Reading over China-related notes (poking at As Big As The Sky), some interesting connections suggested themselves among the papers paving my study floor.

1. In Ming dynasty China, a bill proclaiming legally stipulated punishments:

  • 80 blows for striking another so as to cause internal bleeding
  • 80 blows for throwing dung at the head of another
  • 100 blows for stuffing dung into the nose or mouth of another

2. Under the leadership of Mao Zedong, during the Cultural Revolution:

In schools and some workplaces people were required to eat yì kŭ fàn 億苦飯 (recalling bitterness meal), made of tree leaves or chaffs mixed with horse dung or dirt, as part of the ritualistic practice of remembering the past. Not surprising, the meal had a terrible taste and was hard to swallow. Schoolchildren who were too young to have firsthand experience of pre-Communist China were told that this was the type of food people ate before Chairman Mao liberated Chinese people from misery. After a meal of bitterness remembrance the children were required to participate in discussions in which they were expected to express their hatred for the old society, appreciation of the new society, loyalty to Mao, determination never to let the old days return, and dedication to the Communist cause that promised a good life for all.

Thus in the progression from Ming to Mao, enforced dung-eating transitioned from being a punishable act to an essential mode of governance and education. Does this support the suggestion, put forward by Don DeLillo in Point Omega, that ‘all governments are criminal organisations’, and what is law for one is crime for another according to their own particular needs, objectives, and fancy? Were Mao posted back to Ming-times, would he be given his blows? Should this argument have been put to him by his ministers?

3. The poet Ai Qing, having been accused of “rightism”, spent the Cultural Revolution in dungish forced labour cleaning toilets in a village in Xinjiang. Following Mao’s death he was rehabilitated somewhat, and wrote the following lines:

Only an idiot
Argues with an idiot



1. from The Death of Woman Wang, Jonathan Spence (1978)
2. from Rhetoric of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: The Impact on Chinese Thought, Culture, and Communication, Thomas W. Benson and Xing Lu (2004)
3. from the poem ‘Roses and Thorns’, Ai Qing (1980)
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