Two Pictures of Dying / 關於死去的兩張畫像

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Two Pictures of Dying

Two Pictures of Dying

Alvin Luong

Tiange Yang

Translated by Yijia Zhang

Copyright © 2021 Alvin Luong and Tiange Yang. All rights reserved.

First Edition / Edited by / Christina Dongqi Yao, Nivedita Iyer and Su Ying Strang Translated by / Yijia Zhang Graphic Design / Alvin Luong Published in 2021 by TNG Press. Printed in Canada. TNG Press


Introductory Note


The Dead Comrade


The Young Comrade in Beiping


Masks /

32 44 45 51

Introductory Note Two Pictures of Dying is a supplement to the fiction presented in The Young Comrade, a film project by Alvin Luong that is based on Bertolt Brecht’s play, The Measures Taken, written in 1930. Alvin Luong has written a humorous epilogue set in the early twenty-first century based on travelogue observations of Chinese class society. Tiange Yang has written a solemn prologue based on literary works detailing Chinese class society in the early twentieth century. The book also features the masks that were worn in The Young Comrade. Two Pictures of Dying begins in English and ends in Chinese. This progression follows the fiction of The Measures Taken that involves European communists who magically transform themselves into Chinese people by wearing yellow-face masks. The masks are presented in the order of the character of The Young Comrade, the three European communists, the three European communists transformed into Chinese people, and once more, the character of The Young Comrade. This book was created for the occasion of the exhibition of The Young Comrade in 2021 at The New Gallery in Mohkinstsis/Calgary, Canada. Funding support for its publication was generously provided by The New Gallery. Special thanks to Brittany Nickerson, Christina Dongqi Yao, Nivedita Iyer and Su Ying Strang for their encouragement and support in the creation of this book. The Young Comrade was produced between 2018 and 2019 with support from the Inside-Out Art Museum in Beijing and the Canada Council for the Arts. Tiange Yang was crucial in the conceptualization and creation of The Young Comrade.

For peace, complexity, and cooperation. For the defeat of dogmatism.

The Dead Comrade Alvin Luong

Characters The Four Agitators who play the parts of: The Cleaner The Researcher The Exhausted Hiker The First Hiker The Second Hiker The Foreigner The Birds The Insects Written in 2021 as an epilogue and supplementary act to The Measures Taken by Bertolt Brecht. The Measures Taken was written in 1929/1930, by Bertolt Brecht with collaborators Slatan Dudow and Hanns Eisler. First produced in Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin on December 10, 1930.

Act 9 The Dead Comrade



The Birds: In these hills by the capital city The Young Comrade was shot by his own comrades and his body was thrown into a pit of lime in the ground. The revolution was successful, even in this country. The Insects: Just as animals help their own kind, The Birds cannot see what we can see. The Birds cannot appreciate our work. Many of us live below the ground in these hills. Those of us who fly away to spread our propaganda are hunted by The Birds. The Birds: Chi-Chi! Boo-Coo. Chi-Chi! Boo-Coo. The Insects: While a bowl of rice may await us in the city we have chosen to work in these hills. The Birds will eat us the moment we are seen. Therefore we carry out our work hidden in the soil, below the rocks, and beneath the ground. There we found the remains of The Young Comrade. We consumed his body and absorbed the teachings of the communist classics. The Birds: It is getting late, we must eat. Let us celebrate this holiday with a feast! Boo-Coo! The Insects: Our petty daily toil is difficult but useful. Persistence and subtlety bind us together. We speak but to conceal the source. We may die individually but we live forever in the work of our comrades. We may be eaten and stepped on but we will not disappear. Our work is the work of the masses. Our struggle is the struggle of the masses. Our emancipation will be the emancipation of the masses! The Cleaner: Why are there so many bugs gathered here? There is litter everywhere. Filthy, filthy, filthy! The Researcher: We have hiked a great distance. We will take a short break here but we should not stay too long. Let us have a snack and a drink. The Exhausted Hiker: I cannot go on anymore. The view is beautiful here but the weather is too hot, the steps are too steep, and the insects are too aggressive. Why did we not choose the cable car to journey up these hills? The First Hiker: I have hiked up these hills in less than 40 minutes. It is beautiful here!

The Dead Comrade


The Second Hiker: We have one hour to reach the top of the hills and to see the sunset over the city. The Foreigner: Let us gather to take a photograph before we continue our hike. The Cleaner: Everyday I hike up these hills to sweep the ground and empty the waste bins. The hills must be kept safe and clean for the public to enjoy. This is the people’s recreational area. Please have some respect for these hills! The Exhausted Hiker: I cannot go on. Please go without me. The Researcher: Very well, I will turn back with The Exhausted Hiker and return to the base of the hills. You two Hikers, take The Foreigner with you. I will see you three at the top before sunset. The First and Second Hiker: Ok! The Cleaner: While it is a pleasure to be in these hills, my work is difficult during this holiday week when many visitors come to these hills to celebrate the anniversary of the people’s revolution. The sun is setting very soon, I must clean this path before it is dark and hard to see. The Birds: Wong-Wong. Boo-Coo! The Insects: ZZZ-ZZZ. Buzz Buzz.

The Young Comrade in Beiping Tiange Yang



The funeral of Emperor Guangxu, 1909.

"The Young Comrade in Beiping" is narrated as a flashback at the moment of the death of The Young Comrade. The story recounts moments of The Young Comrade’s travels to Beijing in 1930, which encouraged his revolutionary fervor and foreshadowed his disciplinary execution by his comrades. This work of fiction is a parallel creative piece to The Measures Taken by Bertolt Brecht. This piece is under tremendous influence of the Chinese novelist and dramatist Lao She, a contemporary of Brecht, and a writer of no less significance in emphasizing and advocating for the understanding of the lives of the working poor in class society. As a manner of paying tribute to Lao, some vignettes in this text are direct references to his novels.


The Young Comrade in Beiping

One Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, The Young Comrade remembered the magnificent funeral of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty.1 The Young Comrade was a restless aristocrat in his adolescence. The October Revolution that formed the Soviet Union had endangered his family and agitated his values. Either out of atonement for his sins or because he had found a purpose in life, he accepted the baptism of the Communist International and changed from a problem child to a dogmatic young adult. This was a sudden change. The Young Comrade regretted spending his leisure time loitering in the streets. Instead, he wished that he had spent this time contributing to the greater cause of uniting the workers and the peasants of the world to overthrow the aristocracy, capitalism, and imperialism. He was determined to work for the cause of world revolution but not in his new homeland, the Soviet Union, where his Russian aristocratic background made him untrustworthy to his fellow Soviets. The Young Comrade was a believer of the Communist International, he knew this about himself. As The Young Comrade searched for a foreign place to carry out his revolutionary work, he learned that the Chinese monarchy had recently been overthrown. Upon learning this, The Young Comrade felt that he had failed his promise to the Communist International because he had not personally participated in overthrowing this foreign monarchy. He collapsed to the floor when he saw a report of Emperor Guangxu’s funeral. The caption read, “The Last Funeral of an Emperor in Chinese History.” The revolutionary fire that he had ignited in his own heart began to dim as he acknowledged that this foreign monarchy had ended without his assistance. He closely read the article and scrutinized its photographs of the funeral procession. The young emperor died at the age of 38 in 1908 and as the report said, “only four years before the demise of the Qing Dynasty.” He was astonished at the uncountable amount of people carrying the emperor’s coffin. He pitied these people. These evil emperors made the people their subjects even after death! He looked at the crowd that attended the funeral and felt furious. The crowd overwhelmed the street and left a space in the middle for the procession of the emperor’s coffin. The emperor monopolized the street even after he was dead! Damn the monarchy! The people who had come all the way to

1 The opening was inspired by One Hundred Years of Solitude written by the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez in 1967.



The funeral of Emperor Guangxu, 1909.

mourn the emperor needed the enlightenment of the Communist International! Before long, the Communist International shared updates in regard to China. The head of the Far East Bureau of the Soviet Communist International, Grigori Naumovich Voitinsky, was sent to China and made contact with the Chinese Marxist leaders, Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu, in Beijing and Shanghai respectively. With the help of the Communist International, the Chinese Communist Party was secretly established in 1921 and had their first national congress in the French Concession of Shanghai. Upon hearing this news, The Young Comrade realized that overthrowing the monarchy was only the first step to revolution. There was still a long road ahead to establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat in China. There was much work to be done in China. His enthusiasm was ignited again. He knew that Voitinsky was known in China as ‘Wu Tingkang,’ a name that was used as an alias. The Young Comrade started to fantasize


The Young Comrade in Beiping

about being dispatched to China to do revolutionary work under his own Chinese alias. He started to fetishize this. He thought to himself, wouldn’t it be even better if he also looked Chinese as well?

Two Time had passed and an opportunity came for The Young Comrade. Moscow was preparing to send three agitators to assist the communist cause in China. The Young Comrade was thrilled by the news and followed The Three Agitators everywhere they went. The Young Comrade preached his revolutionary ideals with expansive gestures to The Three Agitators. He said that he had done extensive research on China, mentioning the funeral of Emperor Guangxu. He learned that Emperor Guangxu was not an abominable conservative who defended the monarchy but was rather a reformist. The real antagonist was his aunt, Empress Dowager Cixi who ruled behind the curtain. Unable to change the conviction of The Young Comrade and appreciating his knowledge about the country, The Three Agitators invited The Young Comrade to join them in their journey to China. Before venturing to China, the four of them altered their faces as well as the language they spoke. Not only did they dress as Chinese people, they became Chinese completely. The Young Comrade discarded all of his memories that were irrelevant to the revolutionary cause. Memories of his aristocratic Russian life, the idle time of his youth, and even the funeral of Emperor Guangxu that he obsessed over were all erased. Whether these memories were wiped out completely or hid in unknown winding paths, it was not known. All that remained appeared to be his communist ideals.


Chinese men gathered by the roadside, date unknown.



The Young Comrade in Beiping Three

Every cell of The Young Comrade was screaming for revolution when he arrived in Beijing. He couldn’t wait to explore, understand, and enlighten the ignorant at the bottom of society. They have the most potential for communism. While The Young Comrade was designated as the guide for The Three Agitators in Beijing, he thought that he should also investigate his new surroundings and perform his revolutionary duties on the people of the city. He frequently slipped away from The Three Agitators to agitate the masses by himself. The Young Comrade went to a vantage point in the city and looked at the streets from a distance. He stared at the extravagant storefronts with tiles that were neatly arranged, eaves that were upturned, and plaques that expressed nobleness. Rickshaw pullers would dash to a storefront whenever a patron had finished their business. The rickshaw pullers came in and out of sight as they hurried to carry their patrons, or to compete for new patrons at another storefront. The Young Comrade judged people based on their appearances. He guessed who were bourgeois and who were proletarian. He felt contempt for the former and sympathy for the latter. He frowned at what he saw. He was determined to spread his revolutionary ideals.

Business district in Hadamen (Chongwenmen), Beijing. Date unknown.



Street in Beijing, date unknown.

Suddenly, someone poked The Young Comrade with a stick from behind. Startled, he turned around and saw an old patrolman. The old man questioned The Young Comrade, “What are you doing here?” The Young Comrade was angry to see the uniform. Yet it occurred to him that The Patrolman was not an elite person. It was clear to The Young Comrade that The Patrolman, like the rickshaw pullers, had careers destined for those at the bottom of society. Those who had choices would not end up being a patrolman. Thinking in this way, The Young Comrade started to sympathize with the old man. The Young Comrade leaned forward and said that he was taking some time off to enjoy the cool breeze. Hearing this and seeing his friendliness, The Patrolman let down his guard and said, “You picked a good spot. This is usually where I take some rest.” The two started to talk. It was just by chance that The Patrolman was once a zhizha artist. He was a zhizha

The Young Comrade in Beiping


apprentice during the reign of the Qing Dynasty. He remembered the funeral of Emperor Guangxu. The Young Comrade asked what The Patrolman had made as an artist. He recounted from memory what he made as if they were treasures handed down from his ancestors. Carriages, horses, furniture, people, mountains of gold and silver, silks, ingots, antiques, decorations, and plants of the four seasons. He said that he could make anything if someone could name it. Admiring the stories of The Patrolman’s craftsmanship, The Young Comrade sighed

Funeral processions in late Qing Dynasty, date unknown.

and asked, “What happened? You couldn’t make a living with your craft and had to become a patrolman?” “Most people have no choices these days,” The Patrolman lamented. “Beijing needs a great change!” The Young Comrade followed. “Huh? It is Beiping now. I guess the great change never ends.” The Patrolman said.



Having finished speaking, the old man saw a puzzled look on The Young Comrade’s face. The Patrolman realized that The Young Comrade did not know about the official name change of the city. Strange, he thought. This young man did not look uneducated. Besides, the name change was such big news that even the rickshaw pullers knew about it. How could The Young Comrade not know? The Young Comrade was not able to conceal his puzzlement. Sensing The Patrolman’s suspicion, The Young Comrade started to panic. To keep himself out of trouble, he made up an excuse and said goodbye to The Patrolman. As The Young Comrade hurried away, The Patrolman wondered what had happened. What an absurd encounter he thought!2 As The Young Comrade returned to The Three Agitators he told them about his conversation with The Patrolman. Beijing is now known as Beiping. The Three Agitators looked at each other, and the leader of The Three Agitators asked The Young Comrade if The Patrolman suspected his identity because he had not known of the city’s new name. The Young Comrade did not understand the seriousness of the matter and responded, “Maybe. But here I am safe and sound. What happened to the city’s old name? Do you know?” The leader warned The Young Comrade, “You will expose yourself and our identities if you are this careless.” The Young Comrade retorted, “Why do you hammer away at me about this? I am asking you about what happened to Beijing!” Seeing that The Young Comrade would not repent for his unscrupulousness, the mediator among The Three Agitators explained to The Young Comrade. More than a year ago in June 1928, after fighting all the way from Southern China, the unified armies of the Northern Expedition made their way to occupy Beijing. That effort was the first collaboration between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. However their collaboration had fallen apart halfway through. The Communist Party was weak and the Kuomintang was the major force. After the victory of the Northern Expedition, the Kuomintang made Nanjing the new capital of the Republic of China and changed the name of Beijing to Beiping.

2 This vignette is based on Lao She’s novella My Life written in 1937.

The Young Comrade in Beiping


Another Agitator interjected, the collaboration between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party was achieved through Moscow’s facilitation. The Communist International had understood that the Kuomintang was a bourgeois party but it was also the major revolutionary party in China. It was in the name of the revolution that the Communist Party, as the representative of the Chinese proletariat, worked with the Koumintang. Moscow’s goal was to unite the two Chinese parties in the name of revolution. Following a policy of collaborating with the Russians and tolerating the Communists, The Kuomintang started the KMT-CCP alliance. This was the bedrock of the Northern Expedition. Another Agitator responded, the strife between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party occurred in the midst of the Northern Expedition. The Kuomintang initiated a purge of communists in their ranks. The Green Gang of Shanghai rounded up and executed members of the Communist Party, killing thousands of people that they knew or suspected of being communists in 1927. In the aftermath, the united front between the two parties collapsed. The communist leaders who survived the purge vowed to overthrow the Kuomintang and establish a soviet of the workers, peasants, and soldiers in China. They formed the new The Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army.3 The Young Comrade clenched his fists. His face turned red in fury. He said, "The bourgeois party is untrustworthy, I will put an end to them! I will unite with the Communist Party in China! I will unite the workers and the peasants!" Trying to bring calm to The Young Comrade, the lead Agitator hastened to add, “This won’t happen overnight. Our work is slow, deliberate, and careful. Do not expose yourself to suspicion again. You will ruin the collective effort of the revolution!” The Young Comrade ignored the leader of The Three Agitators. He revelled in his emotions. The atmosphere was tense between the four.

3 For detailed historical facts, please refer to chapters two and three in Cambridge History of the Republic of China (Part 2), Fairbank, Fei Weikai (eds), China Social Sciences Press, 1994, pages 109-127.


Camelry in Beijing, date unknown.


The Young Comrade in Beiping


Camelry in Beijing, date unknown.

In his time alone, The Young Comrade took long walks where he frequently encountered camelries passing through the streets. It was something that he had never seen before. He stared at the camels in an astonished daze. A rickshaw puller approached him and asked, “Would you like a lift, boss?” “I am no boss. I don’t want a ride. I am just watching the camels.” “What is so good about the camels? I used to lead camels myself.”



A camel driver in Beijing, date unknown.

The Young Comrade was now curious. He turned his attention to The Rickshaw Puller, a typical coolie who wore a small hat, under which was his heavily suntanned and oily face. His cotton jacket was even darker and oilier. The Young Comrade asked The Rickshaw Puller, “If you used to lead a camel caravan, then why are you now a rickshaw puller?” The Rickshaw Puller replied, “I have been a rickshaw puller for a long time. I used to pull rickshaws for a company. Later, I was able to purchase my own rickshaw to work for myself. However that all changed when I was ambushed by bandits. The bandits stole everything from me; my rickshaw, money, everything! As I escaped from the bandits I managed to steal camels from them. I sold the camels for enough money to buy another rickshaw and restart my business.” The Young Comrade wanted to know more but The Rickshaw Puller sensed that The Young Comrade did not want a ride, so he curled his lips and said, “Boss, if you do not

The Young Comrade in Beiping


Zhengyangmen Street in Beijing, date unknown.

want a ride, then I will have to go. I am counting on my next trip to pay for my dinner today.” In an instant The Rickshaw Puller ran out of sight. While staring at the camels, The Young Comrade speculated about the life of The Rickshaw Puller. He might have been a young man from the countryside who moved to the city to make a living. When and where was he captured by the bandits? If he had not stolen the camels, could he have had a second chance? Why did he return to such miserable work? Beiping was an absolute mess, it had degenerated into a dog-eat-dog world. The ravaged Communist Party was dispersed throughout China and unable to organize into a tangible force. The Kuomintang did not care for the welfare of the working poor in the country. Northern China had become a euphemism for chaos. The leader of the country, Chiang Kai-shek, sat in his office in the new capital city of Nanjing while independent warlords waged mercenary conflicts against each other to seize ownership



of different parts of the country for their own fiefdoms. In Beiping and Northern China there were the warlords Yan Xishan, Feng Yuxiang, and Zhang Xueliang. It was a tragedy that those at the bottom had to survive in such a ruthless society. The Young Comrade’s moment of introspection was interrupted when he was shoved by a heavily suntanned woman who walked past him. He did not blame her. He imagined that this woman could be the wife of The Rickshaw Puller. This thought gave The Young Comrade a strange sense of relief.4 The Young Comrade wanted to enlighten the people at the bottom of society but he felt defeated and helpless. The people he wished to speak with, the working poor, were always busy trying to make their ends meet. They had no time for conversations nor time to imagine a future of communism. It was difficult for these people to participate in revolutionary actions. The Young Comrade was weighed down by his helplessness, he did not know how to carry out his revolutionary promise. The Three Agitators never told him about a grand plan or pathway to achieving their goals. Their work felt insignificant, ineffective, and piecemeal. The Young Comrade was increasingly doubting his contribution to the revolution. The next day The Young Comrade wandered into the dense alleyways in Beiping’s hutongs. After several turns he found himself in a courtyard. There was a woman standing in front of a door. She seemed to be in her forties and wore an excessive amount of makeup in an effort to look youthful. Her lips were as red as a Chinese ladle. She waved to him, “Boss, come in please!” As if in an instant physiological reaction, The Young Comrade wanted to clarify that he was not her boss and demanded nothing from her. He sensed that the woman was a sex worker. She would not speak with him unless her time was paid for. This was his chance to know more about her life and the lives of the working poor in Beiping. Could he unite all kinds of people from the bottom of society? He walked towards the woman and she led him to a room. The Sex Worker moved her arms around The Young Comrade. He felt awkward and aroused. He remembered that he had been baptized into the Communist International! His life was devoted to the revolution! He pushed her away, “I will pay you but you don’t have to work. I just want a conversation.”

4 This vignette is based on Lao She’s novel Rickshaw Boy, which was published in instalments starting from 1937.

The Young Comrade in Beiping


The Sex Worker burst into laughter. She was surprised that The Young Comrade referred to her services as “work” and that this young man had not come for pleasure. He did not seem to be of any harm to her so she began to speak about her life. The Sex Worker told The Young Comrade that she was fatherless at birth. To make ends meet, The Sex Worker’s mother sold valuables to pawn shops, washed clothes for rich families, and was a sex worker too. The Sex Worker recounted joyful days when she was a student and was taken great care of by the school principal. She worked as a server for a small restaurant but still struggled to make a living, so she also entered into sex work. Her health had been declining to illnesses contracted from her work, and worse, her patrons tormented her. Yet she felt a sense of vindication knowing that her tormentors would soon succumb to illness just as she had. She turned to The Young Comrade, “You are the lucky one.” The Sex Worker had no apparent grievances as she described how her life came to be. She was calm and relaxed as if she was discussing the mundane. The Sex Worker said, “All men are dirty, because the world is dirty; I only admire the crescent moon, because it, like myself, will disappear shortly.” The Young Comrade was enveloped in fury, his face turned red like a volcano that was ready to erupt at any time. The people who should be uniting together for the revolution were all busy exploiting each other and living lonely lives until their deaths. He did not pity The Sex Worker but faulted her for holding such an indifferent attitude towards the miserable conditions of her life. He grabbed The Sex Worker’s hand and shouted, “You cannot just idly bear this misery anymore! You must participate in the revolution! Join me! Overthrow this goddamn system of inequality!” The Sex Worker was puzzled. This sober young man seemed to be possessed. He was shouting about the most bewildering of things. Out of impulse to protect herself, she pushed him outside. The Young Comrade’s anger grew and he roared, “Why are you so ignorant!” The shouting drew the attention of a patrolman who walked into the courtyard. The patrolman looked familiar. The Young Comrade realized that it was the former zhizha artist that he had met the other day. Afraid that he could not explain himself, The Young Comrade ran away from the scene. The Patrolman entered the room and slammed the door behind him. He shouted, “You! Illegal prostitute! You are under arrest!”5

5 This vignette is based on Lao She’s short story Crescent Moon written between 1933 and 1937.



Four When The Young Comrade returned to The Three Agitators he told them of the story of The Sex Worker. Unavoidably, he confessed that The Patrolman came to arrest The Sex Worker. The Young Comrade could no longer contain his frustration with The Three Agitators and their slow approach to revolutionary work. The Young Comrade exclaimed that the communist movement was weakening while the poor were continuing to suffer. The revolution must happen now! Ignoring the frustrations of The Young Comrade, The Three Agitators urgently asked, “Did The Patrolman recognize you?” The Young Comrade retorted, “So what? We should not care about these details! The point is to launch the revolution! We need to act now!” The Three Agitators were silent. They looked at The Young Comrade and their eyes were filled with apology. At that moment The Three Agitators collectively made the decision. They were convinced that The Young Comrade would eventually expose the secrecy of their work and harm the collective cause of the revolution. Anyone, even a comrade, who was harmful to the cause had to be eradicated. These were the measures to be taken.

Images used in this story were gathered from the internet or scanned from Early Chinese Photography: Selections of Early Photographs in China from 1840 to 1919, edited by Chen Zhichuan and Chen Shen, China Photographic Publishing House, 1999.

From this moment on until your disappearance. You are unknown workers. Fighters. Chinese born of Chinese mothers. Who in sleep and in delirium speak only Chinese.

The New Gallery The New Gallery Brittany Nickerson

Christina Dongqi Yao

Su Ying Strang



















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