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[FOUNTAIN]Revolutions and upheavals

June 19,2003
Lao She was one of the representative writers of early 20th-century Chinese literature. In October 1950, the left-leaning novelist ended his exile to the United States, receiving a letter that said, “Return to the revolutionary motherland,” from Zhou Enlai. Mao Tsetung and Mr. Zhou appointed him chairman of the Beijing Federation of Literature and Art. In Beijing Mr. Lao bought a house with the money he earned from his famous novel, “Luotuo Xiangzi,” and named it “House of Prosperity.” It was used as a guest house for his writer-colleagues.
Luotuo Xiangzi is a classic better known as “A Rickshaw Puller” in Korea. It criticizes the feudal regime in China before the 1949 revolution through the life of Xiangzi, who could not escape from poverty despite his endeavors and sincerity.
August 23, 1966, was a tragic day in the life of Lao She. On that day he left the hospital where he had been treated for a cerebral hemorrhage. On the way home, he stopped by his office. There was a bustle in the Da Cheng Men area near his office, and he investigated to see young students setting fire to a heap of books and antiques. A man in the group saw him and shouted “Lao She, a poison pen.” The moment the group heard the shouting, they seized him and made him kneel beside the fire. They shaved half his head and painted his face with ink. They hung a sign that said “a reactionary” around his neck and whipped him with leather belts. The 65-year-old novelist fainted, and was moved to a police station. In the late night he returned to his “House of Prosperity” on a rickshaw after being told to report back to the police the next morning for questioning.
The next morning, Lao She was found at Taiping Lake near his home, drowned. He was surrounded by youths wearing the armbands of the Red Guard. He was cremated, but his family never received the ashes of “an enemy of the people.”
The death of Lao She is often seen as a gloomy episode in the political experiment of the Cultural Revolution. What Mr. Mao dreamed of in his revolution was not that kind of tragedy; it was a world not much different from the ideal that Lao She longed for in his story of the rickshaw puller Xiangzi’s death.
President Roh Moo-hyun said his cultural reforms and nation-rebuilding are different from the Cultural Revolution. For Koreans, the tragedy of Lao She should be only a baseless fear.


by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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