By Anjan Roy
A hundred year old story has become a hot topic in China, which is finding sympathies among young people. It has been trending on the Chinese internet. A short video based on the story was viewed over three million times. It has become a huge favourite in a musical format. So much so, that The Economist magazine has picked up the topic for a short and crisp report as well.
What inevitably happens in China in scum cases — it has attracted the umbrage of the authorities. And the moral of the story has its relevance in India of current days. How? It is a story about a Chinese scholar who fails to achieve what himself, Chinese society and tradition expect him to attain.
Kong Yiji is the principal character in a story written by Lu Xun, one of China’s renowned writers. Kong Yiji is a typical scholar who wears a long gown, as scholars do as opposed to short tunics worn by the workers. In a tavern where scholars and workers all frequent, the long gowned scholars sit inside and sip their wines and fine drinks, but workers and their types stand outside to partake of their cheap drinks.
Characteristically, Kong Yiji the scholar should have sat inside with other of his ilk to take fine drinks. But as things turned out, Kong Yiji stands outside and partakes of his cheap drinks among the workers. Why?
Because, despite being a scholar and educated in the esoteric details of vast Chinese higher learning, Kong Yiji fails in the Imperial Services examination. He has no other avenues for gainful employment and fails to earn enough. His long gown has become old and tattered and he has clearly fallen into financial straits. Yet, Kong Yiji cannot give up his long gown for a short tunic of the labourers and take up some job for his keep. He is stuck in his awkward role of a misfit scholar in society.
The story rings a bell among the Chinese youth because there is huge youth unemployment in China. Reports indicate that youth unemployment is as high as 20% in cities. In the situation, highly educated Chinese young men and women are obliged to work as best as possible, say, as a delivery boy. Young people are openly saying in social media that their education was worth not much and they were being forced into work which demands none of the knowledge they acquired with hard learning. What is the point.
Regimented as China is under the increasingly iron-clad Xi Jinping regime, the authorities have noted the trend of disaffection among the highly educated youth. Instead, China is seeking to tell them to take to Xi Jinping’s thoughts. His thoughts are now ubiquitous and youth is required to follow his thoughts. What is that thought, if there is any.
Xi had a tumultuous time during Mao Tse Tung’s cultural revolution days. His family, including his highly placed father, who was a sort of regional governor, were purged and severely punished. One of his sister had to commit suicide, not able to put up with the infamy heaped on the family and his parents. Xi himself had to abandon his studies and go to remote villages for his education. He had leave his pursuit of higher university degrees and join the manual work force.
Now, the authorities are reminding the youth, more particularly, the educated, that they should give their pretence about being a scholar and highly educated. Instead, they should leave their long gowns, as emblematic of the scholarly life of olden days, and pick up whatever jobs were available. Be a manual worker and take up lowly jobs and make the best of it.
This should be the story of a highly educated person pulling a rickshaw occupied by a rich poorly educated man. But be sunny and happy in your new role. Aren’t we hearing routinely of students in IITs and other top schools in India committing suicides not able to cope up with the pressures of studies at elite institutions. There are any number of sad cases of long men and women taking their lives to entering elite institutes. The halo around education and scholarly lives inherently instilled in some sections of society is creating a mindset that leads to such tragic ends.
These Chinese stories about the pathos and failures to achieve a high station in life also ring a bell here in India. Young people have gathered costly university degrees and are queuing up for job vacancies meant for far less educated. It is not unknown nor infrequent that lakhs of young graduates apply for jobs of a peon in a government office. Post graduate degree holders are pushing for jobs asking for those who have done eighth standards. Engineers are lining up for the jobs of a postman.
No wonder therefore that jobs rackets are flourishing, where one has to pay bribes in multiples of the measly salaries offered government jobs like primary school teachers or in small town municipalities. West Bengal is currently witnessing an oceans of such misdemeanours among political operatives like party bosses and even municipality chairmen.
Amir Khan’s “Three Idiots” had been a craze among the Chinese youth at one time. That was the story of young men betting their lives on entering some top institutions and graduating. Now, possibly one of our film producers might just as well produce blockbuster of the Lu Xun story of the life of Kong Yiji. (IPA Service)