Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Monster That Is HistoryHistory, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China$

David Der-WeiWang

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780520231405

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520231405.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2017. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use (for details see http://california.universitypressscholarship.com/page/535/privacy-policy-and-legal-notice). Subscriber: null; date: 23 April 2018

Crime or Punishment?

Crime or Punishment?

(p.41) Chapter 2 Crime or Punishment?
The Monster That Is History

David Der-wei Wang

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the dialectic of justice in order to understand violence and its representation in Chinese literature. It describes how a forensic discourse has arisen and evolved in modern Chinese literature drawing examples drawn from four historical moments. The chapter explains that at a time when the old political, judicial, and moral order had collapsed and new orders were yet to be established, literature provided a textual space in which legal cases were presented for debate and deliberation.

Keywords:   justice, violence, Chinese literature, forensic discourse, modern literature, historical moments

In Yokohama, Japan, in 1902, Liang Qichao (1873–1929) launched the magazine Xin xiaoshuo, or New Fiction. Of possible methods of reform, Liang and like-minded enlightened intellectuals held that “fictional revolution” must be regarded as foremost, as it could exert an impact of “incredible magnitude.”1 In that same year, the Qing court decreed a reform whose goal was to update China’s increasingly obsolete legal system. The Institute for Legal Revision (Xiuding Falü Guan) was established to carry out this mission. Under Shen Jiaben and Yu Liansan, a comprehensive overhaul of Chinese legal structure took place in the next couple of years. Foreign experts were consulted; selected constitutional and legal documents from Germany, Russia, and Japan were translated; criminal, commercial, and civil law was renewed; cruel forms of punishment, including decapitation, were abolished; a renewed judicial system was instituted; and rules concerning police, household status, and nationality, among others, were introduced.2 Most of these reforms were put forward by the court as a way to ease the dynastic crisis, and they were barely implemented when the Qing dynasty fell. The reforms nevertheless constituted the foundational work of modern Chinese legal discourse.3

The simultaneous rise of new fiction and new legal discourse in 1902 may not be entirely coincidence. The call to revamp Chinese reality had become increasingly urgent since the Boxer Rebellion. The fictional and legal reforms, one generated by exiled intellectuals, the other mandated by monarchical power, constitute two sides of a dialectic of national self-renewal. Insofar as “Law is associated with Literature from its inception as a formalized attempt to structure reality through language,”4 the fictional and legal renovations reciprocated control over the task of reforming, and re-forming, China.

(p.42) There exists, to be sure, a tremendous difference between law and literature in terms of hermeneutic claims, ethical prerequisites, power dispositions, and physical and affective consequences, among other things. I am nevertheless calling attention to the fact that, in the given circumstances of China in the first half of the twentieth century, law and literature continued to infiltrate each other’s territory, recasting the perennial struggle of legal and poetic justice. While the weakened implementation of the new legal discourse was attributable to ongoing sociopolitical and axiological chaos, that new literature could lay a claim to juridical agency reflects the belief of Chinese writers, and their readership, in the punitive power of writing—a belief that can be traced back to premodern times.

The dialogics of law and literature in early modern China gave rise to a unique nomos—a normative universe in which right and wrong, lawful and unlawful, and valid and invalid are deliberated and sanctioned in a narrative form.5 In this nomos, one of the most frequently debated issues is the distinction between violence and justice. The entangled relations between violence and justice can be found in the legal literary discourse of earlier eras.6 What concerns me here is the way in which inquiries by modern Chinese writers into the meaning of violence and justice have served as a poignant index to the rise (and premature decline?) of a new consciousness called Chinese modernity. I consider justice to be a social institution that is implemented in many ways—from legal codes to administrative norms, from consensual conventions to mythical taboos, and from disciplinary measures to revolutionary action—so as to define and curb natural and human forms of violence.7 By extension, violence is understood as a demonstration of natural, social, or individual power that crosses the consensual boundary of the rational and results in physical or psychological damage to the victim.8 These are working definitions and are admittedly provisional. As will be demonstrated by the following examples, these two definitions tend to collapse into one, as dramatized in some of the most intriguing moments in modern Chinese legal-literary representation.

A high-strung, contentious call for justice permeated modern Chinese literature from the start; it obliged writers to write in order to indict social evils, right wrongs, and prefigure a world of equality and order. This discourse originated in the late Qing and May Fourth eras, when literati promulgated the “new literature” as a total rejection of the old, and it reached a climax in the 1940s, in the wake of Mao’s Yan’an talks. Chen Duxiu’s advocacy of “a literature for the common people” and the leftist writers’ slogan “literature for the insulted and the injured” are but the most blatant examples.9 Under the dictate of modern Chinese writers, traditional norms, from imperial mandate to familial patriarchy, are shown to have lost their claim to (p.43) legitimacy and, worse, to be nothing but excuses for systematic coercion. In Lu Xun’s words, the Chinese had been attending a spectacular banquet that was nothing but “cannibalism.”10 In revulsion, modern Chinese literature set about to demolish an obsolete system in which oppression had been invisible, even if it took acts of representational violence to stop the old “cannibalism” and make the Chinese see the horrible truth. As critics such as Liu Zaifu have pointed out, Chinese literature under the auspices of leftist aesthetics starts out as “a literature against violence” but becomes a “violence of literature.”11

After all, in understanding modern China, one sees that violence is not just a theoretical issue.12 The mutual implication of violence and justice can never be understood as simply what happened “out there” and why some activity had to be punished.13 One must understand justice as a discourse in which some forms of violence are condemned while others are taken for granted. Insofar as it constituted a major cultural premise in modern China, “violence of representation” presented literature as the meeting ground where poetic justice contested with legal justice, where ink demanded blood. Instead of merely reflecting external instances of violence, literature would demand to be appreciated and enlisted as a radical agency of change. In other words, writing and reading were taken as juridical events capable of transforming symbolic victims into social rebels and figurative humiliations into moral passions.

Long before politically correct scholars began to trumpet the power of language and rhetoric, Chinese literary discourse emphasized the politics of literature, and the late Qing had only to substitute European terms in the traditional discourse of the Way. The changing images of the modern Chinese writer, from the “scholarly knight-errant” (ruxia) promoted by Zhang Taiyan (1869–1936) in the late Qing, to the “revolutionary vanguard” sanctioned by the Communist Party in the late 1940s, bespoke writers’ persistent attempts to retain their traditional role as arbiters of social order and moral chaos.14 But Chinese literary history from Literary Revolution to Revolutionary Literature has left ample evidence that such representational claims might backfire. By this I do not mean merely that language might “instigate” criminal activity or that literature might contain false “indictments.” I mean that the Way may be silenced because of censorship or external coercion, and when the name of injustice should be spoken, literature may remain silent, thereby betraying its complicity with all master narratives, old and new. This, I argue, is the worst form of “the violence of representation.”15

When dealing with the dialectic of violence and justice in modern Chinese literature, critics tend to highlight a “literature of tears and blood,” a tradition that commemorates the physical and emotional pain of the Chinese (p.44) people. What remains to be explored is an equally compelling, if not so famous, literature of “crime and punishment.”16 To further my argument, I will describe how forensic discourse—a discourse formed by open debate in the courtroom or in any other public space regarding the legal consequences of a narrated event—has arisen and evolved in modern Chinese literature. With examples drawn from four historical moments, the late Qing era, the post-May Fourth era, the 1930s, and the Yan’an era, I will show how, at a time when the old political, judicial, and moral order had collapsed and new orders were yet to be established, literature provided a textual space in which legal cases were presented for debate and deliberation. In each of the examples to be discussed, a crime has been committed, followed by a call for due punishment as a form of revenge, retribution, or discipline. But close reading suggests that the narrated crime and punishment may have penetrated each other’s realm, violating rather than vindicating each other’s legal or moral presumptions. These examples reveal a practice of justice that is as vulnerable as it is violent. Meanwhile, as a transmitter of these debatable cases of crime and punishment, literature itself comes to be questioned as an accomplice of criminals or executioners.

Justice Undone

For readers of late Qing fiction, one of the most memorable scenes is perhaps the intrusion of Lao Can into the hall of justice in Liu E’s Lao Can youji (The travels of Lao Can, 1907). In chapter sixteen of The Travels of Lao Can, Prefect Gangbi is cross-examining a woman prisoner named Jia Wei, who had been wrongly indicted for the murder of the family of her father-in-law—a total of thirteen people—after her alleged adultery was exposed. Exasperated by the woman’s response that she could not give the name of her lover-accomplice because she had never had one, Gangbi orders thumbscrews placed on her. At this crucial moment, Lao Can walks into the middle of the courtroom and stops the torture.

Lao Can had learned of the misjudged case from a friend. Outraged by Gangbi’s bigotry and cruelty, Lao Can had volunteered to send a letter of impeachment to Governor Zhuang and Judge Bai, Gangbi’s superiors, so as to save the innocent defendant, and he had received positive responses from Zhuang and Bai. As there was no time to deliver the letters to Gangbi through normal channels, in the crucial scene described above, Lao Can has walked into the hall of justice without permission, carrying the letters.

The illegal intrusion of Lao Can into the hall of justice brings together two strands from competing themes that have been manifested from the beginning of the novel. The confrontation between Lao Can and Gangbi is not merely a showdown between a chivalrous traveling doctor and a haughty judge-investigator over a misjudged case. Rather, it represents the dramatic (p.45) moment in which the incipient issues of legal praxis and its transgression, governmental mandate and individual agency, social justice and poetic justice, are finally laid on the table for negotiation. Through the travels of its protagonist, Lao Can, The Travels of Lao Can introduces a China caught in an array of crises from the Boxer Rebellion to local riots, from natural disaster to impending revolution. But in his diagnosis of the national malaise, what most troubles Lao Can (and Liu E) is the injustice that prevails throughout the governmental system, a condition that Lao Can believes is symptomatic of the final sickness of the dynasty.

Despite conventional wisdom, however, Liu E does not hold corrupt officials responsible for the collapse of law and justice. As many scholars have pointed out, what makes the novel polemical is that it condemns apparently good, incorruptible judges, not the corruptible ones, as the real source of evil. In the episode cited above, Judge Gangbi is not a classically “bad” judge but rather one famous for his sense of integrity. In a judicial system in which buying oneself out of indictments has become the norm, Gangbi is known for taking no bribes, and to that extent he has reason to be proud of himself. But as he struggles to maintain his clean image, he turns this virtue into a vice. He is so proud of his virtuous reputation that he has become an intolerant puritan, as his Chinese name, homophonous with the word for bigotry, indicates.

When Jia Wei was put in jail, her family had followed the normal rules of the game by paying a sizable sum of money to the court. Instead of returning the money right away, however, Gangbi keeps it to use as evidence against Jia Wei; he believes that the family of an innocent defendant would not bribe a judge. He tortures the woman with all kinds of penal instruments, forcing her to confess in accordance with a scenario that jumps to the worst conclusion. Gangbi’s behavior leads Liu E to make the famous commentary at the end of chapter sixteen: “All men know that corrupt officials are bad, but few know that incorruptible officials are even worse. Whereas a corrupt official knows his own faults and dares not play the tyrant openly, an incorruptible official imagines that since he never takes bribes, he is free to do whatever he likes. Then self-confidence and personal prejudice may lead him to kill the innocent or even endanger the state.”17

Gangbi’s perpetration of “pious violence” posits an uncanny challenge to the conventional practice of justice. To scare people away from transgressing the law, or to demonstrate the absolute power of justice over evil, Gangbi can impose a punishment that is crueler and more spectacular than the crime for which the punishment is imposed. The effect of Gangbi’s law resorts to a penal technology that comes from the very transgression it aims to eliminate. Liu E described this paradox of justice earlier in the novel in relation to another incorruptible judge, Yuxian.18 Under his rule, a part of Shandong has become a model region free of crime. But Yuxian has achieved this temporary (p.46) miracle by instituting a regime of horror; he mercilessly kills not only bandits but also innocent suspects. The citizens under Yuxian’s governorship enjoy a communal life safe from bandits, their lives safe until they themselves are accused of banditry. That the justice system is legalized crime, so to speak, becomes apparent when the state, in a moment of fanatical self-affirmation, decides that it can eliminate crime at any cost.

By exposing the violence concealed behind the facade of “benevolent” governorship, Liu E means to do more than criticize local judicial errors. He sees this hidden injustice as a most dangerous malady that, left unchecked, would eventually jeopardize national well-being. A historically verifiable figure, Yuxian was later promoted to a high position because of his judicial impartiality. He nevertheless became one of the most vehement supporters of the Boxer Rebellion, which led to national disaster. The final irony is that, in the wake of the invasion by eight foreign armies, Yuxian found himself indicted by his own government as a war criminal for having instigated a rebellion aimed at “punishing” foreigners. The incorruptible judge was finally sentenced as a traitor and beheaded.19

Back to the episode of Gangbi and Jia Wei. When he is planning to save the woman, Lao Can at the same time involves himself in ransoming a prostitute named Cuihuan, who otherwise would be resold to a lower-class brothel. The girl survived a massive flood of the Yellow River in Shandong Province. She came from a rich farm family from the fertile land between the government dikes along the Yellow River.20 As the Yellow River was about to flood one year, Governor Zhuang of Shandong took the advice of a scholar to sacrifice some land bordering the government dikes so as to ease the peak of the flood. But the area between the government dikes was densely populated and rimmed by smaller dikes built by farmers to protect their land. For fear that these people would object to his policy, Zhuang was urged to keep it a secret until the last moment. Governor Zhuang was an official well known for his benevolence and fair-mindedness: a “good judge,” in other words.21 In the case of the Yellow River flood, nevertheless, he knowingly let thousands of people be drowned and their properties washed away, as the wisest and most effective policy.

Governor Zhuang, it will be recalled, is the fictional force whose last-minute intervention rescues Jia Wei from the hands of Gangbi. He serves as the deus ex machina whose power supports Lao Can in his intrusion in the courtroom scene. But Lao Can is not unaware of the fact that it is this same Governor Zhuang who has indirectly killed thousands. One innocent has been saved by a merciful man, the governor; thousands of innocents have been killed by that same merciful man. If the criminal in the mystery of thirteen deaths is guilty of murder, what can be said about a “good” judge like Gangbi or Yuxian who has handed down so many wrongful convictions and unjust capital punishments before this case? If a small-scale “good judge” (p.47) (Gangbi or Yuxian) is to be condemned for harming dozens, how about a higher-ranking “good judge” (Governor Zhuang), who is responsible for annulling thousands of innocent lives? No Lao Can turns up to “expose” the governor; indeed, all Lao Can does is to salvage a few victims from the thousands sacrificed to the public good and manipulate a small “good judge” with the help of a large “good judge,” whose crimes are also on a much grander scale.

In volume two of The Travels of Lao Can, Lao Can has a dream. He travels to Hell and witnesses thousands of condemned souls undergoing various forms of punishment: they are scourged by nail-studded clubs till their flesh falls off their bones, deep-fried in a huge cauldron full of boiling oil, or ground into powder with grindstones.22 These souls are paying the price for their misdeeds, however trivial, during their lifetime. As for those who were virtuous when alive, they have been rewarded with a smooth transmigration into their next life. The dream visit to Hell reinforces Lao Can’s belief that some supernatural agency is at work handing out retribution.

One wonders if Lao Can’s dream visit to hell in volume two is not to be taken as a belated act of poetic justice, written to counterbalance the numerous episodes of misjudged cases and undeserved sufferings in volume one. Although the secular judicial system fails, Liu E tells us, a higher judicial system still works. The eternal wheel of fortune still turns, at least in Lao Can’s dreams. But for a reader alerted by the first volume of Liu E’s novel to the fact that incorruptible judges can be more dangerous than corruptible ones, and that justice on earthly China is only an expensive fantasy, questions remain. Given the way that hell is visualized as a gigantic, rigid bureaucracy handing out gory punishments by the book, one can only see it as an extension of, rather than a contrast to, human courtrooms. When the earthly “incorruptible” judge is seen as culpable, one cannot help questioning the “incorruptibility” of the judge of judges, Yama, the ruler of hell. And the other side of a rigid and abacuslike system of rewards and punishments in heaven and hell can be the corrupt and careless system of divine whims and tantrums.23

Whereas Liu E takes pains to distinguish between divine and human agencies of justice and their violent consequences, only to call attention to the collusive relation between them, Li Boyuan, Liu’s contemporary, approaches the issue from a different angle. Li tells his readers that hell is neither worse nor better than this world; as a matter of fact, hell is this world. In his preface to his Huo Diyu (Living hell, 1906), he says:

At the trial in the grand hall of justice, the magistrate is the king of Hades; the clerks and underlings are the judges who demand the death penalty; the runners (p.48) and servants…are like the ox-headed and horse-faced demon messengers from purgatory; and the flat bamboo canes and instruments of torture designed to hurt people are like the two-edged sword-leaf trees and the hill of knives in hell. Before the prisoner has been assigned to his quarters or incarcerated, he has suffered more than enough! Alas! Heaven is above us and hell is below! Although I have never seen this hell of “judges of hell,” I am afraid there is nowhere one will not find such a hell on earth.24

Living Hell is a novel featuring fourteen misjudged cases and cruel tortures presided over by corrupt judges. It has never been a popular work within Li’s oeuvre.25 Among the few critics who appreciated it, the novel was regarded as “the first book written in Chinese which sought to expose malpractice and corruption in the Chinese penal system.”26 In terms of unveiling the most inhuman aspects of the Chinese legal system, the novel is indeed a chilling success. Such a reading, however, overlooks the real “virtue” of Living Hell by making it merely another example of late Qing exposé.

A relentless parody of the genre of chivalric and court-case fiction, Living Hell questions the concept of justice and its violation (most exposé novels assume or reaffirm a concept of it). Justice, as I am using the word, is not just the implementation of a human or divine law by human or divine judges; it is also the process of questioning and remaking the laws themselves.27 It contains a dimension in which narrative praxis figures importantly, because there it does not assume an originary concept of justice by which human or celestial laws can be evaluated. Liu E in The Travels of Lao Can still betrays a lingering nostalgia about the lost world of chivalry and justice. With all his cynical observations on contemporary society, Li Boyuan makes abuses of law and order the pretext of his novel; his is a world in which chivalry is nullified and justice turned upside down, but there is still a perspective from which abuse is clearly abuse. If Liu E still worries about why justice can be so generally violated, Li Boyuan is surprised to see any justice being done anywhere.

What kinds of cases does Li Boyuan examine in his novel? In one story, local officers provoke two feuding families in Shanxi to sue each other. As more and more of their members are put in jail, both families are forced to spend thousands of dollars to buy the magistrate’s favor; the case comes to a sudden halt as the magistrate moves to a new position (chapters 18). In another, a highway robber known for his capacity to endure any form of punishment finally succumbs to the tools of torture invented by a cruel judge (chapter 12). More than half of the episodes in the novel deal with the suffering of the innocent, however. A chaste woman turns down the sexual advances of a local official, only to find herself charged with murdering her husband, who is actually away on business. The woman suffers horribly in jail and is acquitted only because her husband returns from his trip (chapters 13–18). In a similar case, a man who loses all his property in an accidental (p.49) fire is accused of arson. Without money to buy himself out of the charge and unable to stand police torture, he drowns himself (chapter 33).

In Li Boyuan’s world, corruptible judges and incorruptible judges are alike in administering inhuman punishments; innocent people and bandits are tortured equally once they fall into the hands of the judges. In sharp contrast to Liu E, who doggedly searches against all odds for a way of rectifying the social order, Li Boyuan tells us that any effort to amend the way things are will prove to be too little too late. If good judges never exist, neither do “good” outlaws. As if ridiculing such popular late Qing chivalric novels as Sanxia wuyi (Three knights-errant and five sworn brothers, 1878), in which former lawbreakers are persuaded by loyal judges to serve the emperor, Li Boyuan introduces in Living Hell bandits and officials cooperating like business partners in setting up innocent people and cheating them of their money. Business is so good that one highway robber becomes rich enough to buy himself a position as county magistrate. This bandit-judge appoints his cohorts as officers and attendants in his court and runs a lucrative business taking bribes from the innocent and guilty alike (chapters 38–39). All of the fourteen cases narrated in the novel end with a non-ending, the narrator’s moral commentary at the end of each case being at best perfunctory. No justice, not even the dream of divine justice, appears in the novel.

This is where Li Boyuan shows that his novel can at the same time be more conservative and more radical than The Travels of Lao Can. One may conclude that Li Boyuan views the total breakdown of the judicial system from a conventional perspective, that of the dynastic cycle. By comparing the world to hell, he reveals his reliance on conventional wisdom without either questioning its premises or stating the resolution in traditional terms. His cynicism partakes less of skeptical rigor, such as Liu E’s, than of noncommittal play. Nonetheless, Li Boyuan’s portrayal of the late Qing courtroom as a bloody circus marks a radical departure from the traditional aesthetics of spectatorship. Just as Liu E’s narrative innovations shed an ambiguous light on his politics of writing, Li Boyuan’s relentless narratives of bodily torture chart new ground in the morality of reading.

One cannot overlook the possibility that Li Boyuan (and his intended readers) may actually enjoy the blood and pain, in a kind of philosophical schadenfreude. What he ultimately provides in the novel is not an account of misjudged cases but, rather, a spectacle of punishments. Few readers will fail to be impressed by Li’s meticulous descriptions of the tools and paraphernalia used to torture the indicted. Women are often among the first group of victims in this circus of cruelty. A woman charged with adultery is treated with a “nippled iron”: stripped of her clothes, she is ironed by a burning-hot metal instrument with nipple-like points.28 Another woman culprit (p.50) with tender bound feet is forced to stand barefoot on bricks for hours. Because her feet are already deformed from foot binding, she can hardly stand straight for a moment. Some penal devices are so ingenious that they are even given patented names. “Red embroidered shoes” are shoes made from iron. Prisoners put on the shoes only when they are red hot. “Big red gown” refers to a kind of glue as thick as ox hide. After being heated to a liquid, it is applied to the prisoner’s body. The courtroom attendants wait until it dries and then peel it off together with the prisoner’s skin. Judged by the ingenuity of these devices, one may well imagine what other punishments hide behind such euphemisms as “Dragon flying amid mountains,” “Five sons pass the civil service examination,” and “Three immortals make a visit to a cave.”29

Li Boyuan scrupulously catalogues the variety of courtroom punishments, so much so that the report takes on an aesthetic of its own. A mock-encyclopedic form of narrative, of course, is a familiar trait of late Qing exposé novels. Living Hell stands out as the exposé that relates social justice to bodily pain in the most direct and systematic way (like the judges it exposes). It features a penal technology that resorts heavily to the presentation of a bloody corporeal theater, and in this sense it is almost a textbook illustration of Michel Foucault’s notion of the relation between disciplining and punishing, power and law, in premodern society.30 Pain and confession are supposed to come together; fragments of information can be pieced together at the cost of torn limbs. Through performing physical torture and mutilation in public, the authorities make sure that the law has been literally implicated into body politics.

Besides offering lip service to the institution of justice, Li shows little sympathy for his victims. No matter how he justifies his narrative stance, he cannot hide his thirst for sensationalism. Following the Foucauldian argument, one can say that Li’s elaborate description of punishment betrays a sadomasochistic penchant, something that upsets the solemnity of justice and turns it into an excuse for a macabre carnival. In a similar manner, the novel anticipates a reader who may be as much provoked as he or she is excited by the bloody cases. Twice removed from the scene of punishment, the implied reader occupies a safe position and may attentively observe limbs torn apart and bodies charred into pieces. With a quivering sigh, the reader may experience a quick catharsis, accompanied by a puff of reassuring indignation.

These Foucauldian observations lead us back to the question: how can justice be represented as such? One remembers that in The Travels of Lao Can, Liu E scandalizes his readers by declaring that incorruptible judges are more dangerous than corruptible judges. While it blurs the distinction between good and bad judges sanctioned by conventional wisdom, Liu E’s discovery is nevertheless based on a belief that there is an essential system for judging the goodness of a “good” judge; hence he experiments with various forms (p.51) of poetic justice, from appropriating new Sherlock Holmes techniques of investigation to invoking old Buddhist consolations of Heaven and Hell.31

Li Boyuan answers the question by telling us that there is no distinction between good and bad judges, because there are no good judges. Li envisions in Living Hell a state of legal and bureaucratic anarchy, one that celebrates the complicity between corruptible and incorruptible judges and shows no sympathy for the fate of either the innocent or the criminal in custody of the law. Li Boyuan does not solve the dilemma generated by this vision. If Earth is merely hell, then Li Boyuan is plainly one of the cruel, incompetent, and greedy inhabitants. As an earthly devil, he enjoys staging punishments, the bloodier the better. And as a minion of Yama, his opinions on justice are those of a devil: they question nothing of the divine order. If Earth is hell, then judges are devils, and writers who judge the judges are also devils. Liu E puts institutions into question; Li Boyuan puts intuitions into question.

Misogyny and Misandry, Filicide and Parricide

Questions arising in Living Hell, as in The Travels of Lao Can, about the equivocal relationship between law and violence, between the cynical and carni-valesque responses to judicial anarchy, continue to occupy the minds of Chinese writers of the post-May Fourth era. As a matter of fact, modern Chinese literature has been described as originating with a bloody scene. As I discussed in Chapter 1, Lu Xun was allegedly so traumatized by the slide show he saw in Japan in 1906 that he gave up medical school to become a writer.32

Violence and “modern” literature erupted at the same time, as Chinese literati set out to gaze at the bloody consequences of their cultural heritage.33 Modern Chinese literature is not a medium employed passively to reflect extant social abuses. As implied by the dramatic case of Lu Xun, it was instead provoked into existence by a drastic jolt at both the emotive and ideological levels, when the author confronted his national status, symbolized by a decapitated body. This literature arose as part of the search by the radical Lu Xun and his contemporaries for the source of Chinese “original sin,” which is projected by the spectacle of decapitation.

For Lu Xun, the Chinese spy he saw in the slide show might as well be killed for collaborating in a war that nominally had nothing to do with China. Moreover, just as the spy deserves capital punishment, so are his fellow Chinese spectators unworthy of mercy34 Lu Xun sees in these Chinese a readiness to transform themselves from spectators to practitioners at every cannibalistic rite, though the cost is everyone’s blood. Lu Xun’s condemnation could extend even further, to the Japanese and Russians, who manipulated the Chinese into humiliating themselves. Finally, Lu Xun must have tortured himself with this question: if all Chinese are culpable for bringing shame (p.52) upon their nation, what about Lu Xun, the spectator who stands gaping at a slide show of Chinese being humiliated? Is he the last conscience of China, privileged with a superhuman vision and voice? Or does he after all share in this collective Chinese original sin?

Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman” (1918) invites one more reading. Insofar as his madman launches a one-man investigation of social evils, only to discover that Chinese society as a whole is guilty of cannibalism, Lu Xun has told a story about justice lost and refound, the most cynical version. The origin of social evil—cannibalism—can be named by the madman only at the cost of his being confined, censored, clinically (mal)treated, imprisoned, and finally “eaten up” by his closest family members. The story is full of penal and carceral imagery, such as quarantine, persecution, rehabilitation, and a stifling iron house. All these forms of punishment, as the ending of the story tells us, prove to be nothing but preludes to yet another round of cannibalistic banqueting.

Lu Xun’s predicament as a justice seeker, together with the cynical, self-deprecating bent of his imagination, may not be completely original, however. An apparently “modern” writer, Lu Xun has a temperament that betrays many fixations inherited from “premodern” writers. What comes to mind are Liu E’s elite yearning for justice in The Travels of Lao Can and Li Boyuan’s cynical spectatorship in Living Hell. One recalls that in the imagined hell of Lao Can’s dream, Liu E can still see justice done in another world; in the realistic hell that is contemporary China, Li Boyuan simply scoffs at any attempt to restore justice. Lu Xun appears as the self-imposed tragic fighter standing at the threshold of hell, unable, or unwilling, to cross over to either side. As T. A. Hsia speculates, one of the most prominent images Lu Xun employs as a modern writer is that of a chivalric hero in a dynastic cycle, a hero who holds open the “gate of darkness” to let his comrades and other innocent people flee disaster, only to be crushed by the gate when he falls exhausted.35

Straddling the threshold of the “gate of darkness,” Lu Xun, as a “scholarly knight-errant,” must have sensed the uncertainties in his re-visioning of justice. Like Liu E, Lu Xun wishes to imagine himself as a chivalrous literatus, standing alone against the “gate of darkness” while dreaming a late Qing dream of true justice on the other side; but, like Li Boyuan, Lu Xun cannot take his gaze away from the nightmarish injustice on this side of the gate. Lu Xun must also have known from his predecessors that the “gate of darkness” may stand not between the old and the new China, between injustice and justice, but rather between the world of institutionalized cannibalism on this side and its phantom replica on the other. Lu Xun cannot indict the “living hell” of China without demonstrating that his power derives from the hell of which he is a part. A Liu E-like champion protesting against social injustice, Lu Xun was no less a connoisseur, à la Li Boyuan, of the dark aspect (p.53) of humanity, a fact well attested by the ghastly imagery of his essays, memoirs, and stories. Though it is said to be savored in the modern world, the new justice conceived by Lu Xun still has a taste for blood from the old, cannibalistic world.36

Two more examples can be cited from Lu Xun’s short stories to illuminate the uncanny affinity between the concept of justice and its denial. For instance, the climax of “New Year’s Sacrifice” is preceded by an argument about the innocent suffering in this world and its redress in the other. In that episode, Xianglin’s ill-fated wife, now reduced to a beggar, stops the narrator, Lu Xun, on his way home and asks him if the soul survives death. Earlier, Xianglin’s wife was told that since she had been twice widowed and was now deprived of her only son, her body would be sentenced to be torn apart by her dead husbands in hell. She was advised to donate a threshold at a nearby Buddhist temple, to be trampled on as her substitute so that her sin would be atoned for. In their encounter, the dying woman intends to seek from the narrator, Lu Xun, a reason for her plight in this life. To her question, the narrator responds, “I am not sure.”

The reference to hell and afterlife brings to mind, again, the dialectic formed by two of the late Qing novels discussed in the last section. Hell, in Lu Xun’s narrative, may suggest the underworld courtroom of Liu E’s Travels of Lao Can, in which retribution is carried out in the most fastidious way; at the same time, it may also correspond to the secular judicial institutions of Living Hell, which prove to be hideous replicas of the other world. After her donation of the threshold, Xianglin’s wife was still treated by her fellow villagers as if under a curse. Neither the justice of this world nor the justice of hell applies to her. With her question still unanswered, Xianglin’s wife dies, presumably in fear that she will be eternally tortured in hell.

But, as she dies, Xianglin’s wife leaves behind another hell, so to speak, in which our narrator-author will be eternally tortured. In his failure to either stand by the poor woman or deny collusion with society, narrator Lu Xun carries in himself an everlasting sense of guilt. One question remains, however. Given his obsession with crime and punishment, could it be possible that his vision of hell is that which Lu Xun fears and desires? Not unlike Xianglin’s wife, who resigns herself to an imagined perpetual condemnation, Lu Xun may have created and inhabited a literary hell of his own, from which he is unable, and perhaps unwilling, to escape. The psychological drama of self-imposed crime and punishment constitutes the most treacherous aspect of Lu Xun’s, and his followers’, image of justice. As will be argued later, this psychological mechanism would eventually be appropriated by the communists in forming their discourse of crime and punishment.

At the other end of Lu Xun’s gallery of characters stands the ne’er-do- (p.54) well Ah Q. In the earlier part of the story, Ah Q dreams of becoming a bandit-hero who, even when he is arrested and sentenced to capital punishment, would die a fearless man. This dream is reinforced after he watches the spectacle of a beheading at a city theater. For Ah Q and his rustic fellow villagers, the bloody punishment has been romanticized into an exotic event. Ah Q’s “death wish” is finally realized, but in the most ironic manner. Ah Q is executed for a crime of which he believes himself to be largely innocent; for the crowd coming to see his execution, the much-anticipated decapitation turns out to be an anticlimax. Thanks to advances in modern technology, Ah Q is not ceremoniously beheaded but shot.

As a parody of a society nurtured on insatiable cannibalistic desires, the story easily impresses one with its violent potential. At issue here is how the violence and its punishment are described so as to become a fatal comedy of errors. Although he has previously committed crimes that result in no legal punishment, Ah Q is now executed for a felony he did not commit. He is transformed from an enthusiastic onlooker at a bloody spectacle to the devastated scapegoat in that spectacle; his tragedy, if there is one at all, lies in his complacency as a cruel but empathetic spectator. But if Ah Q’s bloody desire was aroused by watching the beheading scene in the folk theater, how does one describe the arousal in Lu Xun’s writing about Chinese cannibalism, a result of watching the legendary slide show? As a chronicler-spectator of Ah Q’s tragicomedy, does Lu Xun hide a cannibalistic impulse behind his indignant posturing? If so, has Lu Xun done justice to Ah Q in the literary world?

For the revolution-minded writers of the post-May Fourth era, drama became an important venue of the debate over justice versus violence. With its mandate to be “acted” out in a public space peopled with viewers, drama appeared to more readily approximate the locus of the courtroom, prodding its implied audience to deliberate over a human case reenacted on the stage. Courtroom drama, just like its fictional counterpart, had been one of the major genres of traditional Chinese literature since the Yuan dynasty.37 For centuries, Chinese audiences have watched judge-investigators preside over difficult cases on stage, with the denunciation of the villain and the rehabilitation of justice as the climax of the play. In what sense has the modern theater opened up a new horizon in this old genre?

Two early modern plays, Pan Jinlian (1928) by Ouyang Yuqian (1889–1962) and Dachu youling ta (Fight out of the Ghost Tower, 1928) by Bai Wei (1894–1987), may serve as examples. As its title indicates, Pan Jinlian is based on the life and death of Pan Jinlian, one of the most notorious femmes fatales in classical Chinese literature. As one of the earliest modern efforts to rewrite the “bad woman,” Ouyang Yuqian’s play takes a sympathetic view of (p.55) Jinlian’s motives for committing adultery and murder. Instead of viewing Pan Jinlian as a licentious shrew and bloodthirsty villainess, Ouyang Yuqian casts her as the archetype of the free-spirited Chinese woman sacrificed to a rigid, male-centered social system. After having been humiliated and sold by her first master, married to an impotent dwarf, and spurned by the brother-in-law she had fallen in love with, Pan Jinlian turns to adultery and murder, as if these extreme deeds were the only remaining means by which she could express her desire.

A feminist might very well develop this theme into a reading of Pan Jinlian’s sexual politics. However, also at stake here is Ouyang Yuqian’s introduction of a dynamic, critical dramaturgy representing traditional justice held at bay. Here I have in mind particularly the final act, in which Pan Jinlian and her brother-in-law Wu Song come face-to-face at the funerary meal in memory of her dwarf husband, Wu Da. Cross-examined by Wu Song regarding the murder, Pan Jinlian retorts that while she may be the person who poisoned her husband, the genuine murderers are none other than Wu Song and the other men in her life. As for Ximen Qing, the archvillain of the play and Jinlian’s lover, Jinlian defiantly argues that she “has been willing to serve as his plaything” because, unlike other men, Ximen Qing “would treat [her] as nothing less than a plaything.”38 Doubly infuriated by Jinlian’s confession, Wu Song demands Jinlian’s heart as compensation for the death of his brother. To the murderous demand, Jinlian responds, “I gave you my heart a long time ago.”39

Pan Jinlian sounds more like the victim than the principal suspect, whereas Wu Song is less the avenger than the perpetrator of the whole family tragedy. As Wu Song thrusts his sword into the chest of his sister-in-law, justice seems to have been done, with Jinlian’s protesting words still lingering in the air. Rarely has one seen in traditional court-case drama such a gripping debate between two parties to a murder case, to say nothing of the alleged murderer rising to bring charges against the prosecutor. Crime and punishment threaten to switch roles.

Still, what primarily distinguishes Ouyang Yuqian’s Pan Jinlian is that he has turned a play about a court case into a play as a court case. In a conventional courtroom play, the courtroom provides the central chronotope in which evidence is presented, testimony is heard, and a conviction is handed down. None of these elements is to be found in Pan Jinlian; missing from the stage is not only the courtroom but also the judge-investigator in charge of the courtroom. A different dramatic effect is thus generated. One is given to feel that as Pan Jinlian delivers her testimony on stage, she cannot mean to persuade those unsympathetic characters around her; rather she argues as if she were addressing across space and time an audience ready to renegotiate moral and legal conventions. Ouyang Yuqian has turned the theater into a substitute courtroom and the audience into the jury-judge.

(p.56) This implied forensic scene must have indicated a significant change in the way modern Chinese writers and audience imagined justice at the time. Ouyang Yuqian’s play is as much a violation of the law of verisimilitude constituted by conventional court-case drama as it is a defiant rewriting of the law sanctioned by moral and political authorities. As will be argued in the following sections, this new “theatrics” of justice and violence would eventually become a major trope in Chinese Communist revolutionary discourse. When the function of the formal courtroom has been handicapped by wayward political and legal forces, a public space like the stage can be used as its phantom substitute; the stage reenacts cases denied access to the courtroom, thus challenging the monolithic institutionalization of judicial procedure.

In Bai Wei’s Fight Out of the Ghost Tower, a different kind of family tragedy bears witness to the tyranny of Chinese cannibalism. In the play, a cruel landlord cum opium dealer, Master Rongsheng, is about to marry Yuelin, a servant girl whom Rongsheng bought years before and later adopted as his foster daughter. This despite the fact that Rongsheng has seven concubines and Yuelin has fallen in love with Rongsheng’s son, Qiaoming. In the meantime, Rongsheng has to cope with his rebellious tenants, whose recent riots have been reinforced by the support of local revolutionaries. The plot is complicated by the appearance of a woman revolutionary named Xiao Sen, who was once impregnated by Rongsheng. On a visit to Rongsheng’s mansion, Xiao Sen is shocked to discover that Yuelin is her long-lost illegitimate daughter, and so the real father of Yuelin is none other than Rongsheng!

The play’s central symbolism develops around the “tower of ghosts” (youl-ing ta), the site of a ruined tower where Rongsheng cages women who refuse to submit to his lust. Shrouded in a deadly atmosphere, the tower site is a “living hell” for these women. The tower of ghosts reminds us of the famous essay by Lu Xun, “Lun leifeng ta de daodiao” (On the collapse of Leifeng Tower, 1926).40 As legend goes, the monk Fahai incarcerated the beautiful White Snake in Leifeng Tower forever—an eternal condemnation of the snake for having fallen in love with a human. The collapse of the tower, after having stood for hundreds of years, represents for Lu Xun a belated natural justice supplanting the punishment meted out by a male-centered justice system.

Bai Wei makes clear reference to the collapse of Leifeng Tower in her play and adds a bitter note. Although the tower of ghosts no longer exists physically, the old male power structure still rules women by invoking the coercive system of the tower. At one point in the play, Bai Wei has a woman servant articulate the fact that the tower site is not haunted by ghosts; it is Master Rongsheng who fakes ghostly sounds from time to time to sustain the terrifying old myth. Moreover, Bai Wei suggests that the “ghosts” of the tower not (p.57) only persecute women but also their own young male descendants. Hence, “the tower of ghosts is referred to by the young master as the [patriarchal tyranny of the] old master. Master Rongsheng may not look like a ghost, but in view of the way he oppresses his young male descendants, isn’t he comparable to the Leifeng Tower that crushed the White Snake spirit?”41

The archvillain Master Rongsheng is described as a fiendish landlord, an unscrupulous merchant, a heartless father, and a sex maniac. His evil forces have undermined the political, economic, ethical, and sexual foundations of Chinese society and could let it fall into anarchy at any time. Yet, until his final moment comes, Master Rongsheng manages to hold on to his power, a pillar of his society. As the play develops, Rongsheng’s son, Qiaoming, comes forward to challenge his father’s wish to marry Yuelin, and the father takes out his pistol and slays his son. Not content with this, Rongsheng captures the leader of the tenants, jailing him under false charges of murder, kills an old servant, who at the last minute reveals that he has been Rongsheng’s best friend and romantic rival.

Loaded with creaking plots, improbable characters, and sentimental tears, Fight Out of the Ghost Tower may well be an example of bad melodrama, indicating the immaturity of the playwright. However, precisely because these dramatic elements are so “unnaturally” blended, they call attention to the play’s contesting of ideological powers. For Bai Wei, crime on such a horrific scale goes beyond the control of any imaginable legality. It can only be put down by even more outrageous deeds of violence. In the final moment of the play, when the woman revolutionary Xiao Sen returns and reveals to Master Rongsheng that she was the girl once seduced by him and that Yuelin is their daughter, Rongsheng, in fury, shoots at her. To protect her mother, Yuelin rushes to Xiao Sen with another pistol and fires back at her father. The attempted incest-plus-rape ends with the concomitant crime of patricide-plus-filicide. Yuelin dies in the arms of her mother, deliriously singing celebrations of her pathetic life: a baby deserted by both parents, a child-servant abused by her master, a foster daughter almost raped by her foster father, and a daughter killed by her own father.

What strikes us is that when she is delivering her crazed dying remarks, Yuelin directly addresses the implied audience, as if the surplus of anger, madness, and pathos can no longer be contained by the enclosure of the stage, but must spill over into the audience. As in the case of Ouyang Yuqian’s Pan Jinlian, the theater is turned into a site where a different kind of justice is being sought. To her audience, Yuelin cries,

Shame, shame,…unbearable shame, revenge, revenge, only to be acknowledged by the sea. Ah! What a world it would be like! (addressed to the audience) Red, yellow, green…all colors! (crazier, driven to dance) Ha ha ha!…Upside down!…All is upside down! The world has been turned over!…Fresh, (p.58) beautiful!…Ha ha ha, all is upside down—this is the gift of death.42 [Stage directions in parentheses; emphasis mine.]

Critics in the Communist camp have praised Fight Out of the Ghost Tower as a model drama for women’s liberation. The theme of class struggle has been highlighted in view of the deadly conflict between landlord and proletariat, father and children, man and woman.43 A feminist of the fundamentalist persuasion would praise the play for its focus on misandry and its celebration of sisterhood and mother-daughter coalition.44 These critics may have underestimated the (self-)destructive power embedded in the play. Close reading shows that in Bai Wei’s world, revolutionary leaders turn out to be either burdened by their dark past or disabled by unforeseeable contingencies. The woman revolutionary Xiao Sen, for instance, has been so busy with her adventures that she has had no time for the baby, which she left in the hands of cruel and rapacious foster parents; hence the daughter’s protest that she never had a real mother. The peasant protest does triumph in the end, but only as the result of landlord Rongsheng’s death at the hands of his own daughter. Moreover, Yuelin is never portrayed as a feminist heroine; she appears instead as a girl troubled by chronic manic depression, and the root of her psychological instability is traceable to being abandoned by her mother. Whereas the incestuous relationship between father and daughter is prevented by the timely death of the father, the much-anticipated reunion between mother and daughter comes only at the cost of the daughter’s life. Finally, Yuelin has fallen in love with her own half-brother, so that even if she had had her (unnatural) way, she would still have committed incest.

The political, ethical, and emotional irrationalities in the play, once unleashed among the characters, are never really resolved as the curtain drops. These irrationalities, which manifest themselves in the expedient form of madness, I argue, constitute the most equivocal force in the play. As Yuelin tries to address her listeners beyond the stage, the other characters and the stage directions describe her as having gone mad. Bai Wei may never have achieved the kind of selfirony attained by Lu Xun in his story about an equally confused mind, “Diary of a Madman.” In spite of her difficult personal life (described in Chapter 3), however, Bai Wei manages to showcase a gendered, compulsive soul in desperate quest of a just way out, both within and without the play.

The play takes on another dimension when one looks at its extratextual context. Bai Wei writes in her postscript to the play that the extant version of Fight Out of the Ghost Tower is actually a rewrite based on an original that had been rudely “taken away” by a male colleague, Xiang Peiliang (1905–1961).45 This violence in the literary world adds yet another dimension to the risks that a writing woman has to face while she is writing about the risks (p.59) her female characters encounter in the male world. Finally, Bai Wei’s play lends itself to a parallel reading with Cao Yu’s (1910–1996) Leiyu (Thunderstorm, 1934), a melodrama also dealing with oppressed children, incestuous marriage, forbidden love, mistaken identity, murder, and revolution. Cao Yu’s play was an immediate success when premiered in 1935, and would be staged numerous times in the decades to come. Bai Wei may not be the playwright that Cao Yu was, but the eclipse of her play, despite its striking resemblance to Thunderstorm, serves as one more example of a woman writer’s vulnerability when searching for literary power in a male-dominated world.

A Literature of Blood and Tears

I have described the way in which the modern Chinese concepts of justice and violence evolved along with the genres of fiction and drama. With a series of short stories and sketches, Lu Xun launched a narrative inquiry into the ambiguous terms of crime and punishment in a society bereft of political and ethical order. In a new dramatic form, Ouyang Yuqian and Bai Wei dealt with the polemic of justice by staging the crime scene in such a way as to stimulate a debate not only among characters but also among theater audiences.

By the beginning of the 1930s, these two genres—the narrative deliberation and the theatrical reenactment of crime and punishment—had converged to become a powerful discourse, demanding and instantiating a new definition of social and poetic justice. This discourse was further consolidated as the Communist trope of “mass revolution” gained currency. To show their solidarity with the “insulted and the wounded” and to promote a body politics of revolutionary writing, progressive writers united under the banner of a “literature of blood and tears.”

This slogan, as well as the works produced in its name, derives its power from a renegotiation of the arts of telling and of showing. The literature of blood and tears is believed to possess such demonstrative force as to both evoke the blood and tears repressed in the objects of narration and to induce blood and tears at the site of writing and representing. Instead of catharsis, as would have been expected of these Europeanized intellectuals, the new poetics aims to incite action (blood) and indignation (tears). Hence Marston Anderson’s comment, “The new fiction was to possess the palpable reality of fluids exuded by the body. But significantly the fluids to which the expression refers are released only when the body is physically wounded (blood) or when the spirit is bruised by empathy (tears).”46

What Anderson does not mention is that in the name of displaying blood and tears, this literature offers a discursive format akin to the forensic debate over the nature of violence and its containment. Tears and blood are (p.60) corporeal clues that need to be reconstituted so as to testify for or against a given defendant. Its performative inclination is expected to be the first step leading to the final call to justice. As such, the works of “blood and tears” are really not too far away from the two late Qing court-case novels discussed above, in the sense that the realization of crime and justice presupposes staging in a corporeal theater.

There are, nevertheless, moments in which tears and blood are called on, only to confuse the issue instead of settling it. These moments give rise to the theoretical double bind in legal or ethical disputes. In Paoxiao lede tudi (Roaring earth, 1931) by Jiang Guangci (1901–1931), for example, the young leftist revolutionary Li Jie is forced to make a painful decision as his comrades propose to burn down buildings owned by local landlord families. As a leader of the local proletariat organization, Li Jie is obliged to see to the implementation of this plan. He is, however, beset by several worries. Li happens to be the son of the richest landlord in town; should the peasants’ riot include burning and looting, it would mean total devastation of the Li family estate. Moreover, even though he could not care less about his father’s life and fortune, Li is worried about the well-being of his bedridden mother and his younger sister, still a mere child. Should these two females be sacrificed to the cause of justice as part of the peasant rebellion?

Throughout his short career, Jiang Guangci had been known as a writer with a corpus of works promoting contemporary revolution in a most sentimental way. Jiang’s narcissism and romantic eccentricities nevertheless gave him a literary imagination useful to Communist literature, despite its superficial call for altruism and scientific historicism. It is the romantic yearning for a lost originary communal state that makes it easy for a writer like Jiang Guangci to be taken in by Communist myths about the return to a lost origin. There is good reason that he has been regarded as the forerunner of the “revolution plus love” formula of Chinese leftist fiction (discussed in Chapter 3). This fact, ironically, may very well be one of the reasons for his ejection from the party in 1930.47 But in the above-mentioned episode of Roaring Earth, Jiang demonstrates an acute sensitivity when dramatizing the personal dilemma of a revolutionary.

After years under the tyrannical rule of Li Jie’s father, the rioting tenants finally prove that they have the will and capacity to overthrow a landlord. Li Jie shows no qualms about the tenants’ plan to kill his father and burn down his family properties. Patricide is necessary as a young revolutionary’s clearest act of defiance against a feudal patriarchal system. But Li cherishes deep feeling for his mother and is much troubled by the likelihood of her death in the proposed riots. At one of the most gripping moments in his interior monologue, Li cries:


I have no father now. I have only an enemy. It is only on the battlefield that I can meet the enemy, but I hear that my mother is at home sick.…Mother! Please forgive your rebellious son!…There is a duty much more important, much greater than filial piety. To live up to this duty, I am willing to bear the bad name of rebel. Mother, you have lost your son!…

Alas! A man after all has his feelings. You know how distressed I am! I love my innocent, darling little sister.48

In pain and despair, Li Jie falls unconscious. When he comes to, the burning and killing have taken place.

Insofar as it endorses “rebel justice” at the expense of an existing social order, Roaring Earth must be regarded as one of the most important models for Chinese Communist fiction of the 1940s and 1950s, a model that celebrates a “spontaneous” uprising of the proletariat against the ruling class. By forgoing personal and familial attachments, Li Jie has passed the harsh test of his Communist convictions. He may be guilty of a family murder, but for the advancement of revolution and history, he understands that the end justifies the means.

There are irksome factors, however, looming behind such a (self-)righteous reading of this episode. Even before the fire starts, we are told, Li’s father, the archvillain of the novel, has run away to a nearby town. To avenge their suffering, the peasants should presumably have tracked him down and punished him in person. Instead, they choose to set fire to the Li family compound in the absence of the villain. The fire thus works more like a symbol, or staged effect, signaling the end of landlord rule. Moreover, by burning to death a very ill woman and her child, for the reason that they are immediate family members of the villain, these peasant heroes show a decided preference for justice in the form of theater, for acts of symbolic terrorism. By “theater,” I do not mean that the riot or killing is unreal, but that it is acted out in such a way as to gesture toward a “real” revolution that has yet to happen. The revolutionaries appropriate for themselves the landlords’ power to oppress, punish, and destroy at will. At best, the symbolic justice mimics the peasants’ desire to throw off oppression; at worst, the theatrical terror enacts the peasants’ desire to replace and imitate their oppressors.

After pushing Li Jie to the center of the terrorist stage, the tenants wait and watch to see whether their leader will play his role the right way. Li Jie could have prevented the murder from happening, as he well understood that his sick mother and weak sister should not have been held responsible for his father’s misdeeds. But he lets the fire engulf his family compound so as to make a point to his fellow revolutionaries as well as to himself, to show that he relinquishes all ties to the past. Li Jie’s mother and sister thus die an undeserved and cruel death, ultimately for the sake of Li Jie’s accreditation (p.62) as one who is more a revolutionary than a son. By killing them for crimes they never committed, Li Jie can purge his own crime, that of being a descendant of a landlord family, though it is a crime Li Jie never committed.

Only in feudalism are individuals held to be guilty of the sins of their ancestors; here Li Jie offers a feudal proof that he no longer is the property of his father, by destroying the father’s other feudal property—buildings, women, and children—convincing himself that he has rid himself of feudal consciousness. And only in feudalism can one purge oneself of the guilt acquired from one’s original clan by submitting utterly to the will of one’s new clan. The ultimate proof of new cult loyalty is always the ability to destroy the old clan, to put aside one’s individual feelings and become as one with the new clan. Jiang Guangci could not have been unaware of the ironies underlying this violent code of self-abnegation. This is most emphatically indicated by Li Jie’s monologue: “I have read Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons and always felt the conflict between the fathers and sons in the novel is too commonplace. It is far less exciting than the antagonism between my father and me. I wonder if there will be a writer who can write out this father-son struggle of mine. I truly hope that such a writer exists.”49 Even before the crime has been committed, the hero of the patricide is already contemplating his status in comparison to famous examples. This is the narcissistic, romantic side of the would-be revolutionary hero, the side that makes him more than ordinarily vulnerable to group shame and group praise.

One is now supposed to read Jiang Guangci’s works in a negative way, treating it as a “historical phenomenon.”50 T.A. Hsia, for instance, doubts Jiang Guangci’s sincerity, even at Jiang’s seemingly most pained moment. Having seen too many melodramatic gestures in Jiang’s works and life, Hsia rightly suspects the veracity of Roaring Earth. My argument is that, given his indulgence in role playing, Jiang’s posture as a writer and as a revolutionary may have given rise to a crucial trope in Chinese Communist poetics and politics alike. When theater and violence, mutual spectatorship, and reciprocal surveillance are mixed, a dangerous discourse—of romanticism but not necessarily of revolution—is born. The question has to be whether this discourse has significantly rewritten the discourse of feudalism or is merely its reiteration, disguised by its romantic, European clothing. One suspects the killing is performed as a bloody public spectacle so as to renew, rather than subvert, the kind of hell of crime and punishment these romantic revolutionaries wish to overthrow.

As one of the best interpreters of Lu Xun’s ethics of writing, Wu Zuxiang (1908–1994) may well have intended in his stories a 1930s version of cannibalism, indicting a society devoid of all moral and legal resources. Indeed, in the famous “Guanguan de bupin” (Young master gets his tonic, 1932), (p.63) Wu literally takes on cannibalism, by writing how the young master of a landlord family is nurtured on the milk and blood of a peasant couple during his recovery from a car crash. The story ends by recapitulating another of Lu Xun’s favorite images, as the peasant husband is sentenced to decapitation after being convicted as a bandit courier. Few readers of the story can forget the gory execution scene, when the dying convict “suddenly struggles and stands up, raising his hands and screaming like a demon.”51

The execution scene can be treated as a neat reversal of the ending of “The True Story of Ah Q,” in which Ah Q is quickly shot to death while the crowd looks on. For Wu Zuxiang, a proletarian convict of the 1930s would struggle against his oppressors right up to the moment of extinction, registering one last protest against the injustices done to him. Still, “Young Master Gets His Tonic” is a story couched in the rhetoric that marked Lu Xun’s tributes to the “insulted and the injured.” It is in works such as “Fanjia pu” (Fan family village, 1934) and Yiqian babai dan (Eighteen hundred piculs of rice, 1934) that the terms of crime and punishment are polemically reexamined.

In “Fan Family Village,” a village woman named Xianzi is subject to increasing humiliation and pain as her village is beset by drought, civil war, and changes in the rural economic structure. The final blow comes when Xianzi’s husband, Gouzi, whose love is her only remaining source of stability, is arrested on a charge of robbing and murdering a nun, and a cunning intermediary comes to demand a bribe for the local magistrate. Xianzi turns for help to her mother, who has recently won a considerable amount of money in a lottery, but she is refused. In desperation, Xianzi kills her mother by clubbing the old woman with a sacrificial candlestick52

I need not belabor the multiple layers of plight surrounding the woman: drought, civil war, religious fraud, superstition, judicial malpractice, murder, robbery, parental cruelty, and burgeoning capitalism, each making its contribution to the matricide. Critics from C. T. Hsia to Philip Williams have had a lot to say about the ethical dilemma involved in the final bloody scene of the novella.53 Matricide, which used to be considered a quintessential taboo, is justified in given historical circumstances. Xianzi’s mother used to be a rustic peasant woman. After working for years as a servant to a rich family in the city, she has developed a monstrous desire for money. Ironically, this old woman’s acquisitiveness, which makes her value money more than kinship, augments in proportion to her Buddhist convictions about spiritual transcendence. Instead of helping her daughter out, she would prefer to donate money to the nunnery run by a nun who will later be accidentally killed by Xianzi’s husband.

Xianzi’s mother intends to purge her sins from this and previous lives by donating money to the nunnery, money she has made by participating in the new mode of production in the city. Xianzi’s husband robs the nunnery in the belief that the gods should return part of their worshipers’ donation (p.64) so as to reduce the pain these worshipers are undergoing. In either case, there is a mounting conflict between different systems of justice. The laws of the human world and the ordinances of supernatural beings, the imperative of blood kinship and the rule of monetary ownership, the God of Mercy and the God of Mammon—all are presented in a radical clash, with each axis of the contested values demanding a new judgment. Caught right in the middle of these conflicts, Xianzi is driven to maintain her own “moral sanity,” in C. T Hsia’s words, by committing matricide.54

Just as in Roaring Earth, a horrific crime has to be committed in “Fan Family Village” so as to make life less inhuman and underline the necessity of revolution. Whereas the young, educated, landlord-turned-revolutionary Li Jie completes his initiation into revolution by countenancing the killing of his mother and younger sister, an illiterate peasant woman such as Xianzi is now made to go through a similar ordeal of parricide so as to reach her moment of political awakening. Bai Wei’s Fight Out of the Ghost Tower can be regarded as the predecessor of both works in terms of parricide, but her play differs in trying to exonerate its patricidal heroine by recourse to the old device of hysteria and madness. However, for Jiang Guangci and Wu Zuxiang, at a time when the whole world verges on moral and economic bankruptcy, nobody can have clean hands.

In this sense, Lu Xun’s vision of cannibalism must be reinterpreted. Lu Xun sees in the Chinese an instinctual need for mutual persecution that will drive them to catastrophe. Violence, in the form of parricide, is treated by Wu Zuxiang, Jiang Guangci, and like-minded leftist writers as capable of generating positive consequences. Revolution is nothing if not a justifiable form of violence, enacted to subvert the traditional form of tyranny. Chinese political theory, from the earliest times to the Qing, justifies popular violence—if it overthrows a cruel and decadent dynasty and replaces it with the dynasty that is historically destined to loot, kill, and defy authority until it secures imperial power. The morbid strain of cannibalism that upset Lu Xun in the Chinese character is legitimated, so to speak, in the hands of Jiang Guangci and Wu Zuxiang. As either would agree, at the right historical moment, for the right ideological cause, even the most victimized social being can be, and should be, motivated to walk over any remnants of social and moral law. What distinguishes Jiang and Wu from other writers, at least in the examples being discussed here, is that they are not unaware of the terrible freedom implied by the group violence newly sanctioned in the name of revolution. These two writers have dramatized criminal cases in their works so as to warrant not a hasty verdict but a prolonged legal debate.

This leads us to the juxtaposition of two forensic scenes in Wu’s acclaimed novella Eighteen Hundred Piculs of Rice. As the novella opens, representatives (p.65) of the various houses of the powerful Song clan meet, after a drought, to determine what to do with the eighteen hundred piculs of rice they have reserved from the last harvest. The meeting soon deteriorates into a series of squabbles indicative of the conflicting interests among the houses. It is suggested that the rice be sold to pay for irrigation, local militia reinforcement, or educational improvement; or that the proceeds be used to pay off outstanding loans or be given to charity. Behind all these noble causes, however, are generations of corruption and self-interest that have driven the houses farther and farther apart. As the debate continues on endlessly, one important factor has been neglected: the starving tenants who produced the rice. These tenants are waiting outside the clan temple to demand their share of the rice so as to survive.

The central scene of the novella takes place in the clan temple where the meeting is being held. Long overdue for refurbishment, the clan temple is in dreadful dilapidation, a most telling sign of the decline of the Song clan. The clan temple used to be where social functions were performed, the most important of which was the execution of familial justice and order. For this reason the meeting is being held at the temple, but, as Wu Zuxiang tells us, just as the temple can no longer properly accommodate a family meeting, the continued squabble under the leaking roof of the temple signals the disintegration of the doomed houses. Meanwhile, the angry peasants have run out of patience. They break into the clan temple, grab the representatives, and steal the rice.

The novella does not stop there, however. In the uprising, the peasants carry gongs and drums, wear devil masks, and “shriek, jump, and whistle like demons.”55 They drag the district head to an abandoned platform, where the community once prayed to the rain deity for relief from the drought, and use the site to act out the ritualized destruction of the old order and its superstitions. For a writer as careful as Wu Zuxiang, the fact that the mock trial is performed on a ritual stage cannot be coincidence. Taking justice in their own hands, the peasants still need to return to the site of clan ritual to enact the destruction of the old order.

The eerie, carnivalesque atmosphere of the uprising, with a cacophony of peasants dressed as demons and devils, suggests not so much the beginning of a new historical moment—in which a different or at least rein-vigorated justice will begin—as a return to the mood of late Qing novels such as The Travels of Lao Can and Living Hell, where the image of hell is displayed. Violence perpetrated in the name of “modern” justice is tellingly reinstated here in its premodern, even prefeudal form. Wu Zuxiang may have attempted to realistically record the way peasants conceive of justice, but his realistic representation of the revolutionary scene betrays a romantic longing for the fiendish and brutal pleasures of originary communal life.

(p.66) Living Hell Revisited

The year 1942 marks a turning point in both the Nationalist and Communist versions of modern Chinese literary history. In response to the increasingly recalcitrant postures among the writers in the “liberated area,” Mao gave a series of talks that prescribed the format of Communist literature for the next four decades.56 Much has been written about the hegemonic status of Mao’s talks as well as their consequences. Two things command our attention at this juncture. First, as the call for justice expanded to become a national campaign, on behalf either of a regime or a class, the debate about crime and punishment entered a more tendentious stage. For Communist writers, two wars had to be fought at the same time, the war against the national enemy, the Japanese, and the war against the class enemy, the Nationalist regime. Mutilated bodies and broken families became regular themes of the time; but they were treated in such a way as to be subsumed into the national, or Nationalist, symbolism of a China ravished and lacerated by both external and internal wounds. As I will argue in Chapter 6, a corporeal typology of “the scarred” was inaugurated at this time, as a climax to the tears and blood flowing through Chinese literature from previous ages and an (unfortunate) anticipation of more tears and blood to come in the next few decades.57

Second, as far as leftist literature was concerned, there appeared a decisive inward turn, so to speak, as writers came to terms with the new definition of violence. The quarrel between Hu Feng (1902–1985) and Mao Zedong as to how reality was to be represented, with all its ideological turmoil, mirrors the disturbed etiological state of Chinese Communist discourse. Hu Feng and his followers depict in their critical treatise a people seriously maimed by an inhuman history, so much so that it cannot be rehabilitated until its inherently primitive, individual power is called forth. Mao and his cohorts acknowledge the suffering of the people but argue that to do justice to “the insulted and the injured,” they first have to subordinate individual subjectivity—which seemed to have gone out of control in Hu Feng’s hands—to a collective, historical subjectivity58

The debate cannot be adequately characterized here, but let it be said that the two sides concurred in a diagnosis of the self as beset by storms. As will be discussed, whereas Lu Ling (1923–1994), Hu Feng’s protégé, features a gallery of grotesques trapped in a losing war against their own ferocious ressen-timent, Ding Ling (1904–1986), a grudging follower of Mao, moves her drama of revolution toward a portrait of individual passion that has submitted itself to the will of the masses and found its true vocation in self-discipline.59 If Lu Ling aims at a negative dialectic of the soul caught in its libidinous desire to be free, Ding Ling intends to show how that soul can truly liberate itself through intense acts of continual submission. Set side by side, the two form (p.67) an unexpected dialogue pointing to how, before the final revolution happens, the mindscape of China has already become a battleground of furious impulses.

This changing configuration of national, international, and “intentional” factors results in a significant reform of the discourse of justice and violence. My first case in point is the well-known short story by Ding Ling, “Wo zai xia-cun de shihou” (When I was in Xia village, 1941). In this story, a girl named Zhenzhen (literally meaning “chastity-chastity”), who had defiantly rejected an arranged marriage, was raped when the Japanese invaded her village. To avenge herself, Zhenzhen secretly signs up for a Communist mission requiring her to spy on the Japanese army while serving as prostitute. As the story opens, Zhenzhen has returned from the front lines to cure her venereal disease, which she contracted while “serving” the Japanese and, in that way, China. Her situation nevertheless induces more contempt than sympathy among her fellow villagers.

Zhenzhen’s rape embodies a fear any Chinese woman might entertain during wartime; her mission as a prostitute-spy exemplifies total patriotism. But as Ding Ling has it, Zhenzhen’s fellow villagers, who mostly remain ignorant of her mission, think of her otherwise. For these villagers, a girl like Zhenzhen, who defied an arranged marriage and then failed to safeguard her virginity, is already quite detestable; that she should have capitalized on her misfortune and become a prostitute and traitor amounts to nothing less than outrage. Meanwhile, Zhenzhen suffers submissively, her venereal disease becoming a physical token of both her patriotic fervor and her irredeemable shame.

Feminist critics have argued forcefully that Zhenzhen’s story indicates as much the cruelty of the Japanese invaders as the callousness of Chinese defense forces. As Yi-tsi Mei Feuerwerker puts it, the sufferings of Zhenzhen are “fully ‘available’ only to women: arranged marriage, rape by enemy soldiers, exploitation of her body by both armies and, after her return to the village, ostracism for violating the chastity code.”60 Zhenzhen’s story is built on the paradox that she can derive self-esteem only through willful self-abandon. For her patriotic contribution, she is rewarded with the most humiliating of diseases. To this one may add one more point: Zhenzhen joins the secret mission supposedly at the call of the Communist United Front. In the cause of liberating the collective body of Chinese, first her own body must be taken and ruined by the enemy. But when she returns home, it is those “people” whom she has vowed to save that ostracize her, in accordance with a most unliberated code of chastity.

Even more striking is the fact that, for all the physical illness and torture she has suffered, Zhenzhen appears in the story as a rather healthy-looking person. As the I-narrator puts it, “There was no outward sign of her disease. Her complexion was ruddy. Her voice was clear. She showed no signs of in-hibition (p.68) or rudeness. She did not exaggerate. She gave the impression that she had never had any complaints or sad thoughts.”61 That Zhenzhen appears undisturbed by her painful experience would have indicated to a romantic reader a personality of nunlike goodness and saintly self-control. Her ideological (or religious?) commitment is stronger than her still-hidden physical degeneration. But I wonder if one can take Ding Ling’s narrative at face value. Zhenzhen’s natural, healthy look is, after all, a front, hiding a body that is rapidly deteriorating. The contrast between how Zhenzhen’s body looks and how it feels invites an allegorical reading; it is symptomatic of a reality or realism that turns against itself. As such, it may very well point to the dilemma that beset Ding Ling as a writer in the “liberated area.”62

For Ding Ling, to write a story like “When I Was in Xia Village” meant to indict the evil forces of reality: the Nationalist regime, the feudal forces, class enemies, and the Japanese invaders. But as her narrative develops, she cannot celebrate the power of justice represented by the party without pondering its newly installed system of coercion and discipline. Zhenzhen’s “crime” of being a free-spirited girl opposed to a prearranged marriage should be treated as a virtue in the new society; however, this virtue is later both rewarded and punished. Zhenzhen is persuaded to sacrifice for her party and nation because she had already been raped by the Japanese and belittled by her fellow villagers. Later, she proclaims that she accepted the mission of prostitution of her own free will and that she harbors neither hatred nor regret. Zhenzhen’s total submission to the party reveals a revolutionary zeal tantamount to religious fanaticism, her healthy appearance a suspicious sign of her deteriorating capacity to judge.

As expected, the story has a bright, formulaic ending. Zhenzhen will go to another city, presumably Yan’an, for medical treatment and rehabilitation. But with her inglorious past as a raped woman and a Japanese army prostitute, will Zhenzhen be treated fairly by the puritanical party cadres? Knowing that “illness” and “rehabilitation” are terms characteristic of Chinese Communist literary and political discourse, one wonders whether Zhenzhen’s disease can be cured, even in medical terms.63 One recalls that the story started with a frame in which the narrator, Ding Ling, is sent to Xia Village for “rehabilitation…because of the turmoil of the department of politics.”64 Even if she could recover from her physical ailment, chances are that Zhenzhen would end up like her creator, Ding Ling, spending the rest of her life in a cycle of political illness and rehabilitation.

“When I Was in Xia Village” thus appears to be a Communist retelling of Christian-Buddhist hagiography, while providing a chilling subtext regarding the continuing usefulness and disposability of the female body. A dimension of violence and justice in modern Chinese literature has been touched on here by a woman cadre and author. The case of Zhenzhen demonstrates the advent of an intricate technology of violence that inflicts (p.69) pain on its victim only to win the victim’s wholehearted support. By writing her story in this way, Ding Ling proves that she is not as naïve as Zhenzhen. Allegedly because of publications like “When I Was in Xia Village,” Mao put forth his literary policy in 1942, followed by the first rectification (zhengfeng) movement.65 In the next few years, Ding Ling, together with other outspoken writers, would disappear from the scene for “rehabilitation.” Despite the nostalgic mood of its narrative, “When I Was in Xia Village” is both a nostalgic posture and an ominous warning indicating the end of an age of innocence.

Far away from Yan’an, a young writer named Lu Ling wrote Ji’e de Guo Su’e (Hungry Guo Su’e, 1943) in Chongqing, Sichuan, to bear witness to the atrocities of the war. Instead of ordinary patriotic themes, Lu Ling exhibits the primitive psychological landscape of a group of people who have been condemned to the pit of life. At the center of the novel is Guo Su’e, a woman who was driven out of her hometown by famine and banditry, only to be taken as wife by a sleazy opium addict. Ever discontented with her circumstances, Guo carries on sexual liaisons with local miners. Her adulterous behavior finally results in her death at the hands of her husband and his clan.

I will give a detailed discussion of Hungry Guo Su’e in the context of Communist hunger discourse in Chapter 4. What concerns me here is the extent to which the novel sheds light on an internalized form of violence. In the case of “When I Was in Xia Village,” Ding Ling witnesses the transformation of the village girl Zhenzhen into an obedient servant of the people. By contrast, Lu Ling sees in the life and death of Guo Su’e a (self-)destructive impulse that calls for rebellion—against reality itself, if necessary.

Guo Su’e’s tortured soul can never find peace with itself, let alone submit to discipline. Her “hunger” is caused by her need for food and sex and by her innate yearning for spiritual redemption, which will happen only if there is a Communist revolution. But just as in the case of Ding Ling, Lu Ling can find no way to convey the gospel of revolution without first questioning, however involuntarily, the “hygienic” preoccupation of that gospel. Moreover, because of Lu Ling’s obsession with the sadomasochistic forces propelling human desire, he sees in Guo Su’e’s downfall a strange mixture of creation and destruction, a libidinous chasm that cannot be filled by sociopolitical institutions.

This fuels the crucial but ambiguous moment of the novel, in which the adulterous Guo Su’e is caught by her husband and relatives and put on trial in the back room of a Daoist temple. They tie her to a board, humiliating and beating her at will, and burn her thighs with red-hot pokers until she loses her consciousness.66 One thug rapes her after the trial is over. Guo Su’e is left alone, dying three days later from lack of food and medical care.

(p.70) If the scene of Guo Su’e’s punishment seems familiar to us, it is perhaps because it first appears to be a parody of courtroom scenes from late Qing novels, such as Living Hell and The Travels of Lao Can. Nevertheless, while the bloody punishments in the two late Qing novels are attributed to officials, Guo Su’e’s death is a spectacle put on strictly under the direction of the masses. The predictable charges against the evil of male-centered feudalism notwithstanding, the scene reveals how cruelly the social underdogs can be to each other, before they unite to stand against their class enemy. As Lu Ling puts it, there is almost a sense of festivity as Guo Su’e’s torturers engage in mutilating her body, as if their own repressed desire had found a final vicarious consummation.67

This leads us to reconsider the crime Guo Su’e committed. As a deserted child, a beggar, an abused wife, and a sexual object, Guo Su’e is the stereotypical suffering woman of socialist fiction. As the story develops, her vulgar, militant manners and her seemingly insatiable sexual desire appear to constitute her new identity, which must have raised the eyebrows of many Communists. Compared with Zhenzhen in “When I Was in Xia Village,” who willingly donates her soiled body to her country while managing to look healthier than ever, Guo Su’e commits adultery for a much humbler reason: after her body, she has nothing to lose. In any case, if Communist critics found it irksome to diagnose Zhenzhen’s dubious health, it must have been more difficult for them to explain Guo Sue’s eternal hunger. In the most ironic sense, the death of Guo Sue might well be the solution to her problem: eternally “repressed,” Guo Su’e can no longer stir up trouble and, perhaps because of this fact, her corpse can be safely displayed in the gallery of victims in the Communist hall of justice.

In 1948, seven years after her visit to “Xia Village,” Ding Ling reemerged with a novel about another village experience. Entitled Taiyang zhaozai Sang-gan heshang (The sun shines over the Sanggan River), the novel deals with the land reform movement in a village of northern China, Nuanshuicun. The transformation of Ding Ling into a cadre writer is clearly indicated in the new book. In a humble, almost self-effacing manner, Ding Ling describes the drastically changing ethical and economic structure of the village after the arrival of a land reform team. Though winner of a Stalin Literary Prize in the early 1950s, the novel suffered a sudden eclipse when its author was purged in 1956.68

Ding Ling’s ups and downs notwithstanding, the novel represents in many ways the climax of the dialectic of violence and justice discussed in this chapter. Despite its economic initiatives, the land reform movement as Ding Ling describes it was never a mere attempt to overhaul the infrastructure of rural China; rather, it had a superstructural dimension, as the land reform contributed (p.71) to, and was conditioned by, changes in traditional Chinese ethical, cultural, and legal systems. To that extent, Yi-tsi Mei Feuerwerker makes an important point when she calls the novel a “historical novel.”69

With such built-in epic implications, The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River can no longer be treated as a mere account of the transfer of land ownership from landlords to poor peasants. Instead, it tries to capture an apocalyptic moment of history, when a new moral machinery has been activated: the revolution finally has begun. When Ding Ling’s peasants demand justice, they are uttering outrage that has been stored up in the Chinese soul for hundreds of years; and when the villain—the landlord—is captured, he must be indicted as a lishi de zuiren, or a “criminal of History.”70 It should be noted that systems such as “public trial” (qunzhong gongshen) and “on-location trial” (jiudi gongshen) were widely promoted in Communist regions at this time.71 As Ding Ling and her colleagues would have it, real “people” have finally seized the power from those inhuman beings who have always oppressed the “people”; thus the transfer of the control of justice from the ruling class to the ruled is set in motion.

In The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River, Liu Zaifu observes the rise of a new dialectic of violence and justice. Based on Roland Barthes’s typological approach to the forms of revolution, Liu argues that the Chinese Communist revolution was a hybrid, inspired by both the “bloody ritual” of the French Revolution and the teleological imperative of the Stalinist Revolution.72 In other words, the Chinese Communist revolution, as manifested in Ding Ling’s novel, takes on a doubly grandiose form, combining both spectacular purgation and predestined fulfillment.73

While acknowledging Liu Zaifu’s observation, I would call attention to an indigenous dimension of the Chinese form of revolution. The legal motifs of Ding Ling’s novel, from public trial to communal ostracism, from the theater of blood to the invention of penal technology, could hardly have been new to twentieth-century Chinese readers and writers. When class enemies are judged by the arbitrary will of the newly empowered and punishments are performed with a view to arousing bloody festivity, even actual cannibalism, one cannot help recalling how “Chinese” these modes of imagining justice are. After almost half a century of debate on the feasibility of justice and its manifestation, one sees in a novel such as The Sun Shines over the Sanggan Rivernot a leap over, but an uncanny return to the premodern discourse of crime and punishment.

Take the prosecution of Qian Wengui, the archvillain of Ding Ling’s novel, for example. For years Qian has joined with other local notables to persecute tenants. Upon hearing of the impending land reform movement, Qian sends his son to the Communist army and marries his daughter to the local cadre, with the hope of forestalling possible charges. Qian’s scheme fails. At the climax of the novel, appropriately subtitled “The Final Combat” (Juezhan), (p.72) Qian and his wife are paraded in public, humiliated, beaten, and almost clawed to death by the angry masses. Even the cannibalistic impulse comes close to consciousness, as the peasants converge to punish the hated landlord: “One feeling animated them all—vengeance! They wanted vengeance! They wanted to give vent to their hatred, the sufferings of the oppressed since their ancestors’ times, the hatred and loathing of thousands of years; all this resentment they directed against him. They would have liked to tear him with their teeth [italics mine].”74

It is not coincidental that such a ferocious scene appears in Communist fiction of this time. Zhou Libo’s (1908–1979) Baofeng zouyu (Hurricane, 1948), another novel about the land reform movement, which was published about the same time as The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River, features a similar scene with a similar suggestion of cannibalism. At the public trial of the landlord Han Laoliu, the angry masses raise clubs and sticks to beat the villain. Widow Zhang, a weak old woman, also raises her club and cries to Han Laoliu,

“You, you killed my son!”

Her elm stick falls on Han Laoliu’s shoulders. As she is about to hit Han Laoliu again, she finds herself short of energy. She drops the stick, jumps over to Han Laoliu, biting his shoulders and arms with her teeth. Nothing else can relieve the hatred in her mind.75

If the two public trial scenes are still shocking to us today, it is perhaps due not to the questionable modes of popular justice but to the capacity of humans to be so possessed by bloodlust that they jump about and bite like beasts. The sensational language and bloody descriptions that permeate the texts are reminiscent of the revolutionary works of an earlier generation, such as Jiang Guangci’s Roaring Earth and Wu Zuxiang’s “Fan Family Village” and Eighteen Hundred Piculs of Rice. Ding Ling’s work differs in that it programs all the motivations that Wu’s and Jiang’s peasants would have felt in such a way as to present animality as a logical outcome rather than a momentary human reversion to the bestial.

Incidentally, one must bear in mind that the Communist government made it illegal to impose physical torture on the indicted in the land reform movement.76 The public trial is planned as if in accordance with a court procedure, the difference being that this court scene takes place in an open space that demands everybody’s attendance and, ostensibly, everybody’s judgment. The fusion of the theater, the courtroom, and the site of punishment, long embedded in early revolutionary plays and fiction, such as Pan Jinlian and “The True Story of Ah Q,” are finally officialized as an integral part of Communist legality.

The old questions regarding the way the late Qing novel Living Hell represents justice remain pertinent. Whereas Living Hell presents a closed (p.73) courtroom in which suspects are punished and paraded about as if in a variety show, a novel like The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River introduces an open courtroom where suspects are served up in a mock cannibalistic feast. Lu Xun and Lu Ling’s cynical vision of the cruel human capacity to humiliate and persecute is enthusiastically endorsed in a model Communist novel. One could argue that the Communist masses are not the corrupt judges of the late Qing, and that they inflict punishment on the wicked as a necessary step toward long-awaited social justice. Liu E’s paradoxical warning in The Travels of Lao Can is relevant: self-righteous, incorruptible judges are far more dangerous than corruptible ones.77 Believing that they are acting at the behest of a new mandate, the Communist masses are more dangerous when they torture the villains and their families indiscriminately than the self-righteous, incorruptible judges of the Qing dynasty, not because the technology of torture has advanced but because there is now a vast number of self-righteous, incorruptible judges.78

I would further argue that the discourse of violence and justice demonstrated in a novel like The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River can also be more cruel than that offered in the two late Qing novels. Liu E and Li Boyuan describe in one way or another the corruption of the late Qing judicial system, pointing out or merely insinuating that there are cracks between what the law means to achieve and what it really achieves. Despite their righteous or cynical undertones, the two novels contain a measure of self-reflection, which compels the writers and their implied readers to demand a judicial and penal system other than what is practiced in the novels. By contrast, The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River celebrates the mixture of rites of torture and rites of cannibalism and sees it as the final solution to the problem of justice. Ding Ling takes for granted what Liu E and Li Boyuan would have either condemned or parodied, if they had not died first.

There is another aspect of violence in The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River that has been less discussed by critics. The land reform movement does not end with the redistribution of the land and properties that used to belong to the rural ruling class. Reform of the Chinese landscape prefigures the reform of the Chinese mindscape. Behind the confrontation between the landlords and the peasants stand the land reformers; their task is to mobilize the long-oppressed peasants to rise against local authorities. Throughout the novel, one witnesses how the reformers carefully plan to arouse anger among the peasants and channel that anger into action. The peasants, at the opening of the novel, are shown to be so intimidated by Qian Wengui’s power that they dare not articulate their suffering in public. After they have been worked on by the reformers, however, they cannot talk enough about their hatred and vengeful desire. Insofar as they undergo group-therapeutic personality (p.74) changes designed and initiated by the reformers, the peasants’ liberation inaugurates a new, advanced form of serfdom; land reform is the outward form of mind reform.79

This psychological re-education of the peasants is closely related to the so-called violence of language that is imposed on them. Xiaobing Tang has argued, taking Zhou Libo’s Hurricane as an example, that language in Communist literature at this time has been reduced to its most primitive level, and can make sense only through recourse to the invocation of physical scars.80 Tang sees a dangerous reduction of a symbolic system of linguistic signs to that of bodily spectacle.81

One should, however, never take the apparent Communist vulgarization of language for a simplification of figural symbolism. The obsession with the reciprocity of ink and blood is not an invention of Communist writers. Lu Xun’s “decapitation complex” still has to be regarded as one of the origins of the “scarred” discourse that later prevails in leftist and rightist literature. As argued above, the new violent language can be a well-orchestrated linguistic system, couched in a deep cultural and literary subtext traceable as far back as to late Qing literature. While evoking an immediate, bodily spectacle, this language functions not as a means to do away with a richly encoded discourse of violence but as a way to revitalize it. Thus, as David Apter and Tony Saich observe, the violence of language is an intricate figural mechanism rather than a raw abuse of words, which manages to evoke an exegetical bonding among the party members.82

My final point is about the way in which some forms of suffering and punishment, horrific as they are, have been written as a result of the new Communist discourse of justice. I have in mind cases where the debate over crime and punishment is least expected, such as the love affair between Heini, Qian Wengui’s niece, and Cheng Ren, the newly appointed local leader of the land reform. Before the reform took place, the two were lovers despite their class difference. Now, under the new legal terms that distinguish the lawful from the unlawful, they have to redefine their relations.

Though closely related to Qian Wengui, Heini has been treated as a free laborer by Qian and his wife. After discovering Cheng Ren’s position in the new power structure, the couple suddenly change their attitude toward their niece, hoping to use her to win Cheng Ren’s favor. Heini is despised by the villagers for a scheme she is innocent of. Although she is later accepted as part of the oppressed class and enlisted to join the rally against her uncle, her romance with Cheng Ren is indefinitely suspended by public will and by self-abnegation.

Cheng Ren is no better off. That Cheng Ren should have transgressed social taboos and fallen in love with a landlord’s niece before the land reform (p.75) is a sign of his genuine courage and revolutionary consciousness. But in the new society, Cheng Ren becomes conscious of his newly won class status, which carries with it a new taboo as severe as the old one. The romance proves even more trying than before. When he finally decides to pick out Qian Wen-gui as the chief target of a public trial, Cheng Ren recognizes that he has been less than resolute in facing up to that reality: “He felt as if he had committed a crime, and done something wrong to others, and could not hold up his head. This was something he had never felt before.…He had forgiven [Qian Wen-gui] everything for the sake of his niece…. In his heart he had been secretly protecting her, that is, protecting them, the interests of the landowning class [italics mine].”83 Torn between his dedication to the party and his love for Qian Wengui’s niece, Cheng Ren finally sacrifices all personal feelings for the sake of the revolution. And the motive that compels him to do so is a deeply rooted sense of prohibition and guilt.

In Cheng Ren’s self-sacrifice there lurks a gender politics crucial to the Chinese Communist way of disciplining the “new” citizen. In “When I Was in Xia Village,” Zhenzhen suffered under the old regime because she had lost her virginity, but she was allowed to prove her worth by sacrificing her body again, as a prostitute. Now, under Communist rule, Cheng Ren has lost his ideological purity by falling in love with a class enemy, and to prove his worth he must dedicate himself physically and emotionally to the party. As such, the man of the new era has been reduced to playing the role of the woman of the prerevolutionary era. Both men and women will take up the old “feminine” role, so to speak, in the new society, a role in which the taint of evil is acquired by rape or by association, and can be removed only by continual acts of selfless penitence, if at all. The emasculation of Cheng Ren thus completes the dialectic of gender already started in “When I Was in Xia Village.”

Above all, as the homonyms of his name suggest, “Cheng Ren” means both “becoming human” and “dying as a martyr.” Humanity can be attained only through a self-willed nullification of separate humanity. Lu Xunesque cannibalism—institutionalized oppression in the name of social virtue—has reappeared on a grander scale. If Qian Wengui is condemned for his lack of humanity, Cheng Ren is honored because he has chosen to lose his humanity. Qian Wengui tries to bribe his way out of punishment; Cheng Ren condemns himself and carries out his own punishment.

The case of Ding Ling brings us back to the beginning of this chapter. Late Qing writers like Liu E and Li Boyuan modernized conventional court-case literature by providing venues in which the terms of justice and violence were radically renegotiated. What had seemed complete, divine law and human law, was revealed as incapable of addressing either morality or equity. Their (p.76) indictments of legal justice led to restatements of poetic justice; hence the beginnings of a new forensic discourse.

While they look into social abuses and political atrocities, writers since Lu Xun’s generation have excoriated social evils and called for the implementation of individual punishment; they have usually come to the conclusion that justice cannot be done without violence—in the form of a revolution in the self. The consummation of the Qing desire for true forensic discourse was a massive network of self-censorship and mutual surveillance, and the Communist scene of justice shifted from the physical courthouse to the interior monologue. This inward turn of policing would prove to be far more “advanced” than any moment illustrated in the late Qing novels, both in penal technology and juridical efficacy. With violence finally stabilized in the form of self-imposed crimes and self-inflicted punishments, the moral and legal machinery of a new justice was in full operation.


(1) . For more discussion of the political and cultural significance of the appearance of Xin Xiaoshuo, see my Fin-de-siècle Splendor: Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1849–1911 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1977), chap. 1.

(2) . See Fan Mingxin and Lei Chengsheng, Zhongguo jindai fazhi shi (A history of the modern Chinese legal system) (Xian: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, 1988), chap. 1; Xiao Yongqing, ed., Zhongguo fazhishi jianbian (A short history of the Chinese legal system) (Taiyuan: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, 1982), 2: 18–55. Also see Laszlo Ladany, Law and Legality in China: The Testament of a China Watcher, ed. Marie-Luise Näth (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992), 35–55. For general background information on the Qing legal system, see, for example, Derk Bodde and Clarence Morris, Law in Imperial China: Exemplified by 190 Ch’ing Dynasty Cases (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967).

(3) . Despite the social and political turmoil in the wake of the founding of the Republic of China, the Nationalist regime undertook the task of legal codification during the more settled times of the 1920s. It completed China’s new criminal code and civil code in 1928 and 1929, respectively. Inspired by the late Qing Revised Code as well as Japanese and Western models, the new codes separated the judicial and executive arms of the government and reduced the gap between China’s criminal justice and that of the West. See Ladany, Law and Legality in China, 50. Also see Philip Williams and Yenna Wu, The Great Wall of Confinement: The Contemporary Prison Camp through Fiction and Reportage (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming), 30.

(4) . Richard H. Weisberg and Jean-Pierre Barricelli, “Literature and the Law,” in Interrelations of Literature, ed. Joseph Gibaldi and Jean-Pierre Barricelli (New York: MLA, 1982), 150.

(5) . See Robert M. Cover, “Nomos and Na rrat ive,” Harvard Law Journal 95 (1986): 1609. Also see Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1983), particularly his discussion of the interplay between law and fact in the making of local knowledge, 197; Pierre Bourdieu, “The Force of Law: Toward a Sociology of the Juridical Field,” Hasting Law Journal 38 (1987), 838, quoted in Kieran Dolin, Fiction and the Law: Legal Discourse in Victorian and Modernist Literature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 11. The first two chapters of Dolin’s discussion of “narrative forms and normative worlds” and the rise of modern Western nomos illuminate my argument.

(6) . The most blatant example in this regard is perhaps the continued invention of cruel penal forms throughout Chinese history. See Wang Yongkuan, Zhongguo gudai Kuxing (Cruel forms of punishment in premodern China) (Taipei: Yunlong chubanshe, 1991). Also see Jonathan N. Lipman and Stephen Harrell, eds., Violence in China: Essays in Culture and Counterculture (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).

(7) . See, for example, Bodde and Morris, Law in Imperial China; Hugh T. Scogin Jr., “Civil ‘Law’ in Traditional China: History and Theory,” in Civil Law in Qing and Republican China, ed. Kathryn Bernhardt and Philip C. C. Huang (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994), 13–41; Geertz, Local Knowledge, 167–235. In her study of the relationship between literature, law, and philosophy in eighteenth- (p.300) and nineteenth-century American literature, Wai Chee Dimock describes four forms that constitute the “program of justice”: corrective, distributive, compensatory, and revolutionary. Dimock’s argument is based on rethinking justice as an ontological given and justice as a historical praxis subject to the debate of “commensurability.” See Residues of Justice: Literature, Law, Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), chap. 1.

(8) . I am referring in particular to the book edited by Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, The Violence of Representation: Literature and the History of Violence (New York: Routledge, 1989). See their introduction, 1–26.

(9) . Chen Duxiu, “Wenxue geming lun” (On literary revolution), in Duxiu wencun (Writings of Chen Duxiu) (Shanghai: Yadong tushuguan, 1931), 1: 135–40.

(10) . Lu Xun, “Kuangren riji” (Diary of a madman), in Lu Xun quanji, (Complete works of Lu Xun) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1981), 1: 420.

(11) . Liu Zaifu, “Zhongguo xiandai xiaoshuo de zhengzhishi xiezuo: Cong ‘Chuncan’ dao Taiyang zhaozai Sanggan heshang”(The politics of writing in modern Chinese literature: From “Spring Silkworms” to The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River), in Fangzhu zhushen: Wenlun tigang he wenxueshi chongping (Exiling gods: Outlines of literary theory and rereadings of literary history) (Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu gongsi, 1994), 133–34, 140.

(12) . See Armstrong and Tennenhouse, Violence, 1–26.

(13) . Ibid., 9.

(14) . Zhang Taiyan published “Ruxia pian” (On the scholarly knight) in Yadong shibao (East Asian times) in 1899, arguing that the concept and practice of traditional chivalric knight-errantry, or xia, is derived from the Confucian scholarly tradition. See Wang Yue’s discussion in “Zhang Taiyan de ruxia guan jiqi lishi yiyi” (Zhang Taiyan’s concept of the scholarly knight and its historical significance), in Xia yu Zhongguo wenhua (Knight-errantry and Chinese culture), ed. Department of Chinese, Tamkang University (Taipei: Xuesheng shuju, 1993), 269–86. Also see Wendy Larson’s discussion in Literary Authority and the Modern Chinese Writer: Ambivalence and Autobiography (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991), 31–59.

(15) . Of course, literature babbles on about injustice and revolution, but these are just terms in the new master narrative. The silences are about actual cruelties and actual repetitions, and the worst silence is the one about literary complicity, because it does representational violence to representation itself.

(16) . Zheng Zhenduo, “Xue he lei de wenxue” (Literature of blood and tears), in Zheng Zhenduo xuanji (Works of Zheng Zhenduo) (Fuzhou: Fujian renmin chubanshe, 1984), 1097.

(17) . Ibid., 245. Throughout the chapter I will use the term “incorruptible” to mean specifically “not bribable.”

(18) . This appears in chapter 6 of Laocan youji. See C. T. Hsia’s discussion in “The Travels of Lao Ts’an: An Exploration of Its Arts and Meaning,” Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies 7, no. 2 (1969): 40–66.

(19) . See C.T. Hsia, “Travels,” 50–52 and n. 31.

(20) . The Yellow River in this area is less than a mile wide and is rimmed by small dikes built and maintained by the farmers whose land they protect. The governmentbuilt dikes are massive embankments twenty feet high and are up to three miles (p.301) away from the water. The land between the two dikes is fertile and densely populated. See Harold Shadick’s note in his translation of Travels (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1952), 262.

(21) . See Liu E’s commentary at the end of chapter 13 of Travels, ibid., 124.

(22) . Ibid., 259–66.

(23) . Liu E may not have been aware of the potential for this ironic reading. Schematically, however, his novel encourages us to apply on the celestial level the same rules he has been applying to terrestrial justice. By mentioning the bureaucracy of Hell in the context of the failures of human bureaucracy, Liu E sets up the comparison.

(24) . Li Boyuan, Huo diyu (Living hell) (Taipei: Guangya shuju, 1984), 1. I am using Douglas Lancashire’s translation, quoted in Lancashire, Li Poyuan (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978), 64–65.

(25) . It was the second of Li Boyuan’s novels, serialized in his magazine Xiuxiang xiaoshuo (Illustrated fiction). The novel comprises forty-three chapters; like most novels by Li Boyuan, it remains incomplete. Li died after finishing chapter 39. Chapters 40 to 42 were added by his friend, the novelist Wu Jianren. The last chapter is said to have been written by Ouyang Juyuan (1883–1907), Li’s friend and the assistant editor of Illustrated Fiction. The novel was only published in book form in 1956 in Shanghai, under the auspices of the well-known scholar Zhao Jingshen.

(26) . Lancashire, Li Poyuan, 63.

(27) . Here I am partially indebted to Lyotard’s concept of justice. See Jean-François Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thébaud, Just Gaming, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979), 25–26.

(28) . Li Boyuan, Huo diyu, 72.

(29) . The first is a long aluminum pipe wrapped around the prisoner’s body. The attendants inject boiling water at one end of the pipe and let it flow slowly to the other end. The second is a form of capital punishment, where five nails are inserted into the four limbs and the chest of the prisoner. In the third, three iron sticks are used to beat the prisoner. By pressing one iron stick on the prisoner’s chest and the other on his legs, the courtroom attendants stop the prisoner’s breath at the two ends of his body and force it to accumulate in his stomach. They then use the third stick to beat the prisoner’s stomach, and with one loud sound, the intestines explode.

(30) . Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1977), 24–85.

(31) . Lao Can is compared to Sherlock Holmes in chapter 18 for his investigation of the aforementioned murder case.

(32) . Lu Xun, “Zixu,” in Lu Xun quanji (Complete works of Lu Xun) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1981), 1: 417.

(33) . See also my discussion in “Lu Xun, Shen Congwen, and Decapitation,” in Politics, Ideology, and Literary Discourse in Modern China: Theoretical Interventions and Cultural Critique, ed. Liu Kang and Tang Xiaobing (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993), 174–87.

(34) . Lu Xun, “Zixu,” 417.

(35) . T. A. Hsia, The Gate of Darkness: Studies of the Leftist Literary Movement in China (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1968), 146.

(p.302) (36) . Lu Xun seems to have understood the full meaning of late Qing intellectual chivalry; one cannot always say this for the writers after him, who too often thought they had passed through the gate and left the late Qing far behind them.

(37) . For a discussion of the rise and development of Chinese court-case drama, see Zeng Yongyi, Zhongguo gudian xiju de renshi yu xinshang (An introduction to and appraisal of classical Chinese drama) (Taipei: Zhengzhong shuju, 1991), 55.

(38) . Ouyang Yuqian, “Pan Jinlian,” in Ouyang Yuqian wenji (Works of Ouyang Yuqian) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1984), 1: 90.

(39) . Ibid., 93.

(40) . Lu Xun, “Lun Leifeng ta de daodiao” (On the collapse of Leifeng tower), in Lu Xun quanji, 1: 74–77.

(41) . Bai Wei, Dachuyouling ta (Fight out of the ghost tower), in Zhongguo xinwenxue daxi: 1927–1937, xiju juan (A compendium of Modern Chinese literature: 1927–1937, drama), ed. Zhao Jiabi (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1982) 1: 64.

(42) . Ibid., 75.

(43) . Zhu Yiqui, Zhongguo xiandai xijushi (History of modern Chinese drama) (Guilin: Guangxi renmin chubanshe, 1981), 234–36.

(44) . See, for example, Meng Yue and Dai Jinhua, Fuchu lishi dibiao: Zhongguo xiandai nüxing wenxue yanjiu (Voices emerging from the foreground of history: A study of contemporary Chinese women’s literature) (Taipei: Shibao wenhua chuban gongsi, 1993), 227–30.

(45) . Bai Wei, “Dachu youling ta houji” (Afterword to Dachu youling ta[Breaking out of the tower of ghosts]), in Bai Wei zuopinji (Works of Bai Wei) (Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe, 1985), 77.

(46) . Marston Anderson, The Limits of Realism: Chinese Fiction in the Revolutionary Period (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 44.

(47) . T.A. Hsia, Gate of Darkness, 55–59.

(48) . Jiang Guangci, Paoxiao de tudi (The roaring earth), in ]iang Guangci wenji (Selected works of Jiang Guangci) (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1982), 2: 374.

(49) . Ibid.

(50) . Ibid. See also Leo Ou-fan Lee, The Romantic Generation of Modern Chinese Writers (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 201–21.

(51) . Wu Zuxiang, “Young Master Gets His Tonic,” trans. Cyril Birch, in Modern Chinese Short Stories and Novellas: 1919–1949, ed. C. T. Hsia, Joseph S. M. Lau, and Leo Ou-fan Lee (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 381.

(52) . Part of the plot summary is derived from Marston Anderson, Limits, 198.

(53) . C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1971), 284–85; Philip Williams, Village Echoes: The Fiction of Wu Zuxiang (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), 82–84.

(54) . C.T. Hsia, History, 286.

(55) . Wu Zuxiang, “Yiqian babai dan” (Eighteen hundred piculs of rice), in Wu Zuxiang (Taipei: Haifeng chubanshe, 1990), 158–59.

(56) . See, for example, Merle Goldman, Literary Dissent in Communist China (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1967), 1–50. Few literary historians have noticed that, right after Mao delivered his talks, the Nationalist Party retaliated by commissioning Zhang Daofan, a playwright and literary propagandist, to advocate (p.303) a literature based on Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People. This policy would eventually become the backbone of the anti-Communist literature that the Nationalist Party promoted in Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s. A comparative reading of both Nationalist and Communist literary policies indicates, ironically, a parallel between them in theory and practice, despite the fact that they were meant as antagonistic discourses. See Cheng Ming-lee, “Dangdai Taiwan wenyi zhengce de fazhan, yingxiang, yu jiaotao” (On the development, impact, and consequences of the literary policy in contemporary Taiwan), in Dangdai Taiwan zhengzhi wenxue lun (Politics and contemporary Taiwanese literature), ed. Cheng Ming-lee (Taipei: Shibao chuban gongsi, 1994), 1–20. See also Chapter 5 below.

(57) . See my paper “Reinventing National History.”

(58) . C. T. Hsia, History, 326–60. Also see Theodore Huters, “Hu Feng and the Critical Legacy of Lu Xun,” in Lu Xun and His Legacy, ed. Leo Ou-fan Lee (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 129–52.

(59) . See David E. Apter and Tony Saich’s discussion in Revolutionary Discourse in Mao’s Republic (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1994), 243–92.

(60) . Yi-tsi Mei Feuerwerker, Ding Ling’s Fiction (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1982), 114. Also see Tani E. Barlow and Gary J. Bjorge, eds., I Myself Am a Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), 34–45.

(61) . Ding Ling, “When I Was in Hsia Village,” trans. Gary J. Bjorge, in Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas, 1919–1949, ed. Joseph S. M. Lau, C.T. Hsia, and Leo Ou-fan Lee (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 274.

(62) . This argument can be read in light of Apter and Saich’s recent discussion, where they borrow Baudrillard’s theory to describe an effect of simulacrum in the production of the revolutionary discourse and revolutionary site, Revolutionary Discourse, 224–62.

(63) . See Huang Ziping’s succinct discussion in “Bing de yinyu yu wenxue shengchan: Ding Ling de ‘Zai yiyuan zhong’ ji qita” (The metaphor of illness and literary production: Ding Ling’s “In the Hospital” and other works), in Zaijiedu: Dazhong yu yishi xingtai (Rereading: Mass literature and ideology), ed. Tang Xiaobing (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1993), 51–67.

(64) . Ding Ling, “When I Was in Hsia Village,” 268.

(65) . Merle Goldman, Literary Dissent, 67–86.

(66) . Lu Ling, Ji’e de Guo Su’e (Hungry Guo Su’e) (Beijing: Beijing renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1988), 103.

(67) . Ibid., 104.

(68) . See Feuerwerker, Fiction, 136–46.

(69) . Ibid., 139–40. Also see Apter and Saich, Revolutionary Discourse, 263–332.

(70) . Liu Zaifu and Lin Gang, “Zhongguo xiandai xiashuo,” 130.

(71) . Fan Mingxin and Lei Chengsheng, Zhongguo jindai fazhi shi, 420–28.

(72) . Ibid., 124–25.

(73) . Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero, trans. Annete Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978), 71.

(74) . Ding Ling, “Taiyang zhaozai Sanggan heshang” (The sun shines over the Sanggan River), in Ding Ling xuanji (Selected works of Ding Ling) (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubani, 1984), 1: 300. English translation from C. T. Hsia, History, 486.

(p.304) (75) . Zhou Libo, Baofeng zouyu (Hurricane) (Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe, 1983), 174. See Tang Xiaobing’s discussion in “Baoli de bianzheng fa” (The dialectic of violence), in Zaijiedu: Dazhong wenyi yu yishi xingtai (Rereading: Mass literature and ideology), ed. Tang Xiaobing (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1993), 122.

(76) . Fan Mingxin and Lei Chengsheng, Zhongguo jindai fazhi shi, 421.

(77) . Writers like Liu E criticize the way incorruptible judges abuse their power, torturing innocent people, but they rarely criticize the habit of torturing people who are not innocent. Lao Can the dreamer condones the most horrible punishments imposed on condemned souls in Hell, just as Liu E applauds the edifying power of horrible punishments imposed on condemned criminals on Earth.

(78) . Also see Li Yang’s discussion in Kangzheng summing zhilu: Shehui zhuyi xianshi zhuyi (1942–1976) yan jiu (A path to challenge fatalism: A study of socialist realism, 1942–1976) (Changchun: Shidai wenyi chubanshe, 1993). Inspired by the Foucauldian “bio-power” of discourse, Li argues that the rural violence perpetrated by the peasants has been legitimated not so much because of the mounting of a new justice system as because of the introduction of a new narrative discourse in the name of peasant revolution. See 96–114.

(79) . See Apter and Saich’s description of Foucault’s so-called paradox involved here: “The inversionary discourse that appears offers an unlimited prospect of freedom and proposes to free people from constraints of power, to break the hegemony of the discourse through which it is represented; but it, in turn, becomes hegemonic, all the more as it cleaves to its original intent,” Revolutionary Discourse, 331.

(80) . Tang Xiabing, “Baoli de bianzheng fa,” 120.

(81) . Ibid., 121.

(82) . Apter and Saich, Revolutionary Discourse, chaps. 8, 9.

(83) . Ding Ling, Taiyang zhaozai Sanggan heshang 247–48.