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Li Chun and Communist literature



What literature does in any given field is to offer the audience the sense of perspective needed to make the right judgement when dealing with any issue pertinent to the understanding of the topic under discussion, or the lead argument that is in fashion in any given era of human history. From the discussions by classical writers that include Aristotle, Plato, Plutarch, Persius Flaccus and others, it seems that the salient question has always been the relationship between the individual with the cosmos or the immediate environment. The main relationships explored in literature include the relationship one has with their family, the relationship one has with other families in the immediate place of habit, the relationships one has with their livestock, the relationship with the land and its plant and animal creatures, the relationship with the mountains, the streams, the hills, the rivers, and the relationship with the world unseen, that is, that aspect of human character that takes stock from the mythology primal and taught. The core to the understanding of literature lies in one being able to establish the points of relationship between man and nature, for therein lies the source to understanding all the knowledge gathered and its basic purpose in advancing the world and the human inhabitants. When Chinese communism began on July the 23rd, 1921 with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao forming the primary leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) it would take until October the 1st, 1949 for Chairman Mao to declare China a People’s Republic. The civil wars and the uprisings of the country that go as far as 1911 and then went on until 1949 are a little understood part of what led to the formation of the current modern republic. This is largely due to the simple fact that historical detail often does not play that much of a role in the understanding of current challenges. This is the attitude of the common folk; they are not interested in how things ended up as they are, only how they can get out of the mess they might find themselves in. Only a close reading of the reality literature of a given era brings to light exactly how people think, how they thought, and a comparison of these two aspects brings to light the core aspect of the human condition, that is: how people act like they do given different circumstances. A close reading of a short story collection published in Peking in 1962, Not that Road and other stories by Li Chun reveals the beginnings of the communist thought and principle that got China to the point of being the superpower it is today. It seems that the Chinese have always had some stoic element in their pattern of thought and relationship, that is, there has always been a tendency to look on the bright side of life and to achieve it at all costs. As it is, the Chinese mind has always somehow seemed to avoid following the pattern of that stoic quote by Persius Flaccus which goes, “We consume our tomorrows fretting about our yesterdays.” It has always been forward from the days of Mao’s Tapoti and the long march to the current days of Xi Jinping’s Up and Out of Poverty type of thought he and the Chinese people seem willing to share with the rest of the world. The usual tendency in a capitalist economy is to focus on history because to a large extent, many work towards being remembered after they are dead and gone. So deeply ingrained is this mentality that began with the advent of colonialism that the real concerns of the people like dealing with hunger and poverty, health and welfare have been sacrificed on the altars of self-interest where the main concern is being remembered as the greatest in the history of a given society when the achievements of one have in essence not contributed anything to the advancement of the society and the state. Li Chun’s 1953 story, Not that Road, begins with the sentence, “When Chang Shuan decided to sell his land, it was the talk of the village.” It is a simple sentence on a literal level, that is, we hear of one selling their assets on a daily basis, and the intended sale is talked about only for a while in the gossip circles. However, the sentence is not simple on a metaphorical or economic level. The ownership of land does not just entail ownership by the given individual because it is directly connected to the family history of the individual. Land is also the basis of the relationships of production, the sole means of production that grants one the opportunity to produce either for self-sustenance or to sell in the market. Almost supernatural, the relationship between man and land is one part of human history that became the basis for wars and conflicts. The earth like the mother provides the sustenance for entire communities; the sole means and livelihood for those who are not in possession of the modern economic means of living that solely rely on cash exchanges for goods. Chang Shuan becomes a candidate for failure after several wrong financial investment choices that seem to have their root in the tendency to look for quick riches instead of focusing on building wealth gradually. Warned several times about his impulsive investing in failed projects, Chang Shuan somehow takes no heed to the advice given. An adage in the third paragraph goes, “You can be too clever by half! Try to cut a long gown longer and you’ll only get a lined jacket!” and it is in a lot of ways a piece of advice that should be given to those in our state whose sense of investment is not guided by the need to make the lives of the others but to gain power on an individual level. So great is his ambition to make profits that he ignores the simple fact of making investments, they do not get financial support to carry them through the early phases. He sells off assets to sponsor his investments but is forced to make further debts to support the poor choices he has made and so he is in the process forced to sell more pieces of land to pay off the debts and the line, “Go a-borrowing, go a-sorrowing, a debt is like sticking plaster on your back!” This explains the danger of focusing on making debts to use as capital for one’s projects. Many states on the continent seem to have fallen prey to the habit of servicing debts using other debts in a Rob-Peter-to-Pay-Paul type of fashion. This does not seem to be the case with China that seems to have been willing to go back to the drawing board and to find out the source to the poverty and economic regression to establish decisive means to deal with the maladies to economic development processes. The bane of Africa post-independence has been over-dependence on former colonisers without effort to establish the means to sort the local challenges to economic and other forms of development. A Xinhuanet 12 January, 2021 article covering President Xi Jinping’s position on sustainable development at a G20 summit states: Calling for adopting comprehensive and balanced policies, Xi said targeted measures must be taken to tackle poverty caused by COVID-19. He stressed efforts to alleviate developing countries’ debt burden, continue to provide them with necessary financing support, as well as boost infrastructure construction and connectivity. Underscoring the role of digital technology in poverty alleviation, Xi urged efforts to create more opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, women, youth and other vulnerable groups to move from poverty to prosperity. He stressed that China is about to achieve the goal of eliminating absolute poverty, 10 years ahead of the schedule set by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over the past 40-plus years of reform and opening up, more than 700 million people in China have been lifted out of poverty, contributing more than 70 percent of the global poverty reduction, Xi added. There is a sense that the communist leader of the China kind echoes the sentiments expressed in the Li Chun short story collection published almost 60 years ago in 1962. The China of that time had just experienced liberation for a mere 12 years (if one is to note 1949 as the year of PRC’s liberation), but the people had a vision to lift each other out of poverty. This is seen in the conversation between Lao-ting and Tung-shan on the plight of the impulsive Chang-Shuan not being able to pay off his mounting debt and being forced to sell his land to pay off the debt: “Not going to sell?” Lao-ting smiled back complacently. “And who’s going to pay that huge debt for him?” “It isn’t a very big one,” Tung-shan rejoined. “I had a talk with Chang Shuan this afternoon. I told him it wasn’t the right way to sell that land. He doesn’t have thirty or fifty mou. He only has those ten odd. What will he do if he sells? We were all poor peasants once, before the liberation. Now he’s in trouble, we should give him a helping hand. How can we buy his land off him?” This shows that the crab-in-a-bucket tendency that began in post-independence Africa was steadily being weeded out in the early years of the post-liberation era in China. Whilst we became divided into classes of the educated and the illiterate, the rich and the poor on this continent, it seems that this was not the initial ethos of the PRC’s communist thought. Compassion and understanding on the conditions of others within the community formed the core of the thought. This behaviour could have contributed to the rise of the PRC as a superpower in global economy terms. Doing away with old behaviours of the pre-liberation (that is, the empire state ideology) led to China being the united front it is at this point in time. We seem to have kept our colonial lord mentalities that find people still wanting to sound important even in the face of disaster. We know as fact that there is no united front whenever there is some policy presented because the ‘we and them’ mentality was never actually rooted out at the point of independence. The status of the country changed from colony or protectorate, but the minds of the people have stayed colonised to the benefit of those that make their profit by dividing and ruling. The short story has different turns, but the most interesting aspect about it is the fact that it focuses on the individual members of the community and how they relate with each other despite the difference in character. What unites them are the core aspects of livelihood, that is, food, clothing, shelter and shared prosperity. It is not the case of the native wanting to seem better in the light of the other natives just because their children go to private schools or that they can afford a better house than their neighbour. This is old thought the figures in the story Not That Road want to do away with because as a line goes, “We were all poor together once.” This is what we seem to forget that, “We were all under bondage together once,” otherwise we would be striving for equality in the real sense of the term and not on the standards and principles of the people that put us in chains those many years ago in 1884. We go on to live on the principles of the people that subjugated us as a continent, still go on living on feudal terms like the oppressors of our forefathers. The short story perorates in the month of August with the figures of Chang Shuan and Lao-ting speaking: Lao-ting burst out. “I want to give you three hundred thousand Yuan!” “What! You mean you’ll lend me all that?” asked Chang, wide-eyed with surprise. “Do you think I’d refuse to lend it to you and keep it to buy land? But just you remember: From now on you must really work with a will! Otherwise, you’ll not be doing justice to your friends.” And having said that with great earnestness, Lao-ting walked on with firm steps towards the east where the red sun was rising. A close reading of a short story explains why PRC is as far as it is; the simple village people with a like mind must have sent their like-minded sons and daughters into the city and the world with a united mind for the benefit of the entire community. From this premise begun one of the best success stories of post-independence or liberation era where the power of unity was displayed for the whole world to see. What have we done with our liberation? Go white and poor? Snickers in the background as we go complicated again trying to explain what tomorrow will be like the day after Covid-19 has passed. It is no use racking one’s brains looking for “progressive terminology” when the hands are loathe and the mind is full of self-interest. The Chinaman proved it does not work like that for the world to see the reality of the world for real this time around. Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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