Soul Mountain

I have never read a book quite like Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian. Gao was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, yet within China at least, is unheard of.

Soul Mountain contains everything a Nobel Prize winning book should have. It’s packed full of vivid description, has political undertones, it comments on society, on history and on Chinese culture. It’s narrative is unconventional. You follow ‘you’ (who is male), ‘I’ (the author) and their interactions with ‘he’ and ‘she’ as they travel through rural China.

Soul Mountain
Soul Mountain shows China at a crossroads. It highlights how Chinese values are being forgotten due to economic development and politics. The most captivating chapters, for me, were the ones in which ‘I’ visits national parks; wildlife conservation areas which are the last stronghold for pandas. Another great chapter was the touring of Shaoxing. I lived in Shaoxing and had the same experiences, yet I was still able to learn new things about the city.

Gao Xingjian captures a beautiful, but tragic, China. Despite this however, I did not *enjoy* Soul Mountain. But you do not need to enjoy the novel in order to appreciate it. Soul Mountain is definitely a novel to read, particularly if you want an insight into a rapidly changing China.

National Day

This week saw National Day in China. On the 1st October 1949,  the PRC (People’s Republic of China) was established by Mao Zedong – an event which is now celebrated as a national holiday.

National Day in 2009, 60 year anniversary

National Day in 2009, 60 year anniversary

For those who do not know how modern China was established, this blog post will describe briefly how National Day came about.

The final Chinese dynasty, Qing, ended in 1911. Its replacement was what is now known as the Warlord Era.  KMT (Kuomintang) leader, Sun Yat-sen wished to see the end of this rule and replaced instead with a democracy, and he attempted to seek assistance from the international community. His appeal was rejected, and Sun Yat-sen moved to the Soviet Union for aid. The Soviet Union granted this aid to the KMT – and to the newly established (and what would soon become) Chinese Communist Party. Both parties wished to end the Warlord Era and gain control of China.

Sun Yat-sen

Sun Yat-sen

Sun Yat-sen died in 1925 from cancer and his military leader, Chiang Kai-shek succeeded.

The fighting between the two parties – and their supporters – began in 1927. The KMT appeared to be stronger and secured most of the east coast of China, including the warlord’s capital in Beijing in 1928, and the KMT became recognised as leaders of China. Meanwhile, the CCP moved underground and into the countryside where they mobilised peasants and slowly began revolting – only to meet suppression from the KMT military.

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong

In 1934, the CCP, led by Mao, began a retreat of 12,500km which would be known as The Long March to Shaanxi. Throughout the march they recruited support from the peasants and the poor, leading the CCP to gain mass support of the Chinese people. This event also firmly placed Mao as leader of the CCP.

The civil war was disrupted in 1937 with the second Sino-Japanese War and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. The CCP, against Japanese imperialism, immediately began to fight the Japanese army. The KMT however, continued to target the CCP. This lead to compromises with the Japanese, much to the anger of the Chinese people. After the Xi’an Incident, the CCP and KMT united to fight against the Japanese. The CCP relied on guerrilla warfare, which allowed them to gain more support with the Chinese living in Japanese occupied areas.

Chiang Kai-shek

Chiang Kai-shek

After Japanese surrender to the United States, both the CCP and the KMT, who had sustained heavy losses in the second Sino-Japanese War, began peace talks with Mao Zedong meeting Chiang Kai-shek. Despite this, fighting between the two continued. The CCP now controlled almost a quarter of Chinese territory and their forces had increased dramatically. With Soviet support, and its promise of land reform – allowing peasants to free away from landlords – CCP support grew, as did its military.

The CCP was able to gain control of more territories in China, and seized several cities which gave them the military equipment they needed to advance. The civil war ended with the remaining KMT forces, along with Chiang Kai-shek fleeing to Taiwan, and Mao Zedong, on the 1st of October 1949 proclaiming victory and establishing the People’s Republic of China. Although some resistance remained, the CCP were able to control the whole of China by 1950.

If you wish to learn more about modern Chinese history, but don’t fancy reading large history text books on the subject, Rana Mitter’s  Modern China: A Very Short Introduction (2008) is a great, pocket-sized book which covers everything you need to know.

mitter

Many Chinese authors have written about this time in history (both fiction and non). I reviewed Mo Yan’s Big Breasts and Wide Hips, which covers from the Boxer rebellion right through until modern-day China. Other writers include: Qu Bo,  Qu Qiubai,  Su Tong, Chi Zijian and Geling Yan.