Beginning in June 1959, Comrade Wu Han wrote a number of articles—including “Hai Jui Abuses the Emperor” and “On Hai Jui—in praise of Hai Jui, emphasizing again and again the “realistic significance” of studying Hai Jui.1
In 1961, he finished a Peking opera play called Dismissal of Hai Jui after making seven revisions, wrote a preface to it, and once again urged people to study the “good virtues” of Hai Jui. After the play was published and staged, it was widely praised by newspapers and periodicals. Some articles said that this play “is of great significance,” and “leaves room for the audience to think about.” They praised Hai Jui because “he was ashamed to be licorice root and dared to assume the role of Lord Pao of the South.”2 Some commentaries went to the extreme in praising Comrade Wu Han “as an historian, good at integrating historical research with participation in realistic struggle,” and “using the tactics of making veiled criticism of contemporary people with ancient people, thus making the ancient serve the contemporary through historical research.” They said that this play “has opened up a new way of making one’s own historical research render better service to socialist realities and the people.”3 Some articles also said: “The extolment of ‘honest, incorrupt officials’ in plays functioned as a ‘big-character poster’ for educating the officials at that time.”4
Since the play Dismissal of Hai Jui and its admirers have brought forward so important a problem and have widely publicized what they advocate, we cannot but study the play in real earnest.
In this historical play, Comrade Wu Han makes a perfect and noble character of Hai Jui was portrayed as “a person who had the people in mind in every place” and “was a savior of the oppressed, bullied, and wronged people.”5 In his person, you simply cannot find any shortcoming. It seems that he is the ideal character of the author. He not merely was the “savior” of the poor peasants in the Ming Dynasty, but is also an example for the Chinese people and cadres of the socialist era to learn from.
The author has gone to great pains to mold his own hero. Out of the nine acts in this play, he reserves three acts completely to portray this honorable official.
In the first and second acts—before Hai Jui comes into the scene—the play takes a lot of trouble to portray the House of Hsu— the family of Hsu Chieh who brought about the downfall of Yen Sung who was once the prime minister and was then leading a life of retirement. It tells how this family encroaches upon the land of the peasants, carries off the daughters of other people by force, and bribes the officials into beating poor peasant Chao Yti-shan to death. When peasant woman Hung Ah-lan “is appealing to Heaven for justice in her anguish,” an urgent dispatch brings the news that Hai Jui has been appointed governor of the Ten Prefectures of Yingtien. To the exalted officials, this is a bolt from the blue. They cry in alarm: “What are we going to do?” Even the yamen underlings exclaim: “The Honorable Hai is coming. This is terrible.”
In the third act, Hai Jui appears in plain clothes. The author portrays how Hai Jui personally listens to the “villagers who feel as if they were in the frying pan,” who pay him their highest respects and tell him how they have prayed for his coming. They praise him for his “impartiality,” “wise judgments,” “high repute,” and “good government.”
Although in the feudal society “the world from top to bottom is under the sway of officials and there is no justice for those in the right but without money,” yet the peasants who have been wronged unanimously believe that the “Honorable Hai” is an exception, and they think that “he can make decisions in their favor.”
These tactics of forming a contrast seek to give the audience the strong feeling that only Hai Jui can alleviate the miseries of the peasants. It shows that the Dismissal of Hai Jui does not present “the internal struggle of the feudal ruling classes”6 as the author claims but molds in every possible way for our audience today a hero who determines the destiny of the peasants.
The conflict of the play unfolds itself around the theme of “return of land.” Although Comrade Wu Han says in the preface that the play “has been revised to take the suppression of despots as the main theme,” yet in actuality, the seizure of land is the cause of all grievances, and the action “to suppress the despots” and “redress grievances” also centers on the “return of land.” “Return of land” is portrayed as “a means to help the poor peasants”7 and is also responsible for the dismissal of Hai Jui—the climax of the conflict in this play.
The play makes this special statement through “Villager A”: “We are all tenants of the House of Hsu.” It wants the audience to remember that it portrays the struggle between the poor peasants and the House of Hsu and other retired officials and corrupt officials, and that Hai Jui stands on the side of the tenants of the House of Hsu.
The Honorable Hai does not belie the hope of the public, and as soon as he assumes office, he “decides in favor of the people.” He not only curses “the genuine sharp dealers who practice usury and take over land by force,” and encourages the peasants “to make complaints” against them, but also displays a democratic spirit in court by finding out the opinions of “the elders” of the petitioners.
The peasants ask Lord Hai Jui to order the House of Hsu and the “families of retired officials” to return the seized land. So Hai Jui issues an order “requiring all families of retired officials to return within ten days all the land which they have seized from the law-abiding people.”
After “the return of land,” the sharp class contradictions abruptly cease to function. The “villagers” kowtow to Hai Jui and say: “Because the decisions of Your Honor are in favor of the people, the poor people south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River will see better days in the future.”
The author makes the poor peasants express their “gratitude” and joy by “singing together” a sing in glorification of the honest, incorrupt official. They sing: “We see the blue sky today and must work diligently to rebuild our homes and gardens. With land we shall be properly fed and clothed and a good life will unfold before us.”
The play tells people that although the feudal system is still intact and the ruthless oppression and exploitation of the landlords still exists, so long as we handle things in the same way as Hai Jui, the peasants’ problems of “land” and “food and clothing” can also be solved, and “a good life” lies “before us.”
The play also lays emphasis on portraying how Hai Jui “avenges the people” and executes the “corrupt officials” en masse. It gives repeated publicity to “the need of reopening misjudged cases,” and Hai Jui’s determination “to pacify the anger of the people.” He wants to “sweep away all wicked officials” and “exercises no leniency in the enforcement of law to pacify the anger of the people.” The actions he takes in the play include beheading Wang Ming-yu, magistrate of Huat’ing hsien; sentencing Sung-chiang Prefect Li P’ing-tu to “dismissal and imprisonment pending the receipt of the Imperial verdict”; and hanging Hsu Ying, son of Hsu Chieh.
In Comrade Wu Han’s own words, so that “Hai Jui’s departure will not present a dismal gloomy aspect, I decided to have Hsu Ying sentenced to death.”8 In this way, Hai Jui terminates his official career and becomes a hero who has triumphantly resisted the feudal Imperial Court.
At the end of the play, Hsu Ying is executed, Hsu Chieh faints away, and the new governor is thrown into consternation. But Hai Jui holds high the official seal, stands erect, and declaims: “A virtuous man stands with his head reaching the sky and his feet on the earth.” Inwardly, he tells himself: “I have triumphed.”
The author has also “triumphantly” completed his task of molding his own hero.
In this play, only Hai Jui is the hero. The peasants can only air their grievances to their lord, beg “their lord to make decisions in their favor,” and entrust their own destinies to the “Honorable Hai.” In order to make the image of Hai Jui stand out against all other feudal officials, all the principal officials in the play are portrayed as bad characters. Hai Jui’s wife and family dependents are wise people who want to protect themselves, and only his mother backs him up. Hai Jui goes it alone in making a great economic and political revolution.
After seeing this play, people strongly feel that this heroic image as molded by Comrade Wu Han is much greater than the image of Hai Jui which was portrayed by any operas and novels of the feudal age in the past. Although Comrade Wu Han has especially written some explanatory notes for inclusion in the play, published in a single volume, and has extracted a number of historical data from the story of Dismissal of Hai Jui itself in an attempt to give people the impression that he has written the play in complete accordance with historical facts, yet people still cannot help asking: Was there really such a hero among the ruling classes of the feudal society? Is this “Honorable Hai” just an artistic version of the real Hai Jui in history or just a fictitious character coined by Comrade Wu Han?
We are not historians. But according to the data we have read, the historical contradictions and the class stand taken by Hai Jui in handling such contradictions—as portrayed in this play—are in contravention with historical realities. The Hai Jui in the play is only coined by Comrade Wu Han to give publicity to his own point of view.
Hai Jui was the governor of Yingtien during the period from the summer of 1569 to the spring of 1570. At that time, the class contradiction and the class struggle in the countryside south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River were very sharp. From the reign of Cheng-te through the reign of Chia-ching to the reign of Lung-ch’ing, with the landlord class frantically seizing land from the peasants in diverse ways, the concentration of land became higher and higher, and the peasants were more and more heavily exploited.
The Jihchihlu states: “Only one in ten of the people in middle Kiangsu owned land, and the other nine persons were tenants.” This shows that the overwhelming majority of the land was owned by landlords. Although Ku Yen-wu did not give the exact date, yet according to the data available to us, this estimate was in conformity with the state of affairs in Soochow and Sungchiang after the middle of the Ming Dynasty.
The expropriation of land was carried out most ferociously by the group of imperial landlords who depended upon political influence to expand their “imperial estates.” Apart from this, some bureaucrat-landlords in rural areas also seized a lot of land. The land owned by Hsu Chieh alone was put at 240,000 mou in some cases, and 400,000 mou in other cases— equivalent to about one-third or one-half of the acreage of arable land in Sungchiang hsien under the jurisdiction of Shanghai municipality today.
Hai Jui’s statement that “the common people cursed and resented the large numbers of estates and slaves owned by the retired officials in Huat’ing” was a portrayal of the sharp class struggle which he saw with his own eyes. The concentration of land accelerated the sharpening of the class contradiction between the peasants and the landlord class. Large numbers of peasants went bankrupt and fled, many fields were left uncultivated, and “the landless people could only work as hired farmhands for other people” (Records of Huat’ing Hsien).
The contradiction between the peasantry and the landlord class was the basic contradiction of the feudal society, and the sharpening of the class struggle would inevitably affect the relationships between various strata within the landlord class. Under the circumstances that most land was owned by the landlords, the bureaucrat-landlords could not but concentrate their target of land annexation on the small and middle landowners and the “rich families” which “hired people to farm their land”— that is the “rich peasants” (also called “upper peasants”). As a result, the contradiction within the landlord class also grew acute.
Meanwhile, because the bureaucrat-landlords hid away a lot of land—on which no taxes were paid—and monopolized the fruit of exploitation, the Imperial Court found itself in financial difficulties, and some officials in court continuously demanded survey of arable land, limitations on the size of “imperial estates” and other estates, and restriction of the continued annexation of “private land” owned by middle and small landowners. This sharpened the contradictions between various groups of landlords in and out of office.
At that time, one of the principal methods for the bureaucrat-landlords to annex land was the so-called “surrender of land” which was opposed by Hai Jui when he demanded the “return of land.”
Surrender of land was mainly implemented in two ways. One way was for the powerful landlords to instigate the lackeys—who were related to the original landowners in some ways—to “surrender” such land to themselves. Such land was taken away from the “rich families” which originally owned it, and the lackeys who “surrendered the land” became the caretaker or sublandlord of such land.
The other way was for the middle or small landowners, rich peasants, individuals, or the few small holders to surrender their land to the bureaucrat-landlords with the object of evading heavy official corvees and taxation. The reason was that the “Ming Code” provided that officials enjoyed the privilege of exemption from official corvees and taxation to varying extent according to their ranks, and the landowners could evade such official corvees and taxation by placing their land under the names of bureaucrat-landlords. The bureaucrat-landlords took advantage of this, and seized the land owned by the middle or small landowners, rich peasants, or small holders who sought to evade official corvees and taxation.
Because most land was owned by the landlords and rich peasants, the land seized by the bureaucrat-landlords was in most cases property of the middle or small landowners or rich peasants.9 This was the essence of the matter.
The Biography of Hai Jui says:
Therefore, the rich often surrendered their land to the officials, and would rather work as rent-paying tenants to evade their major duties. This was called surrender of land. Because of this, once a scholar passed the examination of the second degree, he often acquired the land surrendered and became a rich man. Once the downfallen officials regained their offices and power, they often behaved like the upstart officials, and looked upon the annexation of land as a matter of course. When those with power and influence took over the estates they wanted, nobody would dare to refuse.
What is described here as “the rich” refers of course not to the poor peasants who had no land “to surrender,” but to the local officials who had “lost their influence” or the middle or small landowners with no political status or the rich peasants. Their “private land” was continuously annexed by the powerful bureaucrat-landlords and when the latter “wanted to take over anything, nobody would dare to refuse.” This seriously jeopardized the interests of the middle and small landowners and rich peasants, and also seriously affected the financial receipts of the Imperial Court.
It was precisely because of this that as soon as Hai Jui came to Sungchiang and Huat’ing, he discovered that “the first-degree licentiates,” “the good retired officials,” and even “the prefects and magistrates” in some places opposed with “one voice” the large-scale annexation of land by such big bureaucrat-landlords as Hsu Chieh and their practice of accepting “surrendered land.”
The “good retired officials” told Hai Jui: “In the past twenty years, because the prefects and magistrates one-sidedly heeded the recommendations and biddings of the retired officials, private properties were gradually wiped out and the retired officials gradually grew rich.” Do not these words give a vivid portrayal of the annexation of the middle and small landowners by the big bureaucrat-landlords?
Hai Jui came to the conclusion that “the nonbenevolent rich were resented by the public.”10 Such “common resentment” indicated the political attitude of the middle and small landowners, the rich peasants, and the intellectuals representing their interests toward annexation by the big landlords.
When Tai Feng-hsiang, the spokesman of the big landlords south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, attacked Hai Jui for connivance with the “knaves,” Hai Jui used the above-mentioned material to show that his call for “return of land” was based upon the clamors of these people. It seems that he was telling the truth. His call for “return of land” reflected the common demand of the middle and small landlords and the rich peasants whose “private properties had gradually dwindled.” It was implemented for easing the contradictions within the landlord class and the ever more acute class contradictions between the broad masses of the peasants and the landlord class. Moreover, it was beneficial for increasing revenue receipts and solving the financial difficulties of the Imperial Court.
After these historical facts are clarified, we shall have a clearer picture of how the Dismissal of Hai Jui has distorted the class relationships.
Did Hai Jui require the landlords to return land to the peasants when he called on the retired officials to return their land? No.
Both the Ming History and a number of biographies of Hai Jui clearly state that Hai Jui called on the retired officials to return the land “surrendered” to them. “His Lordship ruled with an iron fist and ordered all those who had been offered land to return such land or permit such land to be redeemed.” This was done to discourage annexation and to bring blows to bear upon the big landlords. Apart from the land which was returned to the government, most of the land returned went back to the “weaklings” and the “rich families”—that is, the middle or small landowners or the rich peasants—who had “surrendered such land.” This actually safeguarded the interests of the middle and small landowners and the rich peasants.
Since the poor hired farmhands had no land “to surrender” and no money “to redeem” such land, naturally, none of the “land returned” would come into their hands. How can it be assumed that Hai Jui “fought” wholeheartedly for land for the poor peasants?
Did Hai Jui seek to bring emancipation to “the tenants of the House of Hsu”? He had basically done nothing in this connection.
In his letter to Li Ch’ung-fang, Hai Jui explained his object of requiring Hsu Chieh “to return land” by saying:
Unless more than half of his land is returned, how can the depravity of the people be stemmed? It can do no good but harm for the rich to be non-benevolent, and the cart in the rear should take warning from the overturned cart in front. … In requiring venerable Hsu to return more than half of his land, I just want to preserve tranquillity after he passes away. Please don’t misunderstand me.
Was this not a clear indication of the class stand of Hai Jui? He clearly wanted to “stem” the “depravity” of the people, to prevent the landlord class from being overthrown in the ever more acute class struggle, and to ensure “tranquillity after the death” of Hsu Chieh. In no case, did he consult the poor peasants and try to solve the problem of land for “the tenants of the House of Hsu.”
Was Hai Jui’s call for “return of land” a “decision in favor of the people”?
Hai Jui told us in his Governor’s Proclamation that all the measures issued by him as governor sought “to pacify the public by getting rid of old abuses and to restore the established laws of our ancestors.”
Now, in the Ming Code formulated by the “founder of the dynasty,” there was such a provision: “Those who surrender the land under dispute or the land of other people as their own properties to the officials in power, and those who receive such land shall each be punished with one hundred strokes of the cane and three years of imprisonment.”11 Was this not precisely the contradiction which Hai Jui had to handle?
The Ming Dynasty had long ago laid down this law against the surrender of land for the purposes of alleviating contradictions within this class, guarding against the acute development of annexation, and facilitating the consolidation of the dictatorship of the whole landlord class. This law later existed only in name. Hai Jui had done nothing more than oppose the surrender of land within this sphere. How can it be said that he “decided in favor” of the peasants south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River?
Did Hai Jui oppose “usury” with the “poor peasants” in mind?
It is best to quote the statement made by Hai Jui to refute Tai Feng-hsiang’s attack against him. He said:
In past years, when collecting grain, the grain officials often deducted first their private debts before they turned over grain to the government. The wealthy aristocrats also forced settlements at harvesting time. Since private and public interests were dealt with side by side, the payment of grain tax could hardly be fulfiled. It is my opinion that the grain tax must be paid before private settlements can be made, and it is not my intention to prohibit the settlement of debts.
The “public side” meant the feudal Imperial Court, while the “private side” meant the landlords and the local bullies. Hai Jui made it known that he was not against exploitation by rural landlords and the granting of loans. He only opposed the monopoly of the fruit of exploitation by the big landlords in the countryside so as to solve the problem of financial income for the Imperialist Court.
Hai Jui never thought of basically solving the contradiction between the peasants and the landlords. He only wanted to ease this contradiction.
Hai Jui himself said: “The support of the higher level by the lower level is a principle that cannot be done away with, but the loss and gain must be adjusted so that the system may last.”
This made it plain that in working for “the adjustment of gain and loss,” his aim was to limit the exploitation of the big landlords within the legitimate sphere-without hampering the basic interests of landlord class— and to weaken the resistance of the peasants, so that feudal exploitation based upon “the support of the higher level by the lower level” might be “perpetuated.”
He again and again admonished the peasants to submit to feudal rule, to abide by “decorum,” and not to “become bandits.” To deal with the rioting peasants, he advocated that “force of arms should be used and the people should be pacified” at the same time.
In opposing the most reactionary big landlords, his aim was not to weaken the system of ownership of land by landlords, but to consolidate such a system, the landlords’ rule over the peasants, and the Imperial regime. This was where the common interests of the different groups and factions of the feudal ruling classes and the “long-range interests” of the landlord class lay.
The portrayal of Hai Jui is representing the interests of the peasants seeks to confuse the enemy and ourselves, to obliterate the essence of the dictatorship of the landlord class, and to prettify the landlord class.
Hai Jui again and again expressed his loyalty to the emperor. In his letter to Kao Kung to make known what he had in mind, he said: “I am doing my utmost to build a lasting foundation south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and to justify His Majesty’s confidence in me.” How could he do anything to rock this “lasting foundation”?
The “return of land” is untruthfully portrayed. Is the portrayal of his “redressing grievances” true? According to the data we have found, we can only answer in the negative.
The Sungchiang Prefect and the Huat’ing Magistrate had not basically been executed or dismissed. When Hai Jui was governor of Yingtien, not a single official at the hsien level or above in the area of Soochow and Sungchiang had been dismissed. The son of Hsu Chieh had not been executed but was sentenced to banishment. Hai Jui was also not responsible for this. The one responsible was Kao Kung—the political enemy of Hsu Chieh—when he once again rose to power following the removal of the latter as prime minister. When Chang Chii-cheng came into power, this sentence was annulled.
The “Biography of Kao Kung” in Ming History has this to say: “The children of Hsu Chien were tyrants in their home village. Kao Kung appointed Ts’ai Kuo-hsi, a former prefect, as inspector-general to bring all the sons of Hsu Chieh to book. They were all sentenced to banishment. Kao Kung did everything to repress Hsu Chieh, who was left alone only after Kao Kung lost his office.”
Similar records are also found in the Biography of Hsu Chieh.
The arrest of Hsu Chieh’s sons was by nature a vengeance wrecked by Kao Kung and was carried out by another official. It had nothing to do with Hai Jui.
After the downfall of Yen Sung, Hsu Chieh, Kao Kung, and Chang Chii-cheng waged a protracted struggle for power. Is it not contrary to the basic historical fact to transplant the collision of different political groups in the cabinet in the person of Hai Jui and portray him as “standing on the side of the poor peasants to redress the grievances of the people”?
Comrade Wu Han knows very well that “in history the sons of Hsu Chieh were only sentenced to banishment,” but in order to prettify Hai Jui, he chooses to portray him in this way. This shows that he makes no bones of rewriting history in order to mold his ideal hero.
Hai Jui was also not as “democratic” as portrayed in the play. On the contrary, he was of the opinion that “the people south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River were knavish and rascally in character,” and “made all kinds of fabricated charges in nine out of ten petitions.” He himself stated that the way to deal with “knavish suits” was to fetter and shackle seven or eight persons before the yamen at all times and beat them up ruthlessly first. He thought this was a good experience.
When Hai Jui discussed “doubtful cases” in Rules for Reform, he also said: “In a lawsuit, it is better to wrong the common people than the retired officials in order to preserve prestige.” Below this there is a short note which reads: “Preservation of prestige is called for because the retired officials are of patrician birth while the common people are of lowly birth.” In order to safeguard “the dividing line between people of patrician birth and those of lowly birth,” it would do “to wrong the common people.” This was a manifestation of the reactionary nature of the dictatorship of the landlord class.
Now, Hai Jui is portrayed as being so democratic as to seek “advice” from the peasants. His political stand is thus transposed.
By comparing these historical facts with the Hai Jui in the play Dismissal of Hai Jui, it is not difficult to discover that the latter is a fictitious character. It is a character remolded with the bourgeois viewpoint.
A historical play needs to be processed artistically and recreated. We do not expect a new historical play to agree with history in every detail, but we do expect that the class stand and class relationship of the characters portrayed therein should agree with historical facts.
Comrade Wu Han has said that a historical play “must make every effort to bring itself in greater conformity with historical facts, and there is no room for distortion and hypothesis.”12 However, facts speak louder than words. The image of Hai Jui in this play has already nothing to do with rational imagination or typical generalization. It can only come under the category of “distortion, hypothesis, and making veiled criticism of contemporary people with ancient people.”
The course of class struggle tells us that there was no way for Hai Jui or other feudal officials after him to restore vitality to the rotten and degenerated Ming Dynasty or to alleviate the fire of hatred for the peasants. After Hai Jui, the peasants of Sungchiang were ruthlessly oppressed and exploited as usual. Annexation and exodus continued and the class contradiction went on to grow more acute.
After the death of Hai Jui in 1587, the peasants rose in revolt like clouds in the winds and a surging tide. The Ming Dynasty fell in 1644—less than 60 years after the death of Hai Jui.
Confronted by such historical realities, the play makes the peasant praise the “return of land” by singing: “With land we shall be properly fed and clothed and a good life will unfold before us.” They also cheer: “The poor people south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River will lead a good life from how on!” Is this not preposterous and ridiculous?
Let us see what does the author extol with the artistic image of a phoney Hai Jui.
We know that the state is the tool of class struggle and a mechanism for one class to oppress another. There is no nonclass or supraclass state. This is the basic viewpoint of Marxism-Leninism on the problem of state.
Proceeding from this viewpoint, we cannot but admit that the feudal state is a tool for the landlord class to enforce dictatorship on the peasants. The laws and courts of the feudal state and the officials who rule over the people—including “honest, incorrupt officials” and “good officials”—can only be the tools of the dictatorship of the landlord class and can never transcend class, nor can they serve the ruling class as well as the ruled class.
To be sure, because there are different strata and groups within the landlord class and because of changes in the situation of the class struggle, they may differ and come into conflict over this or that problem, over the attitude adopted toward the interests of the big landlords, the middle and small landowners, and the rich peasants, and over the degree and method of oppression to which the peasants are subjected.
Fundamentally speaking, however, the substance of such struggle can never transcend the sphere of upholding the dictatorship of the landlord class. At no time can we distort the struggle within the landlord class as the class struggle between the peasants and the landlords.
Taking the struggle between the “honest, incorrupt officials” and the “corrupt officials” for illustration, there really have been honest, incorrupt officials who punished some “corrupt officials” in the courts of the landlord class according to some provisions of the law of the landlord class. There have also been cases in which a particular peasant “won” the case against a member of a faction or group because the case was tried by an “honest, incorrupt official” who happened to be an opponent of the faction or group to which the defendant belonged. Such phenomena have misled many peasants without experience in class struggle, and made them lose sight of the class features of the “honest, incorrupt officials” and the class essence of the feudal state and the feudal courts. The landlord class has also made constant use of such phenomena to benumb the consciousness of the peasants, and of the “honest, incorrupt officials” as tools to cover up the essence of class rule and as important means for carrying out the class struggle against the peasants in coordination with armed suppression.
There are in the Ming History records about the dispatch of “honest, incorrupt officials” by the landlord class—the strategy of delaying the approach of the enemy—before action was taken to wipe out the uprising peasants at one stroke.13 Basically speaking, however, no matter how “honest” and “good” are the “honest officials” and the “good officials,” they can only be “honest officials” and “good officials” for implementing the dictatorship of the landlord class over the peasants, and can never take the opposite course.
However, the Dismissal of Hai Jui tells us: No! The “honest, incorrupt officials,” are not the tools of the landlord class but are in the service of the peasant class. You see, Hai Jui in the play is an ambassador of the feudal dynasty, but he wages a fierce struggle against Hsu Chieh and represents the interests of the poor peasants.
In this struggle, “honest official” Hai Jui is on the one hand portrayed as a great hero who safeguards the interests of “the tenants of the House of Hsu” and all poor peasants. He is opposed to other officials who implement the dictatorship of the landlord class, and the contradiction between the “honest, incorrupt officials” and the “corrupt officials” is portrayed as the contradiction between the protection and the suppression of the peasants as well as the contradiction between the return of land to the peasants and the seizure of land from the peasants. We can see nothing of the role played by the “honest, incorrupt officials” in consolidating the dictatorship of the landlord class.
On the other hand, all peasants are portrayed as a passive lot devoid of any spirit for revolutionary struggle. Their sole role is to kneel before the “Honorable Hai,” beseech him to redress their grievances, and look upon the “honest, incorrupt official” as their savior.
Obviously, as the author of the Dismissal of Hai Jui sees it, the motive force for propelling history forward is not the class struggle but “honest, incorrupt officials.” There is no need for the masses to rise and liberate themselves, for with the blessings of an “honest, incorrupt official,” they can promptly lead “a good life.”
In this play, the “honest, incorrupt officials,” law, and courts—which are the tools of the dictatorship of the landlord class—are all prettified as things which transcend class and their existence is divorced from and independent of the dictatorship of the landlord class. The play publicizes that there is no need for the oppressed people to make revolution, to go through any serious struggle, and to smash the state machinery. Provided they bow and kowtow to the “honest, incorrupt officials” and abide by the “law” of the feudal dynasty, they can wipe out the corrupt officials in one stroke and “lead a good life.”
Lenin once said that the state problem “is a problem most confused by the bourgeois scholars, writers, and philosophers” (“On State”). What is called the “redressing of grievances by honest, incorrupt officials”—as a component of the state problem—is, it is [sic] afraid, a problem especially confused by the bourgeoisie and a sort of superstition for poisoning the minds of the people. Marxist-Leninists have the duty to expose such falsehood and to explode such superstition.
The Dismissal of Hai Jui takes precisely the opposite course. Instead of exploding such superstition, it takes on the mantle of a new historical play and prettifies with all means the officials, courts, and law of the landlord class, thus deepening such superstition.
The peasants know that “the world is under the sway of the officials at both the high and the low levels” and “has no place for those in the right but without money.” As soon as Hai Jui enters the scene, he angrily ask the peasants: “What sort of law do the landlords and despots rely on?” He also lectures the peasants by saying: “You have also yourselves to blame. Why don’t you make complaints?” In the course of “redressing grievances,” he emphasizes again and again: “A law-breaking prince is punished in the same way as the commoner.”
The play makes use of these statements to cover up the class essence of “law.” It also employs “practical action” to demonstrate that provided the “honest, incorrupt officials”—such as Hai Jui— act according to “law,” they can turn the courts into places that give protection to the peasants, “redress grievances for the people,” reverse “wrong judgments,” and enable the peasants to obtain land.
Does this not seek to look upon the state machinery of the landlord class as the tool for protecting the peasants? Does this not seek to obliterate the essence of the suppression of the peasants by the dictatorship of the landlord class? Does this not seek to publicize that provided the honest, incorrupt officials of the landlord class “make decisions in favor of the people” in the yamen, once the peasants “make complaints,” they can be liberated? How can such a play—which prettifies the landlord class state in a big way and publicizes nonrevolution and class reconciliation—say anything about “the need for guiding the creation of historical plays with Marxism-Leninism and the thought of Mao Tse-tung”?14
Since there were classes and states in human society, such a thing as “officials making decisions in favor of the people” has never occurred in the world. In China, neither the reformers of the landlord class nor the bourgeois democrats have ever brought “good times” to the peasants. Only the great revolution led by the Chinese Communist Party—which has thoroughly smashed the state machinery of the landlord class and the bourgeoisie and founded the People’s Republic of China led by the proletariat and based upon the worker-peasant alliance-has solved the problems of “land, food, and clothing” for the peasants south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the whole country. This is an ironclad fact which nobody can refute.
We hope that Comrade Wu Han will compare the image of Hai Jui which he has molded and the viewpoints publicized through this image with the Marxist-Leninist viewpoints which Comrade Mao Tse-tung has explained again and again. It will not be difficult to discover that he has actually replaced the Marxist-Leninist concept of the state with that of the landlord class and the bourgeoisie, and the theory of class struggle with the theory of class reconciliation. What is he driving at in publicizing today the antiquated viewpoint which has been played up by the landlord class and the bourgeoisie for hundreds and thousands of years? And who will reap the benefit? It is necessary to distinguish right from wrong.
Hai Jui was an influential historical character. As we see it, he was a more far-sighted personality among the landlord class during the decline of the feudal society. He was loyal to the feudal system, and was a “loyal official” of the feudal dynasty. He perceived some phenomena of the sharp contradiction between the peasant class and the landlord class at his times. In order to consolidate the feudal rule, weaken the resistance of the peasants, alleviate the sharp class contradictions, and uphold the fundamental interests of the feudal dynasty, he dared to wage a sharp struggle against some groups or measures which endangered the interests of the feudal dynasty.
In some respects, his interests were in agreement with those of the middle and small landowners and the rich peasants. In restraining the powerful landlords, his aim was to consolidate the dictatorship of the whole landlord class over the peasants and uphold the interests of the Imperial Court.
His Memorial on Security is taken by Comrade Wu Han and many articles and plays as representing the interests of the people, and some people have especially composed and staged a new historical play called Hai Jui Submits a Memorial.15 However, he stated at the beginning of the memorial that he was of the opinion that “the sovereign is the master of his subjects and all things.” His object was “to seek ten thousand generations of peace” for the imperial dynasty. This action could only show how loyal he was to the sovereign and nothing else.
Because of this, Emperor Chia Ching did not punish him with death. After he died, the emperor was very sad and “posthumously conferred on him the office of Junior Guardian of the Heir-Apparent and the title of Chung Chih [loyalty and integrity].” When the senior vice president of the Board of Rites came to pay him last respects, he said: “Although he could not work in harmony with the times because of his intractability, he finally won recognition because of his straightforwardness.”
The feudal Imperial Court knew very well that Hai Jui was a loyal defender of the interests of the landlord class. This was the class essence of Hai Jui, and was also the point of departure as well as the end for all his actions. By portraying Hai Jui as representing the interests of the peasants, “loving the people and doing everything with the common people in mind,” fighting “for the interests of the people,”16 and even a hero “undaunted by the influence of the feudal bureaucrats,” Comrade Wu Han has distorted outright the class features of Hai Jui.
The Imperial Court of the Ming Dynasty glorified Hai Jui by saying that “he protected the people as his children,” while Comrade Wu Han says that he “did everything for the people.” Is there any difference between the two?
In the historical records of the landlord class, there is a profusion of data which describe in great length how Hai Jui “worked for the people in every place and every thing.” For example, when Hai Jui was governor of the area south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, he acted against Hsu Chieh and called for “return of land” on a large scale. “In less than a month,” he put the Wusung River under good repairs, and the people lauded him by saying that he was “the dragon king of the sea.” Because of this, after his death, the common people closed the market, and a hundred-li-long queue of weeping mourners dressed in white lined the two banks of the river when the boat carrying his coffin came to the place. These records, coupled with the colorful stories in old novels and plays, are very easy to mislead people. However, the records in such “official documents” obviously embody the exaggerated accounts of the landlord class, and we should carefully analyze them from the class viewpoint.
There was such a thing as “opposition to surrender of land” and Hsu Chieh was called upon “to return land,” but no reliable data can be found to show whether Hsu Chieh had complied with the demand, how much land he returned, and whether the return of land was genuine or fictitious. According to Tan Ch’ien’s State Taxation, in the seventh month of the fifth year of the Reign of Lung-ch’ing, Hsu Chieh returned 40,000 mou of land, but according to the statement that “40,000 mou of land was handed over to the government,” it was definite that such land was handed over to the government and was basically not returned to the peasants.
Even assuming that “more than half of the land was returned,” it was still in the interest of the landlord class and Hai Jui was not the only man who had called for the return of land. When Hsii Chieh was in power, he also had ordered “the return of land.” When the fourth son of Emperor Chia-ch’ing—Tsai Chun, Prince of Ching—died, Hsu Chieh “submitted a memorial recommending the seizure of several ten thousand hectares of land on the slope from the House of Ching for return to the people, and the people of Ch’u were very pleased.”17
If the class of the “people to whom the land was returned” is not analyzed and if, according to Comrade Wu Han’s view, anybody who dared to order “the return of land” would be a hero, was not Hsii Chieh a greater hero than Hai Jui, seeing that he dared to order the return of several ten thousand hectares of Imperial land?
Hai Jui did try to regulate the Wusung River, but his success in this connection was also open to doubt. Even under modern conditions the regulation of a river is by no means easy; how could Hai Jui have regulated a river in so short a time? According to his “memorial on widening of the Wusung River,” he originally “planned to widen the river by 150 feet.” The project was started on the third day of the first month, but all the money had been spent by the middle of the second month. Because “the engineering project was heavy and there was not enough money,” he asked for permission to draw on public funds. It can be seen that he encountered great difficulties and was unable to fulfill even the original plan in more than a month.
Comrade Wu Han overstated the truth: “The progress of work was so fast that it took less than a month to finish the project.” Such exaggeration has nothing in common with Hai Jui’s own memorial.
As to his portrayal of the funeral, this also gives us food for thought. Before liberation, under the ruthless exploitation of the landlord class, the broad masses of the poor peasants were so impoverished that they could not afford to put on clothes. Many peasants shared their rags generation after generation. They had no mourning clothes to put on even when members of their own families passed away. It can be seen that those people who could put on presentable “white caps and robes” to attend the funeral at that time could never be the poor peasants or “the broad masses of the people” as Comrade Wu Han claims, but could only be the landlords, rich peasants, and merchants.
It is not a matter of no significance if in the course of writing a historical play we can really follow the principles of historical materialism, scientifically analyze such historical data, eliminate what is false, retain what is true, and mold the character of Hai Jui according to his original features—thus enabling the audience to see what is his class essence and to know the class features of historical characters from the viewpoint of historical materialism. It will acquire a positive significance in eliminating the undesirable effects spread by many old novels and plays which sing praises to Hai Jui.
However, Comrade Wu Han not only runs counter to historical facts and adopts—in whole and without any change—the standpoint and viewpoint of the landlord class and its data to sing praises of Hai Jui, but even goes to the extreme of molding Hai Jui as the “savior” of the poor peasants, and a victor in the struggle for the interests of the peasants. He wants the people of today to follow his example. This is total departure from the correct direction.
Comrade Wu Han unambiguously calls upon others to learn from the Hai Jui molded by him. What are, after all, the things we can “learn” from him?
The “return of land”? The socialist system of collective ownership has been realized and great people’s communes have been established in our countryside. Under such a circumstance, who is required “to return the land”? Do we want the people’s communes “to return the land”? Can it be said that the 500 million peasants who are pushing forward with resolve along the socialist road should be required to “learn” such “return of land”?
Or to learn “the redressing grievances”? Ours is a country in which the dictatorship of the proletariat has been realized. Speaking of redressing of grievances, with the proletariat and all oppressed and exploited classes breaking out from the darkest hell in the world, smashing the shackles of the landlords and the bourgeoisie, and becoming the masters of their own destinies—have not the grievances been redressed the most thoroughly in the history of mankind? If we are required to learn “to redress grievances” today, we must ask: What are after all the classes which have “grievances,” and how can their “grievances” be “redressed”?
If we are not required to learn the return of land or the redressing of grievances, what then is the “realistic significance” of the Dismissal of Hai Jui?
Perhaps Comrade Wu Han would say: Granted it is wrong to learn Hai Jui’s return of land or redressing of grievances, we can at least learn his spirit as “a great man” who “stands on the earth with his head reaching to the sky,” and to “oppose today’s bureaucratism as he opposed the hypocrites in old days.” Have I not said in the synopsis of the Dismissal of Hai Jui that this play “lays emphasis on Hai Jui’s uprightness and refusal to bow to brute force” and his “determination”? Do we also need such a “he-man” to handle our internal relationships today? The play has saliently portrayed Hai Jui’s opposition to “licorice root” and his attack on the hypocrites, and has also molded Hsu Chieh as a typical “hypocrite.”
It is necessary to oppose bureaucratism. As a matter of fact, the Chinese Communists have never slackened their struggle against bureaucratism. However, we know that the existence of bureaucratism in the socialist society has its social origin and root cause in ideology, and it is necessary to wage a protracted struggle before it can be extirpated.
As to “uprightness,” “great man,” “he-man,” and “opposition to hypocrites,” it is first necessary to determine their class content—for what class do they work and against what class are they directed. These concepts are interpreted by different classes in different ways, and we cannot discard their class content and regard them in the abstract. “Uprightness” or “great man” has its specific class meaning, and basically cannot be mixed with the revolutionary or militant character of the proletariat.
We want to quote once again the statement made by Comrade Mao Tse-tung to explain a couplet from a poem by Lu Hsun:
Fierce-browed, I cooly defy a thousand pointing fingers,
Head-bowed, like a willing ox I serve the children.
Comrade Mao Tse-tung said: “The ‘thousand pointing fingers’ are our enemies, and we will never yield to them, no matter how ferocious. The ‘children’ here symbolize the proletariat and the masses.” (“Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art”)
We must face the enemies with “a scornful frown,” but serve the children with heads bowed like a willing ox. If we depart from so definite a class standpoint or class viewpoint today, describe “uprightness” and “great man” in the abstract, even call those who “serve the children with the head bowed like a willing ox” the “hypocrites” and those, who cooly defy with a scornful frown the proletariat and the working people, “upright” persons and use such “self-respect” to demand “return land,” “redress grievances,” “oppose today’s bureaucratism,” and “officials be dismissed” by the working people—then where shall we lead people to?
If we were not forgetful, we would still remember that after the basic completion of the socialist transformation of the ownership of means of production in 1957, a small bunch of people suddenly showed a special interest in the opposition of “hypocrites.” Some people made use of the slogan of “opposing the hypocrites” and “opposing licorice root” to oppose the revolutionary cadres of the proletariat and the left-wingers among the democrats. They cursed the Party leaders as “hypocrites who are mindful of minor virtues,” and slandered the democrats who followed the Communist Party as the disciples of “licorice rootism.” An abundance of jargon of this kind can be found from certain newspapers at that time.
This was because—in the view of those who took the stand of the landlords and the bourgeoisie—all those who proceeded from the supreme interests of the Party and the people, adopted the means of democracy and persuasion and the method of unity/criticism/unity to handle correctly the contradictions among the people, and urged people to exert themselves for progress were all “hypocrites” and “licorice roots.” Proceeding from the interests of the landlords and the bourgeoisie, they dared to persist in mistakes to the end, dared to become opponents of the proletarian dictatorship, and dared to slay with a stick those who disagreed with them. They thought that only in this way could they be “great men” and “strong men” who were “ashamed to be identified with licorice root.”
The substance of this set of theories is already known to everybody. Why do the Dismissal of Hai Jui and its commentators want to proclaim them once again?
Comrade Wu Han has stubbornly publicized the theory that historical plays must bring the “good virtues” of some characters of the feudal age “deep into people’s hearts to form a component of socialist and communist morality.”18 We are not going to discuss here the problem of morality (which is also a problem much confused by the bourgeois scholars, writers, and philosophers). But if the thoughts and deeds of Hai Jui are considered as “components” of communist morality as the Dismissal of Hai Jui preaches, what then is the use of studying the thought of Mao Tse-tung; ideological remolding; becoming one with the workers, peasants, and soldiers; and revolutionization; and labor transformation?
Let us now return to the problem raised at the beginning of this article: What is the “realistic significance” of the Dismissal of Hai Jui as a “big-character poster”? In order to find an answer to this problem, it is necessary to study the background to the production of this play.
As is known to all, China in 1961 encountered temporary economic difficulties because it was attacked by natural calamities for three years in succession. With the imperialists, the reactionaries of various countries, and the modern revisionists launching wave after wave of attacks against China, the demons and spirits clamored for “individual farming” and “reopening of cases.” They played up the “superiority” of “individual farming” and called for the restoration of individual economy and the “return of land.” In other words, they wanted to demolish the people’s communes and to restore the criminal rule of the landlords and rich peasants. The imperialists, landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, undesirable characters, and rightists who were responsible for numerous grievances of the working people in the old society had lost their right to manufacture more grievances. They felt that it was “wrong” to overthrow them and vociferously clamored for “the redressing of their grievances.” They hoped that someone who represented their interests would come forward to resist the dictatorship of the proletariat, redress their “grievances” and “reopen the case” for them so that they might be returned to power.
“Return of land” and “redressing of grievances” formed the focal point of bourgeois opposition to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist revolutionary struggle at that time.
The objective existence of class struggle will necessarily be reflected in this or that form in the ideological sphere, or through the pen of this or that writer. Regardless of whether this writer is conscious of it or not, this is an objective law which is independent of one’s will. The Dismissal of Hai Jui is a form of reflection of such class struggle.
If Comrade Wu Han does not agree with this analysis, he is asked to give us a clear and definite answer: In 1961, what things could the people have “learned” from the Dismissal of Hai Jui which distorts historical facts?
We are of the opinion that the Dismissal of Hai Jui is not a fragrant flower but a poisonous weed. Although it was published and staged several years ago, yet because large numbers of articles have been written in praise of it, and such articles have been widely read and have influenced people in a big way, their damaging effect has been felt far and wide. The play ought to be discussed; for any failure to clarify the problem will be most harmful to the people’s cause. In such discussions, provided we make earnest use of the viewpoint of class analysis to think, we certainly can learn a profound lesson from the realistic and historical class struggle.
- Wu Han’s “On Hai Jui,” Jen-min Jih-pao, 21 September 1959.
- “Be Ashamed To Be Licorice Root, Dare To Assume the Role of Lord Pao of the South,” Peking Wen-i, March 1961.
- “On Dismissal of Hai Jui,” Peking Wen-i, March 1961.
- “From Hai Jui to ‘Plays Portraying Honest, Incorrupt Officials,’“ Peking Wan-pao, 23 June 1961.
- Wu Han’s “On Hai Jui,” Jen-min Jih-pao, 21 September 1959.
- Introduction to Dismissal of Hai Jui in one volume, published by Peking Publishing House in November 1961, p. 7.
- Wu Han’s “Story of Hai Jui,” Collected Works on Chinese History, June 1963, 2nd edition, Chung Hua Book Company, p. 15.
- Wu Han’s Preface to Dismissal of Hai Jui in one volume, p. vi.
- In the Notes on the Twenty-Two Dynasties of China, the examples given on surrender of land in Chiating and Ch’ingp’u under the Reign of Wan-li give a marked reflection of the contradiction within the landlord class. An excerpt follows: “An example was also set in the surrender of land. The villains seized land from landowners and surrendered it to those in power, thus turning such land into the property of those in power. … During the Reign of Wan-li, there was a gallant fellow named Chou Hsing-ch’ing in Chiating and Ch’ingp’u. A widow there has some property and her son was young. Her nephew secretly sun-ended her land to a powerful family, and the powerful family came in a boat to inspect the estate. Learning about the injustice, Chou Hsing-ch’ing mustered a number of strong men and came forward to challenge the powerful family. The latter were scared and fled. … It can be seen from this how bad the custom of surrender of land was at that time.” (Commercial Press, July 1958 edition, p. 721.)
- “Memorial To Admit Incompetency After Being Criticized,” see Collected Works of Hai Jui published in December 1962, by Chung Hua Book Company. All subsequent utterances by Hai Jui used in the article are quoted from this book.
- Ming Law Explained, Vol. V.
- Wu Han’s “More on Historical Plays,” Wen-hui Pao, 3 May 1961, Spring Collection, p. 155.
- For example, in 1450 (first year under the Reign of Ching-t’ai), the peasant insurgents led by Huang Hsiao-yang surrounded the city of Canton and cut off all means of communication. The offensive was very fierce and the armed forces of the landlord class were “repeatedly defeated.” At that time, seeing that the armed suppression failed, the Imperial Court sent there Yang Hsin-min, then a well-known “honest, incorrupt official.” As soon as Yang arrived, he promptly made use of the flexible means of “pacification.” He carried out a lot of work to deceive, disintegrate, and soften up the peasant insurgents. The latter were deceived by the “honest, incorrupt official.” They dared not do anything “to harm him” and slackened their armed struggle. Following this, Tung Hsing sent large contingents of the armed forces of the landlords in Kwangtung, Kwangsi, and Kiangsi to the place to carry out a sanguine massacre of the peasants and their troops. The uprising thus failed, and Huang Hsiao-yang was also killed by an arrow. This story is told in the “Biography of Yang Hsin-min” and the “Biography of Tung Hsing” in Ming History.
- “Wu Han’s “More on Historical Plays,” Wen-hui Pao, 3 May 1961, Spring Collection, p. 152.
- Hai Jui Submits a Memorial, a collective work of Shanghai Peking Opera Theater written by Hsu Szu-yen, published in April 1960, by Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House. When this play was staged in 1959 and 1961, comments and articles were carried by both Chieh-fang Jih-pao and Wen-hui Pao separately published the two articles, “The Image of Hai Jui in Hai Jui Submits a Memorial” and “On Chou Hsin-fang’s New Play, Hai Jui Submits a Memorial.” When the play was staged once again during the Spring Festival of 1961, Chieh-fang Jih-pao also published on February 11 an article entitled “On Peking Opera Hai Jui Submits a Memorial.”
- “Wu Han’s “Story of Hai Jui,” Collected Works on Chinese History, 2nd edition, June 1963, Chung Hua Book Company, pp. 19-35.
- “Biography of Hsii Chieh” in Ming History.
- Wu Han’s “More on Historical Plays,” Wen-hui Pao, 3 May 1961.