely “smiled cynically.” As the protagonist continues, and others begin to eavesdrop, the brother’s smug superiority turns to anger.

“They want to eat me, and of course you can do nothing about it single-handed; but why should you join them? As man-eaters they are capable of anything. If they eat me, they can eat you as well; members of the same group can still eat each other. But if you will just change your ways immediately, then everyone will have peace.”

Outside the gate stood a group of people … all of them eaters of human flesh. … Some of them thought that since it had always been so, men should be eaten. Some knew that they should not eat men, but still wanted to; and they were afraid people might discover their secret; thus, when they heard me they became angry, but they still smiled their cynical, tight-lipped smile.

Suddenly my brother looked furious and shouted in a loud voice: “Get out of here, all of you! What is the point of looking at a madman?”

Then I realized part of their cunning. They would never be willing to change their stand, and their plans were all laid; they had stigmatized me as a madman.

Xun here creates an extremely effective allegory for class struggle and asks the question of reform or revolution.

“They want to eat, and of you can do nothing about it single-handed.” Here he describes the exploiter classes: the feudal lords, the bourgeoisie, and the imperialists. Owning state power, these exploiter classes, according to Marxism, exorcise dictatorial control over the working classes whose labor they receive the fruits of. Nothing can be done against these systems as an individual. Only class struggle and the unity of all workers, the peasantry and the proletariat, and, in the case of imperialism, the oppressed national bourgeoisie, can bring about the kind of systemic change necessary to liberate society.

“As man-eaters they are capable of anything. … members of the same group can still eat each other.” Just as one cannibal can still eat another, the exploiting classes are no more merciful towards each other than they are towards the exploited classes. The British imperialists had more in common with their class counterparts in China than Chinese workers. This didn’t stop them from oppressing both.

As he urges his brother, “if you will just change your ways immediately, then everyone will have peace,” we see the question of reform or revolution addressed. Will the exploiters just change their ways immediately? Of course not. Naturally, when asked to simply stop eating people, the brother “only smiled cynically, then a murderous glean came into his eyes.” Though perhaps not mad, the protagonist is certainly an idealist, hoping to merely convince the cannibals to give up their entire way of life, to convince the exploiters of committing class suicide. This idealism is quickly thrown into the face of the protagonist, who is told he’s a madman for even addressing reality. Though he persists, urging the cannibals to “change, change from the bottom of your hearts! … You must know that in the future there will be no place for man-eaters,” his appeal falls on deaf ears. While he wastes time trying to appeal to the cannibals to change voluntarily, he alienates himself all the more from those unsuspecting people who could actually save themselves if they understood the danger they were in. Tragedy strikes as the brother kills and eat his own little sister a few nights later.

The story ends ominously with the realization that the protagonist too may have eaten his sister. “I have only just realized that I have been living all these years in a place where for thousands of years they have been eating human flesh. My brother had just taken over the charge of the house when our sister died, and he may have well used her flesh in our rice and dishes, making us eat it unwittingly.” Xun thus elucidates the dialectical materialist understanding of social consciousness. As Karl Marx writes, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” Anyone existing in class society will undoubtedly be exposed to and influenced by the ideology and consciousness of the exploiter class.

There is still a glimmer of hope, however. “Perhaps there are still children who have not eaten men? Save the children…” Ultimately, it’s the next generation that will be able to achieve the dream of a truly classless world, free from exploitation and its ideological remnants. Revolution will not be easy, but it’s the only hope for the future, for creating a society of “real men”, not “reptiles.” As Mao Zedong puts it, only when “all mankind voluntarily and consciously changes itself and the world” can communism be reached.

Xun’s stories are all allegorical and, despite the occasional artistic misstep, all achieve a level of clarity that few other artists have been able to, balancing message with sensibility more or less evenly. The fact that his very first published fiction, written after such a lengthy hiatus, was able to so eloquently get across a clear message while being both accessible and genuinely well written is a testament to Xun’s diligence in study.

Other notable works include Kung-I-Chi, a critique of the Confucian educational tradition and ideology where the titular Confucian scholar, having failed the Imperial Exam, finds himself reduces to poverty and drunkenness before finally disappearing, and The New Year’s Sacrifice, a moving and emotionally intelligent story which describes the patriarchal oppression of women under feudalism. His most well known work, however, is The True Story of Ah Q, a cutting satire of national chauvinism and overconfidence during an era literally dubbed “the century of humiliation.” Ah Q’s claiming of “victory” in the face of constant defeat and embarrassment, as well as his stubborn refusal to ask for or accept help, cleverly critiqued the blind traditionalism of the feudal ideologues.

Legacy

Upon his death in 1936, the Communist Party of China demanded the Kuomintang government give Xun a state funeral, lift the ban on his work, and erect statues of him in the cities he had worked and lived. As he was a prolific social critic and communist, these demands were ignored. Nonetheless, at the ceremony, his body was covered with a silk cloth reading “soul of the nation.”

To this day, Xun’s work is like Shakespeare. Names and quotes from his work are used regularly in everyday conversation and he is widely regarded as not only one of the greatest Chinese writers of all time, but one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century in any language. From his childhood home to Shaoxing to the shops he frequented while in Japan, Xun is celebrated across eastern Asia as an intellectual giant.

Some confusion remains, however, over whether Xun was genuinely a communist. Much of this is due to the contradictory invocation of his name and legacy during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. On the one hand, his achievements were being proudly upheld while, on the other, artists with similar styles were being persecuted. Moreover, clashes between Xun and the Party over literary policy were being purposely overlooked by Mao and his supporters.

Today, with order long having been restored, the Communist Party of China maintains that he was in fact a loyal communist. Though he butted heads with the Party at times, putting out the slogan “People’s Literature of National Revolutionary Struggle!” in opposition to the call for a united front with all anti-feudal, anti-Japanese forces, he remained true in his conviction that the communists were the greatest chance for China to regain independence and strengthen itself. He was still at heart a student of the May Fourth Movement. After the Red Army completed the Long March in October of 1935, Xun personally telegrammed the Party Central Committee, writing: “In you lies the hope of China and all humanity.” This admiration was mutual, especially for Mao who crowned Xun the “chief commander of China’s cultural revolution.”

Artistically, Xun exhibited every trait a communist must. Marx once said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Few artists have put these words into action as well as him. Xun boldly stated that his mission was, above all, to radicalize and galvanized his readers. In the preface Call to Arms, he writes:

I no longer feel any great urge to express myself … I sometimes call out, to encourage those fighters who are galloping on in loneliness, so that they do not lose heart. Whether my cry is brave or sad, repellent or ridiculous, I do not care. However, since it is a call to arms, I must naturally obey my general’s orders.

As the Peking Review would later write, “He broke completely with old traditions and old forces. … he had not a moment’s regret for the death of the old world. He repudiated the old world in the most merciless way. The force of his pen was such that the enemy was vanquished wherever it pointed.” In all his work, he rejected dogmatism and flunkey-ism while expounded upon dialectical materialism and critiquing society in such a way that could reach out and educate even the least educated. It’s this steadfast resolve, down to earth nature, and willingness to speak the truth that all writers, not just Marxists, should learn from and adopt.

Most of What We Hear About China Is Red Scare, Yellow Peril Propaganda

With an ongoing trade war, tensions rising in the South China Sea, and the growing esteem of President Xi Jinping, China has been the subject of a significant amount of our twenty four hour news cycle. If, like me, you’ve subjected yourself to any of it then let me be the first to say: I’m sorry. Also, you’ve been lied to.

Propaganda Roundup

The outpour of completely baseless, biased, and unresearched horror stories is astonishing. Tales of aggressive military expansion, neocolonialism, torture, human rights violations, and massive unrestrained surveillance systems have made headlines again and again. Besides the obvious hypocrisy of decrying the very same things these companies praise Western countries for doing, what’s most concerning about these stories is their glaring inaccuracies. To help unmask Sinophobia and propaganda in the media, let’s take a closer look at some stories which have made headlines recently.

“Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens”

China’s social credit system, unveiled June 14, 2014, has made a lot of headlines recently as the government moves to implement it in its entirety across the whole country. Thousands of articles have been written comparing the system to Black Mirror and 1984, crying over Chinese citizens with bad social credit having been denied access to schools and transit. And, indeed, these half-truths sound horrifying and tyrannical. What is left out, however, is that social credit is determined exclusively by a citizen’s business practices.

Unlike in the US where unethical companies like Bain Capital are allowed to buy, gut, and ruin companies before declaring bankruptcy for profit, in China, bad business is punished. Hou Yunchun, former deputy director of the development research center of the State Council, writes: “If we don’t increase the cost of being discredited, we are encouraging discredited people to keep at it.”

Further, discredited people have full and equal access to all public services, including public schools and public transit. They can only be barred from using luxury travel options such as first-class flight and access to private schooling. Moreover, Zhi Zhenfeng, a legal expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, assures us that: “How the person is restricted in terms of public services or business opportunities should be in accordance with how and to what extent he or she lost his credibility.” Minor offenses only yield minor punishments, major offenses, major punishments. “Discredited people deserve legal consequences,” Zhi continued. “This is definitely a step in the right direction to building a society with credibility.”

Companies known to be in violation of the law and ethical business practices have also been publically exposed by the government. This is all part of China’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign.

“Muslims forced to drink alcohol and eat pork in China’s ‘re-education’ camps, former inmate claims”

Omir Bekali, an Uighur, a minority from the autonomous region Xinjiang, made headlines across the world after he came out with a shocking and bizarre story of hellish re-education camps where Muslims were allegedly forced to drink alcohol and eat pork. He claims also to have been shackled and beaten. His account is brutal and depicts a world of harassment, religious and ethnic discrimination, and slightly milder torture than the methods used on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. His vivid and emotional account would likely inspire real international outrage if even a single person reported anything remotely similar.

The story is nonsense. He claims that many been kidnapped, tortured, and forced to violate Islamic code of conduct and yet not one person besides Mr. Bekali has reported so much as Islamophobic harassment by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, or anywhere else for that matter.

Xinjiang is home to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a violent separatist group of religious extremists who have killed over 100 in multiple terror attacks across the region. Uighur Islamic extremists have been found among the ranks of ISIS and have vowed to “make [Chinese] blood flow in rivers, by the will of God.” These extremists claim to be oppressed by the Chinese government despite enjoying regional autonomy, receiving significant developmental aid from Beijing, and China’s ongoing policy to promote religious freedom and harmony. In China, freedom of religion is protected in the constitution, anti-Islamic content was recently banned in social media, and Islam is experiencing a revival.

Bekali’s account is completely without foundation in reality. He directly contradicts himself in other interviews, like this one from the Daily Mail. The account here is even more outlandish and tells of farcical chanting and hourly oaths of loyalty to the Communist Party. He puts ol’ Joe McCarthy himself to shame with his overuse of tired, Cold War era anti-communist cliches. The entire story, which was largely reported on, seems to be wholly false.

What is true is that Xinjiang’s GDP has grown steadily at a rate far exceeding the national average and Uighur members of the Communist Party have expressed the growing desire for unity between Xinjiang and China, as well as among the regions many ethnicities and religions.

“Emperor Xi Jinping: China enters a new era under just one leader”

This racist, rambling tirade by News.com Australia’s Jamie Seidel is perhaps the most egregiously Orientalist thing I’ve ever read. When talking about the amendment to the Chinese constitution which abolished term limits, he sarcastically writes: “The glory of [the] Middle Kingdom will be restored again.” He also describes Xi Jinping as an emperor and makes countless references to imperial China (or, rather, his image of imperial China which is basically just an amalgam of various Asian stereotypes). This is Orientalism. Rather than writing about this modern nation as a modern nation, Seidel prefers to crack jokes and reduce China to an inaccurate and racist caricature.

This same Orientalism is mirrored in articles like those by the BBC and CNN, among others, which talk of “heirs” and “emperors”; and is especially evident in the constant reference to the DPR of Korea as “the hermit kingdom.”

The reality is that China has democratized. Term limits were added to the constitution after the chairmanship of Deng Xiaoping to ensure that efforts would not stagnate or stall during the period of economic reform. It ensured that China’s leadership would be focused on the present conditions, rather than future elections. With the reforms having proven an objective success, and China’s efforts now focusing on the move towards socialism, there is no longer a need for such an undemocratic and arbitrary amendment. There will still be elections and Xi Jinping still is not guaranteed a third term. Plenty of Western leaders have been serving for a lot longer with a lot less support, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is currently in her fourth consecutive term.

“Eight countries in danger of falling into China’s debt trap”

Chinese influence overseas has been questioned again and again, often by the same people who consistently support Western military adventures overseas. The above article by Quartz laments the plights of Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. What a tragedy it is that they must be subjected to infrastructure and factories.

It is a testament to Quartz reporter Tim Fernholz’s shamelessness and hypocrisy that he readily admits that the US’ largest military base in Africa is in Djibouti, one of the countries supposedly at risk of falling into Chinese “imperialism.” He literally says this in the same sentence which attacks Chinese involvement in the nation. Only an aggressively ignorant Western chauvinist could write that Chinese airports are a threat but US soldiers aren’t.

One can only imagine the indignation Fernholz would feel if China began “waging a massive shadow war” in Africa like the US has been doing. One has to ask, is Fernholz aware of this? Is the great reporter aware of the colonial taxes France continues to impose on the African nations they once directly colonized? Why, Mr. Fernholz, are roads, schools, power plants, aid programs, and debt forgiveness the big danger?

The list goes on…

These are just a handful of the mass of vitriolic propaganda aimed at China. And that’s just from private companies. The US Embassy in China claimed to have been the target of “sonic attacks.” These unexplained science fiction weapons China’s supposedly using against Americans sound eerily similar to those the US Embassy claimed to have been attacked within Cuba which were determined to be completely made up.

So why the lies and the slander? Why all the hate? Perhaps they’re overcompensating. China’s president, Xi Jinping, is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant statesmen of the 21st century. And over 80% of Chinese polled said they supported him, had faith in their government, and were optimistic about their country’s future.

By contrast, optimism has been severely lacking across Europe, Canada, Australia, and the United States. The crisis of confidence in the United Kingdom resulted in one of the longest hung parliaments in British history, with the hugely unpopular Theresa May just barely clinging onto her majority. Even the monarchy is becoming increasingly unpopular. Two-thirds of the population said they didn’t care about the Royal Wedding, a huge decline since the last one. “Fuck the Royals” parties were held in pubs across the country. In Spain, when large portions of the population aren’t trying to secede, the government is struggling to deal with a growing labor movement which held mass protests this May Day. In France, the May Day protesters were decidedly more hardcore, clashing with riot police. And when protesters aren’t setting cops on fire, they’re burning effigies of President Emmanuel Macron in protest against his hugely unpopular economic reforms which resulted in the loss of over 120,000 jobs. Justin Trudeau can’t stop embarrassing himself every time he steps outside of Canada. Malcolm Turnbull is struggling to justify his ministership. And I don’t think I even have to mention how much people hate Donald Trump both inside and out of the US.

I mean just look at these idiots…

The truth is, they’re afraid.

China has beaten the West at its own game. The emerging superpower has outpaced and outdone them. They have a larger, more educated workforce, a more robust economy built on actually producing things, and a plan for the future. The West doesn’t seem to have a plan for the present. As China marches toward the horizon, united and prosperous, Western leadership seems entirely unable to get things together as their people find themselves unable to afford basic necessities like food and rent.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén