« Tie-Dyed in Blood » General Description of a Novel in Progress

 

                             by     Hall Gardner

 

 Tie-Dyed in Blood (A Sub-Urban Child’s Voyage to Socialist Spiritual Civilization, With Critical Introduction, Intermittent Commentary and Post-Mortem Ghostwritten by Marco? Polo!) is a novel based on the events in China before the Tiananmen Square repression in the year 1988-89; yet it deals with themes that go far beyond those events within China itself.

 

The main character Myles, an American Maoist, has been invited to teach English in China in 1988 (for a mere 100 dollars a month as his duty to the Cause) by a shadowy US-based group, called the "True Friends of China." Upon his arrival, he is caught totally off guard: Chinese students could care less for Mao and radical literature. As he writes what he calls his “anti-Marco Polo poetic journal,” he begins to learn more about the deeper (and more intimate) nature of Chinese culture and civilization, as two Chinese women compete for his attention. Like “dotted forehead” of the days of Imperial China, Myles can never seem to find the time to finish his Ph.D. dissertation on American literature.

 

In China, Myles meets Mark King Hayford, an internationally renowned journalist who has covered and uncovered some of the hottest news stories on the planet. Hayford (and his photographer, Poncha) befriend Myles for reasons that are not really apparent. Myles, however, finds Hayford’s stories superficial and distorted—as he does all media hype. One day Hayford admits to Myles that he is amphierotic: His numerous “international affairs” have begun to cause him trouble. The Chinese will ultimately deport him just prior to the crackdown on Tiananmen. One of Hayford’s contacts, a deep throat named Pao-Yu, who had spilled the beans on Chinese governmental corruption to Hayford, is subsequently reported tortured and killed.

 

By the spring of 1989, Myles finds himself caught up in the Chinese democracy movement and, ironically, protesting against the totalitarian regime. As the student demonstrations intensify, as he sees a whole people struggling for its liberty, he finds himself caught between his old militant revolutionary dogma and the new spirit of peaceful resistance, at the same time that the question as to whether history is progressive or cyclical begins to haunt him.

 

As the democracy movement begins, Myles (still obsessed with the Vietnam war) begins to re-live the radical days of the 1960s, but feels outside of the movement—as he is only just beginning to clean his head of Maoism. He then falls in love with a woman student, Mo Li, who is a product of the Cultural Revolution; Myles thinks she is a pro-democracy activist, but is probably a police spy. He largely ignores his teacher of Chinese language and civilization, Tao Baiqing, who is a scholar of Taoism, and the real activist for democracy against Communist rule, and who truly loves him. All this takes place in a tense atmosphere of suspicion, distrust and rumors. It is unclear who is working or spying for whom.

 

The last chapter is entitled, "Can't Go Back" (Thomas Wolfe represents a major influence on the themes of the book) as Myles has finally realized that he has dedicated his life to a bankrupt cause of Maoist revolution. Yet he can find nothing to replace his beliefs. He can’t go back: His family has disinherited him. The two women whom he met in China have disappeared in the aftermath of the Tiananmen repression; Myles, however, has safely escaped to the USA with a heavy sense of guilt and unbearable depression; he cannot relate to anyone, and hangs himself in his shower, dreaming of Cathay.

 

            The novel is peopled with a host of bizarre characters. There is Mark King Hayford, world famous NewsBlitz!!! journalist, who would sell his amphierotic soul for a story, and who is subsequently expelled from China. Hayford has a photo assistant named Poncha, who is responsible for some of the most revealing pictures of China at the time. There is the student radical Chia Pao-yu, who knows all about Communist Party corruption. Mother Courage is the woman in charge of True Friends of China (probably a CIA front) and who covered the expenses of Myles’ trip; she is the editor of the People’s Weekly that publishes Myles’ radical lyrics. Myles' Chinese language and civilization teacher, Tao Baiqing is a Taoist, an expert on the Tang and Sung dynasties, and an anti-Communist activist. Mo Li, a foxy police spy, is the woman Myles falls in love with, not realizing the obvious, leaving Tao in the lurch.

 

Myles also meets a whole cast of international characters: a Russian, Vladim; two Germans from both East and West Germany; Africans who battle with Chinese students on Christmas Eve; an American anti-Maoist, among others. Many express their hope for a more just world, but whose hopes which are largely vanquished with the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square.

 

In the tradition of Victor Hugo, the book critically depicts both Chinese and American politics at the same time that it supports Chinese student aspirations to achieve greater freedom and openness against the odds, which have largely been pre-determined by China's vast and repressive history. Yet while the immediate focus of the book is on China during the events leading to Tiananmen, the scope of the book is much greater.

 

      In addition to illustrating the roots of Sino-American tensions at the debut of the Cold War, the history of US-European-Chinese relations dating from the days when Byzantium stole the Silkworm secret from China, anecdotes involving Westerners who were often obsessed with Cathay), as well as stories of those who visited China during its revolution are interwoven with the story, as Myles learns more and more about “Socialist Spiritual Civ.” In fact, the story is introduced and concluded by Myles’ alter ego, the cynical and elitist spirit of Marco? Polo! himself, the weapons expert who worked for Kublai Khan, and who represents Myles' alter ego, but who also plays an integral psychological aspect of Myles’ suburban upbringing, where he played Marco? Polo! in his neighborhood swimming pool. It is Marco? Polo! who comments on, and criticizes, Myles' ignorance and naiveté throughout the book.

 

 The book plays with themes from both western and Chinese myth, history, music, literature and poetry, including Biblical numerology and millenarianism and Chinese astrology. It contrasts, for example, the drug culture that Myles grew up in, with era of the Red Guards that his Chinese teacher, Tao, and Mo Li, grew up in. It examines relations (social and intimate) among Americans, Europeans, Chinese and Africans. It compares and contrasts different approaches to the “Truth” through journalism, academic studies, photography, classical music, art, literature and poetry.

 

Tie-Dyed in Blood thus deals with many themes of continuing relevance in the post-Tiananmen Square period. On the one hand, it examines what makes “true believers” like Myles click; on the other, it seeks to break the Biblical (and Koranic) myth of the Apocalypse Tomorrow—the millenarian belief that a "clash of civilizations" between China and the USA is “inevitable.” The book thus strongly critiques the exaggerated Western fears raised by the “Yellow peril” and the “Red menace”, as well as exaggerated Chinese fears of Western and American imperialism. In the critiquing the misperceptions and hypocrisies on both sides of the Pacific, Tie-Dyed in Blood attempts to find a basis for mutual understanding and reconciliation between these two very different cultures and civilizations.

 

 

 

—Hall Gardner

    Paris, June 2004

 

 ____________________________________________________________________________________                  
                                            

                                   Chapter XV. Socialist Spiritual Civ. 3

 

***

It was during the Ming dynasty that China first ventured overseas long before Columbus. The Chinese eunuch and Moslem Admiral Zheng He dressed himself in saffron robes. He had cheeks as round and rough as the surface of a grapefruit, a narrow sword-like space between the eyebrows, but huge tiger brow. His words were said to flow as eloquently as the sea. From the Nanjing shipyards he sailed upon the Yangtze out to the South China Sea to An Nam and to the coast of Ceylon and Calicut in search for ivory, cardamom, rhino horn, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, tortoise shell, pearls, precious stones and valued pepper in exchange for silk, porcelain, lacquer ware, and art.

 

Zheng He sailed as far west as was possible upon his Star Raft with its great feathered sails and 317 brightly painted junks—warships with dragon eyes painted on the prow, supplied with fire weapons of sky-flying rockets and incendiary bombs packed with human waste and smoke producing chemicals, horse carriers, supply ships, troop transports, water tankers, a flag ship with black flag and white characters. His crewmen gazed upon those long-necked creatures as strange as the four miraculous creatures—phoenix, dragon, unicorn, tortoise—but just as real as giant spotted cats and striped horses and ‘little men’ of Africa—brought to the Son of Heaven by the Moslem and eunuch, the Admiral Zheng He.

 

His seven voyages of a thousand oars caused too much controversy by those steeped in the anti-globalization thinking of 1403-09 Yung Lo Ta Tien encyclopedia—the work that railed against all foreign influence in China. Zheng He’s overseas project was to be beached upon the sands by those myopic Confucian Mandarins soon after the death of that ancient admiral.

 

***

It was during the Yuan dynasty from 1275 to 1292 that the enterprising Marco Polo had been sent by his brothers to Cathay where merchants “intoxicated with sensual pleasure… pant for the time when they may be enabled to revisit paradise.” Once he arrived, he claimed to be the Pope’s emissary; Marco then played a role as a tax collector and occupation governor of the city of Yan-qui for three years. His job was to oversee “war-like accoutrements”—in a word, he was a merchant of death!

 

If we can believe Marco’s account, which was written and re-written with such phenomenal and extravagant passages based vaguely upon Persian and Arabic mytho-anthropology—without, however, ever mentioning the daily and repeated rite of boiling and drinking cha—that most famous “five-flavored substance”—Marco’s sovereign was none other than Kublai Kahn, the son of the tyrant who had so blithely vanquished the sophisticated yet vainglorious neo-Confucian Zhu Xi civilization, the Mangi southern Song dynasty, and then attempted to raid Japan, only literally blown by the Kamikaze winds of fate.[1]

 

***

Inspired by Marco Polo himself, Columbus was determined, once and for all, to cut out the cutthroat middlemen as they camped beyond Alexander’s Bronze gates in the realm of Gog and Magog along the Silk Road full of wild animals, banditry, intrigue, assassins. He was determined to sail directly to Cathay where there were caverns of treasures immeasurable to man. There was so much to be devoured: Salt, pepper, cinnamon, sugar, cloves, ginger, nutmeg; infinite possibilities of trade in precious oils and fragrances of sandalwood, camphor, ambergris, not to overlook rubies, topaz, lapis lazuli and sapphires, silver and gold and pearls and silk—yes all the rainbow colors and textures of silk. In gambling that the earth was indeed spherical, he crossed the disappearing horizon of vast swellings of whirlpools and dragon-infested waters. Although full of virtue, Christopher did not possess the fortuna of Marco—for the most part because he didn’t read the fine print of his contract with Queen Isabella.

 

His neck only saved from mutiny at long last after the sight of the promised land once he landed upon terra firma, Columbus scientifically determined that the planet was not round as Ptolemy claimed, but rather, shaped like a “woman’s nipple on a round ball.” But his real contribution to humanity was to bring the foul smelling tobacco treasure back to Europe from what he presumed to be a “continental province near Cathay,” inhabited by peoples who were, perhaps, of a Mongolian gene pool. What became a grotesque habit hyped by nicotine and other additives represented for chic Europeans the antipodal underworld’s panacea for all sorts of pains and ailments—including bad breath, cancer and Black plague.

 

***

As our history lessons continued, I began to get more into the subject. Tao had wanted to know why the Italians, in particular, seemed so attracted to China. It was an interesting point, I told her, but I didn’t think nationality and ethnicity were really relevant.

 

***

            As we moved closer to the present, the dark shadows of the past began to haunt the present even more starkly. During years of his opposition to Manchu rule (1673-83), in 1662 the Ming loyalist, Zheng Cheng-gong (known to the Portugese as Koxinga), had taken refuge on Formosa (Taiwan) with his militias. With the support of the Qing dynasty (1664-1911), Shi Lang plotted his revenge against Zheng Cheng-gong and subsequently defeated the rival claimants to the imperial throne by first occupying the Pescadore islands. Shi Lang was ultimately able to build a garrison on Formosa in 1683 thus solidifying control over “all” of China. Formosa was placed under imperial administration as a tributary of Fujian long before Chiang Kai Chek escaped across the straits in his war with Mao Ze Dong.[2]

 

Tao knew her stuff: the People’s Republic claimed that this was the second time China had controlled Taiwan as a defensive bulwark. The Taiwanese, however, claim it was the first; they argued that Shi Lang was only in it for the money: He had occupied territory by force charging illegal fees at local ports, engaging in the largest-known instance of corruption in Taiwan's history.

 

***

Blood Feud: Zheng Cheng-gong’s skull throbs with anger and revenge; hallucinations haunt him even when awake. His dragon eyed ships hold the Manchus in awe; the latter order an evacuation of the population all along the coast to the depths of ten miles for fear Zheng will be able to attack or subvert the people of the mainland.

 

Death encircles him as he douses himself with sweet incense to ward off mosquitoes: He fears attacks by African fugitives from Macao, or by Chinese masquerading as Japanese pirates, or by island cannibals who would eat him alive. Madness rules. Confused by the Portuguese for the former Koxinga, Zheng deals in silk, sugar and luxury goods in exchange for gunpowder; he is a merchant in the war of contraband. He screams at his children and his advisors after Shi Lang executed his father and brothers in Peking and after his Japanese mother was assassinated upon her return from Japan.

 

Backed by the Manchus, the turncoat Shi Lang plots his revenge, burning in hatred to avenge himself against Zheng Cheng-gong who had his father, brother, and son murdered for betraying the Ming. With the support of the Dutch, he plots the defeat of Zheng forces in the Pescadores and to establish a garrison on Formosa, the beautiful isle.

 

They can both hear the ringing in their ears and feel the proboscis of bloodsucking mosquitoes as they land upon the back of their necks, hands or legs, making them forever drowsy with sleeping sickness. Only the few dare brave the voyage for deer hide and horn, the most potent of aphrodisiacs… With 300 ships and troops armed with pikes and quivers full of arrows and emerald swords, a shower of flaming arrows alight the sky like the sun behind the flight of geese—Shi Lang will annihilate the guardians of the Pescadores and then walk “peacefully” onto Formosa and thus solidify control over “all” of China.

 

It would not be the last time that armed struggle between rival claimants to the Dragon throne would spill across the Formosa Straits and onto the beautiful isle.

 

 

 

 



[1] Marco’s note: Can you believe this bull lip! No need for rebuttal here. I already explained my position in the Introduction.

[2] Woodward B. Intellow, 132.

 

Text Box: