« The Spring Silkworms Review »
( 487 Words )
The themes from the Spring Silkworms by Mao Dun, as David Wang pointed out, are the confrontations between modern machinery and provincial handi-craftsmanship, between western know how and native values, between capitalist monopoly and the rural struggle for cultural and socio-economic autonomy. These seemingly unique themes are not unrelated to each other; rather they are strongly intertwined to formulate one central idea in which the east collides with the west.

Modern machinery, as viewed by old Tong Bao, is inventions by the “foreign devil”. It is a symbol of the west. It is an invasion, an attack on provincial handi-craftsmanship. When crude labors compete with modern machinery, man always lose despite all their efforts and struggles. Rural peasants’ way of life was disturbed as “the peaceful water was agitated” (146). “The waves tossed [the peasant] and his little craft up and down like a seasaw” is a symbolic reflection on how helpless and vulnerable the rural people can be in a helpless struggle against machinery.

By the way old Tong Bao look at the motor boat, one can easily conclude his bitterness against machinery and the west influence as a whole. Anything that has to do with the west, he would resist. Knowing foreign cocoons could sell for a better price, he stands firm, holding his native values, to reject raising silkworms of the foreign breed. If not for his daughter in law, five out of five trays of silkworms they raise would have been the local breed.

With the inventions of machines, the arrival of western influence, people like old Tong Bao in rural China was forced to live in a market dominated by capitalistic monopoly. The free market that they once had is no longer dictated by the law of supply and demand; rather it is by the wills of this monopoly. Rural China was enslaved by this system of capitalistic monopoly. Their cultural and socio-economic autonomy is at the verge of a total collapse. Their “month of hunger and sleepless nights” (156) in raising silkworm only rewarded them into even deeper debts. No matter how hard they strive, they were destined to lose. And that is the ultimate reality!

Struggle, resistance, compromise, or embracement, no matter which approach the rural peasants take to encounter the west, namely modern machinery, western know-how, and capitalistic monopoly, the result is the same. The people will lose. “From the time foreign goods … appeared in the market town, from the time foreign riverboats increased on the canal, what he produced brought a lower price … what he had to buy became more and more expensive” (146). “Although they had harvested a good crop the previous year, landlords, creditors, taxes, levies, one after another, had clean the peasants out long ago” (149). This is how the rural peasants fall victims to machinery, monopoly and western influences. This is the depiction of a cruel, dysfunctional, realistic society that Mao Dun intended for his readers to see.