Reddest Red Sun

Shades of Mao | MaoSpeak

By Wang Shuo

Introduction by Geremie Barmé

Many selections in this volume [Shades of Mao] reek of MaoSpeak, or NewChina NewSpeak (Xinhua wenti), popularised on Mainland China as the political and social lingua franca from the 1940s. The Beijing novelist Wang Shuo utilized this language from the late 1980s in his satirical studies of life under socialism in its terminal phase.1

In the works of Wang Shuo the play on Maoist language was part of a sincere at the same time as ironic revival of Mao and, in the early 1990s, Wang's work created a fad of its own which encouraged a tongue-in-cheek recycling of Party language in the Chinese media, in particular TV. MaoSpeak did indeed repeat itself, first as tragedy then as farce.

Wang's nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution is real and vital. For him and many of his generation what was officially dubbed the "ten years of chaos" (shinian dongluan) had offered opportunities for sexual liberation, playing truant and the joys of gang warfare.2 In 1990s' China, with the help of Deng's Reform policies, Wang and his fellows helped turn the rowdy youth culture of the Cultural Revolution into a pseudo-ethos of the Reform Age. Many of them also made a lot of money out of China's further social and cultural degradation. The anti-intellectualism evident in much of Wang's work--he consistently lambasts Chinese intellectuals--has also antagonized some readers who see in it a disturbing streak of chip-on-the-shoulder Maoist hooliganism. He has defended himself by quoting Mao Zedong: "The lowly are the most intelligent; the Žlite are quite ignorant", and he claims that only by overthrowing the intellectuals can people like him enjoy true freedom (fanshen).3Although one may appreciate Wang's dim view of intellectuals, to use satire, a weapon traditionally best employed against the powerful, to consistently denegrate the weak and powerless is not so much funny as vulgar.

Wang Shuo's novel Don't Treat Me As a Human Being (Qianwan bie ba wo dangren), or No Man's Land, was serialized in 1989 and reprinted in 1991 and 1992. It is Wang's satirical masterpiece, a loving and scarifying look at the dark side of the Chinese national character.4 In a 'letter of appreciation' (ganxiexin) to the Party leadership read out by the grateful denizens of Tanzi Alley at the end of the novel, Wang Shuo creates an extreme parody of the logorrhea of Chinese political and commercial language, with some gratuitous references to traditional Chinese snake-oil remedies thrown in for good measure. The letter is read out as a tearful incantation by the mother of Tang Yuanbao, the novel's picaresque hero.


"Praise be to you, Lord Clear Sky! We the inhabitants of Tanzi Alley thank you for rescuing us from the bitter sea, from the flaming pit, from hell itself."

Tang Yuanbao, at the head of the inhabitants of Tanzi Alley, led everyone as they knelt down in the dirt in supplication. [The Party leader] Fatty approached on a horse, dismounted, helped the old lady [Tang's mother] to her feet and called out to the others:

"What is all this? Come on all of you, up on your feet. This really is too much. After all, I'm one of you, your servant. All I've done is make some decisions on your behalf and give you my support. You don't have to thank me."

At this point, Yuanbao's mother began mumbling. Crying and chanting she praised Fatty:

"You have righted the wrong and crushed the bad in one fell swoop. Respected wise dear teacher leader helmsman pathfinder vanguard pioneer designer bright light torch devil-deflecting mirror dog-beating stick dad mum grandad grandma old ancestor primal ape Supreme Deity Jade Emperor Guanyin Bodhisattva commander-in-chief:

"You who are busy with: ten thousand weighty matters each day, long-suffering one bad habits die hard and overworked to the point of illness done too often can be habit-forming shouldering heavy responsibilites speeding through the skies powerful and unconstrained staving off disaster and helping the poor dispelling the evil and ousting the heterodox, you who eliminate rheumatism cold sweats strengthen the yang and invigorate the spleen the brain who are good for the liver stomach pain relieving and cough repressing, and able to cure constipation.

"You personally yourself in propria persona have come deigned lowered yourself honoured us with your presence to investigate look over police search patrol pay a visit to ask about express solicitude and come to our alley. For our alley this is the most magnanimous expression of concern a massive encouragement a great impetus a considerable relief formidable expression of trust and care a great honour and really a nice thing to do. We are little people knaves the black haired scum your children grandchildren tufts of grass little dogs and cats a gang of liumang [hooligans] the cretinous crowds the great masses the hundred surnames and we feel ohsolucky extremely moved exceedingly uneasy terribly embarrassed so very pleased boundingly enthusiastic very very overwhelmed by our good fortune grateful as all get out tears o'fill our eyes our hearts swell like the seas and we're utterly and thoroughly lost for words. Ten thousand words a million songs endless mountains and seas ceaseless groans and grumbles mumbles and whispers expressions and phrases all combine into one sentiment which rends the very heavens an hysterical sound cracking through the universe circling the rafters for three days deafening reverberating through heaven and earth moving all who hear it mysterious and beautiful beyond compare making people drunk pissed completely out of it so they don't know the taste of meat for three days for it is the overriding chord of the age: longlife longlife longlonglife longlife longlife longlonglife!

Yuanbao's mother fainted dead away and Mother Li stood up to take her place, continuing in rapid fire:

"Without you we would still be lost in the darkness dimness greyness dustiness sootiness ashiness in a ditch a hole in the ground a cave a ravine a gully an abyss in a wok of boiling water in a firepit a vat of boiling oil in the bitter waters and we would be splashing gnashing crashing flashing flipping kicking..."

She too went into a swoon and Yuanfeng took over:

"You are the light hope future ideal banner clarion wardrum victory success pride dignity triumph heaven Buddhaland wiseone shaman genius magician tuletary diety saviour sun moon stars effulgence splendour light ray beam brilliance... ..."

She gave up the ghost and her place is taken by Blackie:

"Hercules hawk falcon lion tiger bronze-headed golden-faced steel-legged iron-armed lightning-fisted cannon guided missile mainstay tombstone great wall mountain pass. Without you we would freeze to death starve to death be beaten berated argued to death die for being disorderly burn and drown to death die of hanging from falling and being treated really badly by others.. ..."

"Enough already," Fatty said with a benevolent smile. "If you go on you'll just keel over and faint too. In the past, I've heard my fill of respectful praiseful laudatory admiring speeches. You could go on until everyone in this alley died from exhaustion and you still wouldn't run out of things to say. It doesn't do a thing for me. I don't want you to run yourselves down like this. If you really want to make me happy then learn how to take care of yourselves. That's the best present you could give me."

"But you have to take us in hand, no matter what," Blackie said tearfully. "We can't survive without you. You are the clear skies, we are but tufts of grass. Without the sky how could the earth exist? Grass needs to be tended, watered, weeded and cut. We can't do it ourselves. Anyway, we're used to being kept in place. If you make us take over and leave us without anyone to cuss us kick us hit us and push us around we won't be able to eat drink sleep or shit. We'll lose control completely."

"No matter what, you can't leave us like this," the residents of Tanzi Alley chorused as they knelt. "We're happy to let you ride beat berate whip us. If it makes you happy order us around drive us and trample us under foot. If you're displeased feel free to punish humiliate and generally take it out on us. If anyone dares utter the slightest objection you won't have to lift a finger because we'll take care of them ourselves. Do what you will with us, but whatever you do don't say you're going to leave."

"Come on, get up," Fatty said with a heavy sigh. "How could I possibly leave you to your own devices?"

Notes
1. For a single-volume collection of these stories, see Wang Shuo wenji (4): xiexue juan, Beijing: Huayi chubanshe, 1992.
2. See the depiction of this world in Wang's 1991 story "Dongwu xiongmeng", reprinted in Wang Shuo wenji (1): chunqing juan, Beijing: Huayi chubanshe, 1992, pp. 406-493; and, Jiang Wen's 1994 screen version of the story, Yangguang canlande rizi.
3. See Wu Jiafeng, "Ping Wang Shuode yiduan hua", Ershiyi shiji, 1993: 12, p. 144. During a tour of inspection of Dandong, Liaoning Province in 1958, Mao visited a tractor factory and wrote an inscription (tici) for the workers which read: "The lowly are the most intelligent; the elite are the most ignorant" (beijianzhe zui congming, gaoguizhe zui yuchun). Since the inscription was penned on 18 May (5 yue 18 ri), the factory changed its name to Factory No. 518. See also Ying Da, "Wang Shuode yuyan" in Liang Huan, ed., Mingren yanzhongde Wang Shuo, Beijing: Huayi chubanshe, 1993, pp. 116-120.
4. For further details of this story, see Barmé, "Wang Shuo and liumang ('hoooligan') culture", The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, no. 28, July 1992, pp. 51-60.


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