Editor's Choice

How does Chen Rong's "Regarding the Problem of Newborn Piglets in Winter" develop a theme related to the Cultural Revolution and a universal theme?

Quick answer:

In the story "Regarding the Problem of Newborn Piglets in Winter," by Chen Rong, there are two themes that take on universal topics. The first theme is about communism and governance and how a communist leader attempts to control people, even in the smallest ways. The second theme is about familial relationships and the way in which family members can distance themselves from one another through fear or a lack of trust.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Below are two interrelated themes in this story that take on universal topics.

Governance. This is a critical theme throughout the story. The raising of pigs in the winter is used as a metaphor to explore the limitations of communism. The story takes place during the Cultural Revolution in China and considers the ways in which Chinese society reacts to their leader, Mao. The main character is Mammy Guo who is attempting to keep piglets alive during the winter. She is elderly and is very knowledgable about how to raise pigs. The communist regime places limitations on how farmers can keep their pigs in the winter. The author uses this to exemplify the ways in which communism intervenes in citizen’s everyday lives.

Family. The Secretary Zhang Dingfan is the one that begins to control pig farmers through petty mandates. It is revealed in his story that while he is overbearing in the affairs of citizens, he is distant in his personal life. He is deeply disconnected from his granddaughter Babe. He eventually shows distrust of the very government he works for and attempts to shield Babe from government propaganda. However, he makes no attempt to stop his own involvement in communism.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Set in post-revolutionary China, Chen Rong's short story "Regarding the Problem of Newborn Piglets in Winter" offers a satirical critique of the vestiges of communist bureaucracy through the theme of blind obedience to orders. In the case of the communist leaders and cadres depicted in the story, obedience correlates with ego gratification as they struggle to find personal and professional meaning amidst a failed political system. The fictitious problem of saving piglets from dying in the winter initially stems from the impulsive idea of Secretary Zhang Dingfan, and by the end of the story, it turns into a nation-wide mandate as the order is transmitted from the top levels of hierarchy downwards. Naturally, each level of bureaucracy feels momentarily important as it is entrusted with the responsibility of enacting the directive, in spite of recognizing its emptiness and absurdity. The blind obedience of each committee leader and cadre reflects the similar soullessness of the communist bureaucratic system. Significant time, energy and resources are fueled into a fruitless task as Mammy Guo, an experienced pig farmer, inherently knows how to protect her piglets in cold weather without the "help" of government orders.

Rong also comments on personal and family identity in the short story through the theme of selfishness. Many of the older generation of comrades, such as Zheng Dingfan and Xu Quan, care more about appearing important than about listening to the needs and wants of their families. For example, at the outset of the story, Dingfan doesn't engage with his granddaughter, Babe, at all, and only rouses himself from a nap in order to self-importantly issue the directive to save piglets. Similarly, when Xu Quan receives the order to check on the piglets, he worries he will be blamed if he doesn't obey, in spite of his wife's chastisement that he only thinks about his needs and not those of his family. She states that Xu Quan could be making much more money to support his family by working in the rice fields, but he dismisses her by saying that he's too busy with meetings. His selfish behavior and personal identification with Maoist ideals has crippled his family's prospects.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial