The image of the peasant in modern Chinese fiction
A great deal of writers has gotten actively engaged in discussing the image of the Chinese peasant during the last century. Class differentiation, the struggle to attain economic stability, and poverty as a whole represent some of the main topics that writers took on regarding the matter. It was very difficult for some people to understand how the Chinese peasant changed through time, especially given that communism had brought along significant transformations, making the masses less able to act in accordance with reform. In spite of these respective changes, however, the Chinese continued to preserve some of their traditional values.
Upper class individuals in China were among the most ignorant when considering their perspective toward peasants. Because of their higher social status, these people were unable to understand that peasants were equal to them and that they too had needs. The upper classes were inclined to persecute them and to exploit them until they were left with little to no resources to sustain themselves.
Lu Xun's 1921 story "My Old Home" puts across an episode from the life of the protagonist as he tries to deal with his childhood memories. In spite of the fact that he is initially enthusiastic about visiting his childhood home and remembering more regarding his early years, he finds that things have changed and that his memories were partly exaggerated as a result of the fact that he was a child the last time when he visited the childhood village. He gradually found that his memories were watery and that many things were different from how he pictured them. Partly because he was young and partly because it was more difficult for people from the upper class to understand the difficulties coming along with being a peasant, Lu Xun was at first unable to comprehend that he was very different from peasants. The fact that China's urban centers were rapidly expanding, more and more individuals from the countryside had gotten accustomed to leaving their homes with the intention to benefit from what cities had to offer. Lu Xun's lack of enthusiasm about leaving his childhood home was also a result of the fact that he met Jun-tu. It was then that he learnt that class division is very important in determining people's social status and their ability to sustain themselves and their families. Similar to Jun Tu when he was young, his son was unable to understand the differences between him and Hung-erh.
It becomes obvious that it is more difficult for upper class people to understand class division at the time when Jun-tu refuses to refer to Lu Xun by using the words "Brother Hsun," similar to how he did when they were children, relating to how he "was a child then and didn't understand" (Lu Xun). Whereas matters changed for Lu Xun when considering the fact that he was able to advance in his life (he came to have three concubines and a sedan-chair carried by eight bearers), things did not change much when concerning Jun-tu's social status. In spite of the fact that he came to accept his fate as he grew up, things have apparently become worse for the peasant, as he had to deal with "many children, famines, taxes, soldiers, bandits, officials and landed gentry" (Lu Xun). It is difficult to determine whether the Chinese peasant had been equally underprivileged during the time when Lu Xun was a young individual and when he revisited his childhood home or if conditions worsened across time and people like Jun-tu came to deal with poverty's problems. However, when taking into account the fact that Jun-tu had been accustomed to capturing birds from a young age (similar to how even his sixth child could perform certain tasks), it is very probable that things had always been bad for Chinese peasants, with every peasant having to take on life's problems from an early age.
Whereas the number of farmers in China was much greater than the ones of people living in cities, peasants were relatively unable to join the rest of the country in its intellectual, social, and economic development. As shown in Mao Dun's "Spring Silkworms," many peasants believed that they should refrain from continuing their traditional work in order for them to get actively involved in the thriving silk business. Instead of growing vegetables, as most of them did until that time, Chinese peasants started to abandon their previous habits in order to adopt newer and allegedly more productive practices. Moreover, many of them had borrowed large amounts of money with the purpose of financing their new silk businesses. In addition to the fact that they had lesser resources, peasants had to deal with "landlords, creditors, taxes, levies" (Mao Dun). The fact that most of them had produced large amounts of cocoons as a result of their enterprises had peasants imagine that things were looking up and that it would not be long before buyers would flow into the village with the purpose of buying as many cocoons as they possibly could. However, the buyers did not show up and they came to be replaced with "cunning creditors and tax collectors who promptly froze up if you asked them to take cocoons in payment" (Mao Dun).
The Chinese Peasant was thus unable to keep up with the rest of the world during the early twentieth century, as in spite of the fact that he was also concerned about improving his position, he had little to no success in doing so. With the authorities employing a harsh attitude toward peasants in the first place and with upper class individuals being ignorant regarding peasants and their status, it was virtually impossible for Chinese peasants to better their position. Whereas it was impossible to evaluate how the Chinese peasant developed from considering Jun-tu's account, it is less difficult (when considering old Tung Pao's situation) to realize that Chinese peasants had experienced significant drawbacks as a result of wanting to improve their condition. Tung Pao was certain that one of the central reasons for which his condition worsened was the fact that his country engaged in diverse dealings with foreigners. Foreigners and their initial demand for silk were practically responsible for getting large numbers of peasants to abandon their customs in favor of starting silk worm businesses. Moreover, many foreigners had also been creditors, thus meaning that they had the liberty to remove lands from peasants if the latter were unable to pay their debts in good time. Desperation and hope came together in what seemed to be the future of Chinese peasants, as they were desperate because they had no more resources and because they hoped that silkworm crops would be fruitful enough to provide them with money for the coming months. In their struggle to grow crops that they would later sale, peasants like Tung Pao ignored the way that international affairs were going at the time and believed that matters would happen just as they did a year before. If people were to stick to producing rice, it is very probable that they would have experienced success, given that the international public was going through difficult moments during the period. Because many silk factories in China were owned by foreign individuals, it was increasingly hard for these respective people to continue to invest in silk in times when the Great Depression was just getting started. As a consequence of being virtually starved because of their relationship with foreign forces, Chinese peasants developed Nationalistic feelings that probably stood behind the success that communism experienced in the later years. It was thus mainly because of foreign influences that the Chinese came to support communist principles.
Ding Ling's story "When I was in a Hsia Village" deals with a Chinese girl, Chen-Chen, as she struggles to put the past behind her. Although she initially seems supportive concerning her peasant counterparts, she gradually becomes less willing to remain in what she previously considered to be a quiet and relaxing village because of the biased character of its inhabitants. Instead of appreciating her for her strength of spirit and for the fact that she did not hesitate to perform gruesome acts in order to serve her country, the people in her village express their complete disapproval in regard to the fact that she acted against tradition. Chinese peasants still had trouble understanding new concepts at the time and they were unable to break away from their traditional values. Unlike most women in the Hsia village, Chen-Chen was accustomed to a different lifestyle, one that resembled that in developed cities. This was one of the reasons for which she did not understand why people in Hsia considered her personality intolerable. In spite if the fact that people in the Hsia village were relatively unable to understand why Chen-Chen decided to be a spy or what was glorious about her behavior, it gradually became obvious…