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Political Messages In The King Of Trees

1344 words - 5 pages

Throughout the course of his lifetime, Ah Cheng experienced major political and historical events that strongly influenced his literature. The Cultural Revolution and rule of Mao Zedong was widespread throughout China starting in the 1960s, and devastated millions of families. Cheng took a different approach to much of the literature ("scar literature") that emerged from the revolution, and instead of focusing on the detrimental effects, chose to use his literature as a way to point out the flaws of the revolution. These counter-revolutionary ideals are subtle but evident throughout The King of Trees, as the political chaos creates a backdrop in the novella, rather than the central focus. They can especially be seen through the use of abundant metaphorical elements. By showing the effects of the “down to the countryside movement”, a major reform under the rule of Mao Zedong, Cheng is able to provide a commentary on the Revolution through his characters and the setting as well. Throughout The King of Trees, Ah Cheng reveals his political views towards the Cultural Revolution through his use of symbolism, and his descriptions of the characters and the setting.
Symbolism plays a key role in the novella in allowing the author to relay his political ideals. In The King of Trees, Cheng uses many elements of nature to represent both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary ideas. The king of trees - and trees in general - throughout the novella is a symbol of counter-revolutionary ideals, and the older Chinese customs. Li Li, and in turn, the followers of Mao Zedong/the Red Guard, believe that “In practical terms, old things must be destroyed” (Cheng 43). This is shown through the felling of the trees – getting rid of the Old Chinese customs “and [replacing] them with useful ones” (Cheng 11). Cheng places a high importance on imagery throughout the novel, and by showing the importance of nature and the setting on the novella as a whole, he simultaneously places importance on the Four Olds and traditional customs. When the narrator realizes that “Knotty was dead”, it subsequently refers to the death of the traditional values and rituals of Chinese culture, and Cheng displays this death in a negative light to simultaneously criticize its replacement with the ideals of the Cultural Revolution (Cheng 54). Fire, used to destroy the felled trees throughout the novella, is used to symbolize the ideas of Mao Zedong and the motives of the Cultural Revolution. Its destructive and inescapable nature parallels the image that Cheng gives to the revolution. The muntjac is a key element in the symbolism within The King of Trees, and serves to further Cheng’s counter-revolutionary stance. The “torrid air” and “two sheets of flames” that surround the muntjac represent the inescapable nature of the Cultural Revolution (Cheng 51). Innocent people, symbolized by the muntjac, are being hurt and destroyed by the fire. However, instead of fighting it, they know the only...

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