An Epic Tale of Comic Realism: Life and Death are wearing me out by Mo Yan

Long novels tend to wear out the reader, and this one was no exception. Yet I ended up reading Mo Yan’s Life and Death are Wearing Me Out. In the process, I came to not only respect Mo Yan’s talented writing, but also gained a view of China through the second half of the long 20th century. On a side note, it is quite ironical that what is a very long read, took Mo Yan just 42 days to write, that too by hand since he doesn’t use a computer.

Mo Yan’s writing is humorous as he recounts the ups and down of Chinese history–starting with the Revolution on 1st January 1950 and ending the novel on 1st January 2000. It is not only the turn of the millennium but also a time when China firmly and decisively, veered towards a capitalist future.

Mo Yan’s writing is a page turner, as he gallops through a very grim part of China’s recent history. The writing is marked by a humorous, even comical touch. The style is reminiscent of Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Especially in the long middle, the narrative is quirky, marked by tangential diversions and exaggeration. While Garcia Marquez’s style came to be known as magical realism, I would term Mo Yan’s as “comic realism” (I couldn’t find the term on Google, so I may claim some originality for coining it!), given the humour with which the novel bustles. Continue reading “An Epic Tale of Comic Realism: Life and Death are wearing me out by Mo Yan”


Reading Vasili Grossman in the time of Mo Yan

I have just begun reading Part III of Mo Yan’s “Life and Death are wearing me out”  (a little over one third of the book) and have mixed feelings about it. What works for me is the narrative of post- revolutionary China, particularly about the Cultural Revolution. What also works are the different points of view, a robust sense of humour amidst a tumultus period of China’s post- Revolution history and a literary flourish that make the book a page turner.

What doesn’t seem to be working is the quirkiness of the narrative, tangential diversions and exaggeration- much in the style of Garcia Marquez in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” which I liked the first time I read “One Hundred…” but found it irritating while reading the second time.

Mo Yan’s style also contrasts with another book that I happened to be reading alongside- “Everything Flows” by Vasili Grossman.

The collectivization of the peasantry, among other changes in the post Revolutionary Soviet Union up to Stalin’s death are very similar to those in China in the 1950s and 60s. Yet, the contrast between the two writers could not be more striking- Mo Yan is verbose and humourous while Grossman has used tight prose and is uniformly serious, digressing into long soliloquies on Lenin, Stalin and a grand sweep on Russia’s thousand years of history. It was refreshing to read a simply written, straightforward novella that is no less – if not more, engaging than “Life and Death…”. I finished the 200 page “Everything Flows” in a couple of weeks, much moved by its sparse but surgically precise prose.

I continue to plough through “Life and Death are wearing me out”, and if I am not worn out by the time it is finished, will post a longer review.

Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh by Mo Yan

Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, is the nome de plume of Guan Moye- the name “Mo Yan” literally means “Don’t Speak.” Apparently, Guan  Moye was so talkative as a child that his mother repeatedly commanded, “Don’t Speak.” So, when Guan Moye decided to become a writer, he adopted Mo Yan as his nome de plume.

It says much about today’s China when Mo Yan explains why he decided to become a writer. He was once told by a student sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution that writers make a lot of money, so he decided to put his gift of the gab to a profitable use. That is how Mo Yan became one of China’s most loved living writer.

The collection of stories in the book under review, Shifu, You’ll Do Anything For a Laugh, contains 7 of the writer’s stories written over several decades.

The title story is about Ding Shikou, a worker who has been fired from his job just a week before his retirement. In the new capitalist China where making money by hook or crook is as acceptable as for a worker to be laid off close to retirement, Ding Shikou finds opportunites to make money in an abandoned bus  hidden among the vegetation near a beach resort. Observing that young couples often do not have enough privacy at the beach, he starts to rent out the bus after furnishing it with a bed and providing cold drinks to couples- young and not so young. Soon, he has a roaring business. Towards the end of the story, his conscience comes back to gnaw at him. This is by far the best story in the collection, marked by touches of magical realism.

Continue reading “Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh by Mo Yan”

Cloud and Water

You ride on a horse,
while I ride on a donkey.
Looks like you are better off than me!
Turning around, I see a man pushing his cart.
Some are better off than me,
But there are others less fortunate than

A poem from the collection “Cloud and Water” (pdf) by the Chinese Buddhist writer Hsing Yun. The blurb explains the title of the book:

What do we mean by cloud and water? Clouds float by water flows on. In movement there is no grasping, in Ch’an there is no settling. The cloud and water life is a life of living in the moment, always fresh and ready to experience.

Re- drawing the Poverty Line

A re- look at the “dollar a day” line for measuring poverty may increase the number of poor below poverty line in China by 300m.

The dollar-a-day definition of global destitution made its debut in the bank’s 1990 World Development Report. It was largely the discovery of Martin Ravallion, a researcher at the bank, and two co-authors, who noticed that the national poverty lines of half-a-dozen developing countries clustered around that amount. In two working papers* published this week, Mr Ravallion and two colleagues, Shaohua Chen and Prem Sangraula, revisit the dollar-a-day line in light of the bank’s new estimates of purchasing power. They also provide a new count of China’s poor.

Thanks to American inflation, $1.08 in 1993 was worth about $1.45 in 2005 money. In principle, the researchers could count the number of people living on less than this amount, converted into local money using the bank’s new PPP rates. But $1.45 a day strikes the authors as a bit high. Rather than update their poverty line, they propose to abandon it. It is time, they say, to return to first principles, repeating the exercise Mr Ravallion performed almost two decades ago, using the better, more abundant data available now.

For practical purposes, policymakers will always care more about their own national poverty lines than the bank’s global standard. The dollar-a-day line is more of a campaigning tool than a guide to policy. And as a slogan, $1.25 just doesn’t have the same ring to it. A better option might be to reset the poverty line at $1 in 2005 PPP, which would line up reasonably well with at least ten countries in the authors’ sample. In adding a quarter to the dollar-a-day poverty line, the researchers may cut its popular appeal by half.

via 3 Quarks Daily)

Wang Anyi’s Short Story on China’s Cultural Revolution

At the time, young wives in our village didn’t have regular names. Add the word “xiao”–young–in front of their maiden names, that’s how they’d be called: “Xiao Qian,” “Xiao Sun,” “Xiao Ma.” After they had borne children, it would then be all right to call them “so-and-so’s ma,” such as “Xiaomei’s ma,” “Liu Ping’s ma.” Only Wang Hanfang, everybody called her by her own name.

At Words Without Borders read Wang Anyi’s short story Wang Hanfang about life during the cultural revolution. WWB’s April issue has a focus on China.

The Low Side of High Growth

I wish I could summarize Amit Bhaduri’s critical take on India’s high growth rates in recent years-titled India’s Predatory Growth from last week’s EPW. It is, however, so succinct that I’d suggest reading the whole article. Here are a few excerpts:

Statistical half truths can be more misleading at times than untruths. And this might be one of them, insofar as the experiences of ordinary Indians contradict such statistical artefacts. Since citizens in India can express reasonably freely their views at least at the time of elections, their electoral verdicts on the regime of high growth should be indicative. They have invariably been negative. Not only did the “shining India” image crash badly in the last general election, even the present prime minister, widely presented as the “guru” of India’s economic liberalisation in the media, could never personally win an election in his life.

In contrast to earlier times when less than 4 per cent growth on an average was associated with 2 per cent growth in employment, India is experiencing a growth rate of some 7-8 per cent in recent years, but the growth in regular employment has hardly exceeded 1 per cent. This means most of the growth, some 5-6 per cent of the GDP, is the result not of employment expansion, but of higher output per worker. This high growth of output has its source in the growth of labour productivity. According to official statistics, between 1991 and 2004 employment fell in the organised public sector, and the organised private sector hardly compensated for it.

At the extreme ends of income distribution the picture that emerges is one of striking contrasts. According to the Forbes magazine list for 2007, the number of Indian billionaires rose from nine in 2004 to 40 in 2007: much richer countries like Japan had only 24, France 14 and Italy 14. Even China, despite its sharply increasing inequality, had only 17 billionaires. The combined wealth of Indian billionaires increased from $ 106 to $ 170 billion in the single year, 2006-07 [information from Forbes quoted in Jain and Gupta 2008]. This 60 per cent increase in wealth would not have been possible, except through transfer on land from the state and central governments to the private corporations in the name of “public purpose”, for mining, industrialisation and special economic zones (SEZs). Estimates based on corporate profits suggest that, since 2000-01 to date, each additional per cent growth of GDP has led to an average of some 2.5 per cent growth in corporate profits. India’s high growth has certainly benefited the corporations more than anyone else.

A Chinese Road for ‘Rural India’

Sagarika Ghose’s Farming the Colonial Dream  purports to be a criticism of policy makers, “leftist intellectuals and politicians” as well as certain type of journalists. In essence what the article suggests is that wasteful schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) need to be discarded, agriculture needs to be liberalized and mass migration from rural hinterland encouraged to enable the people to move into manufacturing.

In the course of her ‘argument’, Ghose takes a few potshots at un- named “celebrated journalists who have made the “rural areas” into their personal visiting cards” as well as “careerists of poverty, the vote-seeking politician, and the westernized romantic.” There is nothing in the article that, however, suggests that she herself belongs to a different universe. Perhaps as not to be accused of being a ‘Westernized romantic’ herself, she deftly alludes to the Chinese way where mass migration from the villages to the cities is ostensibly paving the way for the uplifting of the impoverished rural masses.

After having disarmed the windmills, Ghose goes on to demolish the NREGS lock, stock and barrel for an aim which was never intended for the NREGS. She accuses the NREGS of “ignoring a basic right of every Indian, that is the right to migrate …The right to migrate is an inalienable right and applies to every Indian equally.” Not just that, “according to the NREGA, the rural poor must stay trapped in their socially unequal and violent villages, and undertake meaningless exercise in earthworks to be then handed a paltry wage”.

Wow! The NREGS seems to be having a dramatic impact on rural India !  This, however, is not really the case. Recent reports, suggest that the scheme with Rs. 15,000 crore in its first year has been nothing short of a failure benefiting just about 7- 10 percent of the intended beneficiaries (link). (Jean Dreze and associates on NREGA).  She herself is closer to the mark when she acknowledges later in the same article that “the NREGA, at best is a semblance of a safety net for the absolutely destitute, that those surviving by eating worms on riverbanks, can be assured of some food for a few days, if that.” If that is the case why accuse it of holding back the “rural masses” from the urban paradise in the first place?

One, however, cannot disagree with Ghose’s assertion on the “socially unequal and violent village”, but the urban landscape hardly offers a better picture for the migrant poor. With the prices of houses in cities sky rocketing, even the middle classes outside the IT and BPO sector shudder at the thought of owning a flat. For the urban poor, in the absence of any worthwhile housing schemes by the government, the situation is deteriorating fast. In the 1980s and 1990s, China was alone in the developing world to construct decent housing for the urban poor. Even then, the population of slum dwellers in China is as high as 193.8 million, or 37.8 of the urban population, compared with India’s slum population of 158.4m constituting about 55.5 percent of urban dwellers. (Planet of Slums by Mike Davies, page 24).

Worse still is Ghose’s recipe. Liberalize the agriculture sector, she says, which for her means abolishing ceiling laws that impact the farmers’ mobility. Not a word for the landless, not a word for land distribution as if something like land reforms did not exist. If at all it exists, it does so only in the sense of ‘buying and selling of land’. While accusing others of ‘glorifying a monolithic rural India’, she herself does no better.

What does one do for those who do not own any land at all? Though the landless do not seem to exist in her article, implicitly Ms Ghose’s recipe for them is to send them to the cities, along with those smart farmers who can now easily sell off their land under a liberalized agriculture. In that, Ms Ghose discovers the solution in China. 

Follow the Chinese path, she declares. No, not that of the Chinese Revolution but its counter- revolution in the era of ‘colourless cats’:

That only 20 per cent of our GDP comes from an occupation in which 60 per cent of Indians are trapped against their will, should wake up the babus and ministers to the fact that agriculture equals poverty and the only way out is to follow the Chinese example by creating avenues to allow the millions to move out of agriculture into mass producing industry. China has done exactly this with tremendous success. The descendants of Mao have got over their “farmer glorification legacy” far quicker than us.

The trouble with those who call for copying China today is that they want the thin icing without the cake, that is to copy everything minus the Chinese Revolution itself !

She ignores what is practically an urban nightmare in China. Overwhelming migration from rural areas, a reversal of the 1960s forced migration, has led to increasing social problems. While uprooting the people from their villages and providing cheap, unprotected labour in a country that does not permit forming of labour unions for unrestricted exploitation so severe that in many areas, there is a reversal in trends with people migrating back to villages (link). The example of the Chinese peasants who are ostensibly migrating to the cities to become productive clogs for industries manufacturing everything from diapers to electronics for the Western consumers, is a cruel joke which would be hilarious were it not just sad in its implications.

To the chimera of the rural migration to Chinese cities, this is what Li Changping has to say in his essay The Crisis in the Countryside (One China, Many Paths ed. Chaohua Wang, page 213-14):

But the new regulations also meant that the peasant could not alter his or her rural registration status. Economically they ensured a huge supply of cheap labour to developed regions along China’s coastline, as some 80 million peasants rushed to join its booming cities. Socially, however, the result has been a set of injustices that have got steadily worse. …”

In the same book He Qinglain (page 179-80) points to the increasing tendency to form criminal gangs in urban China.

The large number of wandering peasants in Chinese cities and suburban areas are also a well- spring of various forms of criminal activity in the PRC today. The majority- over 75 percent- of criminals in big cities such as Beijing, Guangzong and Shenzhen, are non- resident ‘three-have-nots’. …three demographic features defined these peasant offenders. The majority- 64.5 percent were unmarried; most- 59 percent- had criminal skills; and not a few- 16.5 percent- had been in jail before… the most shocking finding of the survey, however, is the changing motivation behind peasant criminality in recent years. Previously, many peasants displayed clear signs of psychological imbalance, which had led to conflict with the law without any deliberate aim of challenging it. By contrast, majority of those caught after 1996 had committed crimes with the conscious intention of breaking the law and defying moral prohibitions. ‘Since other people are living a highly enjoyable life’, one prisoner said, ‘I, who am lonely and impoverished, should be able to find some stimulus and relaxation too.’

That is the direction that the Chinese path leads to. This is at a time of an overall boom in the manufacturing sector and the absence of a recession in the developed world, which is what has sustained China’s growth. One wonders what the situation will be at a time of decline.

Whatever be Ghose’s motivations for such a misdirected ‘solution’ for rural Indians, the fact is that rural India has always subsidized the city. Those who claim that India needs to move away from its ‘socialist’ past are actually treading an extreme version of broadly the same path as the ruling classes have followed since Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, using whatever little pretensions it had to being ‘socialist’, as a punching bag.

The fact is that the total outlay for rural development is measly as compared to the incentives given to the industry that is producing some of the world’s richest people even as the rest patiently await their promised trickled down share. In a recent article, economist Kamal Nayan Kabra observes that the “public expenditure on rural development … in the Net National Product that used to be 3.6 percent for a population of 70 percent has come down after liberalisation and is just 2.7 percent…. Similarly, the share of total public expenditure in agricultural and allied activities, including irrigation and flood control, that used to be 37 percent in the First Plan total expenditure has come down to 16.5 percent in the Tenth Plan period.” In contrast, the corporate tax foregone (Rs. 50,000 crores in 2006-07) by the Union government last year is only trivially less than the total amount spent by both Union and state governments on all rural development schemes. (link)

People like Ms Ghose would like the amount for rural development to come down further so that the largesses can be given to urban India. Perhaps in her universe, all urban Indians own companies. In reality the corporate beneficiaries are not even one percent of the population.

But then, perhaps it does not matter.

Related Post: An Alternative to Globalization

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Albert Camus

This BBC talk on Albert Camus reminded me of my own enriching encounters with the writings of the Algerian born French existentialist many years ago.

Existentialism did not appeal to my primarily Marxist leanings, not even Sartre’s philosophical works and his attempts at synthesis of Marxism and existentialism had any long lasting impact, though the writings of Sartre, Beauvoir and Albert Camus instigated one to think critically. Even then, it was their literary works that held greater appeal. Some of the most influential works I was introduced to after having read the English and Russian classics, were those by these three writers. Camus, especially his novels The Outsider, The Fall and The Plague opened up a new landscape for me. In case of Sartre, I found his literary works like Nausea, very difficult to read. Funnily, his philosophical writings (like the supremely unreadable A Critique of Dialectical Reason) appealed more, despite their languid dreariness.

Sartre was a hero for us, mainly for his political stands and the fact that he continued to be a Marxist of sorts. Camus, on the other hand, despite his one time membership of the Communist Party (or perhaps because of it, some would aver) disowned Marxism, and was hence pretty much dismissed as a renegade. The only major philosophical work that I remember reading, with some trepidation, is The Myth of Sisyphus (of which my friend Rahul Banerjee is very fond of, incidentally.) The absurdity that the French existentialists spoke of did not strike a chord even then.

However, lately I found reading some of Camus’s philosophical works like The Rebel, Resistance, Rebellion and Death to be rather pleasant, which is perhaps a reflection both of the distance I have traveled since, and also the relative obscuring of ideological debates and dilemmas since Camus’s times.

It is still difficult to accept the ideological and philosophical positions of Camus, and as the talk on BBC radio indicates, Camus’ literary writings will rightfully outlive his philosophical works.

(Link to the BBC Talk via the excellent blog Ready Steady Book blog that I discovered today).

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Globalization or Americanization Index?

India 2nd least globalised economy: Report

Is there something wrong in this Globalization Index for 2007 published by AT Kearney, or am I missing something?

The only country in the the top 20 in terms of population that figures in the list is the United States, with the exception of United Kingdom, the world’s 20th most populated country. Countries at the top of the population list (China, India) are way down in the GI.

The AT Kearney methodology is less well documented than another comparable one- that by KOF, though the latter results also follow the same pattern- the United States is ranked 19th and the United Kingdom and France make it to the top 20 ranked 4th and 6th respectively, but none of the other high population countries make it to the top 20 Globalization Index list.

The KOF index methodology is more detailed and some of the indicators included may help to understand the pattern- besides the count of the internet connections which in itself is reason enough to influence the results significantly, one of the measures used are the number of McDonalds outlets in a country!

As an additional cultural proximity we thus include the number of McDonald’s restaurants located in a country. For many people, the global spread of Mcdonald’s became a synonym for globalization itself. In a similar vein, we also use the number of Ikea per country. (page 2 of the methodology document)

GI    Country            Population          Country                  Population
1    Singapore                 1                China                     1,315,840,000
2    Hong Kong                2                India                     1,103,370,000
3    Netherlands              3                United States            298,210,000
4    Switzerland               4                Indonesia                 222,780,000
5    Ireland                     5                Brazil                       186,400,000
6    Denmark                   6                Pakistan                   153,960,000
7    United States            7                Russian Federation    143,500,000
8    Canada                     8                Bangladesh              141,820,000
9    Jordan                      9                Nigeria                    131,530,000
10    Estonia                  10               Japan                      128,080,000
11    Sweden                  11               Mexico                     107,030,000
12    United Kingdom       12               Vietnam                    84,240,000
13    Australia                13                Philippines                84,210,000
14    Austria                  14                Germany                   82,690,000
15    Belgium                 15                Egypt                       74,030,000
16    New Zealand          16                Turkey                      73,190,000
17    Norway                  17                Iran                         69,520,000
18    Finland                  18                Thailand                   64,230,000
19    Czech Republic       19                 France                     60,500,000
20    Slovenia                20                 United Kingdom        59,670,000

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Scavenging the Sticky Glue

What struck me in this story about scavenger children using improvised boats and magnets to collect coins from the Yamuna river in Delhi, was this comment by Dr Shreekant Gupta, professor at the Delhi School of Economics:

According to Dr. Shreekant Gupta, a professor at the Delhi School of Economics specializing in the environment, factoring in the cost of environmental damage in India would shave 4 percent off of the country’s gross domestic product. Lost productivity from death and disease (water-borne diseases are India’s leading cause of child mortality) are the primary culprits.

“Some of this feeling of euphoria gets a bit dampened thinking of environmental degradation,” says Gupta. After environmental corrections, he puts India’s rocketing 9 percent annual growth rate at a mediocre 4.5 percent.(link)

Lack of regulations, and a still worse record in implementing them is one side to the story, a change in paradigm going away from centralised form of disposing the effluents is another. It is amazing that while governments display excessive triumphalism in inviting FDI, neither the multinationals nor the international agencies prescribe any sort of regulations on environment.

The story in India is not unique, as more and more production moves offshore to countries like China and India, the exploitation of natural resources pushes more and more people in these countries to the brink. A recent World bank report has suggested that close to 500,000 people in China die because of air and water pollution.

In a recent inspection of 529 firms along the Yellow, Yangtze and other major rivers and lakes, 44% had violated environmental laws, while almost half of the 75 waste water treatment facilities underperformed or did not work. Zhou said some waterways resembled “sticky glue”.(link)

But this is not too bad if compared with the conditions in Africa which bears the brunt of environmental change.

Despite contributing under 5% of the global amount of the six key greenhouses gases, Africa is one of the continents most vulnerable to climate change, a recent United Nations report on climate change found.Between 75 and 250-million people in Africa are expected to face even greater water shortages by 2020 as a result of climate change, the report said.

“It’s not enough to stop pollution now,” Worthington told Deutsche Presse-Agentur. (link)

Cross posted at How the Other Half Lives

The news inside the gaffes

Two news items in the last two days made me see things more carefully than I would have had there been no gaffes in the headlines.IBN Live carried a headline: China is India’s best neighbor. The news item, however puts it differently:

Describing China as India’s “greatest neighbour”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said that New Delhi wanted the “strongest relationship” with Beijing.

Well, there is a difference between being the greatest and the best: the greatest is not necessarily the best.

In another report in The Hindu, the headline “G8 pledges to lift Africa out of poverty” is misleading since the news item- in fact, the sub- text itself says something else. The sub- text says:

$60-billion plan to fight AIDS, tuberculosis

While the news report further clarifies:

“They say $60 billion for AIDS, TB and malaria and it sounds great, but that’s not earmarked for Africa, it’s a global figure and there’s no timeline,” he said. The G8 agreed during its summit on a programme worth more than $60 billion in aid, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. However, in its final communique, the amount pledged had no timeframe and did not specifically single out Africa as the beneficiary.

Removal of poverty from the continent will have to wait. Even in the time of globalization.

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Inside the Mind of Mao

(On the eve of the 57th anniversary of the foundation of People’s Republic of China)

Sidney Rittenberg was the only American ever to join the Communist Partyof China, working closely with Mao while translating his works into English.

His interview published in Al Jazeera sheds interesting light on The Great Helmsman who may be dead but whose presence looms large as various groups lay claim to different aspects of Chairman Mao’s thought as it evolved from the days of the Long March to the disastrous Cultural Revolution.

Understanding the mind of Mao is also to understand the reversal of the socialist revolution in China.

Understanding the mind of Mao’s is to also understand the mind of the “Communist” leaders in China today, as they go about building capitalism, in the words of author Wang Anyi, “with the enthusiasm of a proletarian revolution.”

Excerpts from the interview:

SR: I think it was his own ideology in Marxist clothing. Not that he was not a sincere Marxist. But his view of Marxism was to take dialectic materialism and use it to analyse Chinese reality and then develop a Chinese programme.

He had no interest in copying what was done in the Soviet Union or any other country.

In the days before the PRC [People’s Republic of China] it was whether the Chinese revolution would depend on the peasants or urban industrial workers. And the orthodox Soviet line was that Marxism belonged to the proletariat. There was no Marxism in the mountains they used to say. The peasants are backward.

But Mao said when the Party educates the Chinese peasants they could be just as good revolutionaries as anyone else in the world. That was the bedrock of his thinking.

AJ: Mao has been revered across the world. Why, and does he deserve it?

SR: I don’t think he deserves reverence.

I think he deserves acknowledgement as a serious historical leader at a certain period and he needs to be studied, both the good and the bad.

And I think he was not content with seeing China plod along. He wanted to see China advance to a prominent position in the world during his lifetime and I think he became overly ambitious.

He said in 1958 at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward that he would use the strategy and tactics of a people’s war and not use the Soviet way of brick upon brick to build the economy.

This was totally unrealistic and resulted in this huge man made famine.

I think it was what went on inside his head that was the problem. His plans during the Great Leap to catch up with Britain and America met with opposition from almost all his sober-minded colleagues. This awoke the conspirator and narrow envious peasant in him.

Link via Naxalrevolution

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Made in China, or China Unmade

Amleft has this post on China and concludes:

One wonders, however, whether the time for a peaceful evolution has passed, given the intransigence of the regime, the support of international finance capital and the general disinterest of social justice groups in the US. With the exception of the colonial period, China has frequently made its own history, often in a turbulent way, as shown in the 20th Century through the Boxer Rebellion, the May 4th movement, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Some China scholars contend that there is a stubborn tendency towards utopianism in Chinese society that leads to an excessive embrace of new ideas and policies, to the extent that they are adopted ruthlessly and uncritically, only to be abandoned in equally ruthless fashion. Deng’s departure from Maoism promised a break with this practice, as did his unceremonial funeral, but his naive promotion of capitalism in his later years may ultimately be recognized as a poisonous weed that facilitated its return.

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Macondo in India, China

The Chinese writer Wang Anyi, describes Panhuang, a small rural town in Jiangsu province with the rivetting imagery from Garcia Marquez‘s fictional place of Macondo (in One Hundred Years of Solitude):

Evening after evening would seem to be filled with revelry, yet this is also a lonely place. One might think of Macondo, and the tumult in its seclusion. Modernity hovers over the town like an iridescent cloud, but its life remains unaltered.

I felt the last sentence describes very well the kind of ‘development’ and ‘modernity’ that is today shaping India as well. Between the less than a dozen cities booming with call centers, BPOs and software companies are endless number of small towns and villages that resemble Panhuang.

From “For Whom the Bells Toll”, reprinted in One China Many Paths.

A previous post with another quote by Wang Anyi in the same book here.

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Surviving Tiananmen?

Newsreport on Yu Dongyue, one of the three men who threw eggshells filled with red paint at the portrait of Mao Zedong during the Tiananmen protests in 1989. He was disowned by the protestors themselves and handed over to the authorities.

The last of the paint-throwers was finally freed from prison yesterday a shattered and mentally ill 38-year-old man. The prisoner, Yu Dongyue, was driven insane by 16 years of beatings, torture and solitary confinement. He is reported to be incoherent and unable to communicate…

By last year, Mr. Yu was reported to be babbling incoherently and consuming his own feces and urine. “He has become deranged,” Yu Zhijian told the South China Morning Post last year. “He can’t have normal conversations with people. He can’t take care of himself. He talks to himself all day long. . . . His nerve is totally broken and his health is terrible. Few prisoners in China are as bad as he is.”

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What China Needs

…is a massive dose of Marxism, according to wisdom that has dawned on the Chinese Communist Party.

The CCP after having dumped every tenet of its official ideology, has decided to make China the center of world Marxism, a slot left woefully empty after the demise of Soviet Union.

3,000 “top Marxist theorists” and academics from across the country are to be summoned to Beijing to compile more than a hundred Marxism textbooks, each one to contain contributions from between 20 and 30 scholars.

Li Changchun, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the party’s chief official in charge of ideology, was reported to have told a meeting of propaganda officials and theorists that the leadership saw the project as a means of resolving various issues facing the country, and had given it “unlimited” support.

In the past decade and a half, the party has dismantled the state sector, thrown hundreds of millions out of work, given up on collective agriculture, celebrated the art of getting rich (not least through its own corruption), embraced the market “with Chinese characteristics”, dumped the principles of free education, healthcare and cheap housing for the workers and created one of the most unequal societies in the world. Workers are not allowed to form trades unions, have little job protection, suffer appalling labour conditions and routinely go unpaid for months on end: a recent study by the National People’s Congress concluded that migrant workers were owed more than £5bn in unpaid wages.

Far from abandoning Marxism, according to Professor Cheng, China has taken the lead in its development. One of two academics invited to lecture Politburo members last year on the need to modernise Marxism, Professor Cheng said recently that the Politburo had been studying the knotty question of how to reconcile the contradictions between Marx and free-market reforms.

To employ Marxist shorthand, it is a negation of negation- that can end either in a higher form of Marxism or its demise. Or is it a case of “unity and struggle”- perhaps the CCP’s dialectics has some undecipherable Chinese twist too.

Is this going to be mere lip- service to Marxism?

Or will this spawn a new revisionist Marxism, battered, post- USSR, as it is by a number of post- isms including post- modernism and the lit- crit mob?

It is more likely a device to disarm the New Left Marxism that is being espoused the more sensitive Chinese intelligentsia and their efforts to return Marxism as praxis. It is certainly a contradictory policy- it violates China’s continuous slide into a worst form of capitalism.

Meanwhile the stand of the two major Indian ‘communist’ parties is appalling, they sincerely believe that the CCP is ushering in socialism in China. The CPM’s stand is understandable, it was a product of the Soviet- China split in the sixties when it decided to go with the China line. That of the CPI is less so, but then, it wants to wag its tail too, as a loyal B team of the CPM.

Original source here.

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A Quote on China

One China, Many Paths is an amazingly refreshing book that consists of interviews with a host of Chinese mainland intellectuals and represents a kaleidoscopic view of the debates in China in the light of its over two decades of economic liberalization (while continuing with political authoritarianism).

Since China started the “reform” process much earlier than India, the book is of much interest to those in India who are sensitive to the social ramifications of economic liberalism.

I particularly liked the telling and incisive quote by Wang Anyi in the following passage:

…there is little doubt that, in aggregate, the female condition improved more than the male under Mao, if the pre- revolutionary situation of each is taken as a benchmark… Wang Anyi, China’s best known woman novelist whose memoir of her mother makes clear the origins of her own independence and loyalty to what was best in the Liberation. The ironic eye she casts of matters of gender and class in the euphoria of the ‘second reform period’ is conveyed by her dry remark that ‘we are rushing towards bourgeios society with all the enthusiasm of a proletarian revolution‘.

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"Future of Western Classical Music is in China"

This year the Berlin Philharmonica launched its grand Asian tour in Beijing in the background of a rage for Western classical music in contemporary China, where in the metropolises a fondness for Beethoven is considered modern, as expression of aspirations for a modern lifstyle, when in the West itself, interest in this type of music is on the wane.

Professor Zhao Ping Guo, who discovered the Chinese prodigy Lang Lang explains the background of Western classical music in China:

Professor Zhao wants to correct the western misconception of a vast classical fever that has suddenly broken out in China. The country has a much longer tradition of absorbing western music. The foundation for such a reception was laid down as early as the 1930s. Beijing Conservatory was founded in 1950, he himself was one of the first piano students to attend. The best musicians were offered opportunities for advanced studies in Budapest and Moscow. The Russian school, he says, continues to have a strong influence on Chinese piano instruction. And the Cultural Revolution, in his view, did not destroy this foundation, but only interrupted it. He perceives a long trajectory of musical development in China. Highly gifted musicians like Lang Lang and Yundi Li and composer like Tan Dun have by no means simply fallen from the sky.

Zubin Mehta, currently in Chennai, puts the new found interest for Western classical music in perspective:

Because we (in India) have so much of our own (musical traditions) here. China and Japan don’t have it — not in music. They have literature and painting … very advanced, but not music. Therefore, they have espoused the [music of the] western cultures.

But what struck me was the following observation (in Die Zeit):

Parents, he informs us, have such high ambitions for their children, no one thinks of anything but a solo career. Collective music-making, chamber music, is given short shrift in China.

Western classical music is distinctive because of the large repertoire of musicians that work flawlessly in tandem- one would have presumed that the collectivist nature of the endeavour is what would have attracted the Chinese- Western classical music has for long expressed a higher organized form of society. But if the interest in solo music indeed happens to be the case, this current interest in Western classical music would soon transform into a rage for rock and pop as in the West.

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