Ha Jin on Belief vs. Belonging

I believed in socialism, which I felt was the only way to save China. I had seen how my country had been ruined by the Nationalists. Inflation, corruption, crime, poverty, all the evil forces had run amok in the old China. I remembered that a distant uncle of mine had once ridden a bicycle loaded with two sackfuls of cash to a grocery store and spent it all, but returned with only forty pounds of sweet potatoes. How could common people have continued to live under that regime? By contrast, shortly after the Communists came to power, people in dire poverty were relieved, usury and market cornering were banned, and criminal gangs disappeared. For better or worse the Communists had brought order and hope to the land.

To my surprise, one afternoon Ming said to me about my application for membership in the United Communist Association, “They may not let you in.” This implied that they had been instructed to turn me down.

“Why?” I asked.

“Probably because you translated hymns for Father Woodworth. Also, some people said you often read the Bible alone.”

“For goodness’ sake, you know I just mean to improve my English. I stopped having anything to do with Woodworth the moment I found out his true colors.” …

Then it dawned on me that to the Communists, my association with Father Woodworth must have amounted to a moral relapse, which revealed my “petty bourgeois outlook,” a phrase they often used to criticize an educated individual like me. However, I wasn’t applying for Communist Party membership but only for that of a mass association. There was no reason for them to reject me. On second thought, I wondered why I was so eager to seek their approval? Why worry so much about joining that organization? Perhaps I dreaded isolation and had to depend on a group to feel secure. Why couldn’t I remain alone without following anyone else? One should rely on nobody but oneself…. I’d better stay away from the herd.

No. If I mean to return to China, I have to take part in the pro-Communist activities; otherwise I’ll cause more trouble for myself. Whether I join them or not, they’ll never leave me alone, so I mustn’t stand aloof. Either you become their friend or their enemy. The Communists don’t believe anyone can remain neutral …

War Trash, by Ha Jin (Vintage, 2004), pp. 122-123

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