Author: wh796

Historical Background of the AIDS Scandal in China

Hi guys!

I just want to share with you guys some of the historical context for Dream of Ding Village. Author Yan Lianke is a Chinese writer and HIV/AIDS activist who is known for his satirical writings which in turn have gotten many of his works banned in China.

The novel we are reading is based on real events that happened during the mid 1990s.  The Henan Province was where many of the biotech companies that needed plasma focused their attention on. An estimated 40% of the 3 million people (mostly rural Chinese) who participated contracted AIDS! This plasma campaign did not really have any safety or health standards and consistently used unsterilized tools and reused needles. Therefore, Henan province is currently one of the highest areas of AIDS patients in China.











(Henan is yellow part in the middle)

The government until now was not helpful in the AIDS crisis. It consistently denied the alarm that AIDS was a problem in the Henan province, let alone China itself. When it became apparent that HIV was killing hundreds of thousands of rural Chinese in Henan, officials started to close down blood banks to cover up. Even current national statistics today say there are only half a million of people infected with HIV yet the real number is estimated to be much higher. When citizens started to notice people dying all around them, most had no idea it was HIV, they thought it was just some sort of secret disease or “fever.” That was another way for officials to cover their tracks: not educating the public of what was going on.

While today China has been more open about addressing the AIDS issue, it is still a touchy subject. Some of the major problems are the lack of medical awareness of the virus, inadequate investment in prevention work, and •provincial secrecy and cover-up.

Hope you find this helpful with reading Dream of Ding Village.

Best regards,



Sources: here, here, and here.

To Progress or Not to Progress

The second part of Angels in America is entitled Perestroika for a reason. The first part mainly introduced the AIDS epidemic in America in the 80s, and thus generated a lot of debate about identity, sickness and imagination. This section focuses on progress, what is progress and different definitions of it. Following the characters in the play, we identified multiple perspectives when talking about progress.


Harper believes that new things we create are made from combinations of different informations we had and known before, a.k.a Fantasia. It’s the same with the progress too. We do not just progress into a new future, we progress into a future that is a combination of the past and our dream future. In page 285, when she is traveling in a plane, she says “Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of a painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.”. She sees the future that is painful because the future is neither the one we want or the one we had previously in the past. It’s the combination of both. Does progress have to be a radically, completely new change, or can it be more like fantasia?


In the play Prior and Harper are the ones that talk about progress and future. However, it is Louis and Joe who make progress. Joe leaves Harper to fulfill his sexual attraction and Louis leaves Prior. We don’t hear anything about progress from Joe and Louis but they are the making progress. Is progress only action, or can it be a change in thought instead? Also just because Louis and Joe do something “different”, does that constitute as “progress”?


Harper in page 263 says that “Devastation. That’s what makes people migrate, build things.” According to her, progress and change comes only after devastation. So, progress is not actually a good thing because before progress there is devastation. She talks about ozone layer depletion and ice caps melting. These are the symptoms of devastation. Progress and change will be followed by it. Similarly, progress also has a negative connotation in Prior’s dream. It makes the God flee. God does not like progress and change. Why do you think the God fled when people moved and progressed?  What is the relationship between progress and their version of God?


Prior, on the other hand, argues progress with the Assembly of the Continental Principalities. The Assembly is concerned about the upcoming Chernobyl disaster, the largest nuclear disaster in human history up to date, forecasting the Millenium, “[n]ot the year two thousand, but the capital-M Millenium” (page 289). The approaching of the Millenium is a belief held by some Christian denominations (including Mormons) that there will be Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which “Christ will reign” for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state. However, it is believed the Millenium will be forecasted by man-made catastrophes, thus the concern for the upcoming Chernobyl disaster. The Angels are afraid of the deaths to follow, and are shocked by Prior’s demand for more life. His “addiction to being alive” is unknowable to the seven Angels who cannot understand how does one desire more life when only death is to follow?  Why are the Angles scared of death? Why do they demand cessation instead of progress? Should we lay our future in God’s hands or make the progress ourselves? Prior, the Prophet, presents them with the idea behind modernity and progress:

“We can’t just stop. We’re not rocks. Progress, migration, motion is… modernity. It’s animate. It’s what living things do. We desire. Even if all we desire is stillness, it’s still desire for. (On “for” he makes a motion with his hand: starting one place, moving forward) Even if we go faster than we should. We can’t wait. And wait for what. God–“ (page 275)


Prior’s conversation with the Angel on page 172 and 278-279 reveals the conflicting attitudes between man and entity. The Angel wants humans to stop “moving forward” and “progressing” because it believes that this is why God left the heavens and earth. Prior initially resists very timidly, saying he does not want the prophet job. Later when Prior is in heaven, he humbly rejects the angels’ offers of cure and instead states he “wants more life.” He lauds the “addiction to being alive” and the idea of “hope” in staying alive. Through these passages, it seems like Kushner is criticizing Republican ideals. 20th century Republicanism generally is conservative, which means it wants to retain old ideals/methods and is usually against change. 20th century Democrats generally are supporters of liberalism, usually advocating what they call “progress” and “change.” Throughout the last century in US history, the Democrats mostly were the first ones to support the gay community and gay rights (which might explain why Kushner in his introduction was relieved that Obama won the 2012 election). If we are to attribute this Angel as the Angel of America, then one can see how America is still chained to stagnation. The Angel’s goal is to stem growth and progress but it is up to people like Prior to break free from these restraints and actually create change. Yet what constitutes change? What does it mean to be civilized? If we have freedom of thought and ideas, then why is Kushner bashing on Republicans? Even if it is not a popular chain of thought wouldn’t attacking the Republicans be a contradiction to the free thought that Kushner is preaching here?


What is progress for you readers?


Love, प्रेम, co љубов,

Wes, Krishna and Evgenija

I Ran to Oran and Found a Plague!


Albert Camus’ The Plague has been an influential literary force, raising questions of the ideas of absurdity and the futility of religion. While doing research of the novel, I stumbled upon this British TV show called Hornblower that ran from 1998-2003. This show is about a fictional character called Horatio Hornblower, who was a Royal Navy officer during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. In one episode, the soldiers have a diplomatic mission to Oran (does that sound familiar? 🙂 ) but when they land, they find out that it is a plague town (that better sound familiar). Therefore the sailors who had been to the town are quarantined on the ship and we see how the idea of the plague affects a microcosm of a society. It causes distrust and struggles that reveal the implications that disasters like a plague has for people. The acting is wonderful and the show as a whole is esthetically pleasing (it is British television after all).  If you want to see some visual responses to something as dreadful as a plague to people, you may want to take a look at this episode.

Hornblower dvd cover.jpg

Ignorance is Bliss….Or is it?

What a journey! We have traveled to so many places such as Ancient Greece and Pre-Industrial London where we have seen how plague affects human society.

In Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, we see a recurring theme of truth that has emerged in other books we have read, especially in Oedipus. Similar to the Greek tragedy, the major characters in Ghosts do not know each other’s true identities until the latter half of the play. Originally, Regine is thought to be a simple housemaid who is the daughter of Engstrand, but both the reader and the characters later discover that she is actually the product of Mrs. Alving’s dead husband’s illicit affair. Therefore, Oswald and Regine are half-siblings, making their love(?) for each other almost incestual, in comparison to Oedipus and his mother-wife. This relates to one of the central questions of this play: What exactly is truth and how are we supposed to wield it?

We see the word “truth” pop up in the play many times. One of the first times we see it is when Manders is condemning Mrs. Alving for not taking better care of her son, Oswald, since Oswald now holds very liberal views on topics like marriage. He  states, “Mrs. Alving, you are in truth a very guilty mother … I see it as my duty to tell you this” (Ibsen 115).  Manders appoints himself to be the moral police as the religious leader of the region, yet as we see later on, he has some flaws as well. After this, Mrs. Alving replies with her anecdote on her husband and we see the word “truth” appear again: “But now, Pastor Manders, now I’m going to tell you the truth. I swore to myself that one day you should know” (Ibsen 116). What follows reveals a tragic secret of a vileness hidden by a perfect facade. Truth has the ability to reveal, but is it a force for good?

    We can also discern a struggle that comes from this idea of truth in the play. In Act Two, an argument occurs between Manders and Mrs. Alving over whether Mrs. Alving should tell Oswald about the truth concerning his father. Manders is afraid that it will shatter Oswald’s “ideals”, to which Mrs. Alving responds: “but what about the truth?”(Ibsen 124). This conflict between truth and ideals reveals something not only crucial to this play, but also to our common humanity. Was it the right thing for Oedipus to be told his true actions? Does the priest in Pushkin represent a sort of “truth” or rather just a set of ideals? Can an ideal be truth?

    Well how does this relate to the class? Do not fear fellow classmates, we did not forget the “contagion” aspect of the play. Again, we think it relates to the morality of truth. In the play, Oswald has two major alone moments with his mother in which we see him struggle whether to tell his mother about his fatal illness or not. The first time they are alone for a significant time together, Oswald beats around the bush about his brain problem, making it more abstract, saying “Mother, it’s my mind that’s given way… destroyed … I’ll never be able to work again!”(Ibsen 137). On the flip side, Mrs. Alving is also hiding truth from her son. The stage directions/movements during this scene indicate anxiety, shock, and fear (“jumps up, pale and trembling”). She knows that his father had the same problem.

The disease that Oswald is suffering from is a hereditary one. At first he did not believe that such a disease could have come from his father. He had a very high regard for his father so he took the blame on himself.  He claims the illness he has is mainly because of the way he lived his life, and he only realizes the truth at the very end of the play. However, we know that it is hereditary, and not only had he inherited the disease, but he also inherited his drinking habits and debauchery. For instance, Oswald asks his mother, “You must have some of that cold punch in the house, haven’t you” (Ibsen 139). He also flirts with Regine. Evidently, he is into drinking and is reprobate, other contagions that he inherited from his father.

Mrs Alving was working hard to establish the Orphanage to maintain her husband’s good name, just like she used to preach good things about her husband when he was alive. With the Orphanage, she is trying to hide the truth about her husband. However, the Orphanage gets destroyed by the fire. This is a sign that Mr Alving will no longer hide the truth and eventually, she tells the truth to her son. Later, we also discover that Manders accepts to support Engstrand’s saloon called “Captain Alving’s Home”,  which is essentially a  brothel and will be a place of debauchery just like the real Captain’s character.

Moreover, the sun is the symbol of truth in the play. Oswald comes back home looking for truth and support. Just like the sun, he does not get to know and see the truth since Mrs Alving hides it from him. She believes that hiding it will do her and Oswald good. As the play progresses she wants to release her secrets, as she feels that she has kept it to herself for too long. But was she correct in telling the truth? Was Manders correct in asking her not to reveal it? However, even though she eventually reveals the truth to her son, it does not help him. Truth, which was thought to be a source of enlightenment, turns out to be the source of madness. Regine leaves Oswald, Mrs Alving does not acquire inner peace and Oswald goes crazy. The play ends with the sun coming up and Oswald says, “The sun…The sun”.(Ibsen 164).

Of course, we only touched on some of the topics that are raised in the play; we’re sure you guys found many more. We hope that what we provided you will raise some significant insights into the play and into the relevance of truth with regards to contagion.

“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable”

  • James Garfield

Love, प्रेम, co љубов

Wes, Krishna and Evgenija

Frenchmen, Haitian Slaves and War! Oh My!

With our talk about racism in our Mervyn discussion today I thought it would be important to establish some context in that time period.

Here you can find a history of the Haitian Revolution. I find it very interesting that America did become somewhat involved in the revolution. American leaders rushed to help the white leaders when the slave revolt broke out in St. Domingue. Also ironically, Thomas Jefferson (the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the champion of natural rights, who supported the French Revolution, the leader of the Democratic-Republican Party) was put in a political dilemma as he supported the ideals of the revolution but he also had many slaves as well. Therefore he only gave a minimum amount of aid and tried to advocate a compromise.

Also in relation to the passage we had to explicate(page 274), many refugees from the revolt went to North America, particularly Norfolk (Virgina), Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia. Many of the refugees were in fact white French families who brought their slaves with them. The influx of refugees influenced the passage of Alien and Sedition Acts(xenophobic laws). This may explain Mervyn’s attitude towards the Frenchman and the  Congolese women.

Hope you guys find this useful.




P.S. Also found this article discussing the impact of Yellow Fever Epidemic in 1793 on Africans who lived in the USA during that time period. Pretty fascinating.