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Book: Achieving the Dreams of the Soul: A Story of New China

BY DR BALMUKUNDA REGMI*
image003Rapid rise of China has attracted attention of global scholars and has forced them to ponder at the wonders they admire. What led China to a success we would like to copy in a short span of less than a century? In case of Nepal, what period of China is comparable to our present day situation? As if to provide a shortcut answer to these questions, a novel penned by Mr Zhang Li, a retired Chinese Army General, has been published in 2013. General Zhang uses Jie Zhou, Gong Yinan and Zhen Yuwang from an imaginary village Guzhou as the main characters. It is believed that the writer used the character Jie Zhou to represent his personal experiences. Born in 1943 in a poor village in Shandong Province, the writer experienced epoch-making processes of China, from anti-Japanese war, establishment of the Communist China, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, the Reforms, industrialization, to the transformation of China as a strong global economy and political force. The writer grew up in poor rural area, worked in a paper factory during the Great Leap Forward between 1958 and 1961, started as a soldier in 1964 and retired as a general in 2009, worked in the vast coastal and Gobi desert defences, fought in the high altitude plateau and snow-capped mountains, from inland settlements to the border areas, experienced the devastation from the Japanese intruders, disillusionment from the Kuomintang Government, establishment of New China, exploration of the mistakes under different slogans, rapid reforms, opening ups and economic developments. Through extended travels home and abroad, the writer got insights into different political systems with their corresponding impacts on the subjects. He became a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 2008.
General Zhang uses the novel Achieving the Dreams of the Soul to reflect the politico-economic process of modern China, the process consisting of three distinct phases: pre-1949 period when she struggled to establish herself as a fully independent country ruling all over the Mainland, the turbulent 1949-78 period of laborious hits and trials that brought the Mainland the recognition that it was the real representative of China, and post-1978 period of about 30 years when the China developed rapidly to become a leading global economy and world political power.
The details of the work are grandiose, subtle to the eloquence, humorous and open-minded, enlightening after reading. Remarkable course of building an overall well-to-do society have taken full advantage of the anti-Japanese war, demonstrating in a panoramic way China’s transition from decline and humiliation to independence and from arduous pioneering to arduous undertakings. It demonstrates the historical background, realistic basis and bright future of “China’s dream”, greatly inspiring the readers.
image002The novel also asks the readers to make an unbiased judgment of the history. Almost in the same period of history, in 1950s, China was pursing anti-rightist movement while the USA was pursuing anti-leftist movement. A comparison is delicately made through the chance encounter of victims of both movements. Liu Hanqing, a local government official in the novel, is labeled as a rightist during the Anti-Rightist Movement. After he is sent to a village to herd sheep as punishment, he meets his old schoolmate Yao Zifang, a victim of McCarthyism that had been forced out of the US. It mentions how the US nuclear physicist Oppenheimer and other innocent people were censored in the US fearing they were linked with the leftist ideology. Liu Hanqing feels it unfair that although both occurred during the same period and involved the labeling and purging of innocent people, the former has long been the focus of global discussion while the latter has been neglected by many, be it in academic studies or literature. The novel also mentions that the Kuomintang had done far more. When writing about the anti-rightist struggle in 1957, his work affirmed that the movement was right in the beginning but had wrong expansion. The root cause is the inertial thinking of the class struggle. The generation who emerged from the long struggle against blood and fire was highly sensitive to the hostile forces. As a result, China expanded its anti-rightism and the United States went along McCarthyism. The former harmed a large number of talents, and the latter harmed even more. After publishing the book, the writer reinforced this point that the book was written out of necessity to clear the misunderstanding by the foreigners about China.
Any social development cannot be smooth and will be followed by twists and turns. The socialist cause under the leadership of the Communist Party of China is unprecedented and cannot be learned without experience. Such an exploration will be even more difficult, tortuous and prolonged and therefore even greater and more magnificent. How to interpret the history of the founding, construction and development of new China has a direct bearing on the development of China today and its future direction.
With supporting stories, the novel explains the reasons for the “mistakes”: in dealing the multivariable real world, the knowledge of the people always has some limit. It indicates, how, during the Cultural Revolution, people thought it was still the era of cultural revolution, eve of political revolution and war, that they had to emancipate all the people oppressed by the Western tyrants. Jie Zhou the protagonist and his friends in a bid to find out the characteristics of the era, travel a no man’s land, where they meet the Henrys, discuss the way out from the situation and learn from the development of the West, explore the clues for the “left” mistakes in the process of socialist development and construction, and find out that the theory dogmatized. Under such circumstances, the focus of the Party work could not change as per the need, the “left” mistakes could not be avoided and economic maladjustment could not be corrected in the long run, relation with the capitalism could not be normalized, the energy provided by the capitalism could not be utilized, the organization of the Party could not get enough attention, the hidden dangers to the state system could not be promptly corrected. They realized that the judgment of the times should be the basis of decisions which could lead to the rise and fall. They praised the “Reforms and Opening up” Policy of the Party to cope with the new challenges of the new time.
In brief, the work has been evaluated by the Chinese press as the first novel to provide three-dimensional panoramic view of the vicissitudes of changes in the history of the epic, to explain a series of historical events in New China and to support the reforms, and to envisage the future development China. Available in Chinese language in volumes, the book is a must read for present Nepali politicians.
(Dr Regmi is a professor at Tribhuvan University)
bmregmi@gmail.com