"Regarding the Problem of Newborn Piglets in Winter" is a short story by author Chen Rong that examines the impact of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The story takes place at the peak of Mao's power and focuses on the various ways in which the post-revolutionary population of China both resisted and assimilated to the ideology of Mao's regime. The author explores how many people during this time fought quietly against Maoist ideals and offers an often scathing critique of communism and its impractical applications.
In this story, the long-solved problem of keeping piglets from freezing during the winter is turned into a metaphor for the unnecessary interventions of communism. While the elderly pig farmer Mammy Guo has always known exactly what steps to take in order to keep her newborn piglets warm and healthy throughout the winter, Secretary Zhang Dingfan takes it upon himself to issue a national edict on the matter. In this sense, the manufactured problem of freezing piglets is used as an example of what the author views as the inefficiency of the communist system of government. In an attempt to maintain a sense of importance at each level of government, officials place unnecessary restrictions on citizens who are already managing their affairs well on their own. Meanwhile, problems that could be effectively mediated by the government are overlooked or ignored entirely.
As the story progresses, Dingfan's mandate to protect newborn piglets trickles down to all levels of the communist government. The author explores the dysfunction of this system at each level, from Dingfan himself to Xu Quan and his other local-level subordinates. The story also delves into Dingfan's personal life and his distant relationship with his own granddaughter, Babe. While Dingfan insists on intervening in the affairs of private citizens, he is hypocritically disconnected from the concerns of his own family. However, he is shown at one point trying to shelter Babe from Maoist propaganda on television. The story comes to a somewhat melancholic end when Dingfan remarks, "When the time comes, I’ll make up words to suit whatever tune the authority picks." This comment shows that Dingfan has abandoned his passive resistance to communist ideals and will likely continue to perpetuate them.