The Theme of Corruption in Ha Jin’s Saboteur

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process, he does not become a monster, and if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” These immortal words spoken by Nineteenth-Century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche sum up the plight of the protagonist of Ha Jin’s Saboteur. Mr. Chiu begins as an honest citizen standing up for his rights. He is tortured physically, and psychologically by a corrupt justice system until he is transformed into a psychopath driven by the desire to kill innocent people as a demented form of retaliation against those who tortured him. Ha uses Mr. Chiu to show the reader how corruption can spread like a disease and both are indiscriminate killers.

Saboteur, is set shortly after the Cultural Revolution in China, which took place in 1966, and continued until 1976 after the death of the Communist Party leader Mao Zedong. At the start of the Cultural Revolution, Mao asked for kids to rise up and help purge the state by joining the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) subsequently, he eradicated each opposing political figure in power. The Communist Party president Liu Shaoqi was imprisoned amongst many of his supporters. After Mao eliminated all the divergent political representatives, China plunged into chaos. Mao used the PLA to restore order afore weeding out anyone brave enough to be outspoken against the communist party, or the direction it had taken. During the Cultural Revolution millions of people suffered incarceration, torture, or property appropriation. Over 1.5 million People are reported to have been exterminated during this reign of terror (Cultural Revolution). Ha was a teenager as the terror of the “revolution” subjugated Chinese citizens; from the age of fourteen to nineteen he voluntarily served in the People’s Liberation Army (Jin Ha). Saboteur’s protagonist Chiu Maguang functions as the voice of the writer’s inner struggle, which was instigated by the corruption of the political party he once believed in. As the story commences the protagonist has just been married.

Mr. Chiu and his new bride are sitting enjoying a lunch while waiting to catch a train as the story commences. As Ha fills out the scene giving the reader an almost panoramic view around the couple, he foreshadows the horrors to come for the reader with imagery of rotten melon stinking up the air. An obnoxious policeman throws tea across the dining area soaking Mr. Chiu and his wife’s shoes, which angers the aforementioned husband. The policeman feels that he is above the law of common decency and not only does he fail to apologize for his actions he calls Mr. Chiu a liar. This is where the primary conflict of the story and the overall theme of corruption and how it can spread like a virus begins. The policeman and another man seize the protagonist for disturbing the peace, beat him, and take him to the Railroad Police Station.

When he arrives at the police station, Chiu is still sure that things will be ok for him once he speaks to someone in charge. The reader is quickly enlightened to the fact that this is not the case. While in interrogation Chiu is told the only way he is getting out is by signing an official statement admitting his guilt. Which being a proud scholar was not an option of Chiu. When the protagonist begins to feel discomfort in his stomach he informs a guard that he has a heart disease, as well as hepatitis and he needs his medicine. The guard tells him he will have to wait until Monday and “Take it easy, you won’t die” (Ha 352). Even after all the hardship Chiu tries to find a silver lining in the situation by telling himself “he didn’t miss his bride a lot. He even enjoyed sleeping alone, perhaps because the honeymoon had tired him out and he needed more rest” (Ha 352). However unbeknownst to Chui, or the reader, this oversight by the guard would have dire consequences.

The day that follows completely alters who Chui is on the inside and ultimately turns him into a monster. When Chui awakes, he is shocked by the sight one of his students, Fenjin, handcuffed to a tree. The corrupt policemen disavowed all civil liberties and humiliated the man who came to Chui’s aid. Ha once again foreshadows that something wicked this way comes with imagery like “Mr. Chiu was overcome with a wave of nausea” (Ha 353). The corruption of all the injustice instilled inside Chui is festering and manifesting physically as the worsening of his hepatitis. Chui is taken to interrogation again and told that he can save himself and his colleague if he will sign a confession that corroborates the testimonies of the policemen who arrested him. Once again the author illustrates the festering corruption internally spoiling the protagonist. “A numb pain stung him in the upper stomach and nauseated him, and his head was throbbing. He was sure that the hepatitis was finally attacking him. Anger was flaming up in his chest” (Ha 354). When Chui finally agrees to sign the confession to free himself and his friend from the clutches of the corrupt law enforcement, the corruption explodes inside of him. “In his chest he felt as though there were a bomb. If he were able to, he would have razed the entire police station and eliminated all their families. Though he knew he could do nothing like that, he made up his mind to do something” (Ha 354). The protagonist like Jekyll to Hyde is shares no common connection with his former self.

Chui’s hatred of the Muji policemen has changed who he is and leads him down a dark path. He devises a plan to spread the disease that has festered inside him during his incarceration with the population of Muji. By consuming food at each of the restaurants around the prison, he spreads his germs to over eight hundred people. The hepatitis he distributes causes the death of six people, including two children. While Chui consumes food at each of the eateries his colleague Fenjin notices the physical manifestation of his inner corruption.

“Fenjin was baffled by his teacher, who looked ferocious and muttered to himself mysteriously, and whose jaundiced face was covered with dark puckers. For the first time, Fenjin thought of Mr. Chiu as an ugly man” (Ha 355). Fenjin’s observation of his teacher’s inner darkness symbolizes how much the corruption caused by the injustice has affected even the protagonist’s physical appearance. The muttering illustrates to the reader how the situation thrust upon Chui has driven him to the brink of madness.

As this dark tale comes to a close, the reader is issued a sense of dread as they are left with the thought that this seemingly minor incident cost six innocent people their lives. In just under four thousand words Ha gives the western world a taste of what it would be like to be unjustly persecuted by the a corrupt government during an immoral time in China and how this corruption can spread just like a disease to anyone it infects. Chui, like a modern Pied Piper, wronged by those in power he led the citizens of Muji down a path of misery and death out of desire for vengeance. An ordinary citizen turned into a biological weapon by corruption. “Nobody knew how the epidemic had started” (Ha 355).

Works Cited

“Cultural Revolution.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.

“Ha Jin.” Bookreporter.com. Carol Fitzgerald, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.

Ha, Jin. “Saboteur.” Approaching Literature: Writing Reading Thinking. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 347-55. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.