Saturday, September 27, 2014

Question Commander Rotation 5 - Alexandre J.

The next-to-last rotation of Red Scarf Girl was one full of shocking, heartbreaking moments, rash decisions by different characters and an example of what happens to humans when we are pushed too far both physically, emotionally and psychologically. 

My first question of the three came up around page 211 of the novel. An article incriminating the Jiang family had just been published in a popular newspaper/magazine called the Worker's Revolt. The article accused the Jiang family of being a large landlord family from Nanjing that owned more than 3,300 acres of land, lots and businesses. As the Worker's Revolt states it: "[...] they were so rich that people called them the 'Half-City of Jiangs'". Now, I will not sit here and discuss whether or not this article is true or just a compilation of exaggerated information bent on desecrating the Jiang family name.  In fact, I will just assume that opinion that the article is completely reliable and attempt to answer another question based off of that opinion. Why did Jiang Ji-Li's parents and family members hide this information from her? 

There are many plausible answers to that question, but I believe that Ji-Li's parents intended to, somehow, protect her by not telling. The reasons for protecting Ji-Li are very obvious. For starters, during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, teenagers were the ones under the spotlight. They were the ones assigned by their "beloved"  Chairman Mao to destroy the Four Olds and save the People's Republic of China. This subsequently created an atmosphere of intense peer and political pressure to support the Red Guard movement, break away from "black" families and denounce anyone as a bourgeois traitor to the country. What most likely happened, was that Ji-Li's parents decided to stay as far away from their "Half-City" history as possible and keep the truth very secret. By not telling anyone, the entire family could live normal lives (in favor of the revolution, of course) and be safe from accusations and attacks.

Poster celebrating how the Communist Party took land away from landlords
and gave it to the farmers.
As is well known today, the media always has a way to find and expose people's darkest secrets no matter where they are. The rewards for exposing black families and destroying Four Olds only fueled the chaotic fire that was China at the time. While being tried, one of Jiang Ji-Li's relatives must have let something slip. That one little accident probably snowballed into a mass of confusion and hidden truths that were later exposed by the media and made public.  In the end, Ji-Li's parent's attempt at protecting the family only worsened their political and social situation. 

My second question popped into my head around page 226, when Thin-Face is pressuring Ji-Li into attacking her own father and testifying against him. Why are some people so insensitive and demanding of others? This question is very open-ended so I decided to narrow it down by applying it to the situation on page 226.

To me, people like Thin-Face have probably had the communist party's ideals hammered into their heads so much that they are basically brainwashed, inhuman robots (take the robots from The Terminator movie franchise as a more extreme, yet similar example).  Each of these "people" must think of themselves as the perfect saviors of their "blessed" nation and take up unreasonable goals to "prove" their devotion to Mao Ze-Dong. This causes them to not even think about their actions when demanding that a young girl testify against her falsely accused father and humiliate him in front of all his peers. They are essentially soulless, and heartless messengers of their extremist values, bent of cleansing their society of wrong.

The image caption reads:
"The only way out for Ambassador Locke is to be wholeheartedly corrupt."
This is an image of a struggle meeting like the one that will be staged
for Jiang Ji-Li's father.
Many believe that we humans were either built to lead or serve those who lead. Perhaps this is actually true. No matter who we are we will always have a yearning to gain power. An unquenchable thirst to "survive" against our own kind. It could be that it is just in our nature to keep climbing up the food chain until we are at the top, or very close. In the case of "followers", this means being as heartless and as cruel as possible to not feel the slightest drop of remorse at carrying out our leader's most horrifying orders. It is the same for leaders, like Chairman Mao and his small party of extremists. Throughout history, some of the most powerful of rulers were also the most bloodthirsty. This is clearly confirmed no matter where you look, be it certain Roman Emperors or modern-day dictatorships.

My third question is very similar to the second, but different enough to be worth mentioning. How can humans be so cruel to each other?

In the case of the Cultural Revolution, I believe that many were just trying to protect themselves from becoming victims. The situation was nearly one of "if you can't beat them, join them", but with the first part replaced with "if you do not want to get beaten...". Many voluntarily agreed to become Red Guards or strong supporters because of their families, political status, social status, etc. However, many more were also forced by peers and neighbors through blackmail and threats. This was almost the case with Jiang Ji-Li. People like Thin-Face (from the previous question), kept pressuring her repeatedly to cut off her ties with the rest of her family or "suffer the consequences". Ji-Li nearly snapped on page 214 and almost changed her name, but fled at the last minute. Once again, the answer to this question can be led back to an evolutionary standpoint that I described at the end of the previous question's answer. Humanity may never be able to rid itself of its primitive and uncontrollable need to gain power and spill blood. The tables are always turning and they might never stop. As Charles Darwin once said: "We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities... still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin".

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