Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319
In The Gate of Heavenly Peace, the author, Spence, focuses on a trio of politically inclined intellectuals, whose lives he weaves together into Chinese history.
Kang Youwei was a promoter of extremely radical views, whose writings highlighted the need for social and political change in China. Towards the end of the Quing Dinasty, Kang was instrumental in leading the reformation in China.
Lu Xun was a leader of left-wing writers, and Spence uses this character to write stories intended to raise the level of social consciousness in the country. Unlike many of his peers, Lu was not a revolutionary.
The third member of this trinity of influential writers was Ding Ling, a feminist. Ding's companion was Hu Yepin, a communist sympathizer. Largely through her writing, Ding drew attention to the challenges facing Chinese women. Earnestly, she touted equality and social betterment for these deprived members of society. It is interesting how skillfully the writer uses these three characters, with varying styles and opinions, to promote the single objective of change.
Wei Jingshen is a most colorful character. He was an electrician working in Bejing who promoted radical views on democracy during the communist era. For expressing his beliefs so volubly, Wei was arrested, tried, found guilty, and sent to prison.
Besides the individuals mentioned above, there are are about forty other characters mentioned in The Gate to Heavenly Peace. Among these are Yuan Shaiki, Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-sen. Zang Junmai was very critical of Marxism. Mao Zedong spoke ardently against the ownership of schools and communication media by the state. This, Mao claimed, was a factor that delayed or prevented change.
Through these characters and others not named here, Spence has used several types and styles of expression to compose a very powerful work, spamming the history of a litany political upheavals in China, from the late 1800s to the present.