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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

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

and they bled” (Mo Yan 381). they wouldn’t have to plant crops any more would they? Do you think smelting iron is easier than planting crops? In fact. 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). First. . and took more of a toll than expected. “They chirped when we bit into them. He explains that the sudden and immense departure from the agricultural economy of China that Mao attempted to implement left its citizens without food.. 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. as they are forced to eat live chicks from their eggs by the three crone women.If they did.. but people don’t know that. as the crushed and bleeding worker is brought to safety. Second. The color red is also present in several images of intense violence. Mo Yan describes the poor quality of the pig iron used in military construction – tanks made from pots and pans will not win wars.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).

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