Chinese anarchist Ba Jin dies age 101 in Shanghai

Ba Jin

Xinhua has reported the death of the Chinese anarchist Ba Jin after a six year battle with cancer. Ba Jin was born Li Yaotang on 1904, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province but changed his name to taking Ba Jin which combines the names of two Russian anarchists. The first syllable in Chinese is that of the surname of Mikhail Bakunin and the last syllable that of Kropotkin. He translated Kropotkin's work into Chinese.

Despite his anarchism Ba Jin became one of the most revered writers under Chinese Leninism although he was purged during the Cultural Revolution only reemerging in 1977. But both before and after the Cultural Revolution he was favoured by the Communist Party (in 1981 he was elected chairman of the Chinese Writers Association The Chinese press in accounts of his death not only fails to mention his anarchism but even offers an alternative explanation for his name[1]!

He was the last survivor of the first generation of Chinese writers to use the Chinese of the streets rather than formal Chinese of the court in their writings. His writings were translated into at least 30 foreign languages.

In his dedication to the American anarchist Emma Goldman he wrote "when I was fifteen years old, you woke me up and I escaped disaster at the last moment". He wanted to " dedicate my new collection of short stories and this letter to you"[2]. He maintained a corresponence with her for some time in which amongst other things they discussed the Russian revolution.

His popularity was for his novels, in particular his trilogy Torrent written between 1931 and 1940. This includes 'Family'. These works attacked the evils of feudal China. Ba Jin had been part of the pre-revolution intellectual movement that attacked 'traditional' China (May 4th Movement) and looked to the revolutionary movements of the west for alternatives. In 1919 he was part of the Chinese anarchist group 'Company of Equals' that organised demonstrations against the warlords and distributed revolutionary leaflets. In the early 1920's he published 'Tragedy of Chicago' - a history of the state murder of the Chicago anarchists after Mayday 1886.

After the eclipse of Chinese anarchism and in exile in Paris in 1927 he wrote his first novel, 'Destruction,' which is the story of a depressed young Shanghai anarchist. In this period he met the American anarchist Alexander Berkman and took part in the campaigns to try and halt the execution of Italian -American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.

In Shangai in the mid' 30's he had initially resisted join the Chinese Writers Association and was denounced as a result. His reasons were connected with his enthusaism for the Spanish Revolution and the counter revolutionary role the Communist Party was playing there. He right not to join was defended by Lu Xun but after the Marco Polo bridge incident in 1937 and the subsequent war with Japan he felt compelled to join.

Ba Jin was from a wealthy family and his later anarchism seem to have been intellectual rather than activist. In a letter to CIRA (Commission des Relations Internationales Anarchistes) in 1949 he wrote that he was isolated and that the only active libertarian movement in China at that time was in Fukien[3]. At the time he was translating Kroptkins works into an illustrated set of volumes.

After 1957 all references to anarchism - however casual - were removed from new editions of his books. This included changing the titles of books characters were reading and changing the images hung on the walls of the rooms they were in.

In the 1980's he told reporters he had written a book about his experiences during the cultural revolution which would be published after his death. ). On his reappearance after the Cultural Revolution "he spoke his mind fearlessly in a long memoir serialised in a Hong Kong newspaper between 1978 and 1986."[4] The book he said was dedicated to his wife who died during the Cultural Revolution after being denied medical treatment.

WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

October 2005


Written for - article is at


1 Xinhuanet -
2 Partial excerpt of English translation of Ba Jin's dedication to Emma Goldman -
3 Pa Kin. "Lettre de LI Pei kan à la C.R.I.A. [Commission des Relations Internationales Anarchistes]", 18 mars 1949
4 Manorma online - /MmArticle/CommonFullStory&cid=1129601203411



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