People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 04, 2009


�The Song of Youth�

An Inspiring Book on the Chinese Revolution


G Mamatha


ON the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of People's Republic of China, one cannot but recall the tremendous valour and sacrifices of the people of China who fought for the liberation of their motherland from the imperialist yolk. During this period, many outstanding novels were written rousing the passions of the people to defend their country. Defend Yan'an by Du Pengcheng, Sanliwan village by Zhao Shuli, Builders of a New Life by Liu Qing, Great Changes in a Mountain Village by Zhou Libo, Keep the Red Flag Flying by Liang Bin, Red Crag by Luo Guangbin and Yang Yiyan, Tracks in the Snowy Forest by Qu Bo and Three Family Lane by Ouyang Shan are some of the most inspiring novels. The Song of Youth by Yang Mo is considered to be the best among these.

The Song of Youth that I read during my student movement days remained firmly etched in my mind. I lived through the novel as the conditions of feudal oppression and imperialist domination ring a similar echo with our own experiences. The courage and sacrifices of the people in fighting the occupiers also sound similar and familiar to us. Unfortunately, while the dreams of many of the freedom fighters of China had been realised through the new democratic revolution and the socialist construction there, we failed in our country as we could achieve only political independence and not economic emancipation of the people. This is primarily due to the role played by classes that led the freedom movement in these two countries: in our country it was led by the bourgeoisie-landlord combine while in China it was the worker-peasant alliance led by the Communist Party of China.

Coming to the book, The Song of Youth published in 1958, was translated into 20 languages with over five million copies sold. The story was made into a film on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and recently it has been made into an opera to mark the 90th anniversary of the May 4th Movement. It is a stirring story about patriotic students in Peking (Beijing) from the time of the Japanese occupation of the North East in 1931 to the upsurge of the student movement in 1935, on the eve of the War of Resistance against Japan. It shows how young people under the guidance of the Chinese Communist Party fought with courage and determination against Japanese imperialist aggression and the Kuomintang capitulationist policy. The experiences of the young heroine, Lin Tao-ching, illustrate the way in which many young progressive people, at first frustrated and uncertain, blossomed into maturity and developed a clear perspective during the course of revolutionary struggles. It depicts the journey of the young girl student from a traditional feudal family into a militant fighter in the national revolutionary front. Such literature has influenced generations of youngsters like us and no doubt will continue to inspire and help in deciding the future course of action for many more generations to come.

Lin Tao-ching, after facing many ordeals during her childhood, escapes from the clutches of her stepmother and starts working as a teacher in Peking. She gets inspired by the patriotism and revolutionary zeal of Lu Chia-chuan, an underground leader of the student movement in Peking University. Some of the conversations between them clear many misconceptions about how a war of liberation has to be fought and what role an individual can play in it. Once, when Lin Tao-ching and other teachers plead helplessness to save the country because they don�t have arms in their hands, Lu Chia-chuan says,   �A patriot need not shoulder a rifle and fight on the battlefield. You can arouse people by propaganda. If you teach your students to love and cherish our country, that's the same as taking up arms.�  In another context when Tao-ching professes that she is a charitable person, helping the poor, he says that for assessing one's behaviour and efforts, we have to look not only at his motives but also at the effect of his actions. Does he help society to move forward, or does he just help to preserve it? He states that the virtues and happiness of being selfless can be appreciated and realised only when the path chosen helps in realising the ultimate goal. It is this knowledge of the soundness of the Marxist-Leninist theory that steels a communist. �A Communist's determination to devote himself entirely to the Party rules out all personal considerations of loss or gain, glory or shame�. Egging the students not to lose hope, instilling an eternal sense of optimism and rousing them to action he quotes Shelley, 'If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?'

When Tao-ching tells Lu Chia-chuan that to her it always seemed better to die a heroic death than to lead a vain, humdrum life, he emphatically clears the vainness of this romantic notion and says, �We join the revolution not in order to die but to live � to live a more worthwhile life and to bring happiness to millions upon millions of oppressed. Why think of death before you have done anything worthwhile? That's a mistaken notion�. This in no sense means that he is afraid of death or not ready to sacrifice his life for the sake of the cause. This is proved by his heroic death without doubt - the Kuomintang government buries him alive after torturing him brutally. What this dialogue shows is how communists value life and also corrects the misunderstanding among many who regard communists as blood thirsty - always spilling blood, if not theirs, others. Of course, there are some groups even in our country who do these things, but can they be called �communists� just because they have labelled themselves as such? Alas, how many �unhappy� people have we not seen whose optimistic parents have named them as �happy� (Anand) and how many �unhealthy� people have we not come across who are called �healthy� (Arogyam)! Thus, it is not name that counts but deeds that define a true communist. This is thoroughly exemplified in this novel.

For Lu Chia-chuan, his own life, his personal concerns counted for nothing. He always used to say that the cause of the Party, the collective cause must be safeguarded at all costs. The torch of the struggle must be kept alight.

When Tao-ching gets arrested and is subjected to inhuman torture by the Kuomintang, she bravely faces them, without letting a word pass her lips. Bars were pressed down across the backs of her knees; one kettle after another of pepper water was poured into her nostrils. She bites her lips till they bled. Then a red-hot iron was applied to her thighs making her shriek and lose completely her consciousness. Cruel tortures had not succeeded in weakening her resolve. Unnerved by her grit and commitment, the bullies comment, 'This girl has guts! What is it about the Communist Party that makes ordinary men and women behave like this? For communism they're ready to give up their lives. And what's more precious than life, I'd like to know?' And do we not find such heroes and heroines in our freedom struggle? The Bhagat Singhs, Preetilatas, Sunitis and Shantis�

Iron bars, chains, high prison walls,

Can rob us of our freedom,

Not of our revolutionary spirit!

Rotten prison fare and vermin

May waste our flesh

But cannot wear out our courage!

The final victory will be ours!

We steel and temper ourselves

To fight bravely on!

The day will come

When red flags follow the sun

To all parts of the earth!


In the prison, Tao-ching meets another resolute Bolshevik fighter, Liu Yi-feng. Hearing the news of Lu Chia-chuan's death in the hands of Kuomintang from Liu Yi-feng, Tao-ching yearns to avenge him, avenge the thousands upon thousands of others who had given their lives for the revolution and blurts out, 'Mother, let me go to the soviet area! I want to take up arms...I can't bear this quiet life here!' Liu Yi-feng recalls and retells the advice of her husband, who was a Party leader and who was also killed by the Kuomintang � �Victory can't be won overnight � there's still a long path ahead strewn with difficulties. Go among the masses in earnest and work hard�, quoting this she tells Tao-ching to steel herself and work steadily and conscientiously. She says, �Go where the Party needs you most. You don't need a gun to fight the enemy. You can fight with your pen, with your ideas � even a washboard is a weapon in our hands.� These words tell the importance of battle of ideas. Many young people live under a false impression that it is only �action� that counts and think of all other works as �boring�. True, it signals their urge and impatience for change which is positive. But unless the ground is prepared thoroughly we cannot reap a harvest. That is the importance of agitation and propaganda. Unless this is properly and thoroughly carried out, there is every danger that �impatience� for action will lead to �impatience� for victories and makes them unprepared for setbacks and once forced to retreat tactically, they fall out. This is a sound advice of great importance for people like me.

Refuting a sense of defeatism present among a section of academic community in the Peking University, a progressive professor says, ��.They have no faith at all in China's victory. Because our planes and guns aren't as good as the enemy's they conclude that China could not possibly win. They fail to see the strength of the people and to understand that in a war of national liberation, it is not planes nor guns but men who determine the outcome.� And who are these �men� or �women�? These are the ones who are tempered by agitation, propaganda, thorough study and understanding of the concrete conditions and live contact with the masses. This can be seen in the Vietnam struggle and in so many of the struggles that were waged for the people�s cause.

Some people think and say that they would participate only in �revolutionary activities�. They forget the concrete realities in which they are living. For them �revolution� is a romantic notion divorced from reality. It does not involve coercing the government to implement its promises, as it is �reformist� for them. In fact, they use these as cloaks to mask their inaction. The history of all successful revolutions proves the sham of these ideas and how mistaken they are. This book too talks of the need to expose the ruling classes among the people by taking up the issues they themselves promise. �...Its not wrong to demand democracy from the enemy, for the simple reason that state power is still in their hands... The Kuomintang has a high-sounding constitution- we must show that its a sham. If they don�t give us democracy, they'll be slapping their own faces.�

There is one, among a host of the most interesting anecdotes in this book that tells us not to offer some petty excuses and refrain from taking part in peoples� movements. A retired professor of the university makes up his mind to join the revolution and tells his wife about it. When she asks him to change his mind and reminds him of his old age, he says, �You may not know it, my dear, but some men are still young at ninety, while others are old at twenty. My mind's made up, so please don't say any more!� Hearing this, the wife also expresses her desire to join him and they both go and participate in the December 16th student demonstration in Peking. This is a universal truth and a challenge to all those twenties who start their quest for a meaningful life.

A meaningful life is not possible or achievable without struggle. History has proved it. There is no place in the entire world, that is what it is, but for the endeavours and sacrifices of our earlier generations. We, the young people would not be enjoying our happy life today if not for their struggles. There are umpteen problems in this world that require our urgent attention- social inequality, economic inequality, gender disparity, climate change and many such. The question is very simple, are we ready to take them up or hide under petty excuses? The Song of Youth is all about answering this question positively.