ManAwakened from Dreams: A Book Review
In the book, Liu Dapengdescribes a number of themes about Chinese history and at the sametime gives the issues of daily life of the Chinese society. In thebook, Dapeng describes how the Chinese society in the late nineteenthand early twentieth century was organized and lived. To do this,Dapeng presents the way the society was living in the guidance of theChinese values such as the Confucianism set of values. The textpresents a portion of the diaries of Dapeng at the time, about thesociety at the time. The book therefore presents the society’s lifethrough the account of the life of one Man in a village in NorthChina between the years 1857 and1942. This discussion presents a bookreview of the book and the account of Dapeng in his writing.Inthe book, Dapeng describes the time when the war broke out betweenchina and Japan and how he experienced the time. The illustration ofthe war gives a reflection of the perspectives of the common peopleabout the impact of the military conflict between the two countries.This perspective is true and valued mostly because of his late age.The war between Japan and china as presented by the author broke outwhen Dapeng was at the age of eighty years old (Harrison159). This age gives him the experience to not only describes thewar, but also the time and the society’s context that gave rise tothe war. The description of the advancement of the Japanese in thewar gives a clear concern of the people in the villages about theconflict.On the political side, theauthor successfully presents the impact of the war between china andJapan and how the society was formulated. On the social side, thebook presents the values were inculcated in the society through theinfluence of Confucianism in the Chinese life. Moreover, the bookpresents the influence of modernity in the social and economic lifeof the Chinese society.Thefirst part of the book further describes how the Chinese society wasaffected by the political class at the time. Not only was the countryaffected negatively by the war, but also by the failure of therulers. According to Dapeng, the rulers failed morally in their rule,leaving people like slaves (Harrison161). This is because the society faced brutality from two areas, theJapanese conflict and the rulers. According to Dapeng, Japanese werebrutal, as his experience with the harsh treatment was first handduring his interaction with them. The Japanese also influenced theChinese society in the villages through the puppet government theyintroduced and controlled in the village.LiuDapeng expresses the exclusion of the Chinese people with himincluded from the political power by terming his own self as the manawakened from dreams. He also attempts to illustrate the difficultyof the Confucian order and also its fragility. The contents of thisbook represent all the position of Confucianism in regards topolitics and ethics. The book further demonstrates how these twopositions interact with the world as a whole. At the same time, thegeneral ideas of Liu Dapeng’s diaries show the awakening of thesociety as demonstrated by the three levels of Confucianism, filialpiety, rituals and lastly benevolence.
Thebook makes known ideas of Liu Dapeng during the period when earlyChina was getting through the processes of modernization. He had aprovincial level degree that he had attained from the examination ofthe traditional civil service. Liu Dapeng had his career in businessas well as his leadership management in the county assembly duringthe periods of early Chinese government. Liu had his stand in lineforcibly cut off immediately after the revolution that occurred inChina in 1911 (Harrison3). Liu condemned and had sharp criticism against Yuan Shikai and SunYat Sen and demanded the empire to be reinstated after the outragethat happened and caused by the may forth movement. This movement hadattacked filial piety after who was perplexed by the practices ofmodern education and typically clung to the lunar calendar.
Thebook presents the economic problem of poverty at the Chinese societyat the time when the country was battling a conflict with Japan.Chiqiao’s village at Shani was succumbed to poverty during the timewhen it was on an economic bliss at the time of Liu’s Existence.The poverty levels did not come from internal events but was as aresult of external factors. For example, the shift of nationaleconomic and a Russian revolution that was forced by MongolianIndependence.
Oneof the economic aspects that Dapeng presents is that agriculture wasimportant for the Chinese life. By describing the life of farmers inthe Chinese society at the time, Dapeng manages to present thefarming life in the villages. The author describes Dapeng’sexperience of challenges that was there in the Chinese societies,especially with the falling of rainfall (Harrison143). Agriculture at this time was the main economic activity of thesociety at the time, despite having poor land policies.
Accordingto Dapeng, agriculture was important to his family in particular.However, at one time, his family was eating more grains that he couldmanage to produce in his un-irrigated land (Harrison144). This is because he, as the rest of the society depended on thenaturally, rain-fed agriculture. This presents a Chinese village thatwas vulnerable to what the natural environment provided. This was thetypical life and experiences of the peasant farmers in the Chinesesociety at the time. Therefore, the society was divided between thosewho had better economic activities and peasant farmers.
Thebook further presents the conscious nature of the society. In themidst of these inequalities, people were aware of the situation thatthe experiences presented (Harrison147). The two economic extremes presented challenges and strugglesbetween the villagers. One example of the differences was inaccessing water and social integration between those who had a bettereconomic life and the peasants. This is presented in the relationshipbetween Miss Liu and the village of the Jinci village. In the midstof the society in the villages to keep up with life, the influence ofmodernity also crept in.
Oneof the main aspects of modernization that crept into the village wasChristianity as a new religion. For instance, Catholicism came intothe society through the merchants that had interacted with themissionaries. It is interesting to note that Catholicism was notintroduces to the village by the missionaries. This is what theauthor describes as very orthodox Catholics (84). This made theuptake of the new religion by the society easier, as it wasevangelized by the local people.
Whilethe book provides the brilliance of Dapeng in describing the life ofthe society, the author also explains the reaction of the societytowards him. According to the author, the society ignored Dapeng andeven his own life started evading his values (Harrison164). For instance, the members of his family life engaged in drugs.The third and the fourth sons of Dapeng started engaging in drugs(Harrison164). This was not expected of them, considering the values thattheir father had in the society. The engaging into drugs alsoexpresses the influence of the Japanese society in the Chinesesociety. In addition, the family of Dapeng was also divided asdisputes arose between them (Harrison165).
Theauthor presents the efforts that Dapeng put in order to present thelife of the society in his diaries. Despite the disregard of hisvalues by the society, Dapeng did not lose his vision of describingthe society. He continued with his diaries, up to the time of hisdeath. According to the author, Dapeng walked over to Jinci villageand dined at the shops, a few weeks before he died in 1942 (Harrison165). It is through these events that Dapeng was able to create anaccount that was used to describe the society in the Chinese village.
Ingeneral, the book gives an account of one man whose diaries and lifeexperience gives a reflection the Chinese society in the late earlytwentieth century and late nineteenth century. The book gives aninformed description of the social, economic and political life ofthe Chinese society from the perspective of the village. Through theaspects of the village, the author gives a reflection of the impactof the values and external influence on the Chinese society at thetime. This makes the book a good read for people who want tounderstand Chinese society in the late nineteenth century and earlytwentieth century.
Harrison,Henrietta. TheManAwakened from Dreams: One Man’s Life in a North China Village,1857-1942.Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005