The tale of the modern literature of China very much resembles our own story, since nine decades ago, China too, like the Indian Subcontinent, was bound in the chains of a feudal system.
The imperialist countries had reached the coasts of this feudal system in China in search of markets. So in China too, imperialist conspiracies had begun with the intervention of the East India Company. It was in those days too that the East India Company was including Punjab and Sindh in its circle of dominance. After that, the footsteps of which imperialist country did not fall upon this land of Confucius? These imperialist powers definitely looted China, but despite that they also helped in raising new forces.
Marx writes about India and Asia:
“England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.
Then, whatever bitterness the spectacle of the crumbling of an ancient world may have for our personal feelings, we have the right, in point of history, to exclaim with Goethe:
“Sollte these Qual uns quälen
Da sie unsre Lust vermehrt,?”
[“Should this torture then torment us
Since it brings us greater pleasure?”]”
So it was that new forces were being created in this obsolete and conservative feudal society; they were struggling to remain alive and eventually it was these very forces which had overthrown the empire of the Manchu dynasty in 1911. This was an expression of the wishes and passion for power of the bourgeois class and in their struggle they adopted Western knowledge and science, Darwin’s theory of evolution, Adam Smith’s economics – in short all those arts of the bourgeois class. They made fun of the old schools and their curriculum. They struggled against it, paved the ground for the advent of new schools, just like Sir Syed and his associates did in our case.
But in a period when capitalism and the monarchical system were dying in the world, revolutions had stepped into the real world from the realm of dreams and then this bourgeois class was incapable of taking forward any class whatsoever; so in China too the movement of peasants and workers very soon opened new paths by advancing with determination – and the educated class too had to adopt these paths. This new path was the revolution of 1917.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 influenced the workers and peasants of the whole world. So along with Europe, this revolution shook the structures of the entire society and government in Asia as well. For the first time the working class had a feeling of their own importance. The Russian Revolution was an accident which had laid the foundation of successful and failed revolutions in all the countries of the world; and the whole world was influenced by it. These same accidents started that revolutionary movement in China which is known as the May 4th 1919 Movement.
But in a period when capitalism and the monarchical system were dying in the world, revolutions had stepped into the real world from the realm of dreams
After this, the literature of the bourgeois class began descending every day into the great depths of conservatism and decline. And in contrast, those writers advanced further who were directly influenced by communism and its philosophy of revolution.
It is said about that period that the Chinese see 1917 to 1937 as the era of going from literary revolution towards revolutionary literature; that all the Chinese literature was limited to expressing the disappointed and scattered dreams of freedom, equality and brotherhood of the new Chinese bourgeoisie.
But this view is inaccurate. These views could indeed be true about the literature before the May Fourth Movement. But after that movement, the great transformation which occurred in Chinese literature refutes these views.
Since 1922, the literary and cultural life of China also passed though various periods. The first period was from 1919 to 1921; the second period lasted 6 years from 1921 to 1927; the third period was from 1927 to 1936; the fourth period was from 1937 to the end of the War; and the fifth period began after the end of WW2.
The first prominent revolution which appeared in Chinese literature is actually associated with the May Fourth Movement. This was the first anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggle which began from Peking University and the spark which rose from there supported the revolutionary forces of the country; and the same movement also took out literature from the heights of the Himalayas and the embrace of capitalists to the reach of relatively ordinary people.
The most important personality of this period was Lu Xun. He always advanced the revolutionary forces in China with his writings, his thought and his artistic abilities. He was undoubtedly the Gorky of China so the communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong writes about him: If anybody has the greatest participation in the Cultural Revolution of China and had advanced it further and created an example of spirit and courage, that is indeed Lu Xun. He was not only a thinker and writer but a great revolutionary as well.
After 1927 a long tale of bitterness began. The chapter of every tale began with a new cruelty
After 1927 a long tale of bitterness began. The chapter of every tale began with a new cruelty. Workers and peasants were fired upon. The crime of being a communist was deemed punishable with death. The meaning of a progressive writer was imagined to be stepping leisurely towards the place of execution. These lessons of Chinese history are also being repeated here but why did it happen in the first place? Because a class of leaders there established a connection with external imperialism for the security of their class interest and betrayed the popular forces; so its result was very much that these leaders began to fear every such power which was ready to fight for the protection of the interest of the people and expressed the desires of the people. So there were many an aggressive assault. Science was placed under a watch. The ancient teachings were again brought to life. Philosophies were carved out for errors but despite this, these philosophies could not stand before the flood of people.
In every era writers have to answer this question: so Chinese progressive writers answered these questions for the first time on an evening of February 1931 in a Shanghai jail and not just that; they raised a voice against every oppression and in step with every revolutionary step. They also had to pass through the tests of art and propaganda. They too were asked to fulfil the demands of the eternal values of literature.
The writers had only one answer that when the democratic army of the workers and peasants of China advanced forward under the leadership of the Communist Party, then these progressives sang hymns to these new men; kept harping upon human greatness; and became the interpretation of the dreams of human brotherhood and equality.
Shanghai had high-walled jails, where one evening when the sun had sunk far in the horizon and five progressive writers were silenced. But today after 90 years progressive writers are alive. Their message is alive.
And who is dying? Who is alive?
Note: All translations are by the writer.
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader, currently based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached at email@example.com
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book, Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2022. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org