Tag Archive | China

Radish: (China Penguin Special) – Mo Yan

Radish: China Penguin Special


The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

The chorus of a bare back fills the barren land,
Dew laden leaves recite lore of a superhuman,
The blistered belly nestled near a dimly lit fire,
Bare-chested and barefooted, he was detached,
Crisp voice descending in silence, apathy his attire,
In waves of a lush reverie, a respite he seeks,
Nature’s feeble lullaby, in harshness of his life.

The auburn ducks snicker, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!
The auburn ducks snicker, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!

Witnesses the fertile soil, long miseries of a boy,
Bears the purple sweet potatoes, the pinch of hunger,
Crouched between tossed radishes, a fallen fingernail,
The guilt of theft, abandoned in the burning coals,
In tongues of fires, melancholic arias prevail,
The old blacksmith’s song pushing chords of joy,
Resting on the anvil, the golden radish, radiates,
Mysteries of life scattered in slivers of faith.

The vegetable patch whisper,” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The vegetable patch whisper,” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

Agriculture without its irrigation, a motherless child,
A mother’s breast with no milk, a deadly fright,
Hundreds of labourers toil, chisels hastens,
The allegorical mother claiming loyal lives,
In the obscure womb lie the Commune’s whims,
Opened floodgates dragging the human plight,

The cold white stones hum, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The cold white stones hum, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

In glory of socialism, the man eats,
In glory of socialism, the man marches,
In glory of socialism, the man barters,
Human virtue, an imperfect bastard child,
Immorality surges, in human sacrifices,
In glory of socialism, the graves reek,
In glory of socialism, mankind gets bartered.

Ardently Mo Yan pens, ” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
Ardently Mo Yan pens, ” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

A mason, a woman and a blacksmith,
Lust of love indebted to the fallen irises,
Hungered the red jacket, the scent of a crimson scarf
Youthful love, caressing kisses, hearts writhe,
In a meadowlark call, the secret alarms,
Bleeding love redeemed in a sunlit radish.

The two bloody gouges scream, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The two bloody gouges scream, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

Swan-like, he stretched his neck, standing,
The hem of his coat touching the wiry thighs,
Like a fat-headed catfish on feet, he strolled,
On the banks of the river, golden rainbow afloat,
Desires of a sunlit radish, sown in hazy sighs,
The falling rays of the autumn sun, verbalize,
A doleful tale of a fragile heart in a benumbed abode.

The golden radish chimes, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!
The golden radish chimes, “Hei-hai !! Hei-hai!!

Only if,
He had the warmth of a mother’s breast
Love had not perished in the black earth,
Had not the radish lie hid in the river mists
Had not the hammer been his inheritance,
Had not humanity sprout callous tentacles,
Had humanity sheltered his naked fears,
Had childhood walked the a euphoric path,
The rustling leaves wiping the trickling tears

The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai !! Hei-hai!!”
The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai !! Hei-hai!!”

4/5 ****


Red Night – Duanmu Hongliang

Red Night

Their poor little hearts reached so high
After grapes, they gave peaches a try
After a dragon, the tiger was sought
Then the oriole and the vulture in the sky.

Shh-shh as they flew, their black wings soaring the stirring the winds in dominance. The ospreys oblivious of the humans below soared in the sky, the destiny of the osprey village reasserting the flight of the birds as they inspected the earth below. The mistreated soul possessed with a sense of his own destiny rebelled against the fated dogma. Was Shilong a foolish soul to challenge the birds or was the lazy, ignorant boy the only brave soul in the village? Who is more courageous, the man who swims to the harbor or the fisherman brings a sense of novelty by giving fated end a new beginning? When humans betray, spew hatred among their species, make lives too bitter, is it a sin to save an animal instead of a man? The eternal fidelity of a dog becoming the only beacon of life amid human abhorrence. Man has become a passive observer concealing his mind from his inner conflicts , the fate of thousand years unchallenged, traditions passing through generations unchallenged , orthodoxical norms endowed with shamanistic rituals, the spiritual chants slaughtering the humanity of innocent love. Human sacrifice to appease the Gods mulishly wraps a mountainous village into an inhumane tragedy on a red night. Despairs rings, no sight of salvation, bringing evil superstitions the nightly red moon fades over the sorrows of the egret lake, the sickle slashing the beanstalks steadily erasing the class barriers of human ugliness into a harmonious world enmeshed within the beauty of nature.

Life on this earth is like a wispy cloud in snowstorm. You see it clearly, but with a swipe of the hand, it vanishes into thin air. He was like a drop of froth, crystalline, round and moist and full of life one moment, and then obliterated the next.

We are the children of nature. Nature endows us with imagination; it urges us to rethink about our “self” in its bare form, to rethink our humanity. The malice of human submerged in the cruelty of the nature. Nature is the greatest equalizer, the ultimate victor, the crucial catharsis of human nature. Ask, Steward Li about the power of nature equalizing the inhumane society and class discrepancies when trapped in a severe snowstorm? Silently rebirthing the spirit of humanity on a snowy night. The Yellow river overwhelmed with Ma Laohan’s laughter swells in the torrential whirlpool of patriotism and an everlasting fighting spirit against the enemy. The legend of the Fengling ferry now floating on the nightly waters, under the hazy light of the lanterns. Patriotism seduces through the wordy supremacy of “I need you!” the simple hunger consumed by utmost passion. The people of the land encumbered by patriotic obligations , while the country forgetting the obligation towards its own people, empty stomachs pacifying the hunger through objectionable means The unassuming philanthropy at the charity bazaar creating an ardent patriot from a street hooligan. The romance of a pipe dream dissolving into harsh reality , a bombastic dream shattered as Huang Guiqui revealed her own hypocrisy through hypocrisy. The yearning to be loved bursting at the whispering of petulant lips, the lure of love preyed upon by dubious happiness. The wispy life bolstered by the ecstasy of being needed.

Just a moment before, this face had been suffused with power, solemnity and intimidation. The grand total of his feelings had been nothing less than the symbol of a monarch! But now it was as though it had all been smashed by this single act of revolt, and the magic powers had vanished from that swollen discoloured hole!

To know what is meant to breathe air of freedom. The radiance of the land lost in its invasion, the people of the land robbed by the conquerors. Homesick children yearning to return to their once lovable abode, the incessant questions of why doesn’t Yeye eat kaoliang gruel?, lingers in the eyes of his grandchildren as somewhere Qingdi’sdreams of becoming a war hero hand on the fate of a brass medal and a bayonet. A life-changing barter seizes Mr. Wei in a battle of supremacy. The power of ham shaking the core of a man’s sense of identity. The rebellion for liberation from the corrupt brutality of higher socio-political authorities, a country waiting to be saved along with its people. The hunters revolt against the local government, the hordes of fox pelts brightly shining alongside the torrential muddy river. The mask of solemnity and intimidation falling off through a single act of revolt, the peasants clearly seeing the bluff of a broken face, the magic declining in a mottled hole. The sole symbol of a monarch dissipating within the dreary prison walls; societal hierarchy collapsing into the streams of innocent blood descending from the sword. The forged metal crushing the life of poor for generations ultimately becomes the only path of escape. Zhu the knife, branding justice on the very sword that he created. The rebellion of the commoners against a ruthless society channels internal distress and emotional predicament of an imminent exile .As the hibernating snake awaits the dawn of the spring, the snake swallower explores new avenues for his survival ;both seeking to breathe the air of freedom.

Duanmu Hongliang(1912-1996) was one of the most gifted and graceful writers in the modern era of Chinese literature.. The Japanese invasion of North-eastern China (Manchuria) on Sept.8, 1931 impacted Duanmu to a great extent. Thus, the Mukden Incident became one of the crucial influences on Duanmu’s literary career. The stories penned in this volume link the oppression and melancholy of human life interconnecting dual themes of the controversial Japanese invasion and bleakness concerned with personal human relations and survival on the whole. The quality of Duanmu’s literary work is more than making fairy tales out of reality. The panoramic landscape of his stories travel from the poetic verses embellishing the vast beauty of the nature, the echoes of songs sung through the mountainous lands seeped in the visages of the written allegorical and surreal folk tales , the deep understanding of a society besieged with orthodoxy and prejudicial hierarchy circuitously mocking the realities of life, the trails of humanity lingering from the picturesque forlorn corner of rural scenery to the swarming prosperous streets of a metropolitan and in due course leading back to the wholesomeness of nature chiseled by the kaleidoscopic array of human emotions forming a congenial entity. Reading this book is akin to tracing Duanmu’s footprints enlightening a time and an era filled with patriotic passions , and nostalgia and above all comprehending the humility of a human life in a mere day.

4/5 ****

Sandalwood Death – Mo Yan

Sandalwood Death

Palpitation! The word itself brims with mystifying sounds. The flip-flopping of the heart muscle attuned to the ambience of the twelve tone symphony, fingers smoothly gliding over the chromatic keys of a piano, the steady tempo of the inherent music fluctuating within the irregularities of variable frequency of the cardiac rhythm, the fleeting pause descending into the pentatonic scales of a violin finding its way into the emptiness of a skipped heartbeat, synchronize the tingling of a body. The words of the heart coiled into the tremulous effect of rapid repetitions coursing through incessant throbbing. The forbearance of the heart melting away in the furnace of lawful decree. Yama, the King of Hell pacifying the cries of Little Insect. The bearded goat at the mercy of the white snake. The seduction of the white snake pitying the fool of the tiger. The pigs and dogs scrambling out of the fear of armed wolves. Amid snarling jackrabbits, the vicious panther pounces on the white tigers; the magical tiger’s whiskers drenched in the reverberations of an anxious heart. The black cat singing melodic, heartbreaking elegies, the feline cries swirling in bereaved hearts. The strings of mao hu(cat fiddle) birthing the opera of life and death, the stubborn ox designing the aesthetic antiquity of death; a rooster crowing at the sight of twin leather straps. The extravagant vocal arias of “….sandal—wood—death, a term with a rough exterior but an aesthetic core, displaying the patina and aura of antiquity”, overriding the myth of humans being reincarnated from animals, the animalistic demeanour of humans dishonourably indulgent than their primal rebirthing mammal souls. Man being worst than animals.

….what is known as “execution” is an art, one that a good man will not do and anyone who is not a good man cannot do. Executioner is an occupation that represents the heart and soul of the Imperial Court. When the calling flourishes, the Imperial Court prospers. But when it languishes, the Imperial Court nears its fated end.

Mo Yan’s graphically meticulous illustration of the execution acts signifies the central stance of the death penalty and the concurrent gory sentencing in China’s Imperial (1900s) political sphere. The piece of blood soaked human flesh quivering in the executioner’s malodorous palm acquaints the reader with the cruel method employed by the codes of criminal law to inflict maximum amount of suffering. Mo Yan’s embellished prose may at times be a graphical hyperbole yet; the elucidated display of harsh rule to install fear of retribution, certainly does not underplay the archives of reality. “The Plenipotentiary wants to know how long the condemned can live after he’s cut in half”. Executions being made more enjoyable than a stage play. ‘Loyalty’, the mocking sentiment only adhering to the bearing of the subordinates confirms the nauseating truth of the burden of law lying solely on the shoulders of a common man.

Is an executioner the dregs of the society? A man at the bottom of the heap? Mo Yan debates the societal hierarchy, grading human existence by classifying stereotypic standards of rank, academia and vocation. The reckless mind-set of the hierarchical superiors towards the lives of those thriving on the margins of the society mapping the foundation of savage reality of societal absurdity pertaining to obsolete-lowly profession at variance with the aristocracy of heritable titles. If there was no executioner to culminate the penalty, then who would carry out the dire job of decapitation? If there was no butcher, then who would put a perfectly cut slice of meat on a decorated plate? If there were no daily workforce, then who would construct the railroads? No job is menial; no job is disgraceful, for all jobs are done by humans meant for their utmost survival. And every trade has its master, its zhuangyuan.

….he was neither a laotaiye nor a yuanwailang—he was the preeminent executioner in the Board of Punishments, a magician with the knife, a peerless decapitator, a man capable of inflicting the cruelest punishments, including some of his own design, a true creative genius…

Zhao Jia was a survivor grabbing every opportune circumstance, the zhuangyuan of the executioners serving for more than four decades at the Board of Punishments. A debt of gratitude released from the humble butcher’s abode, the craft singing the soliloquy of the sandalwood death.

Maoqiang, otherwise known as Cat Opera, is an operatic genre created and developed in Northeast Gaomi Township. The arias are exquisite, the staging unique, the ambience magical; in short, it is the ideal portrayal of life in the township

Meow..Meow…Life’s last opera enthralling the audience with the pomposity of death. A nation in peril, the citizens of Northeast Gaomi forever in revolt, paying the price of being heroic. The commanding policy of Kaiser Wilhelm, the autocracy of Von Ketteler , the operatic songs of mutiny drenched in bloodbaths , Sun Bing , the inheritor of the Maoqiang Opera tradition, a man of prestige among his peers, chose vengeance over the overbeaten virtue of forbearance. Sun Bing, a master performer and a rebellious reformer, rebelled against the German supremacy in China ,the railroads swarmed with the mutinous Boxer Rebellion. Mo Yan depiction of Sun Bing amalgamates the vibrant grandeur of the Opera and the humility of a single erhu retelling the tales of societal subjugation and familial fidelity, chasing the sound and the image of perspicacity and crazed laughter, questioning the validity of the undertaken rebellion. Mo Yan opens each chapter with a sombre aria staging lyrical segments of villain and heroes caught in a lifelong revolutionary opera reciting a resplendent narrative to eager listeners. Sun Bing who acted on the operas stage for most of his life became the spectacular drama himself.

In his exquisite literary pieces, Mo Yan’s treatment to his women protagonist is commendable. Mo Yan’s women irrespective to their muddled sentimentalities and promiscuous play of feminine charm are a potent mixture of fearlessness and empathy.

Having lived up till then among a performing troupe, Meiniang knew all the acrobatic moves for the opera stage, and she had never been schooled in the traditional feminine imperatives of “three obediences”—first to father, then to husband, and finally to son—and the “four virtues” of fidelity, physical charm, propriety, and fine needlework.

Sun Meiniang‘s scheming ways of using her feminine beauty for personal gain, erases the proverbial notion of “happiness” as a spotless sentiment. In a savage land, the virtuous emotion of contentment is soiled by the specks of duplicity. Meiniang’s definition of happiness strikes a balance between physical promiscuity, her undying love for her dieh(father) and the desire to have had the beauty of “lotus feet”. A true gratification in fated circumstance with no moral strings attached.

“Suffering is the road to respectability; danger is the path to prominence onstage.”

In death, the sorrowful cry of the bird oscillates in the benevolence of a dying man. The ordinary citizen, the perennial ‘common man’ swallowing insults and humiliation grasping the vulnerable nonsensical pillars of forbearance and loyalty courts the disaster of annihilation when flouts the authoritative decree. Slowly but sternly, Mo Yan layers complexities of human emotion juxtaposing ironies of tangled relationship and passionate spirit for subsistence in a dramatically charged atmosphere bestowing a humane side to every penned character besieged by their incommodious circumstances and societal status. The magical surrealism of the opera overlapping the savage reality of corporeal punishments and the socio-political ambiguity steeped in the operatic act of immorality and probity. Mo Yan’s protagonists are distinctive role players vacillating in physical and emotional rhythm and rhyme of hunger, passion, desire and bravery. The intricacies of the characters are viewed through a bifocal lens mirroring within the person’s conscience, diminishing the myopic stance of ethics. Qian Ding’s drunken melancholic confession exemplifies the relevant quandary. The fierce melodic opus depicting the stimulus of life and the opulence of death swings in musicality of the modernization and traditionalism chronicles the past and the present. The sorghum rich land of Gaomi Township reeks of sweat, blood, urine, putrefying human flesh and abhorrence of humanity and yet, from these acrid stench emits the sweet fragrance of resilience, devotion, heroism and love for a dignified existence.

The dead are noble, the living worthless….

In the prophetic Maoqiang recitals, Mo Yan raises the imperative question –‘Who is the rightful owner of the titular sagacity of being a dignified individual?’ Those who let go of their virtue of forbearance to seek equitable vengeance or those who bravely accept death penalties entangled within the lawless discrepancies or those whose lives are trampled on the whims and fancies of political supremacy or then those who call themselves the benevolent righteous protectors of the law and the land. Mo Yan chronicles the historical acrobats through an operatic act like narrative configuration, highlighting crucial historical event and figures carving a political dais for an allegorical satire of life and death set during the 1900s China, coursing through the egocentric reign of Empress Dowager Cixi, the intense socio-institutional Wuxu Reform Movement and the influential anti-imperialist Boxer Rebellion. The political history forms a secondary stratum to this illusory musicality ; political satire infusing elements of dark humour to the problematic conundrum of corruption, Imperial tyranny and the vulnerability of individual lives. Each of the Gaomi residents misplaced a part of their identity in their will to survive. The ordinary lives that go unnoticed throughout the perfidious walks of life, find an eternal glory in the cannibalistic brutality of death. Sardonically, the mislaid beauteous solemnity of the living is ultimately found in the opulence of death.

Recounting this glorious work, Mo Yan articulates –“…it is all about the sound….it was the sound that planted the seed for the novel and drove its creation”. The historical romance of human resilience evoked in the rhythmical timbre through the inimitable chorus of Maoqiang opera; merging the mournful strains of nightly train whistles into the surrealism of enchanted fox fairies, the persistent semblance of sound perforating the consciousness amid the ocular pathways created as annotations of the sound. Subsequently, as Mo Yan plants the “seed of his sounds” in his heart, I lock my eyes onto the soaring sorghum stalks scattering the grains of a valiant Gaomi, my ears affixed on the enthralling prose, I unwearyingly immerse in the “kip..kip..kip” of the rat gnawing into the dark corner, the crackling of the tanned skin with the very first bloody incision , the sharpness of the knife puncturing the smoothness of the glistening flesh, the squeals of the pigs, the shrieks of humans, the melancholic arias piercing through societal ambiguity , the excruciating screams of the dying shuddering the bashful clatter of the living , the creaking of the Yama’s Hoop as it tightens around the chastised skull, the rustle of the blood red sandalwood flowers, the uninterrupted bubbling of the sesame oil soaking the five feet tall purple sandalwood stake, the shrill of the ripped beard, the snipping of queues, the murdering of the soul, the orgasmic happiness of Meiniang, the warm blood dripping onto death’s majestic palanquin, the plonking of the bloody knife after the 500th cut , the dramatic folk operas retelling tales of oppression , the thundering sound of gallantry and human fortitude, the galumphing of destined socio-cultural revolution and the resonance of life, as the Gaomi populace knew it. My palpitations strumming to the beat of Tan xiang xing.

4/5 ****

The Butcher’s Wife – Li Ang

The Butcher's Wife

Akin to piercing a bunch of steely needles, quick, sharp pains pulsated between Lin Shi’s youthful legs, pinching a nerve within me. The excruciating screams resonating the “bleating of ghostly pigs” flooded my ears crashing into the serenity of nest-weaving on a nearby tree, numbness crept within me as I watched the crow gathering the wires from a broken cable. The words from the book kept reassembling blurred images juxtaposing polarized worlds of fact and fiction, exhausting my cognitive skills. The woman who kisses her children nightly goodbyes whispering motherly “I love you” in their naive ears, her four beautiful children, each a product of gruesome marital rape. The edgy lady over the cosmetic counter looking for the perfect Bobbi Brown matte hue to conceal her purplish contusions , the long sleeves worn on a scorching summer day ; the uninterrupted metaphors collide within my sanity , the squealing of pigs against the insensitive butcher’s knife reaching to its loudest decibel. “I killed him because he killed me thousand times over”; can an acquittal ever be found in this testimony of defence pertaining to the marital crimes? The slicing of a gut finds substantial verification in its streams of gushing blood. The vagina that bleeds just once, sexually, where can it find its essential proof of further marital violation? Can a bleeding soul be admitted as evidence in the court of law? In the holier-than-thou christened “sacrament of marriage” the men’s privileges is elevated onto a pedestal diluting the civil liberties of women, mocking the constitution of a womb that ironically reproduces its very own predators. The tree of patriarchy flourished in egocentric illusionary presumptions. The numbness within me now,discovers its first breathing sentiment– anger.

He had already set a pattern of wanting her when he returned from the slaughterhouse in the morning. The only question was how often. During the “honeymoon” period she had been forced to endure her man nearly every other day. Occasionally, the intervals were even shorter and he might want her several times in a single day. Always he would reach for her when she was least prepared…..he simply didn’t care.”

Inspired by a newspaper article of a factual domestic crime in 1930s Shanghai, China ; Li Ang interlace a admirably insightful narration of the social taboos, sexual abuse, female oppression, humanity downtrodden in issues of hunger , sex and death and the misconstrued emotional stance of female sexual ecstasy paramount in convoluted echelon of Taiwanese social order. The escalation of Lin Shi’s matrimonial nightmare ensnares in the socio-cultural stereotypes and Jiangshui’s sadistic sexual requisites. A pig butcher by profession, Chen Jiangshui was finest in his craft, an occupation consequential to his impoverished childhood. Although Li Ang conveys a humane side to Jiangshui, his benign being crumbles in the monstrosity adhered in his sadomasochism, grasping animalistic cravings for his share of women and their orgasmic overtures approaching the pitch of “squealing of pigs in the face of death.” Violence committed against women, irrespective to the sexual, physical or emotional nature of the abuse crosses the socio-economic barriers, the criminal profundity soaring the scales in rural territories. Lin Shi’s sanity obliterated in Chen’s ruthless abuse and her ordeal abandoned in the lunacy of debilitated human dignity.

“Once you get your own woman, you don’t have to be an old bum no more………. You got somebody to sleep with you. That’s what I call having it made!”

Is marriage a sexual contract? The demanding phallocentric discourse dictating penetrative sex as a prerogative of the husband. Can sexual abuse be warranted as a part and parcel of a marriage which a woman is fated to accept? Conjugal privileges, who regulates the rights? The phallocratic hierarchy? Who proposed the penile supremacy? And if, sexual climax is perceived through the culmination of a man’s orgasm, then where does the pinnacle of a woman’s sexual ecstasy stand? Doesn’t a wife have the privilege of achieving sexual pleasures or it is that lascivious moans are synonymous with the entirety of a prostitute? Shamefully, the conventions of patriarchy perceives a woman’s body to be a sexual outlet , a sex tool for men to gain pleasure , the demeaning construal gaining momentum in a conjugal sanctity. Li Ang highlights the dehumanization of women comparing the violent penetrative sex to the slaughter of the pigs. Sexual violence within a marriage is beyond restriction of penile penetration with the brutality further escalating in physical exploitation. Chen Jiangshui’s abusive treatment meted to Lin Shi contradicts his complacent demeanour during his brothel visits. The indulgence of sexual ecstasy favouring the prostitute more than the maltreatment of Lin Shi infers the extremities of male-female relationships especially to conjugal domestication. Is the vagina, a dowry that a wife brings in her matrimonial abode? In the order of phallocracy the wife is ordained to be a wedded “property” of the husband, the socio-culture overlooking the violation of sexism in the exercising physical, emotional abuse; sexual being the ultimate domination of power.

“He couldn’t ignore the popular belief that contact with menstrual blood brought bad luck to a man, especially considering the bloody nature of his occupation. Good omens were more important than anything else.”

The womb is the decisive source of life, menstruation being the path to the revered fertility. If menstrual blood is viewed as “tainted” the derivation of bad omen, then every penis procreated in the womb consequently should equate the malign prophecy of a “sinful” establishment. Frivolity of superstitions helm the patriarchal dogma; menstruation being the foremost sign of griminess. Menstrual blood fetches the affliction of a “bad omen”; however, brutally raping a menstruating woman has no such sacrilegious consequences. Duplicitous code of patriarchy masquerading in ludicrous premise to debase the sovereignty of a woman, isn’t it? The barrenness of a womb plunged into the darkness of malicious labelling. The cowardice of an impotent penis concealed in the courage of a maligned fertile womb.

“Good omen”; “bad omen”, the constant shuffle regenerates plagued superstitions overriding the ethical sensibilities submerged in the doomed hypocritical world. The ceremonial customs adhere in honouring the departed souls, the divine retribution blessed with good omen among the glowing joss sticks, multiple course meals crowding the celebratory table, is a resounding slap across the disingenuous societal visage reeking of sarcasm expecting obeisance of customary rites of sumptuous offerings to venerate the sacrifices of the dead, whilst brazenly violating the humanity of the earthbound living souls. The butchering of a pregnant sow is an unpardonable offence, conceived in the axiom –“The destruction of womb, the source of life…”, a bad omen petrifying Chen Jiangshui seeking deliverance , sardonically, showing no such earnest penitence in malevolently vilifying Lin Shi. The outlandish institution of patriarchy, a bunch of self-merited egocentric humans who lack the humane receptivity of wisdom and intellect to recognize that the thriving of ‘bad omen’ does not originate in the stream of menstrual blood or the emancipation of womankind, but in the oppression of a human being.

“All a woman has to do is put up with a while and it’ll pass. Who ever heard of someone yelling and carrying on until everybody in the neighbourhood knows and no other woman is willing to speak up for her. Honestly!”

The two-facedness of phallocracy strides outside the society of men, materializing in the communal quarters of women. Lamentably, women are not only oppressed by their male counterparts but also by the members of their own species. Li Ang moves from the confines phallus sectors elucidating the social traits of falsified morality and frustration over gender discrepancies, stemming from the female dilemmas trapped in overpowering phallocentric dogma. The elderly Ah-wang’s adherence to the iron-clad patriarchal system decodes her own fallacies rooted in promoting her probity, ardently championing female obeisance to their husband’s ascendancy. The “three-inch golden lotuses” that rendered Ah-wang to a life-long struggle, hideously depicts the callous approach of a phallocentric culture disregarding the misery of women and Ah-wang’s acceptance of a male dominating society to be a way of life, the phallocratic ethics embedded within her core rearing. Ah-wang found a bizarre sense of satisfactory excitement in her predatory habits of demeaning women. If men are guilty for the annihilation and condemnation of women, then women too should be held culpable in furthering the malicious circumstances. The lack of social and monetary support and the emptiness coagulated within the ruins of integrity, women rarely find an undeterred supporter in their own genus. Furthermore, women do tend to gossip spreading wanton rumours, speaking ill of the abused victim , failing to garner courage and speak up for the wounded; a dilemma faced by those surviving at the lowest rung of the sexist ladder. The social alienation face by the victim is a consequence of the defenceless minority. The world of oppressed women is eventually descended in deadly silence falling back into sinister depths of silent submissions. Lin Shi and her mother along with the women of Lucheng were doomed fatalities of nauseating silence.

Does having a kind heart save a woman from domestic abuse? Is kindness always rewarded? When does the final fragment of endurance disintegrate into the viscosity of fatigue? When will a perpetually horrified soul discover the solace of tranquillity?

In a land , my very own (India) where patriarchy still raises its ugly fangs, where the fruits of patriarchy are laboured through archaic laws and preposterous display of male ego , where marital rape is decriminalized in order to preserve the laughable “sacrament” of a marriage, and where the myopic sections of the Penal Code amend loopholes that are not grounded in reality but purview fallacy ; an astute scripted prose that put forth questions and seeks viable answers irrespective to its realistic mockery, simmers a debate between the perceptive reader and subsequent humanitarian outlook embroiled in a societal reality , making the undertaken manuscript reading worth every written page ,hoping that someplace, someday, the womb , the vagina, the breast , the haemorrhaged soul and its honoured possessor will find emancipation from its societal subjugation. Perhaps then, there shall be not a single speck of irony lingering within the melodious rendition of Chen Jiangshui’s preferred song–

As the second watch sounds, the moon lights up the courtyard,
I lead my darling girl into her chamber,
We are fated to be lovers tonight
Pay no heed to what others say.


Rice – Su Tong


The vacant page mutely gazing at me retells the current state of my mind. The sporadic cursor alternating the iridescent flashes of the gold teeth neatly aligned within Five Dragons’ proud mouth appears to be the solitary outlet alleviating the burden of my disorderly inferences about life, thriving within and around the Great Swan Rice Emporium. Startlingly, a habit I had once nurtured from my father found an uncanny presence among the pages of this manuscript, amid the raw rice kernels Five Dragons simultaneously popped in his mouth. The subtle aroma of freshly harvested rice maturing in several gunny bags, the blissful fragrant steam swirling from a humble bowl of boiled rice and the complacent hunger swaying to the tunes of mouthfuls of food stumble upon a significant bridge amalgamating personal nuances with those procured through fictitious consciousness yielding the magnitude of a modest food grain and its devastating persuasion. Su Tong’s artful phraseology dissolves along the sunlit streets of the Brick Mason Avenue casting forlorn memories of the quaint Maple-Poplar Village submerged in the nauseating innards of one entity, one defining personage, who compels to ponder on the humanistic possibilities and probabilities of redemption and retribution in the acrimony of deformed reality.

“Travellers from home are like stray dogs; they sleep when they’re tired, wherever they are and their expressions- lethargic and groggy at times ferocious at others are more doglike than human…… This is the city: chaotic and filled with weird things that draw people like flies, to lay their maggoty eggs and move on. Everyone damns the city, but sooner or later they come anyhow…”

An overpowering introspection of the 1930s China ; a land plagued with war, floods, famine and rebellion, plunged deeper into the darkest extremities of survival and life influenced by the delicate perception of an agricultural country and vulnerability of its populace. The rural territories ravaged by calamities, liable for hordes of homeless migrants swarming in the city , brings along an orphan from the Maple-Poplar Village on a strange journey where the long road ahead tempts with an endless supply of rice but is clueless of the destination where life and death meet. Five Dragons’ impression of the city evaluates the universal irony of two contradictory worlds triumphant in their own intrinsic virtuosity. The exodus depicts imaginative haven the rural folks concoct eventually surrendering to their temptations of fostered dreams of fame and wealth. Su Tong paints the harsh reality of the impervious glamorous city dwellings prioritizing the success rate of survival above all humanity , exemplifying an ugly truth of a ‘dog-eats-dog’ world brimming with black marketers, warlords, egocentrism, exploitation, murders, mutilations, torment and vengeance. The probability of a jade bracelet having a place in the family registry surpassed the accessibility of an ounce of love. The term “a great coffin” synonymous to the city elevates the significance of ‘rice’ through the degree of relationships between the country bumpkins and the city slickers, spiralling downwards onto a dais of corruption and consciousness.

Want to know how I managed to become what I am today? By nurturing that hatred. It’s the prize of human capital. You can forget your mother and father, but you must never relinquish your hatred.”

Are people condemned to live in isolation? Is a man born with the simmering emotion of hatred? Or, is it then ,the seeds of hatred are sown in the muddy waters of human manipulation, nurtured through season of egotism, infidelity, lowliness to the culmination of a vicious harvest of vengeance? Su Tong’s overwhelming portrayal of the sinister human nature entwines the cynicism of contemptuous standard of living and the sanguinity of a dream yet to be pursued, the rhythmic clatter of the railroad haunting the passage to time dilapidating flanked by delusion and veracity. Alongside the dream of improving his life, Five Dragons nurtured the bitter seeds of hatred, its shadows falling on the Feng family, its core of darkness thriving among seething anger and humiliation. The word ‘pity’ comes to my mind when the inherent images of the fated Feng family simultaneously click in the corner of my eye. The ugly side of the human nature corrode the benign innards through ceaseless suffocation and starvation to attain a sense of belonging and empathy. It is here that one stops reading the scripted prose and wonder whether life is simply a joke; clowning its way through the living. The yearly rice harvest being at the mercy of the whims and fancy of the nature; the imminent harvest callously being washed away by the sudden torrential rainfall. The puny shoots of peace withered into an impartial pairing of fortune and misfortune and the disgrace of feeling less than a human solidifying its monster approximating indestructible steel pounded through the furnace fires nurturing the sensation of hatred as an eternal tool in Wu Long’s troubled heart.

“Rice enveloping feminine flesh or feminine flesh wrapped around rice always drove him into a state of uncontrollable sexual desire.”

Su Tong’s vivid portrayal of a culture deeply rooted in its agricultural land symbolizes the annual survival of rice grains to the value of life and the heritage of a prevailing race. The cultivation of rice interprets the social, economical and political panorama of a country and the complexities of its populace. ‘Rice’ signifies the defining standard, the deciding scale upon which the stages of life and nature are carefully calculated; a method particularly central to the existence of Five dragons. The over implications of the act of illicit sex connote one of the imperative module in deciphering the state of sexual desire and the subsequent paradoxical measure to the “purity” of rice grains. The ruthless delineation of the abusive cycle of sex and violence in a misogynistic patriarchy traces its origins in the twisted psychological sentimentalities and habitual sadomasochism. Rice and sex are the two self-destructive forms of power and control seducing Five Dragons’ deepest sexual urges and sadistic fetishes. The expression of rice being more dependable and pragmatic than a woman congeals an irrational notion within Five Dragons of rice being much more “cleaner” than the woman being fucked or the act of sex. The tussle between the controlling calm over the presence of the “rice” and the chauvinistic power over the feminine flesh or to be precise the domination over a vagina, indicates a repulsive human personage crammed between the predatory yearnings and corrupted reality ; the mislaid human spirit clutching on to the wispy threads of love for a third lifeless entity. The widespread misogynistic attitude of strictly adhered in the sexual discrepancies and the obnoxious treatment meted out to the woman of the Feng family. The abusive state finding a justification in Cloud Weave’s heartening proclamation:-“The world is really strange. Men can play around all they want, but women aren’t supposed to return the favour…….Well, this is one woman who’s going to play by her own rules…” Su Tong’s female protagonists steadily become a sensitive pictogram of patriarchal victimizations, powerless and pedestrian, their sexuality the solitary source of their emancipation however insignificant the exercise of free will may have been.

Rice, the life-sustaining crop, the first solid food fed to a child, the first auspicious offering made to honour the dead, the sovereign symbol of prosperity and fertility; disintegrates in the deficient social order appropriating an antonym to life. Rice defining all becomes its own contradiction.

“To him nothing was important than life itself, unless it was improving the quality of life.”

What makes us human? What makes us subhuman? Are these two terminologies correlated with the disquieting response favouring the tipping dimensions of absurdity? The poignant reminder, a single tear shed in search for familiar faces in the crowd demarcating the parallel worlds of “false” and “real”. The desire to live for the accomplishment of a dream and the desperation to survive out of the fear of death; what can be labelled as a “bona fide” life? The existence that thrive in covetousness and wealth yet beckoning the fall of humankind or the life dishonoured in the dregs of poverty and subhuman conduct inching to a similar deteriorating of humankind? And then what should be termed as a “false” life? The new set of gold teeth becomes the speech of a voiceless man, the trust for a humane recognition. The pomposity of materialistic power metamorphosed the “false” into “real” and vice-versa. The actual calcified teeth, an altruistic gift from the parents disposed for being speechless, the mortification disseminating into the haughtiness of a golden lust.

The conflict between man and society unearthing the evil human nature festers in an endless contempt harboured by the various penned characters of this book. In the brutal struggle to improve the quality of life, each surviving person evokes an animalistic side, fiercely battling to seek an ounce of happiness and unchallenging acceptance. Does then, the prejudicial communal outlook renders oneself to be hateful? Or merely in a distorted reality the fight for survival is marred with merciless policy?

“It was, after all, rice, and rice alone, that had a calming, cooling effect on him; all his life it had comforted him.”

The simple rice grain strenuously toiling in a steaming pot, rinsing all the impurities to produce one perfect bowl of steamed rice, is an animated testament of the blood, tears and sweat shed by the farmers to produce one glorious harvest, that develop into a life-source for millions of hungry stomachs. In the vicious battle of survival, the world of rice provides the ultimate comfort to Five Dragons, his true sense of belonging, redefining the perversion of enduring extremities. A boxful of finest white rice becomes his sole salvation linking the calamitous nature to the complexities of man. Besides a handful of white grains, there may be no redemption, may be a delayed retribution and certainly no love, yet there is a chance of fortitude through every mound of rice glistening from the gunny bags, rice, a symbol of survival. And, each day at supper it finds a well-merited place on my dining table.


To Live – Yu Hua

To Live

It had been slightly more than 14 hours since my stomach had its last morsel of food. Compared to those numerous stomachs that for months become a perfect stranger to the concept of food, a mere 14 hours seems negligible. Yet, my stomach was growling in agony. Call me silly or juvenile! It was then that I had decided to confirm my skepticism over Youqing’s words. The cup of rice that lay in a comatose position couple minutes ago, was now ferociously gulping the simmering salted water. The rice appeared to be hungrier than me. The sweetness of the cooked rice audaciously prevailed in its steamy saltiness and its celebratory gongs resounded in my mouth. Youqing’s divine happiness found a way into my kitchen as the steamy rice porridge swirled into the cooking pot. Never had I thought that simple rice porridge could be blissful; never had I tasted such sweetness in a bowl of cooked rice gruel. As I savoured the warm porridge with a couple of pickled lemons and cucumbers, I gazed at the crawling red ant that was frantically finding its way out of from the starchy rice circle that I had drawn on the granite counter. Surrounded by the glutinous fluid the ant was searching for a way out to live. A stream of memories of Fugui flooded my mind and I wondered how humans find the gist of survival through their darkest despair and how my belly did became alive again through the fragrance of a simple fare. What is it that makes a person jammed in a hell hole redefine the laws of death? What is it that gives enormous courage to the hands that releases the stubborn knot fasten around the neck gifting joy to the crushed facial veins? Where does destiny and retribution stand in the assessment of life that exhales through the power of simplicity? What is the true gift of life?

“When the chicken grew up it turned into a goose, the goose in turn grew into a lamb and the lamb became an ox…….”

With every clandestine sound of the dice rolled in the clutch of the palms, with every card slapped on the table and with every moan of a whore being fucked, the ox became a lamb and the lamb a goose and then all that was left was a scrawny chicken pecking the remnants of the once glorious Xu family ancestry. As Changgen’s sturdy back became a daily travelling chesterfield for Fugui, the merciless elements of the House of Qing gulped the lustrous 100 mu of fertile land. The flourishing ox had given way to an impoverished chicken. The chronicle of livelihood that spans from the 1940s to the late 1970s and beyond, illustrates a man’s poignant journey from the zenith of affluent arrogance to the lowly plains of impecunious humility. For the prodigal son of the Xu family, one of the most crucial life lessons saw its roots grow deep into poverty and China’s political mayhem. Fugui trekked an unseemly rock-strewn path that was carved by Fugui’s gluttony, recklessness and later by his humility and admiration for life. The flight from an ox to a chicken was far easier than from a chicken to an ox. The treacherous path on which the chicken walked had its moments of a cheerfully smooth road where the goose had turned into the lamb, but as fate would have it the lambs were slaughtered to feed the ravenous life. Nonetheless, it was the lowly chicken that bestowed Fugui with the factual essence of life and gratification. If it is the subsistence along with the chicken that makes a person realize his hollow superciliousness and value life even more , only to be grateful for an ox later in life, then it is worth every cluck. Fugui’s affectionate mother would always say, “As long as you are happy in work, there is nothing to be ashamed of poverty.” Jiazhen gladly agrees too. But, in a world where the chicken is trampled without even a cackling sound by the gigantic ox, where does happiness thrive. Even though happiness blooms in the five fen candies Fugui gifted his only son, it vanishes the moment the lambs adorn the cooking pots of the communal dining hall. If poverty is nothing to be ashamed about, why does it then bring ignominy to the one that holds it? Why does the melodic resonance of money become a burden on one’s back and remain long-lasting yearning of the trembling ears who once adored it heartily? Why only the moneyed do legitimatize ambitious dreams? Why is the virtuousness of poverty snatched by the pitiless rich? Why did the colossal Chinese political oxen trample the lowly rural folks? Why is it that ordinary folks were afraid to be ambitious? What made Fugui think that he could honour his ancestors when he was nobody but a big-headed buffoon, taking his privileges for granted? What made Fugui a decent man who righteously honoured his ancestors?

“This time”, I said to myself, “I’ve got to keep on living.”

Fugui knew he had to keep on living. Jiazhen told him so too and so did the disappearing lives that encircled Fugui. Fengxia’s beautiful smile and Youquin’s naivety gave Fugui the potency to keep on living. To live when bounded by the unfathomable torrents of death is a dreadful irony. Yu Hua’s socialist realism novel which draws some of its inspiration ( Yu Hua’s own words) from the American folk song “Old Black Joe , is filled with sardonic incongruities. The rural folk of China; the poor peasants who faithfully marched alongside, initially with Chiang Kai-shek and then later with Chairman Mao were betrayed by the very own in whom they their well being was dependable. When the Nationalists commanded to bring the cannon, the poor walked onto the war front, when the Liberation Army walked into class warfare, farming lands were snatched, when the political leaders said smelting iron was profitable, pots from every kitchen seized and when officials asked for blood, every ounce was drained from the frail body. The Cultural Revolution became a playground of vengeance, hatred laced with bloodshed that played on the boundaries of human frailty. When the government asked the people to snatch, they snatched and when asked to donate, they gave till the final breath of their lives. The government officials and leaders were allowed to harbour sky soaring aspirations, whereas the ones for whom these political ambitions were employed were chastised for having dreams. In the dreams of Communism the common folk found credence and letting common folk to dream is what the Communist feared the most. Isn’t it paradoxical in the most cold-blooded manner? The Chinese government in their quest to redeem the lost glory of their country had become vindictive master puppeteers pulling the strings of the poor rural folk as per as their egoistic fancy. Yu Hua narrows his swelling satire to ironies brimming through lives surviving in the Xu family household, wheeling the fundamental nature of the novel. Jiazhen’s new found happiness in her impoverished life that was lost in her elite survival. Fugui cherishing a peaceful sleep at the end of his exhaustive and assiduous days is a far cry from his insomniac gambling and whoring days. Long-Er whose insatiability for a landowner class escalated in the House of Qing, dug its own grave. The whistle that the ‘team leader’ blew so fervently assigning the governmental tasks to the villagers became the frightful messenger of death. A fare of steamy hot buns was more formidable to the vacant belly than two violent bullets. The simple, coarse grain of rice became prized crystals shinning in the pot of boiling water. The brazen skin that has once had taken pleasure in the softness of silk was repelled by the “snot-like” fabric. Fate had become the biggest irony of all and Fugui its foremost angst-ridden victim.

Analogous to his other novelChronicle of a Blood Merchant, Yu Hua exemplifies the significance of a strong familial infrastructure. In the course of Fugui’s lifetime, family became his prime custody and most valued wealth. It was in the continuation of the modest family of four that both Fugui and Jiazhen found elation. Fugui’s metamorphism from a callous patriarch to being a respectable, loving and conscientious father is noteworthy. Jiazhen is the quintessential enduring and sympathetic woman who is not only a devoted mother but an honourable wife who stayed with Fugui through the thick and thin. Yu Hua deeply focuses on the vulnerability of a father-son relationship that prospers through the chaotic tides of time. A family is forever traced through its ancestral roots and the subsequent kismet or calamity finds a way to trickle down in the residual future generations. This is the very reason due to which I find great fondness in Yu Hua’s brilliant works. Every county, every street, every home is crammed with incalculable stories. Every personal version chronicled through powerfully diversified voices. Yu Hua releases these claustrophobic narratives of ordinary folk who are never able to find a worthy listening ear. Although average folks do not comprehend the nitty-gritty of egocentric political games yet they regrettably are the sole debt bearers of the pandemonium. Even so, these very people strongly establish their diligence and dignity in the midst of a thunderous societal revolution and virtuously wrestle the adversities while bleeding through the shards of their fate. Yu Hua lets the characters speak for themselves as they disentangle the psychological insights from their compactly meshed run of the mill personages.

“Fugui is a good ox. Of course he gets lazy sometimes, but even people drag their feet from time to time— how can you expect an animal not to?….. I know when to make him work and when to let him rest. If I’m tires then I know he must be tired too……”

Yu Hua creates a surreal bridge between man and beast. It is amusing to comprehend the heart of a man who once had meted animalistic treatment towards humans, now identifies with the suffering and anguish of an animal. The life of an ox becomes an imprinted metaphor for the human conditions prevailing during the era of China’s political evolution. The oxen that strived throughout their tedious lives to the point of extreme exhaustion only to be slaughtered in their twilight years resembles the quandary of numerous lives that were slaughtered throughout the Chinese socio-political landscapes. The beloved lambs found no other compassionate owner than the young Youqing. In this “coming-of- age” tale, where ripeness of life does not come through the numerical gradations of age, but through convoluted experiences and endeavours of survival; Yu Hua illustrates how vacillating providence and indecorous state of affairs bestow animalistic treatment on the living exposing the core of human shortcomings.

It is said that Yu Hua spent most of his childhood roaming in the hospital corridors (his father was a doctor and Yu Hua himself is a trained dentist), thus once again (similar to Chronicle of Blood Merchant) the hospital becomes a symbol of death and anguish, where the difference between animal and human is scrubbed away by shoddy and narcissistic medical conduct.

“The dead all want to keep on living. Here you are alive and kicking, you can’t die……….. Your life is given to you by your parents. If you don’t want to live, you have to ask them first.”

The anonymous young traveller who patiently listened to Fugui among the breezy green fields recognized the zeal Fugui had for his life. Fugui could remember his past as clear as the water that ran through the fields. Never once did his aging memory falter as he recounted the excruciating steps of his living. Fugui loved his life, come what may. Like the crops he faithfully cultivated on his five mu field; he cultivated an undying love for life, even from its treacherous terrains. Living is the true gift of life. Even the dead desire to keep on living. The love for one’s life, the love for one’s family is what loosens the knot suffocating the neck. Staying alive and go on living isn’t easy. Because, no matter how lucky a person is, the moment he decided he wants to die, there is nothing that can keep him alive. When a child is born with its very first cry, when the first rice sapling is born from its muddy womb; life is celebrated. The parents who hold the child, the farmer who takes pride in the first rice sapling; both of them seek life and not death. Then, Fugui is accurate when he says that when one wants to end life, one should ask for the parents’ permission. For they have gifted the essence of life. And, when one’s parents have been long dead, it is more the reason to be alive; to keep on living. To live is heroic. To love life is the true gift of living. Fugui was heroic and so were the members of the Xu family and the citizens of China who went on living with solemnity and vehemence throughout the tormented course of their country’s historical labyrinth and, the numerous people who keep on living through dastardly circumstances. It is here that I paused with the spoon clanking on to the now empty bowl exhibiting the dried traces of relished rice porridge. The ant is tired now and looking at that industrious insect I mocked at my pettiness. When numerous Fuguis of the world could have the courage to find love for life, why do I sometimes deter from finding that bravery. All my empty stomach needed was a mere spoonful of the warm porridge to keep it from falling into gloomy sickness. All Fugui needed was to view splashes of death escaping his fate to gain the audacity to live. All Jiazhen needed was to be with her family every day to keep on living. All that was needed was the eternal love for life. I knew the ant would come back to bite me one day, but at that moment I was glad to see it run into the sunlight as I wiped away its starchy grave.

**[ The Xu family – actors playing the said roles in the namesake movie]


Life and Death are Wearing Me Out – Mo Yan

 Lifeand Death are Wearing Me Out
Rides the fierce Lord Yama( God of death) to his somber destination, robustly plopped on the back of a water buffalo, waiting to pick the departed soul from the face of the earth. In the quest between Heaven and Hell, the soul lingers in the probability of its verdict. The shimmering blue skin contrasting the black hide of the animal becomes a petrifying vision. “Pray, pray from the heart, so the soul finds a place in heaven.”. The words of my grandfather keep ringing in my ears as I see Ximen Nao pleading in front of Lord Yama. A silent prayer subconsciously leaves my mouth at the sight of every passing funeral, even today, always. But, will my heartfelt words truly expunge the “sins” of the departed stranger on the final journey? Reincarnation, does the concept even find a genuine standing beyond its mythical realms? Heaven and Hell; does it even exist? If there is such a thing as “God of Death”, then why do tyrannical humans play the coveted role with such panache? Hell is right here on this very earth that at times makes death seem heavenly. Heaven is right here, residing within the tapered corners of a hellish life. Was my grandfather unaware of this perception when he used to tell me tales of reincarnation and the mortal sins that human souls are compelled to compensate? Or was his aware of it? The cawing of the crow becomes louder barging in my stream of thoughts. I angrily shoo it away, only to realize that later this year there will come a day on which I will be gazing deep into the crow’s eyes to question the proof of my grandparent’s soul residing within the bird, while it pecks into the 5-course meal that I shall offer on my window sill.

Human Chronicles

“This is not a personal hatred. This is class hatred.”

Man. Woman. Society prevails. Rich. Poor. Caste. Class. Societal segregation. Is it worth, the divisive techniques of human cataloging? To be born in higher or lower class is not a felony; the pre-meditated crime committed on the powerless is punishable. The hurricane of simmering wrath that brings along the arrogance of the newly anointed masters sweeping away grievances, does it then halt to classify between the good and the bad? The fine line trembling between in the roaring domains of justice and injustice is ruthlessly crushed in the race to gain “class martyrdom”. Ironically, humans corrupt freedom in the course of gaining autonomy. The dreams of a narcissistic egalitarianism are nurtured on the tombs of genuine ones. In the game of the oppressor becoming the oppressed and vice-versa, where does true martyrdom lies and in whose mausoleum? Fates are altered; dreams are disseminated from the communicative daises to create a fair and just society. To kill in order to gain, is this a fair and just society? And who eventually decides its staunch verdict? To be born with a silver spoon in a landlord class was Ximen Nao’s sin. Having two concubines and several impoverished peasants working under him his grave offense. Ximen Nao was neither a saint nor a sinner. Ximen Nao was a human being wrongly prosecuted. His only blunder was that he did not recognize the beginning and end of the love and hate cycle. Ximen Nao was a stranger to a world beyond riches. The Agrarian Land Reform (1950) prosecuted more thousands of landlords and as the burgeoning class war reached to its highest magnitude, it awarded the peasants back their land and animals while annihilating the class of landlord. The ideology of class hatred brought along with it viciousness and stringent prejudices that were carried through decade-long angst , eventually seeped into the lives of Lan Lian, Ximen Bai, Yingchun , Wu Qiuxiang and the Ximen progenies ; agonizing their already troubled lives. The revolution bequeathed the power to slaughter the discarded. With the onset of Communism as Hong Taiyue became a revolutionary martyr, the melodious sounds of an ox bone became louder and Lan Lian’s blue birthmark a shade darker.

“I’ve said it before. The only way I’ll join the commune is if Mao Zedong orders me too.”

Lan Lian, the inimitable “white crow” was not only China’s sole independent farmer but also the country’s lone hero. Submerged in the Communist mantra of “mine is yours and yours in mine”, the commune overpowered the very freedom of ownership that it once bestowed its beloved ‘peasant classes’. In the war of collectivism v/s independent, Lan Lian stood tall battling against every argumentative vulgarity and irrationality that was thrown at him by his comrades and family members. The hypocritical luminosity of the national and county bureaucracy glowed brighter than the gloomy moonlight that saw an obstinate yet, heroic man toil on his meager 1.6 acres land with his beloved “Blackie”, blissful in the fruits of his true ownership. The screams of joining the Commune deafened amid the dense sorghum stalks. To truthfully own a piece of land during the reign of People’s Commune was more precious than the virility quintessence within the horns of an ox.

“We are youth born in the era of Mao Zedong and though we have no choice in who we are born as, we do have a choice in which path to take.”

Ximen Jinlong in his survival through China’s most turbulent historical times becomes the momentous caricature of every child born and every adolescent that grew amongst the political upheaval that span for several decades. Jinlong’s predicament of adhering to the Lan v/s Ximen class battle was a reservoir for his futuristic incalculably ambitious goals. Over the course of the five-decade long socio-political pandemonium, China’s youth that births in various discordant circumstances become victims to their very own creations. Then be it Jiefang’s poignant persuasive ideologies in the battle between collectivism and independence, Kaifang, Ximen Huan and Fenghuang’s muddled lives or the irremediable anguish of Huzhu that bled more profusely than the throbbing capillaries in Hezuo’s fleshy long hair. The children of Mao’s era were forever lost in the hostilities of love and hate, disintegrating not only under their individual internal conflicts, but also those that were passed along through their parental and societal lineage. The proposal of a surrogate love was as susceptible as the prosthetic leg, for in the end both would be ravaged by famished stomachs amid a humanity drought.

Animal Chronicles

“When I was reborn as a donkey, I was reminded of Ximen Nao’s grievances and when I was reborn as an ox I was reminded of the injustice he suffered.”

Holding on to his inbred aggression and suffering without which his long lost earth would be worthless, Ximen Nao , once the revered landlord finds himself on a journey through several birthing canals of a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog and a monkey as he travels through each of his chosen ranks of the animal kingdom moving closer with each step to the human territory . The enlightening expedition that witnesses Ximen Nao going through series of animal reincarnation, spans over 50 years commencing from the primitive bucolic landscape to the industrial new age rising on the periphery of a celebratory millennium. Through the humble eyes of the donkey, Ximen Nao excruciatingly views the aftermath of the crimes stemming from his lineage. He discovers the true meaning of love, but not without paying a bitter price for it. Through the trauma and the miseries of his loved ones, Ximen Nao concludes that the injustice he suffered as a human refuse to give in even to his woes of an animal. Life is inequitable and if humans are blinded by supremacy and hold on to fraudulent paths in torturing their own species, who would give a damn to those lowly animals. Through the strength of an ox, Ximen Nao stood by his most devoted “adoptive” son (Lan Lian) and the moralistic dignity that he seemed to have overlooked as human, implements through the heartbreaking yet laudable existence of an ox. Along with Lan Lian, Ximen Donkey and Ximen Ox become glowing symbols of integrity and loyalty in a place where betrayal and egocentricity was universal.

“Every pig born is a cannon shell fired into the stronghold of the imperialists, revisionists, and reactionaries. . . .”

“Mate for the revolutions”; “Bring benefits to people” slogans painted while alcoholic pigs paraded on the stage for the glorious dream of the Ximen Village Production Brigade Apricot Garden Pig Farm –a flourishing enterprise of New China. Pigs were essential in combat for if war ever came they would rescue the hungry soldiers with their meat. Ximen Pig, Diao Xiaosan and the numerous residences of the ‘Apricot Garden Pig Farm’ were a profitable business model to appease the whims and fancies of the most honoured revolutionaries of Gaomi County. No matter how much a pig rebels, ultimately in the battle against human v/s. scourge of pigs, the latter becomes a decaying carcass thrown by a filled stomach because even with the grandiose preferential treatment, a pig is still a pig and Ximen Pig a filthy and shameful part of the society. Why do animals strike people? Why do they rebel in their own obstinate ways? Have you ever wondered? Did Xu Bao envision the excruciating pain of the animal when he delightfully enjoyed his meal of freshly cut gonads? How would humans feel if they were castrated? How would humans feel if their faces were painted, bodies dowsed with tinted slogans and paraded on the stage as a combat enterprise for the betterment of the revolution? Oh, wait! Humans were no less than animals too. They were humiliated when their dignity and spirit of survival was castrated by the prejudicial soldiers of Commune. Their faces were indeed dowsed with red paint when they rebelled against the present authorities. Akin to the piglets that were used for gastronomic purposes, the minds of naive children were butchered by tyrannical “revolutionaries”. In the process of creating structure to humankind, man had turned animalistic. And they thought that the mongrel did not know any better, when Ximen Dog was dancing and singing at the Tianhua Square.

“The enemy is in the light, we’re in the dark. We see what we want to see, we can see them, but they can’t see us.”

Class warfare has been a constant sight in the existence of any boisterous civilization. The venom of class conflict and prejudices has trickled into the animal kingdom. The donkey having an aversion to the ostracized bastard mules , the pinkish Ximen Pig’s dismissal of the scrawny black boar and the acceptance by Ximen Dog for being a mere mongrel are striking examples that exhibits societal discrimination and the suffrage for being on the weaker end of the meted differential treatment. Albeit the societal class-strata, one is compelled to ask, how come when humans boasts of their species being of the highest order in evolution and degrade the lifestyles of mere animals, they themselves resort to their primal aggressiveness and animalistic traits making the rhesus monkey appear much more civilized than the very humans who tarnish their own civilization?

Life and Death Wears me Out

“Everything that comes from the earth shall return to it….”

Mo Yan is back with his self-depreciating mockery. But, unlike in The Republic of Wine, Mo Yan here is supposedly an ugly reincarnation of Lord Yama’s secretary whose obnoxious and prying demeanor makes him one of the worst Ximen Village citizens. Nevertheless don’t be fooled by this buffoonery as this is one of Mo Yan’s powerful works. Akin to his character’s proficiency of being a supreme wordsmith, Mo Yan artistically weaves a five decade political and historical panoramic view of the Chinese society through its trials and tribulations in the course of the Mao and post-Mao era. Every living being, be it human or animal or even the reddish-orange leaves of the Apricot tree, comes alive in this postmodernist folk-lore that spins a alluring web of magical realism encompassing metaphysical elements with satire, absurdity , simplicity , fantasy , yet keeping the essence of an hellish actuality that a country witnessed with valour. The citizen of Ximen Village thrive in their own insecurities overshadowing their survival; some come out of the sickly sweet abyss only to fall back again and then there are some like Hong Taiyue and Xu Bao who drown in their insanities. Once again, Mo Yan staying true to his literary spectacle carves heroes, cowards, loyalists and revolutionaries from the soil of Gaomi County; sycophancy and integrity oscillating between the pastoral and industrial juggernaut and the people of a metamorphosing China fail to remember where love ends and hatred begins and vice-versa. The cherished “little red flowers” that prided in the heroic chests they were pinned on, returned to the earth from where they had come.

“People in the 1950s were innocent, in the 1960s they were fanatics, in the 1970s they were afraid of their own shadows, in the 1980s they carefully weighed people’s words and actions and in the 1990s they were simply evil.”

In a place, at a time when the vast distance between the extremities of life and death were lessened by human fragility and scornful society; the journey between dawn and dusk was marred by hyper-realistic hotchpotch of heaven and hell. As my eyes were transfixed on to each inked word, my mind wandered through the streets of Ximen Village. Through the rustling of leaves over the Apricot Pig Farm, it searched for Ximen Pig and Diao Xiaosan; the ecstasy of love between Huahua and Naonao; Jinlong’s ambitious words, Hong’s musical ox bone; the moonlight’s ardent follower- Lan Lian,the coquettish triumphs of Qiuxiang , the scrumptious sound of Huzhu frying fitters which would send shivers down Ximen Nao; Huang Hezuo’s miraculous hair; Xu Bao’s bloody hands clutching fresh gonads; the valiant ox and while Jiefang cried for Yingchun, my nomadic mind finally reached in my courtyard. Reincarnation, is it really more than a spiritual myth? I may not believe in its institution, but if I was allowed to be reincarnated who would I come back as? The annoying crow is back and this time I share my piece of succulent watermelon with it and smirk at that cawing bird. While I ponder on my thought, somewhere in Ximen Village , Lan Qiansui gazed into Jiefang’s misty eyes and said:-

“My story begins on January 1, 1950…..”