Wed, Apr 18, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Xi’s ironic ban on Orwell’s books

By Jerome Keating

In an almost ludicrous and seemingly unfathomable move, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has pushed the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts in micromanagement to the extreme.

Xi did this by banning a new list of items, including George Orwell’s books Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four as well as the innocuous letter “N.”

I leave interpretations of the banning of the letter “N” to others more drawn to delving into linguistic symbolism and cryptology, and will focus on the two works of Orwell.

Orwell wrote Animal Farm in 1945, when World War II was ending and several years before the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The book referenced the 1917 Russian revolution and was directed at the severe resultant politics of then-Soviet premier Josef Stalin, a leader whose statues were later taken down.

So why, then, is concern over these books now being felt in China, and why are Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four being singled out?

Written in English and published before Xi was born, both books would at best have come to the average Chinese reader in translation.

The questions for their banning continue. Does Xi feel a need to defend Stalin? That is highly unlikely since Stalin’s legacy has already undergone questioning in Russia, and Russia and China have had their own stormy past.

Is the book that insidious?

Again, the initial reaction is disbelief, until one realizes that Animal Farm is an allegory and that its main allegorical theme is the betrayal of a revolution. With that revelation, the reasons for censorship suddenly come more into focus.

As works of literature, allegories convey hidden moral and political truths. In doing this, they transcend time and culture.

Is Xi afraid that readers will suspect that the Chinese revolution has been betrayed, especially now that the economy is no longer in double-digit growth and the wealth gap is widening?

Has China’s revolution, like that of Russia, only ended up producing a new breed of rulers — the oligarchs? Or to put it in the words of the book’s animal commandments, are “all animals equal, but some are more equal than others?”

In its allegory, Animal Farm does not champion capitalism. At the story’s end, it becomes evident that the pigs have become so like the capitalistic farmers that the other animals cannot distinguish them from their original masters. The revolution failed and the animals (average workers) of the farm are not getting their fair share of the rewards of their labor. Orwell was a socialist.

However, there is more. Animal Farm also provides evident support of the dangers of the cult of personality. In it, Napoleon, the leader of the pigs, is elevated and seen as above the law; his decisions are not to be questioned.

For those that followed the CCP’s 19th National Congress and the elevation of Xi in its aftermath, this allegorical reference hits home. China’s constitution has been altered to allow Xi to rule indefinitely as leader.

It is at this point that Orwell’s other book, Nineteen Eighty-Four comes into play.

In this work, published in 1949, Orwell is clearly prophetic as he treats the dystopian dangers of control that he could see developing in the world around him. The book takes place on the fictitious Airstrip One, formerly Great Britain, and a province of Oceania. In it, we find ideas such as the government being referenced as Big Brother, which employs “Thought Police” to influence and control the thinking of the masses.

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