Enter the Bandits of the Hills: Mao in Jiangxi, 1927-34

One of the several border zones between “fact” and “memory” in Mo Yan is one that preoccupies orthodox (Maoist and after) historians to this day, and always has. What is the social “filling” from which the “bandit” is fashioned? Is there an intrinsic “class content” or empathy that guides his (and her’s) choice to join with or fight against the (orthodox meaning Part-organized) Partisans spun off from the 8th Route Army? Meaning: is there a staying power that can survive victory and keep the well-choosing “bandit” on the side of the Revolution? Or is it (his “innards”) mainly or only a matter of turf and honor, that quintessential feature of hill-mafia chiefs’ concerns?

In Mo Yan’s E. Shandong and perhaps more widely in the Henan-Hebei-Shandong conflict zone that was home to the Boxers then Red Spears, the local lore at least favors a portrait of the bandit as heroic and turf-protective individual (or heroically traitorous..). To somewhat oversimplify, the “greenwoods” chief (best personified in Mo Yan’s Yu Zhan’ao and Sima Ku) acts as an extension of privileged village society (the lineage and charitable estate such as the Sima clan and Felicity Manor in BBWH; or the 18-li Distillery and its Shan lineage-recruited worforce in RSF) in that he shares the village properties class’s view that protection and security and the priorities. For which of course martial arts prowess and a violent temper (charismatic overawing) are the most obvious assets. Typically, qua bandit, this kind of “hero” has a history of violent crime that has taken him away on and off away from “home” (where his kin reside). He is a kind of Houdini, knowing how to “hang out” and make jianghu (casual, drifter-world) connections well away from his birthplace village, then suddenly reappear on the news of crisis. In the latter scenario, he is logically the one to “train” the raw “yeoman” in the art of low-tech self-defense – a stunning portrayal of which is provided of course in Kurosawa’s 7 Samurai. Here he exoterric tie-ups help; often surfacing in the armature of banghui or “secret brotherhood”. But – and this is crucial – he neither can nor wants to enter a broader and impersonal organization. Which of course predicts an unhappy end: as we hear… “Heroes do not die in their beds”…

(for more on this see Re-enacting Revolution in Hakka-land (Jinggangshan, June 1 2013))

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