The Tiger Manifesto

Criticism with claws

Month: December, 2015

The Bloody Ambiguity of Fran Bow

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Ambiguity binds the bloody heart of Fran Bow. Written, drawn, and programmed by two people and funded through an Indiegogo campaign, Fran Bow is a psychological horror/fantasy game that bridges Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, and gory mystery stories. What makes it notable beyond its beautiful visual and aural construction is its unabashed morbidity and, I must add, its titular protagonist.

Its gameplay engine works like most point-and-click adventures, presenting the player with a series of puzzles to be solved with inventory items and interacting with virtual manipulatives. Those, like me, who are more interested in advancing the plot and inhabiting the lavish world of Natalia Figueroa’s art, will be gratified to learn that none of them can lead you into unwindable situations and, though they might look intimidating at first, don’t take much time to solve once the logic of the puzzle becomes clear.

Helpfully, each chapter is also accessible from the main menu once it’s been completed, meaning that replaying the game to scour for clues or to relive crucial story moments is trivial. The game also saves the player’s progress automatically, meaning that any software instability or power outage will not set you back. It also removes the ability to maintain multiple save files, but making each chapter selectable makes returning to past areas fairly easy. All that is truly lost is the charm of making up witty names for save files and chuckling about them later

That technical detour complete, I want to spend a few hundred words tantalizing my readers by selectively revealing some of Fran Bow’s intelligent story decisions. My hope is to both encourage more interest in the game as well as to sort out some of my initial thoughts on the aforementioned ambiguity of the game.

Taking place during World War II somewhere in the United States, Fran Bow begins in an asylum, as does its titular character. Imprisoned for a mental illness that has either been aggravated or incited by the gruesome murder of her parents, Fran is given a new, blood-red medication that induces psychotic states. Similar to the various treats and trinkets in the Alice books, these pills reshape the world, peeling the curtain back and revealing a gore-drenched world that often offers Fran more opportunities for escape. Which is not to say that the mundane is any less disturbing; the asylum appears to be using its young patients for surgical experiments.

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One of the milder visions Fran experiences.

Eventually, the story takes a number of diversions that complicate the idea that the game is just about mental illness or the link between the body and the mind. More overtly fantastical and whimsical happenings abound in the middle part of the game, coming right after a sudden and unexpected fall. Still, as others have pointed out, the spectre of mental illness never stops haunting Fran’s steps even in the sanctuaries into which she is welcomed. One of the central problems that Fran Bow refuses to solve, therefore, is the question of whether the fantasies are real or whether they are hallucinatory artifacts.

What’s most important, however, is that the story, despite its forays into inter-dimensional weirdness and speculative intrigues, remains anchored in Fran’s emotional and internal journey. Every locale is revealed to be eminently changeable. Bodies are easily destroyed. Fran’s own emotional state varies considerably between her usual ferocity, doggedness, and curiosity to a state of overwhelming depression and sadness. Haunted by an incarnation of falsity and depression called Remor, she attempts to make sense of her own trauma in a world that is unrelentingly hostile and untrustworthy.

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Upon first finishing the game––a few minutes before starting this post––the theme I grasped most strongly was that of skepticism and the value of one’s own internal intelligence and strength. Fran’s ultimate virtue is her self-reliance and her refusal to trust too easily. At the same time, she is not catatonic or paranoid no matter her (unresolved) relationship with the mundane reality of the game. Her openness to change and to the bizarre, seeing the initially frightening as potentially helpful and offering her aid to those in need regardless of their strangeness: these are what the game values the most. Even the most sinister figures from the start of the game might (not to reveal too much) have the potential for a small redemption. Her primary enemies are fear, lies, and deception, the abuse of science and the dark manipulation of the imagination. Those with power over her who seek to use her for their own ends, trying to drive her to self-destruction and despair. As someone who struggles with creeping depression and anxiety, the game’s unflinching aspects evoked just the right mix of attraction and repulsion.

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Fran (right) standing next to her school friend Alice (left) in the most explicit of the game’s references to its girl-centred fantasy ancestors.

More and more, I’m fascinated by the study of emotions and the ways in which we internalize the world we inhabit. Fran Bow takes that dialectic, that process of metamorphosis and emotional processing, and gives it an aesthetic shell and narrative logic entirely appropriate for such a slippery topic. My thoughts on the game are still unsettled, but that’s partly the nature of the game. It’s one of the strongest games in the current adventure game revival, and I can give it my highest recommendation.

Tiger’s Year in Music 2015

Two trends marked 2015 for me.

  1. Listening to less music than I have in several years, especially new music.
  2. More emphasis on listening to artists and albums from decades gone by.

Availability has always been an important driver of my musical taste. When I was primarily buying my music on eMusic Canada, for example, albums were priced based on how many tracks they had regardless of the length of said tracks. This incentivized buying jazz, classical, and avant-garde albums that had few songs but still boasted an LP length. Why spend $15 per month on one album when you could get five with a little creativity?

Lately, however, my main sources of music have been streaming sources and more stringent download stores like iTunes. Trends one and two both stem largely from this shift in availability. Streaming services that interrupt your listening with ads are tolerable for listening to singles and short albums, particularly in the pop genre, but tend to ruin the experience of a jazz album for me, with classical simply being a no-go; I never want to be listening to Mahler when decontextualized ads hurt my years between symphonic movements.

A more hectic and harried lifestyle also contributed to this shift, which tended to push me towards “comfortable” music that did not demand as much attention from me. I spent far less time isolated and listening to music for its own sake than in previous years, which meant that I gravitated to more immediately flashy and striking work, ignoring, perhaps, the value of less explosive music.

Despite these two trends, however, I can still look at 2015 as a year where music had a considerable impact on my life and defined many of my key emotional moments. For this post, I’ll highlight three of the more powerful pieces I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this year below, bringing especial attention to those that I feel have been either neglected or obscured by buzzier competition. Enjoying music should never be a frazzled and consumption-driven activity, bent on following tends or keeping up with the rapidly-evolving conversation, and I hope to become a bit more disengaged from the hype machine in 2016.

Polar Bear: “The First Steps”

British band Polar Bear is new to me, but has been producing eclectic genre explorations within a loose jazz framework for many years. Same as You, the album from which this is taken, consists of six tracks that use sparseness and, occasionally, vast amounts of time (with a long average track length) to explore dub and ambient music at a relaxed pace. Grooves and simple saxophone lines coexist with drones and a bevy of percussive ticks and snaps, lending the album a great deal of coherence despite it being difficult to pin down. Pushing onto some of the same territory that post-rock bands like Chicago’s Tortoise have previously explored, the feeling on “The First Steps” is nonetheless a much warmer and more inviting one, taking the listener to strange places but with a firm and reassuring hand.

Dâm-Funk: “Just Ease Your Mind From All Negativity”

Invite the Light has the rare quality of being 90 minutes long and endlessly re-playable. Around the same time this record dropped, I dug into 1970s Stevie Wonder for the first time, and found they generated similar emotional spaces. Dâm-Funk’s productions and lyrics radiate positivity, often without much subtlety. It’s music that’s conscious of life’s difficulties but attempts to deal with them with an easygoing attitude. Encouraging a more optimistic and affirmational approach to life––certainly not my normal M.O.––this track stuck with me all year as ear candy that wasn’t just “think positive” claptrap. It’s simple and direct, relatively grounded, and impossible to stop listening to once it starts.

Kamasi Washington: “The Rhythm Changes”

For a time this year I worked a job with an excessive commute. Most of the time, I would listen to music and read on the bus to pass the time. When I checked the statistics at the end of last week, Kendrick Lamar’s “Institutionalized” was my most frequently-played track, but by far my favourite song to put on while sitting for hours on the bus or standing in the cold waiting for said bus to arrive was “The Rhythm Changes.” Every track on The Epic is full, often combining it soul-jazz revival instrumentals with rousing choral or individual singing and political speeches. Whether this year’s one jazz-pop crossover hit portends better things for jazz labels and artists in the coming year is anyone’s guess, though I have my doubts. What is sure is that Kamasi Washington will not be soon forgotten, and “The Rhythm Changes” in particular has become permanently lodged in my brain. It’s an anthem about both embracing fluidity and seizing fast to what is worthwhile in life, a message we cannot ignore here in the bleak times we inhabit.

Politics Can Heal Our World

“So let the satirists deride as much as they like the doings of mankind, let the theologians revile them, and let the misanthropists (melancholia) heap praise on the life of rude rusticity, despising men and admiring beasts. Men will still discover from their experience that they can much more easily meet their needs by mutual help and can ward off ever-threatening perils only by joining forces…”

–Baruch Spinoza, Ethics: Sch.Pr.35,IV

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

Karl Marx, The German Ideology.

Around the end of the year, the entire city raises its head and looks for light in the dark. We just slept, fitfully, through the longest night of the twentieth century, anticipating a whole season of bitter wind and cold dawns. Living day after day in such a condition draws out thoughts of the future. In our times, a future no longer seems like an entitlement. We see capitalist society charging towards its own suicide, grasping to take the rest of human society down with it. Whether by war or by the chaos wrought by climate change and the mass displacement of human life, capitalism will put itself to death.

Compounded, endless expansion of wealth, the engorgement of the bosses at the expense of the downtrodden and our collective future, remains holy writ. The “free market” is a doctrine of despair and destruction for the vast majority of humanity, those clinging to the underside of its shimmering crust. Our mission, with the global proletariat and oppressed peoples as its executioners, is the surgical separation of the collective human body from the parasite sucking it dry. Politics is the weapon, the only weapon, we can wield for this task.

The popular image of politics is as a hothouse for corruption, the chosen career of con artists and liars who refuse to get honest jobs in organized crime. What is this? A mockery of politics, the vaudevillian spectacle of demagogues and technocrats exploiting the fears bred by a class society that pits all against all. Politics is not embodied by the suits and the bureaucrats and the campaign machines: these are pastiches. Real politics sometimes makes use of such fools, using collective might to hammer them into agents of progress against their own instincts. Real politics neglects no weapon ready at hand, even those built by its enemies.

Eventually, though, these makeshift solutions give way to the self-organization of the masses, the true face of politics as the self-preserving acts of all humanity. And such a politics can only be constituted by a conscious movement, one that can unite the advanced, neutralize the middle, and isolate the reactionary forces and clear the way to a new society where needs will be met and fear will not reign. And enough of the belief that the world will put itself to rights by some miracle, that people scrambling in the dark every which way will link hands and blindly put all to right.

To abolish the state of things. It’s a frightful proposition to those who cling to status and wealth. For those who have nothing to lose, it is the only remedy. Enough with activists, the toxic self-proclaimed elite of the “movement,” for whom the organization itself is the goal. Enough with the dabbling and the idealism, the unwillingness to criticize, to root out false images and idols and bitter grudges that neutralize us. And enough with the comforts of a “part-time” volunteerism that can throw bricks in the streets and host a dinner party in the same day.

In the winter, the world is a place of awesome clarity. Here and now, in the winter of history, we have the solemn duty to reclaim the world from the structures we tolerated for too long. Now is the time, and no later, to purge ourselves and make ourselves fit to serve. Politics can heal the world, but we have to have the courage to wield it.

Roger Horowitz: Putting Meat on the American Table

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In their relationship to the working class, capitalists long ago learned that they can make a lot of money out of taking back what they have given away. And, to the degree that—particularly in the 1960s and 1970s—workers became increasingly empowered in the sphere of consumption, capital starts to concentrate much more on pulling back value through consumption.

David Harvey, speaking to Roar Magazine

To help make ends meet in my last year of university, I cleaned my school’s auditorium building every weekend. The pay was minimal, but unlike many service jobs at the front end––working as a cashier or a station attendant, for example––the work was quite asocial and unsupervised. For several hours every weekend, therefore, I could turn on my iPod and listen to audio versions of David Harvey’s guide to Karl Marx’s Capital. 

I listened to every episode several times over those two semesters, and one of his crucial talking points, echoed in the above quotation, is that the global capitalist economy functions as a unity of production and realization. In everyday language, capitalism can only function as a cycle of making things and selling things. Without production, there are no goods and no value to capture, and without mass marketing, distribution systems, and retail outlets, all that capital would sit rotting and stagnant while the population lived on subsistence farms.

Further, we can see that these two unified but distinct aspects of global capitalism are separated both temporally and geographically. Here is a necessary evil in all capitalist investment: the time gap between sinking capital into a venture and realizing the returns. Naturally, every good capitalist seeks to minimize this temporal gap as much as possible.

Meanwhile, the geographical gap presently appears largely as the divisions created by imperialism; due to certain concessions won at the centres of capitalism, including higher wages and benefits for a large class of workers, industrial production has largely migrated to the Global South. Companies relocate their capital to minimize wage costs and maximize output, but the workers who are exploited in the South cannot afford to purchase what they make. This requires these businesses to haul their goods overseas to bring them to largely Western or Japanese consumers. Capital is thus produced in the South and realized in the North, at least largely.

When writing about capitalism and its recent history in the Global North, therefore, one of the cornerstones of a good analysis will be an assessment of consumerism. Rather than tackling the issue in its entirety, however, I have found it helpful to research a single commodity like meat or sugar. These simple goods have an outsized impact on people’s everyday lives-–everyone concerns themselves with food prices, quality, and availability, after all––and because of this they can be good test subjects for historical investigations. Food commodities rest at the bedrock of even our technically advanced societies, and studying them grants a peak at the tangled nets of social and material relations that make up capitalist society.

Now to the review: Roger Horowitz’s Putting Meat on the American Table.

Roger Horowitz, an American historian of labour, published Putting Meat on the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation in 2006, more than twenty years after Sweetness and Power. Horowitz places a single commodity, or family of commodities, at the centre of his social and cultural history. One distinctive part of Meat is its emphasis on the technology part of its title far more than the taste part.

Where authors like Mintz uses anthropology and Marxism to show how both individuals and larger systems related to sugar, Horowitz is content with using more conventional social historical tools to tell a story about technological progress. Far less concerned with meanings or broader historical dynamics, it is much more focused––one could say myopic––in its emphasis on the production process and the capitalists and workers involved in manufacturing and transforming the American meat industry.

Though its narrower focus can be frustrating, it partly reflects a basic difference between sugar and meat. Sugar, though its processing is difficult and protracted, does not involve the same kind of visceral destruction as meat production. Much of the story of meat production in Horowitz’s book builds on the theme of “persistent nature,” the ways that animals remain integrated and organic beings that “refuse to die” despite capitalist industry’s attempt to standardize and restrict animals to uniform shapes and sizes.¹

Because of this endurance and Horowitz’s recognition of it, the book partly revolves around the bodies and agency of the animals themselves. For most of its duration, however, the book keeps such considerations in the background and focuses instead on the mechanical side of the conflict between flesh and machines.

Take the chapter on beef for example. Beginning with a summary of a Jack London story, it paints in the background of early industrial America, where urban consumer demand for quality cuts of beef drove the creation of transport and production networks that could process the animals efficiently and deliver the product quickly. The difficulty for capitalists was Americans’ relatively inflexible demand for palatable cuts of fresh beef rather than cured: “The necessity of preserving large amounts to make efficient use of the cattle’s meat warred with Americans’ persistent taste for fresh beef.”² What Horowitz does not do is trace this taste for fresh beef any further back in history, merely finding it readymade for his analysis.

From that point, the chapter focuses on how certain entrepreneurs transformed the beef business from a local affair centered on butchers and fresh cuts to a supermarket experience. Readers learn about refrigeration, distribution networks, grisly details about the ways butchers killed animals without causing stress, and the like. Overall, the story is focused on how producers fed a preexisting taste for beef in the American populace, with little focus on the hows or whys of that taste itself.

Though the book’s frequent use of “American” in the general sense could be interpreted as eliding racial, gender, and class differences, the book is not so reductive. Within the beef chapter, for example, Horowitz includes some snippets of labour history along with the narratives about technology. Beef slaughtering has always remained a relatively hands-on and non-automated process, meaning that butchers and other slaughterhouse workers in that industry have been able to build strong unions. “The capacity of butchers, in slaughterhouses and retail stores to secure recognition, and contracts, came from their essential role: putting meat on the American table,” he writes.³

In later chapters, this situation is played as a contrast to other workers in sausage factories, who were largely women. These jobs were devastated by automation in the 1960s.⁴ However, the women there were able to organize against discrimination and win back some of their jobs, though always at less pay than male butchers and workers. Another instance where gender appears as a category of analysis is in the discussion of consumer preference for certain meat colours––yellow chickens, for example.⁵ Meat shoppers were mostly women, as Horowitz points out. What is lacking is any further consideration of how gender, at a given historical moment, affected these preferences. Again, the story is one of how taste constrains and influences production but not either vice versa or how those tastes originated.

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Class and race appear in the same summary fashion. One notable tendency of the book is to use statistical surveys without breaking them down and looking beyond the numbers. Separating the country into three income brackets, “lowest third,” “middle third,” and “highest third,” Horowitz shows that overall meat consumption has increased and evened out between the three brackets over the last century.⁶ Higher-income individuals consume less meat than lower-class people by the 1990s. As he writes, for all classes, “meat supplies were simply part of what it meant to have a prosperous America.”⁷ He goes on to say approximately the same about racial and ethnic divisions: they have gradually narrowed and become less important over time as meat has become cheaper and more standardized.

But Horowitz does not attempt to look further than the data and analyze the qualitative differences between classes and races in their meat consumption. There are isolated mentions of how poorer people consume worse meat in rougher cuts, but it is never synthesized into the book’s main argument or presented in a systematic way. Much less is there an analysis of whether and how the symbolic meanings of meat differ between racial, gender, or class groups, and how this influences consumption practices. Putting Meat on the American Table, therefore, is less of a cultural history than a social and labour history of American meat production.

Notes:

  1. Roger Horowitz, Putting Meat on the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 153-154.
  2. Ibid, 19.
  3. Ibid, 41.
  4. Ibid, 102.
  5. Ibid, 107-108.
  6. Ibid, 15.
  7. Ibid, 17.

Fanshen Part 2: Internal and External Revolution

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Hinton dedicates dozens of pages of Fanshen to covering Chinese Communists’ internal struggle. Obviously, he finds this a crucial aspect of the success of the land reform campaign. Chapter 42, for example, begins with a discussion of the human consciousness, which

“May be compared to an artichoke. Its tender core is enclosed in layer upon layer of defences, excuses, rationalizations, approximations. These must be peeled off off if one is to discover the true complex motives driving any individual…What made self-revelation possible for the work team members that day was the deep commitment every one of them had to the success of the land reform movement. They freely examined themselves and their comrades, not for partisan advantage, nor for the sake of self-exposure…but in order to remove obstacles in the way of more effective work.

Fanshen (2008), 388.

For these cadres and the author, this collective process of internal struggle and reform mattered just as much as the concrete progress they made in the field. In fact, the health of the revolution, from this viewpoint, correlated with the health of its agents. The Marxist name for this steeling process is usually given as “criticism/self-criticism,” and it is meant to liberate each individual, and the working group in the party, from deleterious parts of their personalities. Overemphasis on subjective reasoning, lax moral standards, and tendencies towards secrecy and self-doubt were all vices to be rooted out and replaced with a spirit of camaraderie, stoicism, and doggedness.

An important aspect of this process is the ferreting of personal evasion, as the comrades exposed one another’s weaknesses as well as their own in a mutually beneficial way. Hinton records one example:

Having said what they thought about [work team leader] Hou, the other cadres found themselves suddenly free of the bitterness they had felt toward him, and Hou, having heard their opinions and found them reasonable, suddenly felt warm and friendly toward them all. The “Great Ox” [Hou’s nickname] turned out to be a far more likeable human being than anyone had suspected.

Fanshen (2008), 392.

An essential condition for success in these sessions was an air of positive friendship and mutual respect among the cadres, which prevented the creation of a negative atmosphere. In untried hands, criticism and self-criticism can be little more than self-righteous accusation and passive-aggressive self-laceration. What Hinton reveals is that, even among those who dedicated themselves to revolutionary causes, their own personalities were marked with the residues of individualism and, in the specific case of the cadres in Fanshen, the limitations of a peasant or intellectual upbringing.

Perhaps because of my own limitations, my previous view of this emphasis on internal revolution, this rooting out of personal flaws, was that it was overly negative and focused on individuals. After all, the Marxist historian learns to devalue individuals as a defence against distracting oneself from the larger structures that enable and constrict the development of human societies. In the political arena, however, the importance of organizational cohesion and unity necessitates a collective-individual process of renewal, particularly given the immensity of the tasks confronting revolutionaries today. Our conceptions of “working together” with others are bred in academic and work environments that prize individual achievements at any cost, and in some corporate environments this competition is so cutthroat that employees actively sabotage each other for personal gain. Unlearning these practices, ingrained from childhood under capitalism, cannot but be a priority.

As for the “negativity” of criticism/self-criticism, Hinton often emphasizes the positive outcomes of the “airing out” sessions. Rather than being an outlet for “sad affects” as Spinoza would have it, the process was focused on exorcising them, draining out vindictive or selfish behaviour and leaving, it is hoped, a more positive and even friendly environment. Friendly in an uncompromising way, of course, since absolute honesty with those in the group is another necessity for successful criticism.

It’s often difficult to find good literature exploring the tools of criticism and self-criticism. Marxists writing in English seem reticent to bring it up, likely as a response to its associations with “ugly” aspects of the later Cultural Revolution and, perhaps, the famed excesses of urban guerrilla groups in, for instance, Japan. Any movement, however, is only as powerful as its members, and denying ourselves a vital tool for creating viable revolutionaries seems foolish indeed.

 

William Hinton: Fanshen (Part 1)

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Few books could hope to share the dramatic background and meticulous field research of Fanshen. Published in 1966, thirteen years after Hinton, on returning from serving the people in China, ran headlong into the Red Scare, losing all of his notes to customs officials. After a short time, he found himself blacklisted from working in the United States, forcing him to earn a living as a farmer on land he inherited from his mother. Regardless, he managed to retrieve his documents and, from those detailed scratchings, produced a book that is indispensable to anyone trying to understand the background, methods, and successes of the early Chinese Revolution.

What reason did Uncle Sam have for treating Hinton with such trepidation and roughness? Fanshen is not a complete account of his doings in post-WWII China, but it does lay out a compelling rap sheet. While working as an English teacher in a Communist-controlled Liberated Area in Northern China, Hinton volunteered to travel to a nearby village to participate and learn from the land reform process overturning the long-established feudal order in the Chinese countryside. The village’s name was Long Bow

The necessity of land redistribution in the Chinese rural zones is a remote topic to people who live in the long-industrialized West. Accustomed to meeting their needs through cash payments and used to thinking of farms as dull filler on road trips rather than the backbone my entire culture, I was grateful for the visceral descriptions of pre-Revolutionary peasant life in the opening chapters of Fanshen. In essence, peasant life under the rule of feudal landlords was as far from primitivist paradise as one could imagine. In its long cycles, the rural life of the poor was static, bound closely to climates, weather, and entrenched social helplessness. What mostly defined peasant life in the day-to-day, however, was complete insecurity, where tragedy was the scar tissue of each and every waking moment. Hinton’s vivid writing injects flesh and blood into these harrowing stories:

“The following are only a few incidents culled at random from the life stories of peasants with whom I talked:

  • There were three famine years in a row. The whole family went out to beg for things to eat. In Chichang City conditions were very bad.Many mothers threw their newborn children into the river…We had to sell our eldest daughter…
  • During the famine we ate leaves…I went out to the hills to get leaves and there were people fighting each other over the leaves on the trees. My little sister starved to death. My brother’s wife couldn’t bear the hunger and ran away and never came back. My cousin was forced to become a landlord’s concubine.”

Fanshen (2008), 42-43.

Even in just this book, there are horror stories that far exceed the ones I cited. As the author later argues, the worst part about this life, worse than the bloodsucking landlords who routinely put peasants into intractable debt, was the hopelessness of change. Every person in the rural areas who owned no land and had to labour on behalf of others rather than for themselves and their community was a half-person, someone whose real potential and intelligence were smothered in mud and wasteful toil. And all to serve the appetites of a social system that was rapidly decaying and spiralling into chaos. This was the central issue of land reform: how to unleash the immense power of this mass of humanity and the land on which they lived and concentrate it into a mass movement for revolution. This truly was a struggle for life and death, politics at its sharpest and most brutal.

The Communist Party of China (CPC from now on) outlined a policy roughly encapsulated by the slogan “Land to the Tillers.” Landlords and wealthier peasants, who lived off of rents the exploited labour of their fellow human beings, would be expropriated. The seized land and property would be distributed to all of the landless and land-poor peasants in the villages until they could become self-sufficient. Hinton’s book enters after the initial assault on feudal land ownership was already well in progress. For eight months, he lived in the village of Long Bow, labouring during the day and attending day and night political meetings. In unwavering and compelling prose, which makes the book a surprisingly quick read for a 600-page tome, he describes the painful process of political awakening and the redress of wrongs in Long Bow. A central part of that process was the internal reform of the Communists attempting to lead the charge for a new China, and their own psychological and political awakenings.

The next post will describe that process in more detail, and attempt to sum up the true virtues of Fanshen: its unblinking and protracted analysis of the political process of revolution at the lowest and most practical level, and the messiness of implementing grand policies of revolution in a tiny village. It’s an instructive book for anyone interested in Chinese history or the dynamics of any agrarian revolution––and to a lesser extent revolution in general.

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