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Violence Representations: “Stones of the Wall” and To Live Term Paper

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Updated: Oct 31st, 2020


This paper relies on the works of two authors, Yu Hua and to Dai Houying, in their books, To Live and Stones of the Wall, to delineate how contemporary Chinese literature presents socialist violence and atrocities. To Live talks about the cruelty of the Chinese society and the experiences of many nationals who had to endure different forms of persecution during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Doll 1). Stones of the Wall also discusses violence and daily social struggles that the Chinese people experienced during the same period.

This book highlights three issues. The first one is how continuity and discontinuity underline the themes, characters and writing styles of the two authors described above in their presentation of socialist violence in contemporary China. Secondly, this investigation includes an analysis of what the representations of socialist violence tell about the history of China in a rapidly shifting status, and the third analysis contains a review of what their works represent in today’s global society where China is increasingly gaining a dominant position.

This paper argues that the books To Live and Stones of the Wall present violence as critical in achieving an ideal society in China. Primary arguments of the analysis show how the authors of the literary works use a dichotomous description of violence and hope to show how they are necessary for creating a shared sense of respect between authorities and the citizens. Similarly, they use the expository stylistic expression to show how violence eventually creates a collective understanding and respect among different family members and social groups.

The use of exact timeframes that coincided with China’s Cultural Revolution period and the narration of the characters’ experiences from actual events that happened to the authors are actual characteristics of the expository writing style (Curl 8). Nonetheless, both authors present death and suffering as undesirable outcomes of the Chinese Cultural Revolution that eventually led to lasting peace and a shared understanding of nationhood among the parties involved. This argument draws a close relationship with the principles of Marxism, and it helps to explain the effects of violence on a large scale (Barnes 12).

Continuity and Discontinuity Underlying the Themes, Characters and Writing Style and Such

To Live exposes different aspects of violence committed on the Chinese people by the country’s faulty communism regime. It does so by first explaining the devastation that the conflict brought to the people and lastly by demonstrating how it was instrumental in creating peace. The Sino-Japanese war and civil strife between the communists and the nationalists are some examples highlighted in the book, which showed the extent of violence and persecution committed by the ruling regime. Although the book highlights the suffering and deaths of thousands of people who lived through the communist era, it always presents a hopeful analogy of the same period through the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward Movement that was a part of Chinese history.

The contrast between hope and violence emerged in the novel from the two opposite sides of despair and opportunity, which appeared in every conflict described in the book. For example, one of the characters, Fugui, chastised his son because he wanted people to see him as a sympathizer of the communist regime (Robison). His action was understandable because state agents killed or exiled people who were opposed to the government. He did not to undergo the same treatment because he proved to the communist loyalists that he supported their vision of the country. Therefore, he made sure people saw him differing with his son. However, he later realized this mistake and instead chose to ask for forgiveness (Robison).

The title of the book, To Live, also describes the dichotomy of arguments presented in the literary work because it symbolizes hope and death at the same time. For example, many characters in the book die (Fugui is the only one who survives all the atrocities) (Robison). From a general overview of the book’s storyline, the readers could see that Fugi represents hope as an aftermath of the conflict in a broader attempt by the author to demonstrate the dichotomy of violence and prosperity (Robison 1).

The strength of this argument rests in an alternative scenario that the author could have presented in the book where hopelessness could have prevailed if all the characters died. However, they did not. Therefore, the dichotomy of violence and hope remains alive in a deliberate attempt by the author to show that conflict is a necessity for peace and stability. Indeed, without the death of some of the characters, the hope that exists in the Cultural Revolution of China and the Great Leap Forward Movement highlighted in the book would not exist. This analysis shows the constant connection the author makes between violence and prosperity. In other words, he presents the view that violence is a precursor to a “good life.”

In the wake of all the destruction and death that appeared in To Live, there was a lasting impression made by the author of an optimistic future for the people of China. Community values characterized this future, and they seemed to thrive, regardless of what the past contained. Although it is difficult to deny the correlation between violence and hope in To Live, some observers have argued that the optimism presented in the novel is unreliable because it exists against a backdrop of bleak ambience (Doll 2).

This paper shows that this gloomy atmosphere is only part of the broader argument of Cultural Revolution discussed in the novel because it presents conflict and progress side by side. Therefore, it is not a case of the Chinese either having conflict or peace because both are realities of the nation. The author presented the dichotomy between hope and desolation using the expository writing style, which allowed him to project his experiences on to other people.

Indeed, as Curl says, such a writing style must be truthful (8). He appropriately used this writing style because the stories presented in To Live were his actual lived experiences. The expository writing style helped him to describe his experiences through the lives of fictional characters.

What The Representations Say About The History and Memory of China in a Rapidly Shifting Status

Both To Live and the Stones of the Wall describe violence in the context of personal/family agony or class conflicts. They also represent family struggles in the context of social reform, which should always respect individual choices and the sanctity of human life. The book, Stones of the Wall, explains how the excesses of communist ideologies fractured the Chinese society. According to Song, it helped to disorient a generation of the country’s intellectuals who would have supported its progress (54).

Using the expository writing style, the book helps to highlight the scars of the Chinese society that emerged during the war period because of past political and social upheavals. Basing the story on specific events that happened during the Cultural Revolution era is a hallmark of the expository writing style (Curl 8). The book, Stones of the Wall, summarizes all these developments in the story of three friends, who were in a love triangle. The friends comprised of two men, Ho and Zhao, and one woman, Sun (Song 54). Although the three individuals loved one another and blossomed in the bonds of their friendship, Maoist philosophies made them become suspicious of one another and fragmented their union.

Houying used the three characters to narrate her harrowing experience of class conflict that pitted most members of the Chinese elitist class against each other. However, true to the argument of the dichotomy of violence presented in this paper, there is redemption at the end of the conflict because the three characters came to respect and love each other once again. This storyline further cements the view that violence was a precursor to an “ideal society” where people respected and loved one another.

Houying also agreed with this statement, when she said, “the painful groaning of a twisted soul, and the sparkle of a living spirit in darkness to a horrific awakening to their humanity” (Song 54). In this statement, the author was referring to the conflict and atrocities the three friends committed to one another in the name of political conflict, which eventually led them to evaluate their relationships and develop a common human understanding. This view easily shows that Houying uses conflict as a precursor to unity. Without it, the ideal society where friends get to respect each other’s views would not exist. Therefore, it is not surprising that the author uses the phrase “horrific awakening” because she acknowledges the role of conflict in the new cultural reinvention of China.

The book, Stones of the Wall, gives a snapshot of the leading social and political issues in China through a representation of its history and memory. However, unlike other literary publications that have discussed the country’s political and economic period, it does so by focusing on the fragility of human life, as opposed to the politics behind the nation’s troubles. The story of He Jingfu in the book also presents the dichotomy of violence and hope as To Live because he later gained respect among his peers after the government exiled him for having sympathetic capitalistic ideologies (Song 54).

The transformation happened when he left China during the anti-fascist campaign, which saw him live a life of great privation. This period in his life is similar to the theme of violence that different characters in To live experienced. In fact, Song says that during this time, Jingfu was “humbled into happiness,” but because he remained steadfast in his resolve for a better life, his tormentors and former husband respected and loved him (55).

This outcome represents the hope that is characteristically reminiscent of the aftermath of every incident of persecution and agony presented in the novel. Comprehensively, as an idealistic author, Houying confronted different issues about cynicism and opportunism in her description of the cultural revolution of China and the conflict that preceded it (Song 54). In Stones of the Wall, she advocated for the need for forgiveness, as was evident in the actions of the characters in the book. She also emphasized the need for integrity, which she believed would sustain the country’s journey of social, economic and political progress.

The New Revival

The Books, Stones of the Wall and To live are good representations of Chinese history and social formation because they provide in-depth reviews of personal experiences of some of the survivors of the Cultural Revolution period. Although the literary works are fictional, they accurately describe what happened during China’s Cultural Revolution era. This paper advances the argument that both books present violence as a precursor to peace and stability.

Reasons for this assertion appear in different examples of the dichotomy of violence and peace, which both authors bring out in the books. Far from these cases, both books explain Chinese history in a way that helps us understand the close-knitted nature of this society today.

The experiences of survivors who lived through the Mao era cloud most of China’s history (Barnes 125). The shaky rebuilding efforts, which the people of China have witnessed in the past four decades, also overshadow the country’s murky past (Barnes 125). The government has also been unwilling to discuss such social issues because they fear that it may distort its core messaging of unity and progress that it tries to convey today as China continues to gain global dominance in world politics (Barnes 141).

What someone could deduce from this action is a deliberate attempt of masking the country’s history, either out of fear or out of the pain of revisiting some of the horrors and turbulence that characterize China’s past. These attempts by the Chinese government to muzzle discussions about the country’s history are what make Stones of the Wall and To Live great literary pieces because the books offer unlimited access to this period. They also provide people with an opportunity to understand the social and political makeup of China during the Cultural Revolution era and the kind of effects the time had on the people.

However, as this paper argues, the stories contained in the books portray a “hopeful” understanding of violence. Indeed, the authors show how the Chinese people could overcome their challenges in the quest to build a better future for themselves and their children. Lastly, the social history of China, which was initiated in the late 1970s after the socialist party got a firm grip on power and began significant economic and social reforms, are vital to today’s understanding of modern China.


From the outset of this paper, the researcher established the argument that Stones of the Wall and To Live described violence by exploring its relationship with hope. Through the contents of the two literary works, which have examined Chinese social life, the readers get an insight into what violence and atrocities committed in China during the Cultural Revolution period meant for its people. Although the two authors use different fictional stories to present their views of the effects of the Chinese Cultural Revolution on the nation, they share commonalities in their representations of violence because they both use a dichotomous structure of describing it.

An attempt to couple violence with hope appears throughout different storylines in the novels because for every traumatic event experienced by the characters, hope emerges in the form of a mutual respect among family members or a better life for the characters. Using this dichotomy of violence, the audience gets to understand that the country’s tribulations are not all in vain. Therefore, the dichotomy presented by the authors implies that optimism will continue to thrive against a backdrop of violence, misunderstandings and conflict.

Works Cited

Barnes, Amy. Museum Representations of Maoist China: From Cultural Revolution to Commie Kitsch. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2014.

Curl, Mervin. Expository Writing. Mervin James Curl, 2015.

Doll, Abbie. “Analyzing To Live through the Mediums of Literature and Film: Two Vastly Contrasting Presentations of Twentieth Century China’s Radical History.” International ResearchScape Journal, vol. 1, no. 3, 2014, pp. 1-22.

Robison, Nick. “To Live under Communism.” Wooster. Web.

Song, Yuwu. Biographical Dictionary of the People’s Republic of China. McFarland, 2013.

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