Mao Dun – Rainbow, a beautiful metaphor about a woman and China

ethnic china

Mao Dun – Rainbow, a beautiful metaphor about a woman and China

In short: This officially unfinished novel by the writer Mao Dun takes on a life of its own to become a model of the vital development of each person and at the same time of the social effervescence that characterized the 1920s in China.

The first chapter, which beautifully describes the journey by boat along the Three Gorges of the Yangtze to leave the narrowness that characterizes Sichuan and set sail for the unobstructed world downstream, is already an announcement that the work will tell us about the liberation of the protagonist. The great river is the path of her life, which is divided into two seemingly distinct sections, the oppression she experiences in Sichuan and the freedom she can achieve in Shanghai.

Miss Mei, influenced by the new thinking developing in China after the May 4th movement, is searching for her place in this new world. The imminence of a wedding planned by her father may abort all her dreams, but facing the problems as they arise, Mei manages to prevent that wedding from cutting off her freedom. That is but the first stage of a complex process in which ideals continually clash with real people, in the end, that series of Miss Mei’s life stages maintain clear parallelism with those experienced by China at the time, making her a symbol and personification of her country.

In Miss Mei’s life, as in the history of China, there is at first only a somewhat formless rejection of a society of the past, represented by both her father and the husband who is forced upon her. Neither the father nor the husband are exceptionally evil or hateful, but it is nevertheless important for Mei to free herself from them, as it was for China to free itself from the ghosts of the past. But that liberation is not without its problems either, and if at first she only wondered about her right to love the person she loved, what stands out in this new environment is that she always ends up in her own loneliness. «Other people fit in anywhere. They can fly freely through this vast world. But Mei was helpless and alone. No one really understood her, and no one was willing to try to understand her.»

For that liberation is at once the fall into a world without form, where the structures of the past have been torn down, but new ones have not yet risen. China and Mei are plunged into the chaos of novelty, which if in personal relationships is characterized by the difficulty of fitting in between individuals, each one seeing that novelty in a way, in the political landscape is reflected in the rule of the warlords, the echo of whose battles is always as a background to the action of the novel. Interestingly, the novelty is manifested, as usual in China, by the civilian part represented by the school where she works, and the military, which is simply outlined to us and we are told that she also works there for a few years.

The beautiful example with which the book begins, in which she leaves the mountainous areas between the Three Gorges to make her way in the spacious world of central China, is really a millenary symbol of the liberation of the person. However, the contradictory feelings remain after her arrival in Shanghai and only subside a little when she finally discovers that the solution lies not in the individual but in collective action, and under the leadership of people who do indeed understand the historical processes and that in this way it will be possible for the protagonist and for the whole country to achieve their goals.

In fact, the work could be considered a parable of the history of China during those critical years, from the movement of May 4, 1919, to the Shanghai demonstrations in 1925, with which the book ends. And in fact, during these years the transformation that China underwent run parallel to that of our heroine. After the somewhat amorphous protests of May 4, only a feeling of outrage because the Western powers handed over control of the province of Shandong to Japan during the Treaty of Versailles, to the social upheavals that followed, with the governments of the warlords and the growth of the two parties that would be the protagonists of history during the following decades: the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party or Kuomintang.

But the book is not only a parable of the convulsions, evolution, and doubts faced by China during that important decade in modern history, but it could also become a metaphor for the individualization of each person, and especially of each woman. The first phase is the natural rejection of the established order, the order shown by the family and traditional society. The second step is when each one is involved in the difficulties of life and finds herself alone to face them, with the different challenges that this entails. The third step is when the person finally manages to integrate into society by fitting into the group with which he or she shares a series of values.

The author states that this is an unfinished work and says that he did not have time to finish it, but in reality, although in its origin Mao Dun may have thought of continuing with the narration of the story, certainly in its present state it acquires a full meaning.

Mao Dun. Rainbow. Translated into English by Madeleine Zelin. University of California Press, 1992.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Mao Dun – Rainbow, a beautiful metaphor about a woman and China," in Ethnic China, 7 mayo 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/mao-dun-rainbow-a-beautiful-metaphor-about-a-woman-and-china/.
jinuo book

Last posts

Wonderful- yaks most precious treasure is their manure
Wonderful- yaks most precious treasure is their manure

Wonderful- yaks most precious treasure is their manure                 Most of the travelers who visited Tibet in former times noticed the importance that, for the maintenance of the living of the Tibetan nomads and travellers, had the Yak manure, known among the...

Life of Milarepa, the hermit poet
Life of Milarepa, the hermit poet

Life of Milarepa, the hermit poet. MiIarepa is one of the most beloved religious leaders of Tibet. His story, full of unique facts, has been told again and again over the centuries, and if the publishers did not warn that this is the autobiography written by the holy...

The first description of the Religion of the Yi
The first description of the Religion of the Yi

The first description of the Religion of the Yi By Father François Louis Crabouillet in 1872. The religion of the Lolos[i] is that of sorcerers: it consists only of conjurations of evil spirits, according to them, the only authors of evil. Without being devout like...

Tibetans, the people who descend from the monkey
Tibetans, the people who descend from the monkey

Tibetans, the people who descend from the monkey According to an ancient myth, the Tibetans originated from the union of an ogress (raksasi) and a monkey. The monkey was sent by Avalokitesvara, Mother Buddha, to sow the seed of Buddhism in these lands. One day, an...

The sung funeral of the Kucong of China
The sung funeral of the Kucong of China

The sung funeral of the Kucong Among the Kucong, one of the peoples who have most persistently maintained their isolation in the mountainous areas on the border of China and Laos, the different stages of the funeral are celebrated through music, which gives the...

The magical world of Yao painting. Jean Pierre Cormerais
The magical world of Yao painting. Jean Pierre Cormerais

The magical world of Yao painting. Jean Pierre Cormerais The Yao ceremonial paintings, the masterworks of the Yao people, nowadays are spread across much of Southeast Asia, increasingly fascinated art lovers worldwide after the apparition of the first paintings in...

Pin It on Pinterest