In Dream of Ding Village the poor community bearing the same name is suffering from “the fever”, an outbreak of AIDS that was spreading through the Chinese countryside as a result of the state-sponsored blood-collecting anxiety that took place a decade earlier; an incident that can be considered as a social disease that led the way to the literal pathogens that would later kill these villagers.
To some selling blood became an addiction, as described by the woman of the wealthier Cai county:
“It [i.e. selling blood]’s more like once every ten days or a fortnight. If you don’t sell at least that often, your veins start to feel swollen. It’s like being full of milk and not being able to nurse your baby.” (pg 37)
… To others the blood industry was a testimony to their greed, such as Ding Hui, who kept exploiting his countrymen, who disrespected the memory of his dead mother, and who built a three-story house just to prove his superior wealth and power to the rest of the village.
But it’s too easy to say that Ding Hui was the only corrupt member of that society. There’s also Li Sanren’s wife, who got jealous of her friends’ new homes and bullied her husband into donating blood, which led to him getting infected as well. In addition, the taboo of selling blood was broken by the entire society: the blood comes off as a metaphor of health that the villagers were initially reluctant to give up, but their avarice was able to defeat their previous beliefs, accurately portrayed in the following quote:
“For decade the villagers had come to the temple to burn incense and pray for wealth, but when they started getting rich from selling blood, they tore down the temple. They didn’t believe in Guan Yu any more: they believed in selling blood.” (pg 24)
Can the disease be thus interpreted as punishment for the villagers’ previous actions? Since individuals chose to donate their blood in exchange for money, what responsibility do the different members of the Ding Family have in the spread of the disease in their village? What about the government officials?
Another issue to be raised from these first volumes is the issue of behaviour in the face of death, a topic we’ve already addressed in Pushkin’s A Feast during times of plague. Ding Liang’s dialogue on page 78 argues in favour of abandoning previous social norms, since there’s no longer a reputation to maintain.
“Family, older brother, younger brother… what does any of that matter now? You and I are going to die soon.”
However, if Ding and Lingling can yield to pleasures, why can’t the thief that was disrupting their utopian society also indulge to the impulses (or reasons) that motivated him? Is there any way to tell how individuals will react when facing their end; will they follow the norms or disintegrate into anarchy? If so, what is such determining characteristic? Do the thresholds of right and wrong remain unchanged during these times of suffering?
Ding Liang’s argument echoes another subject from Pushkin, which is the new community of those dying. Grandpa Ding also makes reference to the new and stronger bonds that tie these people together, stronger then the ties of blood with their family members who abandoned them or condoned their exile in the village school:
“But I never thought you’d steal grain from people in the same situation as you, people who are dying” (pg 101)
Ironically, this new relationship is also made up of blood (and contaminated one, at that). But the sick are as happy enjoying the rest of their lives.
In what ways do the sick cope with the looming presence of death better than the healthy? Are the sick exempt from the usual social norms due to their claim to “enjoy the rest of their lives”?
Rafa, Vlad and Liam