To Think and To Act
Zhang Xianliang's story Half of Man is Woman is, on the author's part, a very vivid account of the main character's experience during the time of the cultural revolution in China, and is full of imagery and deeply philosophical issues. The main character of Half of Man is Woman is Zhang Yonglin, a man created in the image of the author himself, who finds himself in prison as a result of his so-called controversial poetry, which comes to be labeled as counterrevolutionary. Zhang Yonglin's placement in the prison is the first step in diminishing, if not completely stealing his freedom and identity, and, in turn, his masculinity and humanity.
In the prison camp, the life of Zhang Yonglin and his fellow inmates dwindles down to being simply about food and sex, even going so far as to be able to identify the female prisoners by their scent alone. For Zhang Yongling, the animalistic lifestyle that is imposed upon him by the prison is wholly unsatisfying, most likely due to his intellectual nature. While most of the men Zhang Yonglin is in the company of are surviving well on such basics, Zhang needs much more. In order for him to truly survive and feel anything like fulfilled, Zhang Yonglin needs to hold on to his creativity, and spends most of his time "soul-searching" and in self-reflection. Though he fantasizes about women like the other men, Zhang's approach is much different, in that he does not want sex alone, but believes that, in a woman, he can find his other half and can thus be complete.
The discussion of sexuality is a key component in the story Half of Man is Woman. The interactions between men and women in this story really seem to be examining sexuality in itself, as its presence is part of everyone's lives, male or female. Sexuality, as it is depicted in the story, is really the only thing keeping these prisoners from leading a completely animalistic life, in that they are not seeking it simply for reproductive purposes. In Half of Man is Woman, sex can be seen as one of the most human interactions, as it's supposedly meant to be an act of love, yet, in Zhang Yonglin's case, it is also cruel, and can also be seen as a powerful tool of manipulation. Because of Zhang Yonglin's impotence, sexuality (or lack of it) is really rather damaging to his relationship with his wife, as well as his psyche, as the castrated horse from his dream clarifies.
Zhang Yonglin's encounter with the castrated horse in his dream is, in my opinion, one of the most significant parts of the story. According to the horse, Zhang's impotence is really result of his stolen individual identity, caused by being put into the prison and work camps. The horse states that "that kind of impotence necessarily affects other aspects of [his] activity...man and the world are in unified continuums: if one particular system runs into problems, it's bound to affect others." The fact that Zhang Yonglin's life is no longer in his own hands and that he is being completely controlled when in these prison camps, is, in his eyes, the complete loss of his individuality and humanness, and thus causes his impotence. Zhang Yonglin is only able to overcome his impotence after performing the seemingly heroic act of putting himself in the danger of floodwater in the river. Though he regains his sexual ability after the act, Zhang Yonglin has still not found what he is looking for, and is left unsatisfied. Though he was pining for a relationship with a woman for most of the story, once Zhang Yonglin has it, he realizes it is not what he wants, stating that "[He] had obtained what [he] desired, and now [he] rejected it." This turn of events brings to question humanity as a whole, and makes one wonder exactly how we can go about discovering exactly what it is that's important to us, and what we need to feel fulfilled. It seems, in the story Half of Man is Woman, that a sense of individual identity and freedom is most important, though it can be incredibly difficult for anyone to obtain such things completely. Will we, as individuals, ever be whole?
| The story of Zhang Yonglin, Half of Man is Woman,
reveals the struggle all Chinese had to endure during Mao Zedong's communist
reign. It was the struggle for most to preserve their own sanity. The prisoners,
commoners, and even those people helping Mao, all lost part of their personal
spirit during this time period.
Zhang Yonglin and his fellow prisoners were sent to labor camps because they had written, spoke out, or acted against the current Communist regime. Personally, Zhang had written poetry that reflected "counter-revolutionary" ideas. This was the beginning of the destruction of his self. As a poet, he had maintained a sense of confidence, and maybe enjoyed even a little fame. Now, the status he once maintained was crushed in the prison camp; he had become the lowest in society.
The revolution had not only stripped prisoners of their status, but it also stripped them of their minds. Mao wanted the country to think along the same lines; his lines. He sent the literate people to the prison camps because he knew they would continue to be outspoken. Once in a labor camp, the monotony of work and activity would slowly weaken their minds. Zhang reflects how prisoners felt that "it was best to sink into mindlessness." He also initially tells himself "to quit thinking and just be a prisoner."
Such thoughts were the exact product the labor camps were intended to produce. Once Mao had quieted the loud voices of the educated and reactionary literati, he was free to persuade the mass of peasants to his mindset because no one was left to oppose him. Through propaganda and fear, he turned the minds of the peasants over to his way of thinking, taking part of their self as well.
As for any of the educated that remained, Mao was able to control them through fear and enticement. Zhang's roommate, Zhou Ruicheng, had been an informer before he was taken captive himself. He described how doing "meritous deeds" was really even worse than being the person informed on. He told Zhang, "They pressed everything I knew out of me, pressed me dry." This was the fate of those loyal to Mao. Like the prisoners, he would take the informers' souls as well. He created such paranoia in those who remained out of prison, that they would neither trust anyone, nor think twice about turning someone in.
When Zhang eventually married a woman prisoner, he discovered that he was impotent. His wife called him "hopeless" and "half a man," believing that he had had this condition since birth. However, Zhang's impotency was a mental problem caused by years of being "less than a man" while serving his sentence. He had become so desensitized, mindless, and looked down upon, that he could no longer even perceive himself as a man.
Zhang was able to recover his mind and spirit only when he behaved rather courageously in fighting the floodwater. During a flood in his town, was able to regain his confidence and sense of self. He was no longer impotent, and yet, he wanted to confess to his wife that "(she) made spring glow within me again. But that vitality is now making me leave you. This spring can't belong to you." Now that he had regained part of himself, he ached to find more of the feelings he had lost during his oppression and to break away from any chains that still bound him.
Mao tried to focus his nation on only his way of thinking. He emasculated his people from all thoughts and actions that did not meet his approval. Towards the end of Half of Man is Woman, Zhang watched a young colt trying to break free from a herd of horses. Zhang's piebald horse commented that the colt did so because "he's not been castrated…otherwise, he would be as obedient as can be." This is how Mao was able to control a nation, binding it by taking away any sense of self from its people.
In the Absence of Self Expression
| In the year 1957, Mao began the 'Hundred Flowers
Movement,' which encouraged intellectuals to express their feelings about
their country and themselves. Mao imposed this movement to "entice
snakes [intellectuals] out of their holes." It was a trick that most
intellectuals fell for. Mao viewed the self-expressers as "being 'rightists'
and were either killed, jailed or ostracized." Zhang Xianliang was
one of these 'rightists' and was jailed because of his self-expression.
In his later years, he wrote a story entitled "Half of Man is Woman'
that described his experience in prison through the main character, Zhang
The story showed how Mao stripped Zhang Yonglin of his spirit and reduced him to an animal. Mao's power came from workers, peasants, and soldiers. He had no use for Zhang Yonglin and other intellectuals and imprisoned them. Once imprisoned, he was forced to do manual labor. Zhang Yonglin was banned from helping China and as a result lost all hope in his life. The only small aspirations he still held were the ones that came with basic animal instincts: Zhang Yonglin wanted food and women.
While in the labor camp, Zhang Yonglin met a woman named Huang Xiangjiu and got married to her. However, on the night of their wedding, Zhang Yonglin found that he was impotent. Because of the movement Mao inflicted on Zhang, he made Zhang less than a man. The only person allowed to think and create was Mao. Everyone else was supposed to follow him and share the same feelings he had. Because reproduction is a form of creation and also a form of self-expression, Zhang Yonglin was impotent under Mao's rule. All of China was impotent intellectually under Mao's rule. No one had any spirit left to say 'maybe this is not right.'
Zhang Yonglin had a dream about a conversation he had with a castrated horse. The horse talked about how he and Zhang were very much alike. They both were animals that could not reproduce. The horse explained Zhang's impotence by telling him, "The sickness has settled into your brain, into your nerves, into the very centre of your being." The 'sickness' the horse was referring to the lack of self-expression and creation in China during Mao's rule. The very center of everyone's being is creation. Zhang, along with many other people in China at the time, could not express the most creative part of their being.
It was not until Zhang Yonglin became a hero that his impotence went away. By trying to fight the floodwater in a collective struggle he was able to break the barrier of his mundane, hopeless life. It was after this incident that Zhang "took up [his] pen again and tried to write."
Zhang Yonglin was now able to be intimate with his wife Huang. This completed Zhang as a person. He needed spirituality. By becoming a self-expressing hero, he was finally able to express the center of his being. The intimate encounter made Zhang Yonglin a whole person again. This is where the title of Zhang Xianliang story comes from—half of a man is actually a woman.
Mao was only able to take away China's self-expression and creation for a limited amount of time. Eventually, human intuition overthrows restrictions. No one can take away the center of China's being permanently.
Pieces in a Puzzle
When you are surrounded by people and ideas that are not of your own, even the complete opposite to what you believe in, how are you expected to remain true to yourself and your individual ideas? This was the main struggle that main character, Zhang Yonglin, in the story Half of Man Is Woman. He was imprisoned for expressing himself with poetry that was considered "counter-revolutionary," to us nowadays this may seem crazy to imprison someone for writing poetry, but to people back then, it was nothing surprising. Who is to say who is a criminal and who isn't? You could be locked for as long as someone thought was necessary, until you have been reformed and seemed like you were no longer "harmful" to China.
The longer one was imprisoned the more obvious and apparent it was that the prisoners were losing their individuality, their human characteristics, becoming animals, machines – now they were just pieces in the big puzzle that Mao's Red China was trying to put together.
Being told what to believe, how to think and what to do as a grown adult would be tough. Zhang Younglin is a modern independent thinker who is stuck in a world that won't even think about listening to what he has to say. In order to survive, he must try to get along with a huge society whose beliefs he does not agree with. He is stripped of his freedom of thought but still strives to be true to himself. Having to struggle with these two ideas was stressful. Being locked up for such a long time cannot only effect you physically but mentally as well.
The men at the prison were most obviously becoming animalistic, they no longer want women to love, they just want the physical aspect, they are not just hungry, and they are starved and willing to do anything to get their hands on some food. Losing such normalcy in one's life can make you go insane. Zhang Yonglin dreams about a horse talking to him, giving him helpful advice to help him keep going. In his impotency Zhang feels he has lost all ability to be human again: the horse – who is castrated, tells him he can go on with his impotence. Along from feeling nonhuman, dreaming about women and waiting for the day they could finally see or maybe even touch a woman, they finally get the chance to see women. They can hardly distinguish that they are actually women, their hair is cut short, their clothes are big and baggy: the only way they can tell they are in fact women is by their sent.
Mao's Red China was such a strong force as to even dehumanize people for being independent thinkers. Many have succumbed to Mao's ideals against their own will, unlike Zhang. He proves to not only himself, but to China, he is a man, a strong man who can overcome anything now that he has overcome Mao. In writing this story, Zhang Xianliang is trying to convey that even at your worst time, you can dig deep in you and pull through. No matter what holds you back you need to keep believing in yourself and push yourself to do what you know is right, despite what your friends, family and in Zhang Younglin's case, your government tells you.
Survival of the Fittest
"Please, snuff out this desire to create. Be a peaceful, self-possessed man, just as I am a docile horse. Know your place, and abide by the rules they set," the old piebald advises Zhang Yonglin in Zhang Xianliang's novel, Half of Man is Woman. The parallelism of the castrated horse and Lao Zhang is set up by Zhang Xianliang to portray the "emasculated" man of China who suffered emotional—and as is seen in the novel, physical—impotence during Mao Zedong's rule and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Within the prison camps where the "counter-revolutionaries" and anti-Maoist thinkers were "reformed" through labor, men and women were stripped of their culture and spiritual life. In the case of Zhang Yonglin of the novel, the expression of his sexuality was denied while imprisoned, as he never interacted with women and resorted to reading and working while other men fantasized perversely about the opposite sex. After his release, he could not perform for his wife in bed, driving her to engage in a sexual affair. The horse of the novel suggests that Zhang Yonglin was "mentally traumatized"; his life was not in his own hands, and all his creative forces were forever extinguished. The horse convinces Lao Zhang to lose hope of recovering from his impotence, for he is half a man, a cripple. However, Lao Zhang does not lose hope and eventually overcomes his physical and emotional impotence, proving to himself and others that he is human, a whole man, and a survivor.
At the critical point when Zhang Yonglin loses all hope for himself upon the discovery of his impotence and his wife's affair, he begins to wonder whether his life is worth living. "I don't really want to cling anymore to this dusty earth," he tells the Song Jiang of his imagination. A man of no self-respect at this point, he allows himself to submit to the order of authority and be beaten down by the harsh words of his reproving wife. In the face of the crisis of the flood waters threatening the village, Lao Zhang, however, rejects the piebald's advice to remain "docile" and "mute," and takes action, giving strict orders to those normally considered his superiors. In the end, he is considered the hero for preventing a disaster. He sees that he does have remaining control over his life, and even over the lives of others; there exists a power in him which he thought had been stripped from him throughout his imprisonment and short-lived marriage. The realization that he is no longer helpless thus gives him the ability to finally perform for his wife in bed. Through his action of jumping in the water to plug up the dam when nobody else would, he proved to others that he could be effective and think quickly. He was not like an old horse, who only acts on command, but rather a human being who can rationalize and understand the consequences of his behavior. This—paired with his sudden ability to sleep with a woman (which is generally seen as a transition to "real" manhood)—redefines Zhang Yonglin as a whole man, rather than half a man, a cripple, or a castrated horse. Now that he has fit into his mental mold of what a man is, he decides to escape his current life. "I had obtained what I desired, and now I rejected it," he says of his wife and his home (110). "I thirsted for a bigger world."
It should be considered how the autobiographical novel "Half of Man is Woman" is the creative production of a man who truly experienced the life described as Zhang Yonglin's. Once a man who suffered imprisonment, impotence, a painful marriage, and a divorce, Zhang Xianliang, the author, recounted his suffering in a way that shows he never really lost his creative forces as the piebald of the story suggests to Zhang Yonglin. He survived, breaking free from the confining grasp of his small village, the watchful eyes of neighbors, the wife he was never really sure he loved, and the home that was almost entirely put together by said wife and was tainted with adulteration. Zhang Xianliang remembers the feelings of helplessness he experienced at that time of his life, as we see Lao Zhang of the novel identify with the fallen beetle, having struck the window and landed on his back, who moaned in his struggle: "He might never make it, but he had to keep trying….I began to feel that I might actually be that beetle." The assertion that the beetle "had to keep trying" to right himself presents Zhang Xianliang's reflective voice into the story; though Zhang Yonglin tells his wife—soon after comparing himself to the beetle—that he's "not going to get better" (that his impotence can not be cured), Zhang Xianliang hints in that passage that Zhang Yonglin will be able to get back on his feet through persistence, and he will survive.
The reader doesn't know what becomes of Zhang Yonglin as a fictional character after he leaves his wife and his home, but it is assumed he discovered that "bigger world," as is understood of Yonglin's creator, Xianliang. For Zhang Xianliang to write about such sad and dark memories of his life, it demonstrates that he went through an even deeper process of self-evaluation in doing so. To admit shameful secrets kept for so many years, to admit suicidal thoughts, to admit that he once considered himself a cripple—though all indirect results of outside political powers—takes great courage and a sense of self. To write this story about "half a man" struggling to become whole takes a whole man. Zhang Xianliang sends us the message that, even in a human's most degraded state, he can still find the ability to actively engage his imagination, to express desires, to learn, and even to gather courage to save several villages from an impending flood and to save himself. That is human. That is man.
A Search for Wholeness Amidst Chaos
Zhang Xianliang's "Half of Man is Woman"
was written in 1985, before the Pro-Democratic Movement and Tiananmen
Crackdown, but after China's Cultural Revolution came to its end. The
story's controversial author was a political prisoner who was incarcerated
for a period of twenty years for writing bourgeois poems that were considered
"counter-revolutionary." Through writing about his own personal
experience, Zhang Xianliang seeks to demonstrate clearly to his reader
the ultimate anarchic chaos that China experienced from 1966 to 1976 as
a result of revolutionary ideals gone wild.
"Half of Man is Woman" is not only a story about the animalistic way in which the prisoners begin to behave, but also about Zhang Yonglin's search for wholeness. He wants to experience something that will give him hope and make him whole, a completeness that he hopes to find in marriage. However, on his wedding night, Zhang Yonglin is impotent. Frustrated by this incident, he goes outside and is confronted by a talking horse. The horse speaks as a psychologist analyzing Zhang Yonglin's state of mind. The horse suggests that not only is Zhang Yonglin impotent, but that "the entire intellectual community is emasculated." Just like the rest of this intellectual community, Zhang Yonglin is emasculated in his own way. He is no longer a grand poet or writer, just a "scumbag" prisoner like the rest of the men around him. From the horse's statement that claims that the whole intellectual community is emasculated, the reader can infer that the horse is referring to China's being deceived by Mao's revolutionary rhetoric. Zhou Ruicheng claims, "All Movements start by twisting the knife in culture and education unit: first, and then go on to butcher everything completely." The support that workers, peasants, and soldiers had for Mao did not actually help them or make them powerful in any way; it just helped Mao maintain his power. They were tricked by Mao's "Hundred Flowers Movement" which has been described as "a trick to entice snakes [intellectuals] out of their holes."
Even those who supported Mao, such as Zhou Ruicheng, were in the end emasculated by the very man whose ideas they strongly supported. When he looks back on his actions that supported Mao's policies, Zhou Ruicheng is filled with regret stating, "Only now do I realize that it's all been for nothing." He fervently supported Mao's policies and helped gather the information that Mao needed, but when he displeased someone, he was thrown out without hesitation and forgotten about. He states, "With each case that I wrote, I cut off a piece of my life. I did it to save myself, to make sure I could keep living safely- and for that I threw away the most precious thing in life… I should have known that only sons of bitches write that kind of material. In the end, I've fallen into this god-forsaken hole." Zhou Ruicheng did everything that Mao wanted him and the other followers to do, yet he still ended up in the same position as those who cursed Mao and wrote controversial works that ridiculed or criticized Mao and his policies. This situation shows the reader just how strong Mao's hold on the people of China was at this point in time. Even those that foolishly helped Mao, thinking it would benefit them, were put behind bars like those who strongly opposed Mao's ideals.
As part of a current crackdown on writers in China, Zhang Xianliang's latest writing has been banned. Although his writing may be banned, the questions that he raised such as "Under a totalitarian system, at what point does a person or a country decide to say no?", "At what point does a person lose the power to say no?", and "What does a survivor hold back at his core of integrity, and what has a survivor, by surviving, lost?" remain important and provocative questions for China and Zhang Xianliang's reader to consider when analyzing "Half of Man is Woman." Zhang Xianliang boldly claims, "The least one must do is shout- never mind that it is a muffled shout from under a blanket of repression."
A Whole Man
|Half of Man is Woman by Zhang Xianliang is story
about Zhang Yonglin's life as a member one of China's lowest classes in
society, the intellectual class, during the Cultural Revolution. His narrative
spans a time in Chinese history between 1957, in which he was first imprisoned
for writing "bourgeoisie" poems, up until 1967, in which he was
still considered a "counter-revolutionary," and "hated"
as an enemy to the furthering of Maoist goals. Zhang Xianliang's story is
one that constantly reminds the reader of the need and, oftentimes, the
struggle for one to maintain his/her own identity and individuality.
This struggle, however, is not one that is strictly tied to China or a certain era. It is a timeless struggle that transcends all ideologies, capitalism and communism alike. In fact, Marxist communism was thought to, ultimately, empower people through their own creativity and use that as means to provide for oneself and lead to happiness. Mao did the opposite; his revolutions created an environment in which individuality and intellect were enemies of the state. The whole class of intellectuals, like Zhang Yonglin, had now become seen as hostile to Maoism because of their reluctance to submit themselves and succumb to what Mao wanted. They also did not see the world and China as Mao saw it. As a result, Mao had to destroy all those in direct opposition to him and in order to do this he had to strip people of individuality, not only intellectually, but also physically.
The physical characteristics that make each of us unique in our own way were done away with under the rule of Mao. Women and Men had the same short cut hair and wore the same loose fitting clothing in order to promote a collective national identity. Individual attributes and characteristics were hidden because people weren't seen as different and unique in regards to looks or aesthetics. People were nothing more than a means to an end needed to produce a Communist Chinese society. Expendable at best, people were nothing more than cogs in the mechanistic forces of labor and change that Mao set up for his vision of revolution. Aside from these ubiquitous changes and qualities of all of the individuals in Chinese society at the time, Zhang Yonglin was also affected more personally in the story Half of Man is Woman.
Zhang Yonglin's marriage helped him to see more clearly the state of China and its loss of identity along with his own and was a transforming part of his life. It helped him see more fully and understand the great faults of Maoism. His marriage was a microcosm of political life in China in which a wife could turn in a husband over a diary, like a friend could turn in a neighbor for having "rightist" beliefs. He was able to overcome this, however, by proving to himself that he wasn't a "castrated horse." He couldn't look to other philosophers or intellectuals like Song Jiang, Othello, Marx, or Zhuang-tz: he had to look inside himself. He was able to do such after his marriage with Huang Xiangjiu and his ability to finally express himself sexually.
His impotence is a metaphor for his inability to grasp his own spirituality and represented a kind of dehumanization. When he conquered it, however, he became a completely new man; he became an individual. He no longer wanted to stay married to Huang Xiangjiu because it was convenient and he no longer had to live the "bachelor life." He decided he wanted to live his own life, even if it was that of a "counter-revolutionary." He decided he was no longer going to live in "two worlds' that didn't coincide. In the end, he found his true self and a world that coincided with his beliefs, even if the world outside his head did not share those beliefs. His strength came through the realization of his true self. China, like Zhang Yonglin, in order to find its true self and fulfill its true potential must push beyond the superfluous rhetoric and pedagogy of Mao.
Loss of Sexuality
In Zhang Xianliang's story "Half of Man is Woman" he expresses the loss of sexuality between both male and female prisoners during the time between the 1950's and 70's in China. Not only does this story express a common loss of sexuality among the prisoners: it also expresses a loss on individuality and the creation of a hive mind among those imprisoned. Through the story of a group of male prisoners, Xianliang shows how over the years they lose grip on their individuality and become very similar to one another. One could also see this change as the prisoners losing their humanity as they change from the people they began as and become more like animals than the humans they started as. The story even goes as far as to have the main character Zhang Yonglin have a conversation with a horse. This abstract happening really reflects the character's loss of himself.
Zhang is a free thinker, he wrote nothing more than poems, but as Mao's revolution began his ideas were seen as counter-revolutionary and he is imprisoned for ideas that several years earlier were acceptable in society. As a free thinker he is an individual and a positive member of a large society, but once imprisoned he loses the ability to be an individual. In prison he becomes nothing more than another man.
As the years pass the men lose their ability to define what a woman is, as the appearance of women has changed so much that men become indistinguishable from women. Representative of a collective loss of identity and humanity on the part of the Chinese people, these men determine that a group that had passed was women by things women dropped on the ground and by their smell. As the tale unfolds the men become more and more like animals and slid away from their humanity.
The men become more and more similar and any signs of individuality among them fade. Zhang tries to remain himself in a new environment that won’t allow this to be possible. He struggles to remain Zhang, a goal that ultimately will be impossible. In Zhang's realty he is a writer. That is who he is: in this reality he is imprisoned and forced to not be whom he believes he is.
The turning point is when Zhang Yonglin converses with a horse. The horse, who has been castrated expresses how his life was taken away, much like that of the prisoners, when he lost his ability to reproduce. He goes on to offer knowledge to Zhang, who is impotent, about the meaning of life and how there is always another pass to life. Zhang's own impotence mirrors the fact that he has lost himself and in his predicament he questions if he will ever be able to perform again.
Zhang Yonglin's predicament of being an impotent prisoner takes on a whole different meaning when it is compared to a castrated horse that learns to speak as an alternative to the life he can no longer have. The horse loses his sense of meaning in life but continues with life. Zhang Yonglin leaves with hope that his condition may pass and he will be able to continue if he is also able to find himself.
Zhang Yonglin's struggle mirrors Xianliang's ideas of Chinese society of the time. He expresses the castration of human spirituality and the hope that one day it will be reaffirmed. The story warns of the loss of humanity, which hinges on human sexuality. The differences between man and woman are necessary for society. Destroying these human traits only takes society apart and the humane nature of people fades away.
Stripped Down to Nothing
In a time of social upheaval, how can one remain human? Those in power strip you of your identity. You are an instrument in society, a key part in your community. However, you are not an individual. The government tells you what to think, how to act, what to feel. You are an animal and the government is your master. Stray from their ideology and you must suffer the consequences. Survival means conformity.
Such is the situation in Zhang Xianliang's story, Half of Man Is Woman. The main character, Zhang Yonglin, is living in Maoist China. He has become a part of a machine in which any malfunctioning, or free thinking on Zhang Yonglin's part, is "repaired." Humans are not like parts of a machine, however. In order to use them as such, their identities must be removed. Everything that makes one human must be destroyed. Being an intellectual, free thinking is a key aspect of Zhang Yonglin's identity. In Maoist China, only Mao is allowed to think freely.
Although Zhang Yonglin's tale takes place in Maoist China, his experiences are not limited to just one time and one place. His loss of identity is common in many modernizing societies in which your first priority is to the country and your personal identity matters the least. In such modernizing and consumer-driven societies, there is a great pressure to conform. Zhang Yonglin faces this when he is punished for his poetry, his expression of his inner-most ideas and feelings. In societies like Maoist China, only one person or one entity is allowed to think. Everyone else is told to worry about the country, not one's individuality or sexuality or personal needs and desires.
Individuality must be stripped away in modernizing societies. Zhang Yonglin, although only one individual, shows the process one goes through when one is robbed of self-identity. In the start of Maoist China, Zhang Yonglin clings to his identity, continuing his poetry and remaining proud of his intellectualism. As Maoist China, modernity, begins cracking down on society, Zhang Yonglin feels much pressure to conform. His personal identity becomes secondary to his communal identity, an identity as a cog in a machine, an identity as a pawn of the government. However, Maoist government continues gaining momentum and, facing opposition, cracks down harder in individualism. Women in labor camps have their hair cut. They are forced to wear black, boxy clothing. The men in labor camps, upon seeing a passing female brigade are only able to determine the sex of the laborers from their scent.
The men's reliance on scent to determine sex marks a new stage in their loss of individuality. This marks when Zhang Yonglin feels that his community identity has overshadowed his personal identity. In Maoist China this means that his identity of living in a collective society with a collective set of beliefs and goals is stronger than his identity as an intellectual individual. At this point, he begins to lose what makes him human.
Once a modernizing society has stripped people of their individuality, people can then be stripped of their humanity. Without individuality and without humanity, people truly have become the government's tools, designed for little more than bringing the government's ideas into existence. To strip one of his or her identity, personal thought must first be destroyed. Cut off any means of self expression. Punish free thought. Once individuals have stopped trying to churn out new ideas, it is time to dehumanize them. Remove their sexuality. Emasculate men.
Zhang Yonglin, in his impotency, has lost his ability to be human. Having no free thought and no individuality, his must listen to the government. They tell him what to think. Without his sexuality, he becomes animalistic; love becomes lust. Without free thought and without sexuality, actions become reactions and sex becomes no more than a biologically programmed act. Through the separation of males and females and the removal of all purely masculine and purely feminine traits, Maoist China had removed Zhang Yonglin's humanity.
Such a loss of individuality and a loss of humanity occur in many modernizing societies. Such a large emphasis is put on societal identity and societal obligations that one cannot possibly have enough energy to maintain his or her own personal identity. As a modernizing society grows or comes under criticism, any expression of personal identity becomes severely punished until no one besides the government is churning out new ideas and new values. Once this autonomy of thought is reached, a modernizing government is able to turn people, once individuals, into the cogs of their machine, designed solely to reach their self-focused goals. Such is what happened to Zhang Yonglin in his time in a labor camp in Maoist China. Only upon regaining one's sexuality is one able to regain humanity. Only upon regaining one's humanity is one able to regain one's self-identity and free thought. Only upon regaining one's self-identity and free thought can one help place a modernizing government in check. However, as Zhang Yonglin proved, even the first step, regaining one's sexuality, is a hard step to reach.
Half of Man is Woman
The novel, Half of Man is Woman, by Zhang Xianliang is one that captures the life of a man during the "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution" of the mid 20th century China. Mao told the people that the country needs to maintain a constant state of revolution. That way, they will always be a progressive state, moving towards the greater good of the people. However, the protagonist, Zhang Yong-Lin represents the people's concern as to the goodness of the state as an institution. He also represents the people's concern of how much influence the state should have in the lives of the people.
"Civilization was a cord that bound a man, restraining his actions, making him 'responsible'" (Half of Man Is Woman, 25.) The context in which this is said is such that because Zhang Yong-Lin felt he had societal expectations to adhere to, he could not do what he desired: to be closer to Huang XiangJiu. The questions at hand are: to what degree do the societal expectations truly influence the decisions of the people; and whether or not those are positive influences.
The decision that was influenced forced Zhang to make a decision that was best for him and her at the time, regardless of his thoughts immediately afterwards. The next time he saw Huang XiangJiu, she threatened him with, "If I could, I would butcher you." Had Zhang acted, she would not have had to wait until the next morning to merely issue the threatening comment, but could have actually acted upon it at the very moment. The society's expectation forced him to make the decision that would prolong his life along with making his time in the prison much easier than if he had been caught.
Not only would it make an immediate effect upon his life, because of the repercussions brought by Huang herself, but the reason he is in prison to begin with is because he failed to adhere to what the society around him had expected of him. In response to this, he was incarcerated.
The other part of the question lays in whether or not it is a good thing that the society determines these things and places them as expectations for the people. The society uses the expectations as basic rules of interaction between the people of the culture. This allows everyone to expect the same from everyone else. Without them, there would be no system for working with other people; so yes, it is important that they exist.
This has a greater implication on the country as a whole because it conveys the thoughts of the people during the time of Mao's reign. That the government was in too many ways influencing the decisions of the people. Because of this, they were beginning to act as "counter-revolutionaries" and oppose the state of constant revolution.
Finding the Other Half
Half of Man Is Woman by Zhang Xianliang,
chronicles the events during the period from 1957, when Zhang Yonglin
was labeled a Rightist for writing “bourgeois” poems, to 1976
when the Cultural Revolution ended with the death of Mao. It is a story
about what happened to many intellectuals who were put into reform labor
camps that stripped them of all their basic human dignity. These prisoners
had no self-respect, no hopes and aspirations for the future. What make
them unique individuals was taken away. They were empty of emotions and
could only fantasize about the things that have been taken away from them.
As Zhang Yonglin was stripped of his past as well as his humanity, he
was able to assess and find himself again, but this time with his experiences
on the labor camps as well as the events that happened on the state farm.
He was able to find his new self and begin to understand how to live again.