“Sanliwan” is a 1955 novel by Zhao Shuli. This piece of literature does not deliberately entail the socialist practice of “enlarging the society” from the outside to top, and the process from top to down. On the contrary, the whole narrative of the novel tells people that cooperation is based on the village. The product of society’s own needs; and the reformation of the rural world by this movement is not a process that undermines traditions. Instead, it should be a more effective form of economic and social development, while also practicing higher moral ethics and culturally-ideal process. As a result, a more profound dialogue relationship needs to take place between socialist ideas and the cultural traditions of the rural world itself.
Of all Zhao Shuli’s works, the most influential is the one that he values most can be said to be “Sanliwan. ” It covers almost all the essential elements of Zhao Shuli’s creation. As the first contemporary novel to express the agricultural cooperative movement, the theme of “Sanliwan” can undoubtedly be included in the “problem novel” sequence. Zhao Shuli observed that the writing of this novel was in line with the “new historical mission” of the Chinese revolution, that is, the transition from the new democratic stage of anti-imperialist, anti-feudal, anti-bureaucratic capitalism to socialist construction and socialist transformation. The transition period’s main content is summarized as writing agricultural production.
The novel revolves around the three “big events” of Sanliwan Village’s autumn harvest, channeling, and expansion. In the process of resolving the fundamental narrative contradictions, no central figure led to the development of the entire event and gained a dominant position. This is true even for the branch secretary Wang Chin-sheng, who promotes the Sanliwan as a whole Village’s transition to cooperation since “when any job turned up that called for skill, they usually tackled it together.” Wang Yusheng, a technology innovation figure, has been praised from many aspects of the novel. Rather, what is driving the development of the incident is the joint force of various character relationships and structural forces in Sanliwan Village. Although Wang Chin-sheng is the central figure pushing Sanliwan Village to take a cooperative path, organizing channel opening and expanding the society, he is not the Liang Shengbao-style “hero figure” in The History of Entrepreneurship. Liang Shengbao’s heroic character is that he can stand alone against the vicious forces in the world of fiction, and thus dominate the narrative direction. However, Wang Chin-sheng always seems to be low-key or even harmful. He is not arrogant and powerful but is good at using different power relationships to guide the development of the event. Necessity made him the embodiment of the respectable “progressive” force in his home, village, and community. However, this does not mean that the novel lacks a “protagonist.” The event is used as the necessary context in the narrative.
How the “two-line struggle” of socialist ideology is transformed into the traditional “public” and “private” ethics of the countryside is an aspect that I may say stands out in the novel. It is most centrally reflected in how the author writes the relationship between “open channel” and “enlargement of society.” Drainage is a traditional public matter in rural society. According to the principles of the creation of socialist realist novels, undoubtedly, the “enlargement of the society” that highlights the ideal of socialism should become the most crucial event that governs everything in the novel. The legitimacy of the cooperative movement is not based on socialist ideas. However, it can affect public affairs and ideals of rural society. Here, the “public” tradition constitutes a medium for meaning exchange with modern “socialist” ideals, and it dominates how significant modernity events such as “socialist transformation” unfold as much as the author has not captured it well.
“Sanliwan” ‘s narrative with Sanliwan as its main body does not just describe a village case, but writes a unique modern social subject form by integrating “China” and “Socialism” in it. At this point, the “village” “China” and “socialism” have their own uniqueness and tolerance. This is also the unique feature of “Sanliwan” in describing the rural cooperative movement. At the same time, this novel contains Zhao Shuli’s conscious understanding of literature and its functions. The technique of dealing with the relationship between literature and politics. It also features literature as a theoretical and ethical social practice, especially in the relationship between individuals, society and the country. “Sanliwan” has made writing attempts that overflow or differ from the modern literary system.
The significance of the rereading of “Sanliwan” is not only that it presents an alternative modern social and literary form, but more importantly, offers the reader an opportunity to reflect on the entire modern society and literary system. Understanding such a text requires questioning many fundamental premises. For instance, how are individual versus community efforts portrayed in the novel? Can socialism be a better governance system for the world today? Did China’s modernity changed the rural lifestyle? The importance of “Sanliwan” may not be to provide a different set of solutions but to make the already stereotyped solutions in modern Chinese society and literature themselves “problems.”
Zhao, Shuli. Sanliwan village. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1957.