Literary Analysis of Abortion in the Short Story "Explosions"


1 Mo, Y. (1991). Explosions and Other Stories. Ed. and trans. Janice Wickeri. Hong Kong: Chinese U of Hong Kong. [Back]

2 Aird, J. S. (1990). Slaughter of the innocents: Coercive birth control in China. Washington, DC: AEI Press. [Back]

3 Canaves, S. (2009, July 30). China's 13 Million Annual Abortions Flagged as a Cause of Concern. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from [Back]

4 Nie, J.-B. (2005). Behind the Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. [Back]

5 See especially chapters three, four, and seven wherein Nie evaluates the positions of the major religions toward abortion and respect for pre-natal life in the Imperial and Republican eras. [Back]

6  To illustrate the effects of censorship on this issue, Aird (1982) states:

The main reason so few national population data appear in Chinese sources, however, is central censorship. No national population figures can be made public without prior authorization by the State Council. Even officials of the SSB [State Statistical Bureau] cannot use such figures in their articles and speeches until they have been cleared. This policy has been in effect since the earliest years of the PRC. It was applied more stringently between the collapse of the Leap Forward in 1959 and the fall of the "gang of four" in 1976, but it has never been relaxed entirely. To this day, the full results of the 1953 census have not been made public. The very brief census communiqu issued upon the completion of the work in November 1954 gave only the national total, breakdown by sex, ethnic group, rural and urban residence, and province, and a few details about age composition and the extent of errors in enumeration. (p. 271)

Government censorship of scholarly activity is well-known, but the following example by Aird vis--vis the issues of concern in this paper further illustrates its disastrous effects:

After the start of the Leap Forward in spring 1958, Mao reaffirmed his earlier views that a large population was an asset for China's national development, adding that poverty was beneficial for China because it made people more revolutionary and inclined toward change.

For the next four years birth control work languished. Other spokesmen echoed Mao's sentiments, and all but one of the Chinese scholars who had stressed the importance of controlling human fertility were silenced. The economist Ma Yinchu, who had argued the urgent need for control of population growth on grounds very similar to those now used to justify the same policy, courageously refused to abandon his convictions, despite some 200 attacks on him in 1958 alone, and continued to defend his position until 1960, when he was obliged to surrender his post as president of Beijing University and was refused further access to the public print. (Aird, 1982, p. 283)


7 Aird, J. S. (1982, June). Population studies and population policy in China. Population and Development Review, 8(2), 267-297. [Back]

8 See also his endnote 78: "A recent study has shown that the sudden adoption of the one-child family throughout China could seriously distort China's age-sex structure by the year 2000 and even more so by 2050 and cause wide swings in dependency ratios" (p. 296). [Back]

9 See, for example, the following anthologies and monograph: Gloria Davies, ed., Voicing Concerns: Contemporary Chinese Critical Inquiry (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), Hok Bun Ku's Moral Politics in a South Chinese Village: Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Resistance (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), and Lawrence R. Sullivan, ed., China Since Tiananmen: Political, Economic, and Social Conflicts (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1995). [Back]

10 The Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States of America. (2006, June 6). Abortion law amendment to be abolished." Retrieved from [Back]

11 Ertelt, S. (2010, February 5). Report: China's One-Child, Pro-Abortion Policy Creating Nation of Bachelors. Retrieved from [Back]

12 Mosher, S. W. (1993). A Mother's Ordeal: One Woman's Fight Against China's One-Child Policy. New York: Harcourt, Brace. [Back]

13 "Mo Yan" (translated as "Don't Speak") is Guan Moye's nom de plume. Cataloging systems in American libraries consider "Mo" as the author's surname, and this formatting of the Chinese name will be followed here. [Back]

14 The short story "I Am Not a Cat" by Tang Min (Running Wild: New Chinese Writers. Eds. David Der-Wei Wang and Jeanne Tai. Trans. Amy Dooling. New York: Columbia UP), originally published in 1990, may be one of many narratives which attempts to verbalize what is excruciatingly difficult for many Chinese women. Reading not so much as a fictional account as much as a diary entry, the narrator uses first-person pronouns as she relates the miscarriage that her cat suffers and her own abortion at a provincial clinic. The story openly speaks of the "One Child Per Family policy" (p. 159). The narrative concerning the abortion itself is similar to other accounts with which Western readers may be more familiar. This short story, then, may be one of many forthcoming explorations of abortion experiences that Chinese women may come to write. [Back]

15 For example, Wang (2000) [The literary world of Mo Yan. World Literature Today 74(3): 487-494] summarizes the short story "Baozha' (Eng. Explosions')," which concerns the one-child policy and abortion, as the story of "a young man trapped in the uncertainty and restlessness of marriage and family, who achieves temporary release by means of explosive bodily movements" (p. 493). [Back]

16 Zhang, Z. (1993). Abortion. Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry. Ed. Tony Barnstone. Hanover, NH: U P of New England. [Back]

17 Crespi, J. A. (2009). Voices in Revolution: Poetry and the Auditory Imagination in Modern China. Honolulu, HI: U of Hawaii P. [Back]

18 Brooks, G. (2000). The Mother. Literature for Composition: Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. (5th ed.). Eds. Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto, William E. Cain, and Marcia Stubbs. New York: Longman. [Back]

19 Clifton, L. (1987). The lost baby poem. Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969 1980. Brockport, NY: BOA Editions. [Back]

20 Tao, N. (2006). Introduction: The Changing Self." Eight Contemporary Chinese Poets. Sydney: Wild Peony. [Back]

21 The merger of the idea of the individual, the family, and the nation might be perfectly consistent, however, with Chinese philosophy. Nie asserts that Chinese culture necessarily conflates the notions of "country," "people," and "society" in ways that Western readers would find difficult to understand (p. 55). [Back]

22 Corbett calls the figure of speech "antimetabole" in the third edition of his Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (New York: Oxford UP, 1990, p. 442) while Murfin and Ray identify the figure as "chiasmus" in the second edition of their The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003, pp. 53-54). [Back]

23 One work of Mo Yan's not used in this study suffered state censorship, but the work was published as originally intended, thanks in part that a Western (Taiwanese) publisher existed to print it. The note by Howard Goldblatt, the translator of Red Sorghum (New York: Viking. Trans. of Hung kao liang chia tsu. Beijing: People's Liberation Army Publishing House, 1987 [1993]), states:

At the request of the author, this translation is based upon the Taipei Hongfan Book Co. 1988 Chinese edition, which restores cuts made in the Mainland Chinese edition, published in 1987 by the People's Liberation Army Publishing House in Beijing. Some deletions have been made, with the author's approval, and minor inconsistencies, particularly in dates and ages, have been corrected. (copyright page)


24 The specific mention of the colors red and blue could also reference another counterrevolutionary act of Nurse An if one considers these colors traditional ones used in editing and correcting texts. Commenting on Mo's novel Red Sorghum, Braester (Mo Yan and Red Sorghum. The Columbia companion to modern East Asian literature. New York: Columbia UP, 2003) writes that

The novel's rich imagery also seems to undermine official nationalist narratives. The color red that pervades the story - from the red sorghum and the red dog leader to the blinding red light and the generous splashes of blood - is far different from the glorious red flag of the PRC, the color of which is thought to have come from the blood of revolutionary martyrs. If Mo Yan's sensuous colors lend themselves to symbolic interpretation, it is one that goes against the grain of official PRC ideology. (p. 542).


25 Mo, Y. (2001). Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh. Trans. Howard Goldblatt. New York: Arcade. [Back]

26 Mo ends this section of the story, an enumeration of "four general categories" of "abandoned children" (p. 170) with a statement that seems to apologize for any challenge to the political orthodoxy of the preceding paragraphs: "No matter how much this concept tarnishes the image of the People's Republic, it is an objective reality, one that will be difficult to eradicate in the short term. Existing in a filthy village with foul air all around, even a diamond-studded sword will rust" (p. 172). [Back]

27 Mo, Y. (2009). Wa [Frogs]. Shanghai: Shanghai wen yi chu ban she. [Back]

28 The author wishes to thank Mr. Joseph Hau, Chief Business Strategist for PacifiComm Associates, LLC, and Ada Wong and Linda Dowling (Chinese researchers/interpreters) for their extensive research into and translation of internet literary resources critiquing the novel. Mr. Hau answered numerous questions concerning contemporary Chinese culture and translated key Chinese terms to assist in an explication of the novel's plot and major themes. Persons interested in learning more about business strategies in the People's Republic of China or other nations within his company's scope may reach him at the Columbus, Ohio corporate office: 614-442-7614. [Back]

29 Xiu Xiu [The Sent Down Girl]. (2004). Dir. Joan Chen. Perf. Lu Lu, and Lopsang. [Videodisc]. Paramount. [Back]

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