Book Review on Liu Dapeng’s Life

BookReview on Liu Dapeng’s Life

Inunderstanding the Chinese society, in the twentieth century, it isimportant to comprehend the challenges that the society faced. Tounderstand the challenges, it is good to explore the experiences ofthe Chinese society from the perspective of the book, “TheMan Awakened from Dreams: One Man’s Life in a North China Village,1857-1942”.This book gives a reflection of one man who observed the society fromthe most basic aspect of the Chinese society, the family. Through theknowledge of the perspectives of the book, it is possible to know thechallenges facing the Chinese society and how it confronted them inthe past century. The understanding of the book required appreciationof the historical and personal perspective of Liu Dapeng. The reviewof this book will illustrate the challenges that the Chinese societyunderwent in the late nineteenth century and the early 20thcentury.

Thebook presents these challenges in a manner that is most strikingbecause of the personal perspective of Liu Dapeng. One of thechallenges that the Chinese society faces in the early 20thcentury is the military conflicts with other Asian countries. One ofthe main military conflicts in the book is the war with Japan, whichbroke out in 1937 (Harrison159). The war broke out when Dapeng was an elder, and had a moremature perspective of describing the conflict and the factors thatled to it (Harrison159). The challenge for the Chinese society was deaths that the warpresented as well as the losses. Taking Dapeng as an example, hepersonally suffered in the hands of the Japanese. According toDapeng, the war was bloody, especially on the Chinese side who onlymanaged occasional victories 159.

Anotherchallenge that came from the war was the fear the situation createdin the Chinese society. According to the Dapeng, the people in thevillages feared that the Japanese bombs would land on the land anytie, to the extent of keeping away from the lamps (Harrison160).This gives a picture of a society that was living in fear, notjust from the Japanese invaders but from their own ability to front afight. The diaries of Liu Dapeng therefore give a description of thewar that influenced the Chinese society in the village.

Anothermajor challenge that the story of Dapeng shows is the adoption ofmodernity in relation to the Chinese values. Modernity came to thecountry through many forms, Christianity being one of them. Accordingto Dapeng, Christianity was introduced in the village by themerchants that met Catholics in their trade journeys (Harrison84). This is a different way of influencing the society as Dapengnotes. They then came with the religion in the villages, whichpresented a challenge to the society because of the clash of thevalues of the new religion and the values of the Chinese society.

Thechallenge of religion was quite a concern as more people were used toworshiping several gods. So the introduction of Catholicism in thevillage gave them the challenge of leaving the old religion. Forinstance, Dapeng explains that there were people who still worshippedtheir traditional goals, such as the kitchen god (Harrison163). This shows people had different worships, before Catholicismwas introduced. Therefore, the introduction of the new religionspresented challenges to the people in the society, especially thosewho still made sacrifices and prayers to traditional gods like thekitchen god.

Theonset of religion was not the only challenge of modernity that Dapengexpresses in the writing. According to Dapeng, the Japanese militaryconflict with china led to the emergence of new immoral behavioramong the people in the villages. Through the life of Dapeng in thevillage, the book presents the ignorance of the Chinese values, infavor of the modern Japanese cultures. For instance, the children ofDapeng himself started taking drugs (Harrison165).These habits were introduced by the Japanese, especially in theregions that they had controlled during the war.

Atthe same time, the values of the society were being ignored by theChinese despite being there for them. In the life of Dapeng, his ownfamily started ignoring him and taking new cultures as seen by hisboys. The society itself started ignoring his values and moral views,especially in his old age (Harrison165). This shows the challenge that the society faced when trying toretain the old social values such as Confucianism. Therefore, theChinese society during the early twentieth century faced thechallenge of repelling the new ideas.

Thebalance if the Confucianism was also a challenge to the Chinesesociety that a being influenced by different external forces. Whilethe war with Japan was influential to the Chinese society, the majorinfluence came in the other aspects of interaction such as trade.This is because the people n the society held their own cultures, butwas influenced to change them by the new aspects of life broughtabout by modernity.

Thelife of Dapeng presents another challenge of maintaining the valuesand morals of the society amidst modernity. While modernity hasbrought several changes, Dapeng struggles, the old values werethreatened. For instance, Dapeng had both the formal education andConfucianism ideas. However, the values that Dapeng had held in thesociety were ignored, which shows the challenge that modernitypresented to the old Chinese values. The challenge is that the peopleembraced the new cultures and ignored their main Chinese values suchas Confucianism.

Thelife of Dapeng further illustrates the economic challenges that theChinese society faced in the early twentieth century. Dapengillustrates the high dependency of the society on agriculture at thetime. Being a farmer, he used to farm to feed his family, and noteven generate more of his income (Harrison144). The people used to farm as peasant farmers, and had no othermajor source of economic livelihood.

Accordingto Dapeng, the family could not be satisfied with the food he washarvesting from his agriculture (Harrison145). This is because the food was little and below the amount theyused to eat. This paints a life of a society that as living hand tomouth, and the food was not ready. Moreover, the life of Dapeng showsus the challenge of poor farming methods, as they did not irrigatetheir lands. Dapeng himself was producing low quantity of foodbecause he did not irrigate (Harrison145).

Whilethe book provides rich information, it presents ways of how weunderstand the Chinese society faced challenges at the time. The lifeof Dapeng illustrates how the Chinese society faced challenges ofdifferent aspects, especially political, economic and social aspect.The war between China and Japan led to loss of lives and fear in thecommunity and separated the society. The diary of Dapeng alsoillustrates the problems of agriculture and values as they wereaffected by the new cultures. Therefore, the life of Dapeng clearlyillustrates the challenges that the Chinese society faced in theearly twentieth century.


Harrison,Henrietta. TheManAwakened from Dreams: One Man’s Life in a North China Village,1857-1942.Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005