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Under The Red Flag, By Ha Jin

1383 words - 6 pages

In Ha Jin’s Under the Red Flag, the author interweaves different stories to showcase the individuals’ struggle to go against their natural instincts, as a means to comply with New China’s standards. These standards have been dictated by the political enforcers, and have established a new underlying moral basis that is expected of everyone to comply with. Although the stories are quite different, the connection they share is clearly explicated—they all combat the societal pressures to change themselves or face the consequences of being different. Two characters in particular: Ding Liang and Zhu Wenli, reveal the result of two different choices made.
Winds and Clouds over a Funeral brings light to the subject of an old woman’s death and her request that violates New China’s protocol. Before she dies, she tells her family that she wants to be buried; however, “nowadays the government encouraged people to cremate the dead in order to preserve arable land,” otherwise, “there would be no more land for growing crops if burials were not stopped” (46). The government explains that the shortage in “arable land” is a direct result of the many burials that have occurred over time. According to them, if the people do not act responsibly and cremate instead, they will contribute to future agricultural strains and would essentially lead to the depletion of the nation’s food source. Here, the audience is able to see the challenge ahead. Ding wants to fulfill his mother’s last request, which is to give her the proper burial that respects her traditional mindset. However, he faces the pressure of being “the head of the commune,” seeing the “thousands of eyes [that] are staring at [him]” (49). His decision to go against the government’s demands can lead to many political repercussions, being that his opposing decision would be exposed to many citizens. His decision would be reported to his superiors and he would face the risk of losing his career and powerful position in the Communist Party as a result. The decision to bury instead of cremate is controversial for any person in this society; however, he is a prominent figure that is well known by many people; therefore, the controversy of his action would be exponentially greater, since he would be seen as not cooperative with the communal goal of preserving the remaining unvacant land and ultimately appeasing to New China’s demands. He wants to make the best choice that would preserve his status and ensure his livelihood, but experiences the inner conflict of granting the old woman’s wish. His natural instinct is to respect his mother, since he promised “without second thoughts” (46). Usually, anyone who is closely-knit with their family will do anything to respect a family member’s last requests, and Ding is no different. He loved the old woman, but is forced to move from his values to the socially acceptable practice and conform to the rules. Once Ding does go through with the cremation, he is overcome with...

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