Historical Criticism of Man8217s Fate





Man’s Fate is a fictional story based on the 1927 Chinese revolution in Shanghai. The main characters, Ch’en, Kyo, May, Katov, and Old Gisors represent different facets of Malraux’s belief system and personality.
The story opens where Ch’en is in the room of a sleeping man who he’s about to assassinate. The assassination of the businessman can be seen as the destruction of the capitalism Malraux saw as the cause of the “oppressed and exploited Chinese” (Greenlee 59). Malraux came from a broken home and had great empathy for the working class. As Ch’en is holding the dagger, he focuses on his victim’s foot because he is about to destroy a living thing. Ch’en is conflicted “…torn by anguish: he was sure of himself, yet at the moment he could feel nothing but bewilderment [...]” (3). We can see Malraux’s own conflict here. In 1923, Malraux made a trip to Cambodia where he and his wife, Clara, “...were arrested by the Surete [...] and charged with archaeological theft [...] a moral failure that Malraux now at last recognized in himself” (Lebovics)
Assassination and violence were a common occurrence in China during the revolutionary years. The peasants were abused by the wealthy citizens and landowners,
...it was from among their relatives and protégés that those who oppressed and lived off the peasantry were recruited: the bailiffs and stewards who not only collected the rents and debts due to their masters, but also took a substantial cut for their own benefit; the tax-gatherers in whose registers the landlords’ holdings were on an authorized ‘special list’, allowing them to pay taxes in inverse proportion to their wealth, or not at all. (Chesneaux 81-82).
Malraux wants his readers to understand the reasons behind the revolt. Time and again, Malraux draws vivid scenes of violence and deprivation. The meeting place to which Ch’en flees after the assassination is that of a poor European shopkeeper, Hemmelrich. “At last a squalid shop [...]” (11).
Kyo is the main character in the story; he is determined to do everything in his power to lead the Shanghai revolt.
“Kyo was one of the organizers of the insurrection, the Central Committee had confidence in him.” (14). Kyo wanted to see fairness for the proletariats. Likewise, Malraux was involved in leftist politics. “Malraux jumped into leftist politics in the 1930s, landing close to [...] the French Communists [...] visits to the Soviet Union, [...] and direct involvement in the Spanish Civil War.” (Lebovics).
The revolution is to take place very soon, the prelude of which is a general strike. This is when Kyo and the other revolutionaries will make their move and attack the authorities. “The city seems shaken by a violent storm, and the reader cannot help seeing in the sudden outbreak of this cataclysm the uprising of the Shanghai people who, like nature, are capable of fury” (Dye).
When Kyo arrives in Hankow he begins to realize the hopelessness of his belief that communism will save them. “Was it possible that Hankow, the city to which the Communists of the entire world were looking to save China, was on strike? [...] If Hankow was not what everyone believed it was, all his people were already condemned to death. May too. And himself” (139). By describing Hankow in such a way, Malraux shocks the reader into seeing a vision of the revolution’s outcome – the same outcome of the many French uprisings which didn’t significantly change the fate of the French proletariat.
Malraux reveals his insight into the events of the Shanghai insurrection, “Were Chiang Kai-shek’s troops waiting everywhere? Victors the month before, the Communists had known their moves hour by hour; today they knew nothing, like those who had then been the vanquished” (284).
For Chiang Kai-shek and the leaders of the Kuomintang it was possible [...] to dispense with the support of popular forces [...] Indeed it became a necessity to dissociate from such allies, whose activities threatened the position of the privileged classes in town and countryside. The peasant upsurge, like that of the labour movement, objectively contributed to the political polarization and the eventual explosion on the revolutionary front which the Communists had been trying to prevent. At Shanghai on 12 April 1927 Chiang Kai-shek broke with the Communist Party and