Friday, November 25, 2022

Kuang's Dilemma


So, I was queried in the comments (Hi Paul W) to the effect that using a header like 'Something Kuang got right' implies there are other things she got wrong. It seems like my response to that is better treated in a post of its own (hence this) than in a comment.  --John R.


re. 'Something Kuang Got Right'

It wd be more fair to say I disagree with her than that she got it wrong.


A key fulcrum in the book is the hero's dilemma: if you find yourself part of a repressive regime, one that you've come to feel is a force for evil in the world --such as the British Empire during the Opium War of the 1830s, is it 


(1) better to stay in the organization and work to change it from within




(2) rebel against the group, acknowledging "the necessity of violence".


In Kuang's book the hero vacillates between these two poles for the first half of the book before committing himself absolutely to one of these options  throughout the second half.


A secondary point I wd have expected her to make more of was the issue of collateral damage, but it's a relatively minor concern.



As a pacifist, I'm not sympathetic to "the necessity of evil".  I think violence shd not be our starting point but our last resort. Hence I struggled with this book.


--John R. 

--current reading: THE ROOK

1 comment:

Paul W said...

Thanks for your response!

I'm not a pacifist by any means, having served as a Marine and still working for the Corps as a military historian.* But I do think violence should always be the last resort. So, when faced with oppression, the question is not to respond violently or non-violently, IMO, but rather, what is the most effective response _in that specific situation_. Non-violent resistance worked against government oppression for India's struggle for Independence, and in the Civil Rights struggle in the United States. But the White Rose failed, albeit bravely and nobly, in its own struggle against the Nazis in Germany.

This is a historical simplification of course - both the Indian an US struggles had violent aspects as well - but broadly speaking, the two most important leaders, Martin Luther King and Ghandi, recognized that the democracies that were oppressing their people could be convinced to change, and that this was the most effective long term resistance to the oppression. Not that US racism or British colonialism were universally or completely defeated in either case, but great long term strides forward occurred.

This doesn't make the British Empire or the United States of the post-World War II period pure, good, or honest. It merely means they were persuadable.

I don't know what would have been the best way to resist British colonialism in the Opium Wars. Britain was a democracy yes, and fighting a war to sell Opium was NOT popular with the British public, so the wars were "sold" as wars against Chinese "barbarism" against Christian missionaries and Western merchants, as well as their own people. And the whole is complicated by Imperial Chinese politics and the ongoing, brutal but inherently Chinese (not foreign) Taiping Rebellion. The British Empire took advantage of a weak, dividied China, but how to convince them not to is difficult to imagine other then a stronger, more united China, which would have come from either a stronger despotic Emperor or a completely successful rebellion by rather intolerant religious fanatics. The Taiping Rebellion was the bloodiest conflict in human history prior to the World Wars... its hard to imagine any situation in which the common people of China do not suffer.

In other words, concerning the Opium Wars, where to target resistance, whether violent or pacific, in order to create change is ext

I haven't read Kuang yet, as I mentioned, you made it sound intriguing. Does he acknowledge the role of the Taiping Rebellion in all of this?

*(however, pacifists can and do make very good military historians, being a military historian does not make one a war monger by any means.)