Why is Mr. Chiu in Muji in Ha Jin's short story, "Saboteur?"

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Ha Jin's short story, "Saboteur," Chiu Muguang, who is a university professor, is spending the last day of his honeymoon in Muji, China. He and his new wife are at an outdoor cafe. Chiu is anxious to return home to Harbin because he is recovering from a bout of hepatitis and does not want to experience a relapse.

Unaccountably, a policeman sitting nearby, throws his tea at Chiu and his wife. Chiu, understandably takes offense, and demands an apology. However, all at once, he is arrested for disturbing the peace and thrown in jail. Chiu starts to feel very sick with a relapse, but no one in the jail will help him. Eventually, sounds from the courtyard grab his attention, and when Chiu looks out the window, he sees his student, Fenjin (who the university has obviously sent to help him), handcuffed to a tree. The police are torturing him. It soon becomes clear to Chiu that if he does not sign a false confession to being a saboteur, they will hold him and continue to torture his student.

There are several ironies here: first, once Chiu signs the confession, the police release him and Fenjin. My first thought is that with this confession, the police would hold Chiu indefinitely, but they do not.

The second irony is the reason for the story's title. Once Chiu is released, now very sick with hepatitis, he insists on visiting every restaurant nearby and eating there. He is intent upon spreading his very contagious hepatitis with hopes of infecting the area and getting back at the police for their injustice towards him.

There is a dual irony in this: Chiu was obviously already contagious when he became so sick in the jail so he was spreading the disease without knowing it, which would ultimately make the policemen ill. The second irony is that while Chiu was not a saboteur when he was arrested and charged, he becomes one as he intentionally tries to spread the infection out of a need for revenge.

The story begins with Chiu simply finishing his honeymoon in Muji, hoping to get home without getting sick again, and ends with Chiu becoming a saboteur, responsible for a wide outbreak of hepatitis in the area, after his departure.

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