Wu Han Part 2
Wu Han was a fellow in love with Ming Dynasty history. A budding intellectual, caught up in the maelstrom of China, trying to figure out what was taking place and what it all meant. An intellectual without a cause. The only problem is that while one could be forgiven for taking the time to ponder aimlessly which direction the China of the 1930’s would take, by the 40’s that time was up. While peasants perhaps were given a free pass, not so the intellectuals. So it was that Wu Han finally joined a political party. A party with no influence. Not even worth mentioning in this post. Yet it was promptly banned by that ultimate liberal fan of multi-party democracy, Chiang Kai Shek.
(The more I think and ponder, the more convinced I am that China under CKS would’ve been an ugly, nasty business.)
As the 40’s turn into the 50’s, somehow someway Mr. Wu Han is befriended by a fellow named Peng Zhen, a rising star in the Party. When Peng Zhen becomes the mayor of Beijing, Wu Han is named the Vice Mayor of Beijing. His focus was culture and education. A solidly anonymous cog in the machine.
In time Wu Han harmlessly finds time to return to his passion of studying Ming history. He becomes interested in a Ming official named Hai Rui, a seemingly obstinate yet maddenly honest mid level official in Beijing. Initially, he served under one of China’s accidental emperor’s. This particular accidental emperor was the Jiajing emperor. Unfortunately, the Jiajing Emperor was never brought up to be emperor. Rather, his “cousin”, the son of the Zhengde emperor was the rightful heir.
However, this poor fellow died at an early age, and China suddenly had no heir to the throne.
The nephew of Zhengde was thus chosen to become the next emperor. To no one’s surprise, this poor fellow, undoubtedly due to his lack of preparation, relied upon others to actually manage the country in his stead. Those chosen to manage the Affairs of State were of course not looked upon too fondly. Disappointed by all this, Hai Rui called out the Jiajing Emperor for improper attention to duty and was sentenced to death. This death sentence was commuted however, upon the death of the Jiajing Emperor.
Alas, a loyal official for the good of China having the courage to speak out against the Emperor rang a bell with the Chinese People, as it would in many other countries. A heroic person doing the brave, dumb thing.
Wu Han, the Ming History Enthusiast, decides to write about this Hai Rui.
The year is 1959.
What else happened in 1959?
Oh yeah, a fellow named Peng Dehuai goes by the wayside. You remember him, right? The brave, blunt general with a commoners touch. The fellow that found it more comfortable to sleep on the floor rather than the bed. The fellow that referred to Mao as “Old Mao”.
He got deposed right? The Great Leap Forward greatly impacted Mao’s reputation in a negative sense, as the Great Famine quickly followed. And Peng Dehuai spoke up.
One knows not why Mao did not immediately see through Wu Han’s writings on Hai Rui. Perhaps he simply wasn’t following what this anonymous cog in the machine was doing.
But then Wu Han decides to turn it into a Peking Opera. This is what we all know today as Hai Rui Dismissed from Office.
The year was 1962, and suddenly Mao was paying attention.
Wu Han despite his denials was obviously criticizing Mao and complimenting Peng Dehuai as Hai Rui. No question of it.
And it didn’t make matters better that Peng Dehuai himself in some fatal coincidence even wrote a letter to Mao around this time chiming in “I want to be Hai Rui! “
As the years go by however, nothing is immediately done about the play’s insinuation. Mao has retreated into seclusion, remember, to lick his wounds as Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi slowly turn things around, and the economy begins to improve. Liu Shaoqi at the time had a very beautiful wife, by the name of Wang Guangmei. An English speaker, young and lithesome. It was about this time she was beginning to come into her own. Investigating the turmoil caused by the Great Famine. Interviewing peasants. Returning to Beijing with horror stories for all to hear.
As the wife of Liu Shaoqi, she was in effect the First Lady of China. Why is that? Remember her husband was the President of China, the designated successor to Mao. In effect, she was China’s version of Chiang Kai Shek’s wife, Song Mei Ling.
One can only wonder what prestige she would have brought China if allowed to visit the West, instead of simply going to places like Indonesia and Vietnam to represent her country. ….?
But Mao has too much time on his hands. He hears how China is growing and worries that China is veering off the Socialist Road.
What to do?
Mao suddenly remembers the play. That play.
Somehow all the building resentment at being kept out of the loop, the failures of his policies, the tremendous loss of face he must surely have felt, the publicized comings and goings of Liu Shaoqi and his beautiful wife seem a bit too much. Mao was facing the reality that China simply didn’t need him anymore. Indeed, wasn’t China now better off? Mao began to realize there would be no summoning for a return to power. All his anguish seems to crystallize upon Wu Han.
So it was at the end of the day the most revered man in China was pissed off by something a nobody wrote. And to top it off the play is a hit! This probably angered Mao. Indeed, one can only imagine the rage Mao must have felt, being belittled by someone who only recently had just joined the Communist Party! After all, couldn’t everybody see the play was aimed at him?
He orders a rebuttal of Wu Han’s play.
Along the way Mao decides China is veering out of control. This is not the China he envisioned.
Mao plots his comeback.