8. Crime or Punishment?
On the Forensic Discourse
of Modern Chinese Literature
David Derwei Wang
This essay approaches the subject of "violence and modern China" by examining the dialogical representation of violence and justice in modern Chinese literature. The corpus of Chinese literature from the turn of the century up to the Chinese Communist takeover of the mainland is one replete with horrific natural and humanmade disasters, such as foreign aggressions, civil wars, revolutions, local riots, clan conflicts, famines, and floods, to say nothing of the cataclysmic collapse of established values. While these various forms of violence have engendered a "literature of tears and blood" commemorating the physical and emotional pain of the Chinese people, they have given rise to an equally compelling if not so famous discourse on "crime and punishment."
The entangled relations between violence and justice can be found in the legal-literary discourse of earlier eras. What concerns me here is the way in which modern Chinese writers' inquiries into the terms 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—so as to define and curb natural and human forms of violence. By corollary, 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. These are working definitions and are admittedly provisional. As will be demonstrated by the following examples, these two definitions tend to collapse into each other in a way that is 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
After all, in understanding modern China, one sees that violence is not just a theoretical issue. 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. One must understand justice as a discourse under 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 to be 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), as promoted by Zhang Taiyan (1869–1936) in the late Qing, to the "revolutionary vanguard," as sanctioned by the Communist Party in the late forties, bespoke the writers' persistent attempts to retain their traditional role as arbiters of social order and moral chaos. But Chinese literary history from the Literary Revolution to revolutionary literature has left ample evidence of how such representational claims might backfire. By this I do not mean merely that language might "instigate" criminal activity or that literature might be the victim of false "indictments." I mean that the Way may be rendered mute, due either to self-censorship or to external coercion; and when the name of injustice should be spoken, literature is silent, thereby betraying its complicitous relations with all master narratives, old and new. This, I argue, is the worst form of "the violence of representation."
To further my argument, I will describe how a forensic discourse—a discourse formed by an 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 thirties, and the Yan'an era, I will show how, at a time when the old political, judicial, and moral order had collapsed and the 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 certain crime has been committed, followed by a call for a due punishment as a form of revenge, retribution, or discipline. But closer reading suggests that the narrated crime and punishment may have penetrated each other's realms, 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, the position of literature itself comes to be questioned as an accomplice of criminals or of executioners.
1. 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 (1857–1909) Lao Can youji (The travels of Lao Can, 1907). In chapter 16 of The Travels of Lao Can, prefect Gangbi is cross-examining a woman prisoner named Jia Wei, who had been wrongly indicted as murderer of the whole family of her father-in-law—a total of thirteen lives—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. One attendant grasps the woman's hair and lifts up her head and another two are pushing her hands into the thumbscrews, and 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 volunteered to draft a letter of impeachment to Governor Zhuang and Judge Bai, Gangbi's superiors, so as to save the innocent defendant. He receives positive responses from Zhuang and Bai. As there is no time to deliver Zhuang's and Bai's letters to Gangbi through the normal channels, in the crucial scene described above, Lao Can is carrying the letters and has walked into the hall of justice without permission.
The illegal intrusion of Lao Can into the hall of justice brings together two strands from contesting themes that have been manifested from the beginning of the novel. The confrontation between Lao Can and Gangbi is not merely a show-down between a chivalrous traveling doctor and a haughty judge-investigator regarding a misjudged case. Rather, it represents the dramatic moment in which the incipient issues of legal praxis and its transgression, governmental mandate and
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 polemic is that it condemns apparently good or 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 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 tries hard to maintain his clean image, he turns this virtue into a vice. He is so proud of his reputation for virtue that he has become an intolerant puritan, as his Chinese name, homophonous with "bigotry" (gangbi), indicates.
When the woman 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 new 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 of conclusions. Gangbi's behavior leads Liu E to make the famous commentary at the end of chapter 16: "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."
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 executed. The effect of Gangbi's law resorts to a penal technology that comes from the very transgression it aims to eliminate. Liu E has described earlier in the novel this paradox of justice in the form of another incorruptible judge, Yuxian. Under his rule, a part of Shandong has become a model region free of crime. But Yuxian has achieved this temporary miracle by setting up a regime of horror; he mercilessly kills not only bandits but also innocent suspects misidentified as bandits. The citizens under Yuxian's governorship enjoy a communal life safe from bandits, their lives saved until they themselves are accused of
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. In Lao Can's words, "With so great a reputation as an administrator,… within a few years [Yuxian] will become provincial governor. The greater the official position such a man holds, the greater the harm he will do. If he controls a prefecture, then a prefecture suffers; if he governs a province, then a province is maimed; if he [administers the affairs of] the Empire, then the Empire dies!" Liu E has a good reason to make such a radical comment. A historically verifiable figure, Yuxian was later promoted to high position thanks to his judicial impartiality. He turned out nevertheless to be one of the most vehement voices in support of the Boxer Rebellion, which led to national disaster. The final irony is that, in the wake of the invasion of the eight foreign allied armies, Yuxian found himself being 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.
Back to the episode of Gangbi and the woman 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 was a survivor of a massive Yellow River flood in Shandong Province. She had come from a rich farm family in the fertile land between the governmental dikes against the Yellow River. As the Yellow River was about to flood one year, Shandong governor Zhuang took the advice of a scholar to give up areas outside the governmental dikes so as to widen the river and ease the peak of the flood. But the area between the governmental dikes was densely populated and rimmed with smaller dikes built by farmers to protect their land. For fear that these people would fiercely object to his policy, Zhuang was urged to keep it a secret till the last moment. Governor Zhuang was an official well known for his benevolence and fair-mindedness: a "good judge" in other words. 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 mechanism.
Governor Zhuang, it will be recalled, is the fictional force whose last-minute interference rescues the woman Jia Wei from the hands of Gangbi. He serves as the deus ex machina whose power sponsors Lao Can in his intrusion in the above-cited 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, how about a "good" judge like Gangbi or Yuxian who has administered so many wrong convictions and unjust capital punishments before this single case? If a
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 by grindstones. These souls are paying the price for their misdeeds, however trivial, during their lifetimes. As for those who were virtuous when alive, they have been rewarded with a smooth transmigration into their next lives. The dream visit to Hell reinforces Lao Can's belief that some supernatural agency is at work handing out proper 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. Though 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 according to 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 of abusing justice, one cannot help questioning the "incorruptibility" of the judge of judges, Yama, the ruler of Hell. And the other side of a rigid and abacus-like system of rewards and punishments in Heaven and Hell can be the corrupt and careless system of divine whims and tantrums.
Whereas Liu E takes pains to distinguish the divine and human agencies of justice and their violent consequences, only to call attention to the collusive relation between them, Li Boyuan (1857–1906), 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 and servants, all three ranks of them, 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 in prison, he has suffered more than enough! Alas! Heaven is above us and Hell is below!
Living Hell is a novel featuring fourteen misjudged cases and cruel tortures presided over by corrupt judges. It has never been a popular work from Li's oeuvre. 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 and to describe in detail a variety of techniques employed to extract information from prisoners." 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 fiction.
Artistic flaws—the crude language, contrived plotting, and flat characterization typical of late Qing fiction—notwithstanding, Living Hell distinguishes itself. A relentless parody of the genre of chivalric and court-case fiction, it also 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 humanmade or heaven-given law by human or divine judges; it is also the process of questioning and remaking the laws themselves. 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 the 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 buying the magistrate's favor; the case comes to a sudden halt as the magistrate moves to a new position (chapters 1–8). 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 sufferings of the innocent, however. A chaste woman turns down the sexual advances of a local official, only to find herself being charged with murdering her husband, who is actually away on business. The woman suffers horribly in jail and has to be 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 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
This is where Li Boyuan shows that his novel can at the same time be more conservative and radical than The Travels of Lao Can. Like A Ying, Zhao Jingshen, and other critics, one may conclude that Li Boyuan views the total breakdown of a judicial system from a conventional perspective, that of the dynastic cycle. By comparing the world to Hell, he reveals a reliance on conventional wisdom without either questioning its premises or stating a resolution in traditional terms. His cynicism partakes less of skeptical rigor, such as Liu E's, than of noncommittal play. Nonetheless, the way Li Boyuan portrays the late Qing courtroom as a bloody circus marks a radical departure from the traditional aesthetics of spectatorhood. So, just as Liu E's narrative innovations shed an ambiguous light on his politics of writing, Li Boyuan's relentless narratives of bodily torture seize 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 burninghot metal instrument with nipplelike points. Another woman culprit with tender bound feet is forced to stand barefoot for hours on bricks. As her feet are already deformed thanks to foot binding, she can hardly stand straight for a moment.
Unpleasant as they are, these punishments are only for beginners. Some penal devices are so ingenious that they are even given patent 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. When heated to a liquid, it is applied to the prisoner's body. The courtroom attendants wait till
Li Boyuan scrupulously catalogues the variety of courtroom punishments, so much so that the report acquires an aesthetic of its own. A mock-encyclopedic form of narrative, of course, is a main 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. 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 the body politic.
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. Parading the penal devices used in the courtroom and overexposing the pain of the indicted, Li Boyuan imbues his narrative with a cynical subtext, thereby intimating the final stage of the decadent inclination in late Qing fiction. 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 punishments, 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 of poetic justice, from appropriating the new Sherlock Holmes techniques of investigation to invoking the old Buddhist consolations of Heaven and Hell.
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 the corruptible and incorruptible judges and shows no sympathy for
2. 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 crime and punishment, between the cynical and the carnivalesque response 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. According to his own account, in 1906, Lu Xun (1881–1936), initiator of modern Chinese literature, saw a slide show of decapitation as he was studying medicine in Japan. In the slide, a Chinese is about to be beheaded by Japanese soldiers for serving as spy for the Russians during the Russo-Japanese war, while a surrounding Chinese crowd waits to see the bloody spectacle. Lu Xun was allegedly so traumatized by the slide show that he gave up medical school to become a writer.
As I have discussed elsewhere, violence and "modern" literature erupted at the same time, as Chinese literati set out to gaze at the bloody consequences of their cultural heritage. 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 level, when the author confronted his national status symbolized by a decapitated body. This literature arose as part of the radical Lu Xun's and his contemporaries' search for the cause of the Chinese "original sin," which is projected by the spectacle of decapitation. Lu Xun asks, why did Russia and Japan wage a war against each other yet choose China as their battleground? Why is a Chinese willing to work for one foreign army to spy on the other? Why does the Chinese crowd look on so callously as one of their compatriots is beheaded?
For Lu Xun, the Chinese spy may as well be killed for collaborating in a war that nominally had nothing to do with China. Moreover, just as the spy deserves his capital punishment, so are his fellow Chinese spectators unworthy of mercy. 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 charge could have extended even further, to the Japanese and Russians, who had manipulated the Chinese into humiliating themselves. Finally, Lu Xun must have tortured himself with this question: if all Chinese are culpable for bringing
Lu Xun's "Kuangren riji" (Diary of a madman, 1918), usually regarded as the harbinger of modern Chinese fiction, 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, a stifling iron house, and so on. 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.
If Lu Xun is pessimistic about the retrievability of justice, he is just as equivocal about the consequences of finally bringing that desired justice into practice. Consider his famous allegory of the iron house, in which a crowd is jailed and suffocates from lack of air. Should a sole waker among the crowd wake up his fellow inmates (which might result in a panicked and useless attempt to escape)? Or should he let them die "peacefully" (and therefore become a reluctant witness to mass murder)? In other words, faced with a hopelessly suffocating China, should an intellectual watch the final collapse as a spectator, or should this person come to its rescue, however unworthy it is of the risk? In either case, Lu Xun and his Madman have incarcerated themselves in a dilemma.
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 at restoring 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 takes up 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.
Straddling the threshold of the "gate of darkness," Lu Xun, as a "scholarly knight-errant," must have sensed the uncertainties in his revisioning 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 the true
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 "Zhufu" (New year sacrifice, 1921) is preceded by none other than an argument about the innocent suffering in this world and its redress in the other. In that episode, the ill-fated wife of Xianglin, now reduced to a beggar, stops the homecoming narrator Lu Xun and asks him if the soul survives death. Earlier on, Xianglin's wife was told that, since she had been twice widowed and 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, "It is hard to say" (shuo bu qing).
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 never answered, Xianglin's wife dies, presumably in the 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, the narrator Lu Xun would carry with himself an everlasting sense of guilt. One question remains to be asked, 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 her imagined perpetual condemnation, Lu Xun may have created and inhabited a literary hell of his own from which he was unable,
At the other end of Lu Xun's gallery of characters stands the ne'er-do-well A Q. One may remember how, in "A Q zhengzhuan" (The true story of A Q, 1921), A Q is created as a clown starring in a series of country turmoils, from bullying, attempted rape, robbery, riot, and revolution to his own execution. Throughout the earlier part of the story, A Q dreams of becoming a bandit-hero who, even arrested and sentenced to capital punishment, would die a fearless man. This dream is reinforced after he has watched the spectacle of a beheading at a city theater. For A Q and his rustic fellow villagers alike, the bloody punishment has been romanticized into an exotic event. A Q's imagined "death wish" is finally realized, only in the most ironic manner. A Q believes that he is being executed for a charge of which he is largely innocent; for the crowd coming to see the show of his execution, the much-awaited decapitation turns out to be an anticlimax. Thanks to advances in modern technology, A Q is not ceremoniously beheaded, just shot.
As a parody of a society nurtured on an insatiable cannibalistic desire, the story easily impresses one with its violent potential. At issue here is how the violence and its punishment are described in such a way as to become a fatal comedy of errors. A Q is both the victim and the victimizer of his society. While he has previously committed crimes that result in no legal punishment, he is now executed for a felony he did not commit. A Q 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 watcher. But if A Q's bloody desire was aroused by his watching the beheading scene in the folk theater, cannot one describe the same arousal in Lu Xun's writing about Chinese cannibalism, as a result of his watching of the legendary slide show? As a chronicler-watcher of A Q's tragicomedy, does Lu Xun hide a cannibalistic impulse behind his indignant posturing? If so, has Lu Xun truly done justice to A Q in the literary world?
For the revolutionminded writers of the post–May Fourth era, next to fiction, drama became an important venue in which the debate over justice versus violence was presented. With its mandate to be "acted" out in a public space peopled with viewers, drama appeared more readily to 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. For centuries, Chinese audiences have watched judge-investigators preside over difficult
Two early modern plays, Pan Jinlian (Pan Jinlian, 1928) by Ouyang Yuqian (1889–1962) and Dachu youling ta (Breaking out of the tower of ghosts, 1928) by Bai Wei (1894–1987), can be discussed as examples. As its title indicates, Pan Jinlian is a play 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 at rewriting the "bad woman," Ouyang Yuqian's play holds a sympathetic view of Jinlian's motives for committing adultery and murder. Instead of being a blood-thirsty villainess and licentious shrew, Pan Jinlian is cast in Ouyang Yuqian's version 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 follow up on this theme and develop a reading of Pan Jinlian's sexual politics. At stake here is nevertheless the extent to which Ouyang Yuqian has introduced a dynamic, critical dramaturgy representing traditional justice held at bay. By this I have in mind particularly the final act, in which Pan Jinlian and Wu Song come face to face at the funerary meal in memory of the dwarf Wu Da. Cross-examined by Wu Song as to the murderer of his brother, 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," since, unlike other men, Ximen Qing "would treat [her] as nothing less than a plaything." Doubly infuriated by Jinlian's confession, Wu Song demands Jinlian's heart as a compensation for the death of his brother. To the murderous demand, Jinlian responds, "I gave you my heart a long time ago."
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 lay charges against the prosecutor. Crime and punishment threaten to switch roles. Ouyang Yuqian scores one more point, by having the killing of Pan Jinlian take place right at the funerary banquet table. Appetite, passion, and death wish are mixed, invoking the ambiguous undercurrent of Lu Xun's cannibalistic banquet.
Still, what distinguishes Ouyang Yuqian's Pan Jinlian most 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,
This implied forensic scene must have indicated a significant moment in regard to 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 Breaking out of the Tower of Ghosts, 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 adopted later as his foster daughter. This plan is under way despite the fact that Rongsheng has seven concubines and Yuelin has fallen in love with Rongsheng's own 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 further compounded by the appearance of a woman revolutionary named Xiao Sen, who was once impregnated by Rongsheng. On a visit to the mansion of Rongsheng, 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!
One can easily point out the problems of the play. Loaded with creaking plots, improbable characters, and sentimental tears, Breaking out of the Tower of Ghosts may well be an example of bad melodrama, indicating the immaturity of the playwright. However, I argue that precisely because these dramatic elements are so "unnaturally" blended, they call attention to the play's contesting ideological powers. A rebellious daughter in her own right, Bai Wei wrote her play on behalf of both modern and traditional Chinese women trapped in the aftermath of the first Chinese Communist revolution, during the course of critiquing the eclipse of justice in the name of revolution. Relentless ethical aberration and physical violence thrive at every level of the play, in the form of rape, incest, child desertion, bribery, riot, murder, revolution, and antirevolution, all the while anticipating the cataclysm of the final disaster.
The play's central symbolism develops around the so-called tower of ghosts (youling ta), referring to the site of an old tower taken by Master Rongsheng from a widow. The site has since been deserted amid rumors that it is haunted by ghosts; the only building that remains in the vicinity is a small house, used by Rongsheng to cage women who dare to defy his lust. Shrouded in a deadly atmosphere, the tower site may be a "living hell" where many young females have been tortured. The tower of ghosts also reminds us of the famous essay by Lu Xun, "Lun leifeng ta de daodiao" (On the collapse of the Leifeng Tower, 1926). As the legend goes, the monk Fahai incarcerated the beautiful White Snake under the formidable Leifeng Tower for good—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 overthrowing 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 to it an ironic, bitter note. Although the tower of ghosts no longer physically exists, the old, male power still rules women by invoking the coercive system of the tower. At one point in the play, Bai Wei has one 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 old, terrifying myth. Moreover, Bai Wei suggests that the "ghosts" of the tower not 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 Rong-sheng 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?"
The archvillain of the play, 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 before his final moment comes, Master Rongsheng manages to hold on to his power, as a pillar of his society. As the play develops, when Master Rongsheng's son, Qiaoming, comes forward to challenge his father's wish to marry Yuelin, the father takes out his pistol and slays his son. Not content with that, Rongsheng goes on to trap the leader of the rioting tenants, jailing him under the false charge of being the murderer, and to kill an old servant, who at the last minute reveals that he has been Rong-sheng's best friend and romantic rival.
For Bai Wei, crime on such a horrific scale goes beyond the control of 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 out of wedlock, Rongsheng, in fury, shoots at her. To protect her mother, Yuelin rushes to Xiao Sen with another pistol, which happens to be close to hand, and fires back at her father; father/rapist and daughter/victim
What strikes us is that when she is delivering her crazy, dying remarks, Yuelin is made to address directly the implied audience, as if the plethora of anger, madness, and pathos can no longer be contained by the enclosure of the stage but must spill over onto 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-haha!… Upside down!… All is upside down! The world has been turned over!…Fresh, beautiful!… Hahaha, all is upside down—this is the gift of death." (Stage directions in parentheses; emphasis mine.)
Critics in the Communist camp have praised Breaking out of the Tower of Ghosts as a model drama for women's liberation. The theme of class struggle has been high-lighted in view of the deadly conflict between the landlord and the proletariat, father and children, man and woman. A feminist of the fundamentalist persuasion would praise the play for its focus on misandry and its celebration of sisterhood and mother-daughter coalition. 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 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 a chronic, manic-depressive syndrome, and the root of her psychological instability is traced to her being deserted by her mother. Whereas the incestuous conjugation between father and daughter is stopped by the timely death of the father, the much-expected reunion between mother and daughter comes only at the cost of the daughter's life. Finally, Yuelin is presented as having fallen in love with her own half brother, so that 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, never really settle as the curtain drops. These irrationalities, which manifest themselves in the expedient form of madness, I argue, constitute the most equivocal force of the play. As Yuelin is trying to address her listeners beyond the stage, she is said, by other characters and by "stage direction," to have gone mad. Bai Wei may never have achieved the kind of self-irony attained by Lu
The play takes on another dimension if one looks into its "life" in the extratextual context. As Bai Wei writes in her postscript to the play, the extant version of Breaking out of the Tower of Ghosts is actually a rewrite based on an original that had been rudely "taken away" by a male colleague, to be published as his own. 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 her female characters encounter in the male world. Finally, Bai Wei's play lends itself to a parallel reading with Cao Yu's Leiyu (Thunderstorm, 1932), a melodrama also dealing with incestuous marriage, forbidden love, mistaken identity, murder, and revolution. Cao Yu's play was an immediate success when premiered in 1932, and would be staged numerous times in the years 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 depressing example of a woman writer's vulnerability when competing for literary power in a male-dominated world.
3. A LITERATURE OF BLOOD AND TEARS
I have described the way in which the concepts of justice and violence evolved along with the development of 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 among not only characters but theater audiences. In this way, both genres challenged established legal and literary order in a rapidly changing historical context.
By the beginning of the thirties, these two, the narrative deliberation and the theatrical reenactment of crimes and punishments, 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 injured" and to promote a body politic of revolutionary writing, progressive writers united under the banner of a "literature of blood and tears" (xue he lei de wenxue).
What is to be noticed is that the 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
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 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 toward 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 a staging in a corporeal theater.
There are, nevertheless, moments in which tears and blood are called on, only to confuse an issue instead of settle one. These moments give rise to the theoretical double bind in legal or ethical disputes. In Paoxiao lede tudi (The roaring earth, 1931) by Jiang Guangci (1901–31), for example, the young leftist revolutionary, Li Jie, is forced to make a painful decision as his comrades propose to burn down the properties of 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 take place in the proposed form of burning and looting, it would mean a 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 tendentious Communist writer with a corpus of works addressing contemporary revolutionism of the most sentimental kind. Jiang's narcissism and romantic eccentricities, nevertheless, compelled in him a literary imagination germane to Communist literature despite its superficial call for altruism and scientific historicism. It is the romantic yearning for a lost, originary, and communal state that makes it easy for a writer like Jiang Guangci to be taken in by Communist myths about return to the lost origin. There is a good reason that he has been regarded as the forerunner of the "revolution plus romance" formula of Chinese leftist fiction. This fact, ironically, may very well be one of the reasons for his ejection from the party in 1930. One is now supposed to read Jiang Guangci's work in a pejorative way, treating it as a "historical phenomenon." But in the above-cited episode of The Roaring Earth, Jiang demonstrates an acute sensitivity when dramatizing the personal dilemma of a revolutionary.
A landlord's son, Li Jie had nevertheless fought against his father's oppression of the tenants. After a series of confrontations between father and son, Li Jie leaves
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.
In pain and despair, Li Jie falls unconscious. When he comes to, the burning and killing have taken place.
After years under the tyrannical rule of Li Jie's father, the rioting tenants finally prove that they have the will and the capacity to overthrow a landlord. Insofar as it endorses "rebel justice" at the expense of an existing social order, The Roaring Earth must be regarded as one of the most important models for Chinese Communist fiction of the forties and fifties, 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 revenge 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 revolution that does not actually happen; instead, the revolutionaries appropriate to themselves the landlord's power to oppress, punish, and destroy at will. At its best, the symbolic justice mimics the peasants' desire to throw off oppression; at its worst, the theatrical terror enacts the peasants' desire to replace and imitate their oppressors. By terrorism, I mean that a ritual asserting loyalty and brotherhood within the group of revolutionaries has been established, one in which the test is the ability to live with terror.
By pushing Li Jie to the center of the stage of terrorism, 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, that he can relinquish all his 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 as one who is a revolutionary more 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 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, allowing himself to think that he has rid himself of feudal consciousness.
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 capability 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." 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.
T. A. Hsia 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 The Roaring Earth. My argument is that, given his indulgence in role playing, Jiang's mannerism 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 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 (1908–94) may well have intended in his stories a thirties' version of cannibalism, indicting a society devoid of any moral and legal resources. Indeed, in the famous
The scene of execution can be treated as a neat reversal of the ending of "The True Story of A Q," in which A Q is quickly shot to death while the crowd looks on. For Wu Zuxiang, a proletarian convict of the thirties 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 of "victimology" that marked Lu Xun's tributes to the insulted and the injured. It is in novellas 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 humiliations and pains as her village is beset by drought, civil war, and changes in 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 for the local magistrate comes to demand a bribe. Xianzi turns for help to her mother, who has recently won a considerable amount of money at a lottery, but she is refused. In desperation, Xianzi kills her mother by braining the old woman with a sacrificial candlestick.
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. What used to be considered a quintessential taboo of humanity, matricide, finds itself justified in given historical circumstances. Xianzi's mother used to be a rustic peasant woman. After working for years as servant to a rich family in the city, she has developed a monstrous desire for money. Ironically, this old woman's acquisitive consciousness, which makes her value money more than kinship, augments in equal 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 the nun who would 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 which she has made by participating in the new mode of production in the city. Xianzi's husband robs the nunnery with a belief that gods may as well pay back part of their worshipers' donation so as to redeem
Just as in The Roaring Earth, a horrific crime has to be done in "Fan Family Village" so as to suppress the inhuman quality of life as it was 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 Breaking out of the Tower of Ghosts can be regarded as 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 as for Wu Zuxiang, at a time when the whole world verges on moral and economic bankruptcy, nobody can have clean hands.
It is in this sense that Lu Xun's vision of cannibalism has to be subjected to a new interpretation. Lu Xun sees in Chinese an instinctual need for mutual persecution, which will drive them to final catastrophe. Violence, in the form of parricide, is treated by Wu Zuxiang, Jiang Guangci, and like-minded leftist writers as something 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 Zhou dynasty to the Qing, justifies popular violence—if it overthrows a cruel and decadent dynasty and replaces it with the dynasty that is historically anointed to loot, kill, and defy authority until it secures the imperial power. The morbid impulse of cannibalism inherent in the Chinese character that upset Lu Xun is once more legitimated, so to speak, in the hands of writers like Jiang Guangci and Wu Zuxiang. As either would have agreed, 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 their fellow writers, at least as far as the examples being discussed here are concerned, is that they are not unaware of the terrible freedom implied in the form of group violence newly sanctioned in the name of revolution. These two writers have dramatized in their works criminal cases 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 of the various houses of the powerful Song clan meet, after a recent drought, to determine what to do with the eighteen hundred piculs of rice they have reserved
The central scene of the novella is the clan temple where the meeting is being held. Its refurbishment long overdue, the clan temple stands in dreadful dilapidation, a most telling sign of the decline of the Song clan. The clan temple used to be the site where social functions were performed, most important of which was the executing of familial justice and order. Thus, this 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 pillage all the rice.
The novella does not stop here, however. In the uprising, the peasants carry gongs and drums, wear devil masks, and "shriek, jump, and whistle like demons." They drag the district head to an abandoned platform, where the community had once prayed to the rain deity for relief from the drought, and use the site to act out a ritualized destruction of the old order and its superstitions. For a writer as careful as Wu Zuxiang, 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 all the audiovisual 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 reinvigorated practice of justice will be hailed—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 paraded. And as such, violence perpetrated in the name of "modern" justice is tellingly reinstated in its premodern, even prefeudal form. Wu Zuxiang may have attempted to record realistically the way that peasants conceive of justice; but his realistic representation of the revolutionary scene betrays no less a romantic longing for the fiendish and brutal pleasures of originary communal life.
4. 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 "liberation area," Mao gave a series of talks
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 (1902–85) and Mao Zedong as to how reality was to be represented, for all its ideological turmoil, mirrors the disturbed etiological state of Chinese Communist discourse. Hu Feng and his followers picture in their critical treatise a humanity seriously maimed by the atrocities of inhuman history, so much so that it cannot be rehabilitated until the primitive, individual power inherent in it is called forth. Mao and his cohorts acknowledge the suffering of humanity, 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 subjectivity.
The debate cannot be adequately characterized in an essay of this scope. 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 (1923–94), Hu Feng's protégé, features a gallery of grotesques trapped in a losing war against their own ferocious ressentiment, Ding Ling (1904–86), one of Mao's grudging followers, moves her drama of revolution toward a portrait of individual passion that has submitted itself to the will of the mass and found its true vocation in self-discipline. 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 an unexpected dialogue pointing to how, before the final revolution happens, the mindscape of China has already become the battleground of opposite 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, "Wozai xiacun de shihou" (When I was in Xia village, 1941). In the story, a girl named Zhenzhen (literally meaning "chastitychastity"), who had been known to have defiantly rejected an arranged marriage, was raped when the Japanese invaded her village. To revenge herself,
Zhenzhen's rape embodies only the 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 unredeemable 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 Yitsi 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." Zhenzhen's story is built on a 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 the Chinese, first her own body must be taken and ruined by the enemies. But when she returns home, it is those "people" that she has vowed to save that ostracize her, in accordance with a most unliberated code of chastity.
But more striking is the fact that, for all the physical illness and tortures 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 inhibition or rudeness. She did not exaggerate. She gave the impression that she had never had any complaints or sad thoughts." That Zhenzhen appears undisturbed by her painful experience would have indicated, to a romantic reader, a personality of nunlike goodness as well as 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 merely 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."
For Ding Ling, to write a story like "When I Was in Xia Village" would have meant to indict the evil forces of reality: the Nationalist regime, the feudal forces,
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 all her inglorious past, as a raped woman and a Japanese army prostitute, will Zhenzhen be treated fairly by the puritanical-minded party cadres? Knowing that "illness" and "rehabilitation" are characteristic of Chinese Communist literary and political discourse, one wonders whether Zhenzhen's disease can be cured, even in medical terms. One recalls how the story starts with the frame in which the narrator Ding Ling is sent down to Xia Village for her "rehabilitation,… because of the turmoil of the department of politics." Even if she could recover from her physical ailment, chances are that Zhenzhen might end up being like her creator, Ding Ling, spending the rest of her life undergoing the cycle of political illness and rehabilitation.
"When I Was in Xia Village" thus appears as a Communist retelling of Christian-Buddhist hagiography, while it provides a chilling subtext regarding the usefulness and disposability of the female body under the new regime just as under the old one. It is at this point that a dimension of violence and justice in modern Chinese literature has been touched on by a woman cadre author. The case of Zhenzhen demonstrates the advent of an intricate technology of violence that inflicts pain on its victim, only to win the victim's wholehearted support. By writing her story as such, Ding Ling proves that she is not as naive as Zhenzhen. Allegedly thanks to publications such as "When I Was in Xia Village," Mao put forth his literary policy in 1942, followed by the first zhengfeng (rectification) movement. In the next few years, Ding Ling, together with some other outspoken fellow writers, would disappear from the scene for "rehabilitation." Given the nostalgic mood of its narrative, "When I Was in Xia Village" turns out to be both a nostalgic posture and an ominous outlook, 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 by a sleazy opium addict, Liu Chunshou, as his wife. Ever discontented with her circumstances, Guo carries
For our purposes, Hungry Guo Su'e impresses by radically shedding 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 vehement rebellion—against reality itself, if necessary. Guo Su'e's tortured soul can never find peace with itself, let alone submit to discipline.
As the protégé of Hu Feng, the feisty spokesman of a humanist brand of Chinese Marxism, Lu Ling writes of the "spiritual scars" that have in every way distorted Chinese humanity. Guo Su'e's hunger is seen as caused both by her need for food and sex and by her innate yearning for spiritual redemption, which will not happen unless there is a Communist revolution. But just as in the case of Ding Ling, Lu Ling can hardly find a viable way to convey the gospel of revolution without first questioning, however involuntarily, the "hygienic" preoccupation of that gospel. Moreover, given his own obsession with the sadomasochistic forces propelling human desire, Lu Ling sees in the downfall of Guo Su'e a strange mixture of creation and destruction, a libidinous chasm that cannot be filled by sociopolitical institutions.
Thus enters 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 private trial in the back room of a Daoist temple. Guo Su'e is forced to one corner of the room, her clothes torn to pieces but her look ever defiant. As one of the female clan members approaches her, "a devil suddenly comes out [of Guo Su'e]. This devil dishevels her hair, spits saliva, and jumps fiendishly onto the old woman, strangling the old woman [by seizing her] weak throat." Infuriated by this unexpected move, Guo's husband and others tie her to a board and grill her thighs with red-hot pokers, till she loses consciousness in excruciating pain. Guo Su'e is left alone and dies three days later, from lack of food and medical care.
If the scene of the punishment of Guo Su'e 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 the 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. Nurtured on the tradition of the "literature of blood and tears," Hungry Guo Su'e presents a series of scenes resulting in an overabundance of blood and tears, and it is hard to identify the instigator of the scenes as being squarely from any definite social class.
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 starts out being a repeat of the stereotypical suffering woman of socialist fiction. As the story develops, her vulgar, militant manners and her seemingly insatiable sexual desire appear to be her new front, 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. Guo appears even less pitiable than Pan Jinlian in Ouyang Yuqian's Pan Jinlian, who at least has clear motives of love and vengeance as she transgresses all ethical boundaries.
In somewhat dated mid-twentieth-century jargon, Guo Su'e's hunger is driven either by a "lack," a loss of physical and spiritual plenitude, or by an excess of carnivalesque desire, relentlessly demanding fulfillment. In any case, if Communist critics had found it irksome to diagnose Zhenzhen's dubious health, it must have been more difficult for them to explain Guo Su'e's eternal hunger. In the most ironic sense, the death of Guo Su'e might well be the solution to her problem: eternally "repressed," Guo Su'e can no longer stir up trouble and, perhaps thanks to this fact, her corpse can be safely displayed in the gallery of victims in the Communist hall of justice.
In the year 1948, seven years after her visit to "Xia Village," Ding Ling reemerged with a novel about another village experience. Titled Taiyang zhaozai Sanggan heshang (The sun shines over the Sanggan River), the novel deals with the land reform movement in a village of northwestern China, Nuanshuitun. The transformation of Ding Ling in terms of authorial status, subject matter, plotting, character, and even tonality is clearly indicated in the new book. In a humble, almost self-effacing manner, Ding Ling narrates 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 fifties, the novel suffered a sudden eclipse when its author was purged in 1956.
Ding Ling's own ups and downs notwithstanding, the novel represents in many ways the climax of the dialectic of violence and justice discussed in this article. Given all its economic initiatives, the land reform movement as Ding Ling describes it was never a mere attempt at overhauling the infrastructure of rural China; rather it had a superstructural dimension, as its implementing land reform contributed to, and was conditioned by, changes in traditional Chinese ethical, cultural, and legal systems. To that extent, Yitsi Mei Feuerwerker has made a significant point when she calls the novel a historical novel.
With such builtin 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 wants 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 accordingly, they are uttering
Liu Zaifu observes, in a novel like The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River, 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 appeared as a hybrid, one inspired by both the "bloody ritual" of the French Revolution and the teleological imperative of the Stalinist Revolution. 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.
While acknowledging Liu Zaifu's observation, I would call attention to an indigenous dimension to 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 when punishments are performed with an aim to arouse bloody festivity, even actual cannibalism, one cannot help recalling how "Chinese" these modes of imagining justice are. After almost half a century of debate over the feasibility of justice and its manifestation, one sees in a novel such as The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River not 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 wonderful scheme fails. In the climax of the novel, appropriately subtitled "The Final Combat" (juezhan), Qian and his wife are paraded before the public, humiliated, beaten, and almost clawed to death by the angry masses. Even the cannibalistic impulse comes close to the edge of 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). It is not coincidental that such a ferocious scene appears in Communist fiction of this time. Zhou Libo's Baofeng zouyu (Hurricane, 1948), another novel on 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 Hang Laoliu, the angry masses raise clubs and sticks to beat the villain. Widow Zhang, a weak old woman, raises her club too 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.
If the two public trial scenes are still startling to us today, it is perhaps not due 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 the earlier generation, such as Jiang Guangci's The Roaring Earth and Wu Zuxiang's "Fan Family Village" and "Eighteen Hundred Piculs of Rice." But 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 the animality as a logical outcome rather than a momentary human reversion to the bestial. The public trial is made to happen 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 the early revolutionary plays and fiction such as Pan Jinlian and "The True Story of A Q," are finally officialized as an integral part of ultimate Communist legality.
The old questions regarding the way the late Qing novel Living Hell represents justice prove to be still pertinent. Whereas Living Hell presents a closed courtroom in which all 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 wherein suspects are served up in a mock cannibalistic feast. Lu Xun's and Lu Ling's cynical vision of the cruel human capacity to humiliate and persecute is enthusiastically endorsed in a model Communist novel. One perhaps would 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. 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.
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 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 dimension of self-reflection, one that compels the writers and their implied readers to renegotiate a judicial and penal system other than what is practiced in the novels.
There is another aspect of violence in a Communist novel like The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River that has been less discussed by critics. The land reform movement does not end in 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 plan carefully to arouse anger among the peasants and channel that anger into action. The peasants, at the opening of the novel, are shown as so inhibited by the power of Qian Wengui that they cannot talk about 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 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.
This psychological reeducation of the peasants is closely related to the so-called violence of language imposed on them. Tang Xiaobing has argued, with Zhou Libo's Hurricane as an example, that the function of language in Communist literature at this time has been reduced to the most primitive level, which can "make sense" only in recourse to the invocation of physical scars. Tang sees a dangerous reduction of a symbolic system of linguistic signs to that of bodily spectacle.
One should, however, never take the apparent Communist vulgarization of language for simplification of figural symbolism. The obsession with the reciprocity of ink and blood is not the 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 but to revitalize a richly encoded discourse of violence. 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.
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 land reform took place, the two were lovers despite their class difference. Now, under
Though closely related to Qian Wengui by family ties, Heini has been treated as a free laborer by Qian and his wife. Now that they have learned Cheng Ren's position in the new power structure, the shrewd 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 accepted later as part of the oppressed class and enlisted to join the rally against her uncle, her romance with Cheng Ren has been indefinitely suspended by public will as well as 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 seems to one a sign of his genuine courage and revolutionary consciousness. But in the new society, Cheng Ren becomes selfconscious 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. As he finally decides to pick out Qian Wengui 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 Wengui] 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).
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 embedded sense of prohibition and guilt.
In Cheng Ren's self-sacrifice there lurks a gender politics, one that is 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. 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 can be 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 homonym of his name suggests, "Cheng Ren" means both "becoming a man" 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
The case of Ding Ling brings us back to where this article started. 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 in its incapacity to address either morality or equity. Their 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 evil and called for the implementation of individual punishment; and 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. Violence finally stabilized in the form of self-imposed crimes and self-inflicted punishments, and the moral and legal machinery of a new justice was in full operation.
1. 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. [BACK]
2. 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) (Taipei: Yunlong chubanshe, 1991). Also see Jonathan N. Lipman and Steven Havrell, eds., Violence in China: Essays in Culture and Counterculture (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990). [BACK]
3. See, for example, Law in Imperial China: Exemplified by 190 Ch'ing Dynasty Cases (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1973); Hugh T. Scogin Jr., "Civil Law in Traditional China: History and Theory," in Civil Law in Qing and Republican China, ed. Kathryn Bernheart and Philip C. Huang (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 13–41; Clifford Geertz, "Local Knowledge: Fact and Law in Comparative Perspective," in Local Knowledge (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 167–235. [BACK]
4. 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. [BACK]
5. Chen Duxiu, "Wenxue geming lun" (On literary revolution), in Duxiu wencun (Writings of Chen Duxiu), vol. 1 (Shanghai: Yadong tushuguan, 1931), 135–40. [BACK]
6. Lu Xun, "Kuangren riji" (Diary of a madman), in Lu Xun Quanji, vol. 1 (Complete works of Lu Xun) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1981), 420. [BACK]
7. 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 wenxueshe chongping (Exiling gods: Outlines of literary theory and rereadings of literary history) (Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu gongsi, 1994), 133–34, 140. [BACK]
8. See Armstrong and Tennenhouse, Violence, 1–26. [BACK]
9. Ibid., 9 [BACK]
10. 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. See Wendy Larson's discussion in Literary Authority and the Modern Chinese Writer: Ambivalence and Autobiography (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), 31–59. [BACK]
11. Literature, of course, babbles on about injustice and revolution, but these are just terms in the new masternarrative. 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. [BACK]
12. Liu E, Lao Can youji (The travels of Lao Can) (Taipei: Lianjing chuban gongsi, 1983), 2. [BACK]
13. Ibid., 245. Throughout my essay I will use the term "incorruptible" to mean specifically "not bribable." [BACK]
14. 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," Ts'ing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies 7, no. 2 (1969): 40–66. [BACK]
15. Liu E, The Travels of Lao Ts'an, trans. Harold Shadick (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1952), 70. [BACK]
16. See C. T. Hsia, "Travels," 50–52 and n. 31. [BACK]
17. 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 government-built dikes are massive embankments twenty feet high and are up to three miles away from the water. The land between the two dikes is fertile and thickly populated. See Harold Shadick's note in his translation of Li, Travels, 262. [BACK]
18. See Liu E's commentary at the end of chapter 13 of Travels, 124. [BACK]
19. Ibid., 259–66. [BACK]
20. 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. [BACK]
21. Li Boyuan, Huo diyu (Living hell) (Taipei: Guangya shuju, 1984), 1. I am using Douglas Lancashire's translation, quoted from Lancashire, Li Po-yuan (Boston: Twayne, 1978), 64–65. [BACK]
22. 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 of other novels by Li Boyuan, it remains incomplete. Li died when he had finished 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, Li's friend and the assistant editor of Illustrated Fiction. The novel was not published in book form till 1956 in Shanghai, under the auspices of the well-known scholar Zhao Jingshen. [BACK]
23. Lancashire, Li Po-yuan, 63. [BACK]
24. Here, I am partially indebted to Lyotard's concept of justice. See Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud, Just Gaming (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979), 25–26. [BACK]
25. Li Boyuan, Huo diyu, 72. [BACK]
26. The first is a long aluminum pipe circled all 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, meaning to put five nails into the four limbs and the chest of the prisoner. The third is three iron sticks used to beat the prisoner. By pressing one iron stick on the prisoner's chest and the other on his legs, the courtroom attendants check 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, all the intestines will burst out. [BACK]
27. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1977), 24–85. [BACK]
28. Lao Can is compared to Sherlock Holmes in chapter 18 for his investigation of the aforementioned murder case. [BACK]
29. Lu Xun, preface to Nahan (A call to arms), in Lu Xun quanji (Complete works of Lu Xun), vol. 1 (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1981), 417. [BACK]
30. David Derwei Wang, "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: Duke University Press, 1993), 174–87. [BACK]
31. Lun Xun, preface to Nahan, 417. [BACK]
32. Ibid. [BACK]
33. T. A. Hsia, The Gate of Darkness (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1968), 146. [BACK]
34. 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. [BACK]
35. 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. [BACK]
36. Ouyang Yuqian, Pan Jinlian (Pan Jinlian), in vol. 1 of Ouyang Yuqian wenji (Works of Ouyang Yuqian) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1984), 90. [BACK]
37. Ibid., 93. [BACK]
38. See Bai Wei, 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. [BACK]
39. Lu Xun, "Lun Leifeng ta de daodiao," in Lu Xun Quanji, vol. 1 (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1981), 174–77. [BACK]
40. Bai Wei, Dachu youling ta, 64. [BACK]
41. Ibid., 75. [BACK]
42. Zhu Yiqui, Zhongguo xiandai xijushi (History of modern Chinese drama) (Guilin: Guanxi renmin chubanshe, 1981), 234–36. [BACK]
43. See, for example, Meng Yue and Dai Jinhua, Fuchu lishi dibiao: Zhongguo xiandai nuxing wenxue yanjiu (Voices emerging from the foreground of history: A study of contemporary Chinese women's literature) (Taipei: Shibao chuban gongsi, 1993), 227–30. [BACK]
44. Marston Anderson, The Limits of Realism: Chinese Fiction in the Revolutionary Period (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), 44. [BACK]
45. T. A. Hsia, Gate of Darkness, 55–59. [BACK]
46. Ibid. Also see Leo Oufan Lee, The Romantic Generation of Modern Chinese Writers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), 201–21. [BACK]
47. Jiang Guangci, Paoxiao de tudi (The roaring earth), vol. 2 of Jiang Guangci wenji (Selected works of Jiang Guangci) (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1982), 374. [BACK]
48. See Anthony Kubiak, Stages of Terror, Terrorism, Ideology, and Coercion as Theater History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 148. One way to live with terror is to repress it, to survive it by choosing to be unconscious of it, as Li Jie does literally. [BACK]
49. Jiang Guangci, Paoxiao de tudi, 374. [BACK]
50. Wu Zuxiang, "Young Master Gets His Tonic," trans. Cyril Birch, in Modern Chinese Short Stories and Novellas: 1919–1949, ed. C. T. Hsia, Joseph Lau, and Leo Oufan Lee (New York: Columbia Press, 1981), 381. [BACK]
51. Part of the plot summary is derived from that of Marston Anderson, Limits, 198. [BACK]
52. C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971), 284–85; Philip Williams, Village Echoes: The Fiction of Wu Zuxiang (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), 82–84. [BACK]
53. C. T. Hsia, History, 286. [BACK]
54. Wu Zuxiang, "Yiqian babai dan" (Eighteen hundred piculs of rice), in Wu Zuxiang (Taipei: Haifeng chubanshe, 1990), 158–59. [BACK]
55. See, for example, Merle Goldman, Literary Dissent in Communist China (Cambridge: 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 a literature based on Sun Yatsen'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 of the fifties and sixties. 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 Minglee, "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 Minglee (Taipei: Shibao chuban gongsi, 1994), 1–20. Also see my article "Reinventing National History: Communist and Anti-Communist Fiction from 1946 to 1955," in China in the Transitional Period: 1946–1955, ed. William Kirby (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), forthcoming. [BACK]
56. See my article "Reinventing National History," in China in the Transnational Period, ed. Kirby. [BACK]
57. 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 Oufan Lee (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), 129–52. [BACK]
58. See David E. Apter and Tony Saich's discussion in Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 243–92. [BACK]
59. Yitsi Mei Feuerwerker, The Fiction of Ding Ling (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 114. Also see Tani Barlow, with Gary Bjorge, ed., I Myself Am a Woman (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), 34–45. [BACK]
60. Ding Ling, "When I Was in Hsia Village," trans. Gary Bjorge, in Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas: 1919–1949, ed. Joseph Lau, C. T. Hsia, and Leo Oufan Lee (New York: Columbia Press, 1981), 274. [BACK]
61. 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. [BACK]
62. 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 Zai jiedu: Dazhong wenyi yu yishi xingtai (Rereading: Mass literature and ideology), ed. Tang Xiaobing (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1993), 51–67. [BACK]
63. Ding Ling, "When I Was in Hsia Village," 268. [BACK]
64. Merle Goldman, Literary Dissent, 67–86. [BACK]
65. Lu Ling, Ji'e de Guo Su'e (Hungry Guo Su'e) (Beijing: Beijing renmin chubanshe, 1988), 103. [BACK]
66. Ibid., 104. [BACK]
67. See Feuerwerker, Fiction, 136–46. [BACK]
68. Ibid., 139–40. Also see Apter and Saich, Revolutionary Discourse 263–332. [BACK]
69. Liu Zaifu and Lin Gang, Fangzhu zhushen: Wenlun tigang he wenxueshi chongping (Exiling the gods: Outlines of literary theory and reappraisal of literary history) (Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu, 1994), 130 [BACK]
70. Ibid., 124–25. [BACK]
71. Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero, trans. Annete Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978), 71. [BACK]
72. Ding Ling, Taiyang zhaozai Sanggan heshang (The sun shines over the Sanggan River), vol. 1 of Ding Ling xuanji (Selected works of Ding Ling) (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chuban-she, 1984), 300. English translation from C. T. Hsia, History, 486. [BACK]
73. 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 Zai Jiedu: Dazhong wenyi yu yishi xingtai (Rereading: Mass literature and ideology), ed. Tang Xiaobing (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1993), 122. [BACK]
74. 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 acquiesces in the most horrible punishments imposed on condemned souls in Hell as much as Liu E acquiesces in the edifying power of horrible punishments imposed on condemned criminals on Earth. [BACK]
75. See Apter and Saich's description of the so-called Foucault's 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. [BACK]
76. Tang, "Baoli de bianzheng fa," 120. [BACK]
77. Ibid., 121. [BACK]
79. Ding Ling, Taiyang zhaozai Sanggan heshagn, 247–48. [BACK]