Fanshen is an accurate historical record of what once happened in one village four hundred miles south-west of Peking.
Every revolution creates new words. The Chinese revolution created a whole new vocabulary. A most important word in this vocabulary was “fanshen”;. Literally it means “to turn the body” or “to turn over”. To China’s hundreds of millions of landless and land-poor peasants it meant to stand up, to throw off the landlord yoke, to gain land, stock, implements and houses. But it meant much more than this. It meant to enter a new world. That is why the book is called Fanshen. It is the story of how the peasants of Long Bow built a new world.
This version of William Hinton’s book should be played with about nine actors taking the thirty or so parts. There are no sets, and no lighting cues. It should be performed using authentic props and costumes. At one end of the acting area is a small raised platform on which certain scenes are played. The rest of the acting area thrusts forward into the audience.
When the audience are in, the actors appear one by one with a piece of information. Then they begin to work on stage at their land, or washing, or begging, or watching until they form a whole picture of the village.
Ch’ung-lai’s wife The village of Long Bow is situated four hundred miles south-west of Peking. One thousand people live there. In 1946 nearly all the people lived off the land. Landlords claimed from fifty to seventy per cent of their tenants’ crop in rent. The rate of interest on loans went as high as one hundred per cent every twenty days. I am Ch’ung-lai’s wife. I have no land.
Cheng-k’uan A family might possess a few sections of house, each section six foot by nine, made of adobe and straw. Each person might own a quilt, a quilted jacket, cotton trousers, cotton shoes. A bowl.
I am Cheng-k’uan. I have one acre.
T’ien-ming The soil of Long Bow was poor. Without manure nothing would grow. The main manure was human manure, the foundation of the whole economy.
I am T’ien-ming. I have half an acre.
Hu Hsueh-chen Chinese peasant women had their marriages arranged by their parents, and were often sold as children into landlords’ households. Only when a woman became a mother-in-law in her own home did she command any power in a household. All the older women had their feet bound when they were young and could only move short distances.
I am Hu Hsueh-chen, beggar. No land.
Fa-liang In Long Bow landlords and rich peasants owned two acres or more per head. Middle peasants owned one acre, poor peasants half an acre per head. Hired labourers owned no land at all.
I am Fa-liang, a hired labourer.
Shen Ching-ho By far the largest building in Long Bow was the Catholic church, a Gothic building built in 1916 by Belgian Catholics. It acted as a bank and orphanage. Many of the poor of Long Bow bought their wives from the orphanage because it was cheaper.
I am Shen Ching-ho, a landlord. Twenty-three acres.
Man-hsi For thousands of years China was ruled by emperors. When the Japanese invaded most of the country was controlled by the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang, under Chiang Kai-shek. Throughout the Japanese occupation, the most successful and only lasting resistance was organized by the Communist Eighth Route Army. By 1945 when the Japanese left, parts of China were controlled by the Nationalists and parts by the Communists. Long Bow was at the edge.
Man-hsi. Half an acre.
Yu-lai (holding up a copy) This is the book Fanshen by William Hinton.*
I am Yu-lai, an ex-bandit.
Tui-chin Literally the word “fanshen” means to turn the body or to turn over. This is a record of one village’s life between 1945 and 1949. Many of the characters are still alive.
The peasants work. The landlord on the platform watches.Then he leaves.The house lights go down.
T’ien-ming boxes the compass with a megaphone from on top of the church tower.
T’ien-ming There will be a meeting. There will be a meeting today. In the square after the noon meal. There will be a meeting.
The men look up from their work.
Fa-liang A meeting.
Tui-chin Twenty years ago we had a meeting.
Cheng-k’uan About the church, about who owned the vegetable garden.
Tui-chin shrugs and smiles.
Tui-chin Another meeting.
They move from work and gather in the square. They squat down and wait till they are joined. Meanwhile the following scene is played simultaneously. Kuo Te-yu is being guarded by Man-hsi. He carries his rifle like a hoe with a red tassel on the end. The scene is played on the platform. T’ien-ming comes in.
T’ien-ming A battle. Eight miles away. Outside Changchih.
Man-hsi Are we winning?
T’ien-ming Not yet.
Man-hsi Then we can’t go ahead.
T’ien-ming Tie him up.
T’ien-ming Tie him up. We have messages telling us the Eighth Route Army have liberated fifty million people. Three hundred thousand square miles.
Man-hsi But for how long?
T’ien-ming It doesn’t matter. Elsewhere the Japanese are handing over only to the Kuomintang.
Kuo Te-yu moans.
Be quiet. The Kuomintang are leaving in wartime puppet governments, puppet troops. They even have the Japanese fighting for them against us in places.
Man-hsi Then we must wait till we know …
T’ien-ming The Kuomintang are throwing their troops into regaining the Liberated Areas. Civil war.
Man-hsi If it’s still going on, the people will be frightened to ”
T’ien-ming What else can we do? Get that leg up.
Man-hsi Can’t we wait? Can’t we wait for victory before we begin?
T’ien-ming No. Above our heads?
Man-hsi Very good.
T’ien-ming Make a show.
They hoist the trussed Kuo Te-yu above their heads.
There is a crack in history one inch wide. We fought for it and we must use it.
They hoist Kuo Te-yu down from the platform. They carry him out and throw him down in front of the crowd.
Countrymen. Your eight years’ suffering, your eight years at the hands of the Japanese are over. Their troops have gone. Now – revenge on traitors.
Cheers from the crowd.
Kuo Te-yu was head of the village for the last two years of the Japanese occupation. He was a collaborator.
Peasants Kill him. Rape his mother.
T’ien-ming Yes. But with your help.
Man-hsi stands back from the bundle.
T’ien-ming You all suffered under this man. You all know what he did. I therefore am asking you to speak it out. We are asking for your help. No one has ever asked your help before. Look at him. There’s nothing to fear. You can touch him. Everyone here has a grievance, everyone here has the right to accuse, we all have the same thoughts in our heads. Those of us who fought in the resistance are now asking for your help. You must be the ones to beat down traitors, you must accuse. Who will be the first to speak?
Silence. People move slightly away from the bundle.
Fa-liang, what are you thinking? Cheng-k’uan? Tui-chin,” have you ”
Man-hsi He ”
T’ien-ming Untie the ropes.
Man-hsi starts to undo the bundle. The people watch.Then Yu-lai gets up slowly.
Yu-lai Why not just take him up into the hills ”
T’ien-ming No ”
Yu-lai And do whatever you want, shoot him, it’s your ”
T’ien-ming He must be tried, in public, by the peasants of Long Bow, by the people he’s oppressed ”
Yu-lai You’re just afraid to kill him yourself ”
They start speaking simultaneously, each riding over the other’s sentences. Yu-lai lecturing at T’ien-ming.
T’ien-ming No ”
Yu-lai Because the Kuomintang are eight miles away ”
T’ien-ming I’m asking for your help ”
Yu-lai And if they come back ”
T’ien-ming No one has ever asked anything of you before ”
Yu-lai Then Kuo Te-yu will be reappointed ”
T’ien-ming I am asking you to speak out your memories ”
Yu-lai And anyone who has spoken at the meeting today ”
T’ien-ming That’s all, to say what we all know ” Yu-lai Anyone who has taken part in the struggle ” T’ien-ming Just to speak it out. Yu-lai Will be shot. Tell them that.
T’ien-ming So what are you saying?
Yu-lai What are you saying?
T’ien-ming Would you prefer to live under the Kuomintang? Would you like Kuo Te-yu reappointed? Your harvest seized, your goods impounded, your friends in the resistance shot? You want to see more of your friends hanged by the hair until their scalp comes away from their skull? (Pause.) Then what are you saying?
Yu-lai I’m saying ”
Yu-lai Those who accuse collaborators may themselves be killed.
T’ien-ming Yes. (Pause.) So will you speak first?
Pause. Yu-lai stuck. T’ien-ming smiles.
Yu-lai Don’t laugh at me.
T’ien-ming I’m not laughing.
Yu-lai If you ”
T’ien-ming Of course, if you’re frightened ”
Yu-lai Wait. I’m thinking.
The villagers smile, enjoying Yu-lai’s difficulty. Then slowly he sits down.
Give me time to think.
Kuo Te-yu is now untied. T’ien-ming stares hard at the crowd.
T’ien-ming The resistance worked eight years. Some of you ” silently supported us, in secret. Now the war against the Japanese is over, a civil war may begin. If we cannot beat down the traitors ” (He moves towards Kuo.) You’re frightened of him. There’s nothing. Look. (He puts his finger inside Kuo’s mouth, between his teeth. Holds it there. Looks at the crowd. Takes it out.) There’s nothing there.
Yu-lai You’ve paid him not to bite you.
T’ien-ming Come here.
T’ien-ming Come here.
Yu-lai looks round, then walks up. T’ien-ming places him dead opposite Kuo Te-yu.
Was this man a collaborator?
Did you suffer at his hands?
Did he steal your harvest?
Did he butcher your friends?
A pause. Then Yu-lai strikes Kuo Te-yu across the face. Then he smashes a fist under his jaw. Kuo Te-yu falls back. Then Yu-lai picks him up, hits him again.
Yu-lai stands him unsteadily on his feet, then takes a pace back.
Yu-lai Shen So-tzu was tortured for eighteen days, starved and shot. He was responsible. He betrayed him to the Japanese. I saw the body. I know it happened.
T’ien-ming Name him.
Yu-lai Kuo Te-yu.
Yu-lai goes back and takes his place in the crowd. Silence. Then a voice from a man still sitting in the crowd.
Cheng-k’uan Kung Lai-pao was cut to pieces with a samurai sword.
T’ien-ming Stand up.
Cheng-k’uan (stands) It was his treachery. Kuo Te-yu.
Fa-liang I was made to hand over three bags of grain or told the Japanese would burn my whole crop. He took it away and kept it.
T’ien-ming Name him.
Fa-liang Kuo Te-yu.
Tui-chin He sent me to work in the fields, I was never paid. One day ”
Then an outbreak of shouting in the crowd, all on top of each other.
Cheng-k’uan Kill the donkey’s tool.
Tui-chin Rape his mother.
Man-hsi Kill him.
They all rush forward on Kuo Te-yu and start a huge brawl. T’ien-ming throws himself in to try and protect Kuo Te-yu.
T’ien-ming Leave him. Leave him. He’s only a puppet.
Kuo Te-yu (screaming now) I carried orders, I was only carrying out orders.
T’ien-ming Leave him.
He manages to clear a space for Kuo Te-yu.
He took orders. Let him testify.
Kuo Te-yu I was told what to do.
Yu-lai Who told you?
Kuo Te-yu Wen Ch’i-Yun ”
T’ien-ming Commander of the puppet garrison, Long Bow fort.
Kuo Te-yu Murderer. Killed many in my sight. Shen Chi-mei ”
T’ien-ming Head of Fifth District Police ”
Kuo Te-yu Killed many. Ordered many dead. Took prisoners. Cut their hands, their fingers. He ran the camps.
Tui-chin Shoot them.
T’ien-ming Nobody will be shot, nobody, until they have been tried by you. You have taken their lives into your hands, you, the peasants of Long Bow. It lies with you. Do you understand?
The peasants gather to watch. Still figures. Two men are lined up with sacks over their heads.
T’ien-ming Down with traitors, down with Kuomintang agents, liquidate the bloody eight years’ debt.
Man-hsi cocks his rifle.
Arrested, tried, found guilty by the people. Wen Ch’i-Yun, commander of the puppet garrison, Long Bow fort. Shen Chi-mei, head of the Fifth District Police.
Man-hsi shoots them. They fall. The people watch as T’ien-ming and Man-hsi strip the bodies of their clothes. They then hold the clothes out to the people.
Here. The fruits of struggle. What we have seized from traitors. Take them. You have earned them. You deserve them. You have played your part. You have condemned the traitors, you have executed collaborators.
The people look at the clothes, but they turn away and will not take them. Then Shen Ching-ho, the landlord, passes across the back of the stage. They scatter. T’ien-ming and Man-hsi are left holding out the goods.
Take them. Take them.