November 28th, Fall 2012
Final Paper, Topic 1
Last year in October, government leaders from both Mainland China and Taiwan were holding receptions across the nation to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the 1911 Revolution, a revolution that terminated 2,000 years of imperial rule in China. This revolution, however, also uncovered the 100 years of authoritarian rule in China. In both the Republic of China (1912-1949) and the People’s Republic of China (1949-), though the official governments boasted that they have successfully saved the nation, turned it truly democratic, and bestowed real happiness to the common mass, in fact elements of personal oppression and dehumanization are still considerably common in the society. The depictions of such elements are abundant in the prominent Chinese writer Lu Xun’s short stories finished around 1920, as well as in the contemporary U.S. journalist Philip P. Pans’s Out of Mao’s Shadow—a collection of reportages about modern China published in 2008. Both authors described how ordinary, low-income, mostly uneducated men and women who had no special connections with influential figures were oppressed in these two very different time periods. In Diary of a Madman (1918), Lu Xun’s “madman” mentioned the bitter experiences of the ordinary people around him—“some have worn the cangue on the district magistrate’s order, some have had their faces slapped by the gentry, some have had their wives ravished by yamen clerks, some have had their dads and moms dunned to death by creditors”1. In Dragonboat Festival (1922), Lu Xun referred a street demonstration of college faculties aimed to get their delayed salaries from the government, but “the only tangible result of this demonstration was that government troops beat the professors bloody on a soggy stretch of ground in front of the New China Gate”2. Women were especially vulnerable in such a social circumstance. In Tomorrow (1919), Lu Xun depicted how a poor, young, widowed mother lost her only son overnight after having used up all her savings to cure his disease but received no help from either her neighbors or the government. And in New Year’s Sacrifice (1924), Lu Xun represented how the kind-hearted and hardworking Sister Xianglin, though devoted to live a quiet and simple life as a servant, was kidnapped by her first mother-in-law to get married a second time, and was then looked down upon by people around her because she lost her chastity, and eventually died begging on the street on the freezing New Year’s Eve. Lu Xun also wrote some short stories to condemn the old education system. In Kong Yiji (1919) and in The White Light (1922), he described how people who failed at the old civil service exams struggled in poverty because they knew nothing but classics, and classics aren’t quite useful in the real world. For most of the oppressed, the sufferings were as much mentally as physically. In Tomorrow, the mother lost all her hope and happiness as her son died. Sister Xianglin was humiliated and went almost insane for feeling guilty about having married two men. Kong Yiji and the main character in The White Light (who failed the second level of the civil service exam 16 times) were looked down upon by surrounding people and lived their whole life in a sense of failure. The cause of all these, as Lu Xun pointed out, was the Chinese traditions. By valuing strict social hierarchy and patriarchal authority, the traditional Confucian thoughts dominating China justified gentries’ exploitation of the mass and defended males’ oppression of females; together with the education system of civil service exam, it also promoted uniformity of thoughts and therefore suppressed individuality and creativity. Over time these oppressions led to a servile national character and a society where people spontaneously flattered those higher than themselves but shamelessly took advantages of those...