Bernie Sanders, a Confucian Parable

“Struggle” was a common vocabulary word in Communist China. In fact, everything that was worth anything came at the price of a “struggle.” The great prize of Communism could not be reached without it. It was a way of justifying the incredible hardships everyone went through from, uh, well, yeah, we’ll pander to the illusion, from Liberation on. It’s a good idea to indoctrinate a people with this idea because it means they will never, never expect life to be either easy or happy. The elderly Chinese I knew did not live with axiomatic “struggle;” whatever terror their lives had held (and that was a universal element of lives lived during WW II and the Cultural Revolution) they still lived with an “…expectation of the dawn.”

Life was supposed to be hard. If life wasn’t hard and you were actually ENJOYING it, you must be some kind of bourgeois loser. To become a modern country, China had to struggle, but the struggle didn’t begin with Mao and it did not begin joylessly.

Some thirty years ago now (?) I was researching and writing a book about Pearl S. Buck as a writer in the Chinese vs. the Western literary tradition. I have/had a good case for this. She, herself, said that her background as a writer was different. BUT…A major element of the Chinese literary tradition is the motive behind someone picking up the pen to write a story. Since, for centuries, novels were severely frowned upon in China, and those who wrote them, if caught, could be punished by death or castration, those people driven to write them wrote them secretly, published them secretly and acted like they’d never heard of it if the Emperor’s men came to question them about it. Novels were written for the pleasure of the writer and anyone he might share the stories with. Pearl Buck insisted this was her world, too. I was so wrapped up in this when I was working on the project that a simple truth didn’t occur to me.

She sought publication for The Good Earth in the United States and became a best-selling novelist then, for the rest of her life, struggled hard to remain a best-selling novelist.

But in this research I learned a lot about China in the early 20th century, the pre-Mao “struggle” to simplify the characters so people could learn them more easily and faster. I learned about people — young people — going from village to village teaching people to read and write. I learned about the protest against foot-binding and how that really played out in action — and at what cost for some young women. I saw absolute shining hope.




Back to modernization.


Warlords tear the fledgling nation apart, subvert efforts to educate the people and move the “nation” forward. Famine, drought, flood, oppression


The Japanese.

Fate. In stories written by Pearl Buck’s Chinese contemporaries there is often an old woman, an Amah or an Old Mother, who lifts up her hands in resignation at some point, utters “Ay-yah!” and puts the whole thing down to fate. In earlier Chinese fiction, the inescapable fateful situation is set up in the beginning of the story where a human’s will comes up against supernatural powers and loses, but not immediately or there’d be no story. The story is, then, about the protagonist’s “struggle” against fate.

At one time in my life I owned every one of Pearl Buck’s novels and other writings. I don’t think I have any now. I think they were jettisoned with my move. But I do have a copy of her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, autographed (and stolen by me from the San Diego Public Library) and her translation of Shui Hu Chuan (The Water Margin retitled as All Men Are Brothers) a very old Chinese novel about conscientious, poetry-writing, sometimes cannibalistic bandits and their overthrow of a corrupt dynasty. It’s a great book.

I found the project yesterday in the garage. It’s in one of those very-common-in-my-generation blue canvas binders, printed out on old-style computer paper with a dot-matrix printer. The computer of the era was an Amiga. Yesterday I thumbed through the pages and thought of picking up where I left off but soon realized the struggle to retype that whole thing would be more than I wanted to undertake.

Apropos of this post: “China Buries Memories of the Cultural Revolution.”

2 thoughts on “Bernie Sanders, a Confucian Parable

  1. I like “a Confucian Parable” better than the growing sense of having slipped through a wormhole into a parallel earth where everything I thought I knew means something else. I don’t know who wrote the plot for This Year On Earth … but I wish I’d gotten a look at it before having to play my part.

    • It’s a major theme in old Chinese fiction (and culture, I’d say) that there is machinery at work about which we know nothing and against which we have no power. The only time anyone can change anything is when it’s fated already — then nothing can stop it. There’s a saying, “What won’t happen can’t be forced; what will happen can’t be stopped.” I used to reject that, but I don’t any more.

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