Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chapter 10: The Women Who Carried a Pickaxe to a Speech

A translation of Chapter 10, courtesy of Scott. Thank you!
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I arrived at a desolate ferry crossing on the banks of Xiangjiang River (湘江).

It was dusk and wisps of fog were beginning to emerge from the river's surface. Thin strips of sunlight merged with the mist; a hazy, soft hue illuminated the houses on the opposite shore mirroring the colors of sky and water. A slice of illusion.

One thousand years ago, the Confucian scholars Zhu Xi (朱熹) and Zhang Shi (張栻)stood at the same ferry crossing on the banks of this great river. Their lectures would cause such a sensation in academic circles that “multitudes on horseback would appear, their horses drinking the waters of the Xiangjiang until not a drop stood."

[ Translator's Note: The reference here is to the Yuelu Academy (岳麓书院) in Changsha, Hunan; one of the four great academic centers in China and one of the world's first universities. When Zhu Xi and Zhang Shi lectured it is estimated over 1000 scholars would come to attend. ]

It was in 1916 when a 23 year old Changsha Normal University student named Mao Zedong also arrived at this ferry crossing on this big river. Together with his good friend Xiao Yu (簫瑜)they tied cloth satchels to the end of their umbrellas and wandered about like vagabonds, like hitchhiking hippies in our nation's first days. Without any money they walked over a thousand li to toughen themselves and to better understand their own land. The two young men were somehow able to cajole their way aboard a ferry to cross the river. They reached Yiyang (益陽) on foot, where Xiao Yu recorded what he had seen of the conditions facing the local peasants.
Mao Zedong and I boarded the ferry, but soon we felt the river rise rapidly as if it were reaching for the sky. Countless homes and trees were submerged and all before us changed. Only the tops of roofs and trees could be seen amongst the cascading flood. The boat was overflowing with people, their cries of grief shaking the heavens. Mothers cried out for their children. Children cried out for mothers.
Mao Zedong was not a stranger to the peasants' sufferings. After walking a thousand li, both men's clothes and slippers were in tatters. When they went separate ways, Mao Zedong urgently returned home because his mother "had made two pairs of shoes for me, and I know my parents are waiting for my return".

In 1925, 32 year old Mao Zedong wielded his pen and wrote the poem "Changsha" in ode to the Xiangjiang's vast and expansive misty rolling waters:
沁園春, 長沙
Alone I stand in the autumn cold
On the tip of Orange Island,
The Hsiang flowing northward;
I see a thousand hills crimsoned through
By their serried woods deep-dyed,
And a hundred barges vying
Over crystal blue waters.
Eagles cleave the air,
Fish glide in the limpid deep;
Under freezing skies a million creatures contend in freedom.
Brooding over this immensity,
I ask, on this boundless land
Who rules over man's destiny?
[ Translator's Note: Poem sourced from this link. ]

In November, 1926 the Kuomintang leader Wang Jing Wei (汪精衛)supported Mao's appointment as a committee member to the newly established Kuomintang Peasant Movement Committee and to a concurrent position as head of the Guangzhou Peasant Movement Institute. Under Mao's direction, the Institute journeyed village to village inciting peasants, establishing more peasant associations and instructing the poor to rise and fight the landlords and the rich. Following the occupation of Hunan by the Kuomintang's Northern Expeditionary Army, the Hunan Peasant Movement spread like wildfire. When the children of Changsha played in the streets, young voices sang, "Down with the imperialist powers! Down with the imperialist powers! Remove the warlords, Remove the warlords..." Sixty years later children would also sing this tune, only this time the words would be different: "Two pair tigers, two pair tigers, running very fast, running very fast..."

[ Translator's Note: (1) Your understanding will be enhanced if you watch this video. (2) I consulted a dictionary of Chinese Communist Party terms but was unable to verify the exact English names used for the peasant movements described above. In lieu of that I have translated the names word for word from the Chinese. ]

Yingyang and I were sitting in a small boat on the Xiangjiang river. The wizened punter put down his punt-pole; letting the boat bob freely on the surface of the river. I took off my shoes and socks, stretching my feet into the Xiangjiang. It was very cold. There was so much I wanted to ask Yingyang.

"Dad's memoirs said when he was seven or eight he often went out with his mother to all sorts of places to listen to speeches and attend mass gatherings. He also said his mother had worked at a cotton mill in Shanghai. Grandmother was a typical Hunan peasant woman, she couldn't even read. Why would she go listen to these speeches? How did she travel from a village like Hengshan in 1927 all the way to a cotton mill in Shanghai?"

Yingyang told me, "It was because she was a part of the Peasant Association. You knew she was a member of the Communist party, right?"

I was shocked. "She joined the Communists in the twenties?"

"Yes." Yingyang said, as if it was nothing was out of the ordinary, "She once told me she had even seen Mao Zedong speak. She even brought father when he was only seven or eight."

"Ah?" I was dumbfounded.

"Mao Zedong came to Hengshan to give a speech to the peasants, to encourage revolution. Grandmother carried a pickaxe and went to listen to him speak. But that's not all, she also joined the local Peasant Association. She would join the masses and break into landlords houses and beat the landlords. She did everything. Afterwards things got too intense, other landlords had seen what happened and wanted to come capture these peasants. So the party helped our poor country grandmother flee to Shanghai.

I understood.

At the beginning of 1927 Mao Zedong came to Hengshan district for a 32 day on-site investigation. Afterwards he issued his classic work "Report of an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan". This is how Mao described the beating, smashing, and looting carried out by the peasants of Hunan:
This amounts to striking the landlord down to the dust and keeping him there. The peasants threaten, "We will put you in the other register!" They fine the local tyrants and evil gentry, they demand contributions from them, and they smash their sedan-chairs... People swarm into the houses of local tyrants and evil gentry who are against the peasant association, slaughter their pigs and consume their grain. They even loll for a minute or two on the ivory-inlaid beds belonging to the young ladies in the households of the local tyrants and evil gentry. At the slightest provocation they make arrests, crown the arrested with tall paper hats, and parade them through the villages.
Afterwards Mao resolutely stated, these peasant actions were "very good" because "a revolution is not like having a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be refined, leisurely and gentle, temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous... it is necessary to create terror for a while in every rural area, or otherwise it would be impossible to suppress the activities of the counter-revolutionaries in the countryside."

[ Translator's Note: Sourced from "The Question of Going Too Far" ]

A country woman carrying a pickaxe, bringing along a six or seven year old child to a public square to hear Mao Zedong speak. And apparently you were also there too, Huaisheng.

Seven year old Huaisheng started school soon thereafter. Without shoes, he walked the mountain trails barefoot. Only when it snowed would mother sew him a pair of thick cloth slippers to keep his feet warm. Everyday he would travel several miles of mountain roads until finally reaching the confluence of the Xiangjiang and Mihe rivers to attend class at Chengnan Elementary School. He begin to recognize characters at school, and it wasn't long before he and his class of extremely poor but innocent classmates would begin to read the Guwen Guanzhi (古文觀止). The clear and sonorous sounds of the schoolchildren reciting text in a Hunanese dialect traveled far and wide, reaching all the pickaxe wielding peasants walking along the banks of the Mihe river.

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