Wild Swans

Over the last few days I’ve been reading Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, which recounts the events in the life of Jung Chang and her mother and grandmother in 20th century China. It’s very dense. It never lets up. On one page the Japanese invade China, and a few pages later they’ve been driven out and replaced by Soviet soldiers. There are little vignettes packed into a couple of paragraphs which might have been developed into entire books.

In one surreal story, the Japanese used to have condemned prisoners garotted with a rope by a Chinese executioner, and then put in wooden coffins and taken to a tip where the bodies would be eaten by wild dogs. The executioner didn’t like his job and used to get drunk before performing executions. However the Japanese who usually attended the executions didn’t always show up, or left before the prisoners were dead. It was suggested to him that on such occasions he should release the garotte when the Japanese had departed. The ‘corpses’ were then put in coffins and taken to the tip as usual, with the cart driver talking to them as he took them there. In this manner an unknown number of prisoners managed to escape. There were a sufficient number of them after the war to reward their ‘executioner’ with a house and some land.

In another, the start of top down state mind control was described:

The new campaign had been triggered by Mao’s reaction to the behaviour of some Communist writers, notably the prominent author Hu Feng. They did not necessarily disagree with Mao ideologically, but they betrayed an element of independence and an ability to think for themselves which he found unacceptable. He feared that any independent thinking might lead to less than total obedience to him. He insisted that the new China had to act and think as one, and that stringent measures were needed to hold the country together, or it might disintegrate. He had a number of leading authors arrested and labelled them a ‘counter-revolutionary conspiracy’, a terrifying accusation, as ‘counter-revolutionary’ activity carried the harshest punishment, including the death sentence.

This signalled the beginning of the end of  individual expression in China. All the media had been taken over by the Party when the Communists came to power. From now on it was the minds of the entire nation that were placed under ever tighter control. (chapter 10)

I couldn’t help thinking that ‘political correctness’ is a sort of mind control, and how all these media campaigns against smoking, alcohol, food, carbon dioxide, etc,  are setting out to create a uniform mentality, and that the only difference between the UK and China is that in the UK mind control is being exerted very gradually.

And one day you may find that that this writer (the most dangerous activity, according to Jung Chang) has been arrested as part of a ‘counter-revolutionary conspiracy’ is being ‘re-educated’:

She was kept in detention for six months. During this period she had to attend several mass rallies at which ‘enemy agents’ were paraded, denounced, sentenced, handcuffed, and led away to prison – amidst thunderous shouting of slogans and raising of fists by tens of thousands of people. There were also ‘counter-revolutionaries’ who had ‘confessed’ and therefore been given ‘lenient punishment’ – which meant not being sent to prison…

My mother was taken to these rallies to ‘receive a lesson’. But, being a strong character, she was not crushed by fear, like so many, or confused by the deceptive logic and coaxing of the interrogations. (chapter 10)

I don’t watch them, but perhaps the popular Big Brother TV shows are a new sort of ‘mass rally’ or ‘struggle meeting’ in which prisoners are ‘interrogated’ before being released as a form of ‘lenient punishment’.

We may be a lot nearer this dystopia than we might like to think.

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About Frank Davis

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5 Responses to Wild Swans

  1. waltc says:

    Mao invented the literal concept of political correctness. As I recall, it included the notion that what he defined as selfish behavior (personal pleasure) was politically incorrect since all actions must benefit (or not harm) the collective. I vaguely recall once reading that according to Mao reading at night was politically incorrect in that it sapped electrical power from the community.

    http://www.wnd.com/2012/05/worlds-most-politically-correct-mass-murderer/

    • Frank Davis says:

      That sounds about right. I’ve now got to the bit where millions of peasants are making steel, by melting down anything made of iron. Woks and beds are being melted down in back yards. Mao seems to have had a new stupid idea every day, each of which was imposed on the whole of China. Yet he continued to rule China until he was 83.

      • nisakiman says:

        One wonders how one man managed to rule so many for so long, dictating even the minutiae of their lives. Particularly given the vast size of the country. One would expect there to have been constant uprisings in one part of the country or another, but it seems that the vast majority of the population were totally in thrall to him, or at least, appeared to be so. Blanket propaganda is a powerful tool.

        As an aside, I picked up a ‘Little Red Book’ (in English) when I was in Kabul in the 60s. It was about the size and thickness of those pocket dictionaries we used to have in school. I must admit, I only ever dipped into it – it was about as turgid a read as you could find anywhere. I also had a little enamel ‘Mao’ badge I got at the same time. Unfortunately, I was robbed of everything but the clothes I stood up in when I was in Istanbul a year or so later, so I lost my ‘Mao mementos’, which was rather a shame.

        • Frank Davis says:

          I was wondering the same thing. There seem to be quite a few people who stay at the top until the day they die. Stalin was one. Hitler as well. Castro (although he has supposedly stepped down in favour of his brother). Robert Mugabe?

          One thing that’s emerging from the book is that that criticism of Mao went all the way to the top of the Chines communist party. But Mao hung on anyway.

          I too used to have a Little Red Book in 1966 or so. I read a few bits and pieces, and it was as turgid and meaningless as you say. I also kept a poster on the wall which summed up my thoughts about Mao. It looked like this:

          CHAIRMAN MAO
          CHAIRMAN MAO
          CHAIRMAN MAO
          CHAIRMAN MAO
          CHAIRMAN MAO
          CHAIRMAN MAD

          There’s a slight difference in the last line.

  2. slugbop007 says:

    Time to sue the WHO.

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