Kilian 1 Patrick Kilian Dr.

Howard Choy CHIN 130: Intro to Chinese Culture 11 May 2009 The Color Red in Mo Yan’s “Iron Child” Mo Yan informs his reader right away that the events of “Iron Child” occur during the Great Leap Forward (1957-1961), a time when Mao Zedong implemented drastic changes to China’s infrastructure and policy in order to greatly increase its agricultural production and “catch up” with the Western world in steel output, for with steel comes the ability to build a powerful tank-using military. The most infamous policy of the Great Leap Forward had Chinese pool any and every metal item they could gather; pots, pans, screws, knives, and so on, into communal smelting furnaces where they would melt the useful items down into pig iron to send to governmental factories. The end result was a rapid increase in the production of low-quality to useless metal and the wanton destruction of important items, such as cooking ware. In fact, due in large part to the foolish sacrifice of metallic resources, as well as agricultural reform gone awry, “scholars have estimated that somewhere between 16.5 million and 40 million people died before the experiment came to an end in 1961, making the Great Leap famine the largest in world history” (Harms). In “Iron Child”, Mo Yan illustrates the unintelligible, grotesque nature of this period in China’s history with several devices: the repeated use of the color red, disquieting images of violence, the magical realism of the Iron Child itself. The color red, in China associated with happiness, revolution, and Communism, appears numerous times in “Iron Child”, gaining significance each time. First, the

Mo Yan universalizes the metaphor in one simple sentence: “Flames from the smelting ovens turned their faces bright red. and places blame on each and every individual who contributed to the lunatic cause of increasing iron production exponentially. during the Great Leap Forward. This reddening of the world occurs as the two children reach the end of the railway. an irony that illustrates China’s failed hopes during the Great Leap Forward.” referring to the working community gathered for a meal (Mo Yan 384). traditionally brings rain to the agrarian communities of China. The dragon.Kilian 2 children locked inside the compound would look out at the rail line and see “From time to time people would suddenly stick thousands of red flags into the dragon. especially as they take to eating woks instead of actual food.” including the last time. Mo Yan uses the impossible Gousheng and Iron Child to state that. This surreal waif inexplicably has the ability to eat iron. in the end catching and punishing him for destroying metal. until the peasants of the area mistake him for a demon. but a “dragon”. and the hope that the railroad dragon would bring crops and help increase agricultural production. all that China accomplished was to consume their metal in needless and unhelpful fashion. where workers eat around smelting furnaces. The more iron that Gousheng consumes. among other things. was not realized. red appears associated with rust and the Iron Child. . The second time. the more rust-covered and red his body becomes. Here. and introduces Gousheng to the practice as well. when they finish building the railway and the train passes through (Mo Yan 380). the child Gousheng’s eyes do not see a railroad in the midst of construction. a benevolent creature. whose body appears to be covered with the substance.

If they did. “They chirped when we bit into them. and took more of a toll than expected. but people don’t know that. Second.Kilian 3 Mo Yan’s commentary on the idiocy of the Great Leap Forward comes directly from a conversation between Iron Child and Gousheng: “Anybody can eat iron.. it’s harder” (Mo Yan 383). As Gousheng and Iron Child eat all the screws from the tank and climb inside it. the children “could see and hear the blood dripping off the edge of the door and splattering on the ground” (Mo Yan 381). as the crushed and bleeding worker is brought to safety.. and they bled” (Mo Yan 381). First. . Mo Yan describes the poor quality of the pig iron used in military construction – tanks made from pots and pans will not win wars. The color red is also present in several images of intense violence. as they are forced to eat live chicks from their eggs by the three crone women. The red of the blood here highlights the immense amount of death and suffering felt by the populace during the Great Leap Forward and its surrounding times. they wouldn’t have to plant crops any more would they? Do you think smelting iron is easier than planting crops? In fact. He explains that the sudden and immense departure from the agricultural economy of China that Mao attempted to implement left its citizens without food.

William. . Second ed. 1996.edu/960314/china. "Iron Child.uchicago. 2007.Kilian 4 Works Cited Harms. The Universtiy of Chicago. 11 May 2009 <http://chronicle." The University of Chicago Chronicle. 379-87. 14 Mar.shtml>. Mo Yan." The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. "China's Great Leap Forward. New York: Columbia UP.