Category Archives: Communism


The Suicide of Miss Zhao


Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse-tung), the revolutionary who was to become the leading force in the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, was born to the family of a small landowner. As was the custom among the peasantry, a marriage was arranged for Mao when he was 13 or 14 to a young woman some four years older, who was to provide labor for the family until the groom was mature, but Mao refused to acknowledge the arrangement, and the marriage was never consummated.

Mao’s early education was in classical Confucian texts, but he also educated himself in Western political thought. In 1911, Mao left school to fight with the revolutionary army until 1912 when the Republic of China was formed. From 1913 to 1918, he was a student at the Hunan Provincial First Normal School at Changsha, where he increasingly rejected traditional Confucian values, such as family loyalty, and became politically active in forming radical student groups. He was at Peking University in the months leading up to the May Fourth Movement demonstrations of 1919 before returning to Changsha to teach. Committed to Marxism by early 1921, Mao played a major role in organizing the peasantry, developing guerilla tactics to resist the Guomindang (Kuomintang) and later the Japanese, promoting the methods of mass revolutionary violence, and eventually, as leader of the Chinese Communist Party, in the administration of the post-revolutionary state. In 1934–35, Mao led his followers on the Long March from Shanghai to a new base in northwest China. In 1949, Mao defeated Chinese nationalist forces under Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek). In the mid-1950s, as chairman of the People’s Republic, he instituted reforms including the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958), intended to achieve economic reform and the institution of socialist and communist agrarian collectivization, and the Cultural Revolution (1966), intended to eradicate the reactionary cultural beliefs and practices of the past in order to make movement into a fully communist society possible. Ruthless purges, repressive social policies, and mass starvation, however, were among the methods and consequences of Mao’s programs.

During his life, Mao wrote both practical and political works. These included works in the 1930s on guerilla strategy and tactics, the philosophical essay On Practice (1937), and On New Democracy (1940), contrasting China’s future form of government—which Mao saw as a “joint dictatorship” of several revolutionary classes—with the Russian Soviet’s single “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Mao’s concern with theory, as well as practice, is reflected in the excerpts presented here from 10 short newspaper articles written in Changsha in 1919. Among his earliest political writings, these articles predate Mao’s embrace of Marxism, but they clearly show elements of his social thinking and sustained critique of traditional Chinese social practices, especially “feudal” or “capitalist” marriage. His concern with “the woman question” and the reform of the marriage laws (eventually enacted in 1950 to prohibit “polygamy, concubinage, child betrothal, interference with the remarriage of widows, and the exaction of money or gifts in connection with marriage”) are clearly evident here. The articles date from the May Fourth period of 1919, a movement named after student demonstrations protesting the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference’s award of German holdings in Shandong (Shantung) province to Japan instead of returning them to China; this period’s “new thought tide” involved a rapid intellectual shift among Chinese radicals from Confucianism to Marxism/Leninism. The May Fourth period also saw a shift from classical literary diction to much more accessible, colloquial language—often based, as these articles by Mao are, on a specific case study.

The case to which Mao was responding was an incident that became a cause célébre in Changsha. Miss Zhao Wuzhen (Chao Wu-chen), a young peasant woman of Changsha, was engaged to marry the widower Wu Fenglin (Wu Feng-lin) on November 14, 1919; the marriage had been arranged by her parents and the matchmaker, as was traditional in the China of the time, occurring in some 80% of marriages. Miss Zhao had met her fiancé only in brief ritual encounters, but she did not wish to marry a widower, even a rich one, and found him old and ugly. Her parents refused to cancel the wedding or even to postpone its date. On the day of the wedding, as she was being raised in the locked and sealed bridal sedan chair to be transported to the home of the groom, Miss Zhao took out a dagger she had concealed in the chair and slit her throat.

Mao’s articles, published Nov. 16–28, 1919, in the leading Changsha daily Dagongbao (Ta Kung Pao), attempt to identify the causes of the tragedy—not an uncommon one, as suicide was often the only means of escape for women. Mao understands the suicide as the product of Miss Zhao’s untenable social circumstances in being constrained by social customs that fail to recognize the independence and value of women—customs that, in treating half of China’s population in this way, were a source of China’s weakness. Mao rejects the traditional ideal of the woman as subject to ruler, father, and husband, and of the female martyr, who would die to preserve her chastity. Indeed, for Mao, Miss Zhao’s suicide was not really a suicide—she did not wish to die, but could not live in the society she inhabited. Suicide, he holds, is in fact wrong, but this suicide in his view was much more nearly a case of murder—by society. This provided the impetus for social reform.

The incident of Miss Zhao and other suicides became a focus of the May Fourth literature, which included several hundred articles on these topics. Three months after the suicide of Miss Zhao, too late for Mao to comment on it in this series, another young woman of Changsha, Li Jicun (Miss Li Chi-ts’un), also found herself faced with an arranged marriage she loathed: instead of killing herself, Miss Li ran away to Beijing (Peking) to join the Work-Study Program and throw herself into the political struggle against opposition. This, argues Roxane Witke, is what Mao would have favored for Miss Zhao as well. Indeed, Mao himself had resisted a traditional marriage arranged for him.

Stuart R. Schram, ed., Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949. Vol. I: The Pre-Marxist Period, 1912-1920.  (Armonk, NY and London: M. E. Sharpe, Inc. 1992), pp 421-449. Quotations in introductory notes also from Arthur A. Cohen and Tilemann Grimm, entry “Mao, Maoism,” in C. D. Kernig, ed., Marxism, Communism and Western Society: A Comparative Encyclopedia,  vol. 5.   New York: Herder and Herder, 1973), pp. 288-298;  Roxane Witke,  “Mao-Tse-tung, Women and Suicide in the May Fourth Era,” The China Quarterly 131 (July-September 1967), p. 147; Theodore Hsi-en Chen, “The Marxist Remolding of Chinese Society,” American Journal of Sociology 58(4):340-346 (Jan. 1953), p. 341; Shelah Gilbert Leader, “The Emancipation of Chinese Women,” World Politics 26(1):55-79 (Oct. 1973), p. 58; Stuart Schram, The Thought of Mao Tse-tung. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 27.



Miss Zhao’s Suicide (November 16, 1919)

When something happens in society, we should not underrate its importance.  The background of any event contains the multiple causes of its occurrence.  For example, the event of a “person’s death” can be explained in two ways.  One is biological and physical, as in the case of “passing away in ripe old age.”  The other goes against biological and physical factors, as in the case of “premature death” or “unnatural death.”  The death of Miss Zhao by suicide belongs to the latter category of “unnatural death.”

A person’s suicide is determined entirely by circumstances.  Was it Miss Zhao’s original intent to seek death?  No, it was to seek life.  If, in the end, Miss Zhao chose death, it was because circumstances drove her to this.  The circumstances in which Miss Zhao found herself included: (1) Chinese society, (2) the family living in the Zhao residence on Nanyang Street in Changsha, (3) the Wu family of the Orange Garden in Changsha, the family of the husband she did not want.  These three factors constituted three iron nets, which we can imagine as a kind of triangular construction.  Within these triangular iron nets, however much Miss Zhao sought life, there was no way for her to go on living.  The opposite of life is death, and so Miss Zhao was obliged to die.

If one of these three factors had not been an iron net, or if one of the iron nets had opened, Miss Zhao would certainly not have died.  (1) If Miss Zhao’s parents had not used excessive compulsion, but had acceded to her own free will, she would certainly not have died.  (2) If, while exercising compulsion, Miss Zhao’s parents had allowed her to put her point of view to her fiancé’s family, and to explain the reasons for her refusal, and if in the end her fiancé’s family had accepted her point of view, and respected her individual freedom, Miss Zhao would certainly not have died.  (3) If, even though neither her own parents nor her husband’s family could accept her free will, there had been in society a powerful segment of public opinion to back her, and if there had been an entirely new world to which she could flee, in which her act of flight would be considered honorable and not dishonorable, Miss Zhao again would certainly not have died.  If Miss Zhao is dead today, it is because she was solidly enclosed by the three iron nets (society, her own family, her fiancé’s family); she sought life in vain, and finally was led to seek death.

Last year in Tokyo, Japan, there was the case of the double suicide of the wife of a count and a chauffer who had fallen in love.  The Tōkyō Shimbun published a special issue, following which a number of writers and scholars discussed the incident for several months straight.  Yesterday’s incident was very important.  The background to this incident is the rottenness of the marriage system, and the darkness of the social system, in which there can be no independent ideas or views, and no freedom of choice in love.  As we discuss different kinds of theories, we should discuss them in the light of real, living events.  Yesterday, Mr. Tianlai and Mr. Jiangong have already provided a short introduction.  In continuing this discussion and presenting some of my own views, I have done so with the express hope that others will earnestly discuss the case of this young woman, a martyr to freedom and to love, from many different perspectives, and will cry “Injustice!” on her behalf.  (See yesterday’s issue of this paper for details.)

The Question of Miss Zhao’s Personality (November 18, 1919)

The day before yesterday, I wrote a commentary in which I said that the cause of Miss Zhao’s death was entirely determined by her circumstances, that is, by the society in which she lived and by the two families, those of her own parents and of her fiancé.  Consequently, I would like to say a few words about the personality of Miss Zhao.

Someone asked me whether Miss Zhao had a personality or not.  I said that I had two replies, one, that Miss Zhao did not have a personality of her own, the other, that she did have a personality.

What did I mean by saying that Miss Zhao did not have a personality?  If Miss Zhao had had a personality, she would not have died.  Why not?  Having a personality requires respect from those one deals with.  Its prerequisite is freedom of the will.  Was Miss Zhao’s will free?  No, it was not free.  Why wasn’t it free?  Because Miss Zhao had parents.  In the West, the free will of children is not affected by the parents.  In the Western family organization, father and mother recognize the free will of their sons and daughters.  Not so in China.  The commands of the parent and the will of the child are not at all on an equal footing.  The parents of Miss Zhao very clearly forced her to love someone she did not want to love.  No freedom of will was recognized at all.  If you do not want to love me, but I force my love on you, that is a form of rape.  This is called “direct rape.”  Their daughter did not want to love that person, but they forced their daughter to love that person.  This, too, is a kind of rape, which is called “indirect rape.”  Chinese parents all indirectly rape their sons and daughters.  This is the conclusion which inevitably arises under the Chinese family system of “parental authority,” and the marriage system in which there is the “policy of parental arrangement.”  For Miss Zhao to have had a personality of her own she would have had to have a free will.  For her to have a free will, her parents would have had to respect her and accede to her wishes.  If Miss Zhao’s parents had respected her, had acceded to her wishes, would she have been put into that cage-like bridal sedan chair in which she finally committed suicide?  But it is now a fact that this happened.  Thus, my first reply is that Miss Zhao did not have a personality of her own.

Why do I also say that she did have a personality?  This is with reference to Miss Zhao herself.  Although Miss Zhao lived for twenty-one years (she was twenty-one sui) in a family that did not allow her to have a personality, and for twenty-one years her father and mother kept her from having a personality, in that last brief moment of her twenty-one years, her personality suddenly came forth.  Alas, alas, death is preferable to the absence of freedom.  The snow-white knife was stained with fresh red blood.  The dirt road of Orange Garden Street, splashed with blood, was transformed into a solemn highway to heaven.  And with this, Miss Zhao’s personality also gushed forth suddenly, shining bright and luminous.  Consequently, my second reply is that Miss Zhao did indeed have a personality of her own.

Thus, my conscience forces me to utter the following two sentences:

1) All parents who are like the parents of Miss Zhao should be put in prison.
2) May the cry of all humanity fill the heavens, “Long live Miss Zhao!”

The Marriage Question—An Admonition to Young Men and Women (November 19, 1919)

Three days ago, the Casual Comments section of this paper carried a piece by Mr. Jiangong, “Those Sacrificed to Reform of the Marriage System.”  Referring to the suicide of Miss Zhao, he addressed a warning to parents.  It read as follows:

…not all Chinese are deaf and blind.  Anyone with even a little tiny bit of conscience should be thoroughly awakened, and refrain from interfering in the marriages of his sons and daughters. This young woman did not die for nothing….We must not fail her, we must not allow the sacrifice of her life to have been in vain.

The words of Mr. Jiangong say half of what must be said, but he left out the other half.  Let me add the following.

Dear young men and women throughout China.  None of you are deaf and blind.  Having seen such a tragedy of “blood splattering the city of Changsha,” you must be stirred to the depths of your souls, and become thoroughly awakened. See to it that you arrange your own marriages yourselves.  The policy of letting parents arrange everything should absolutely be repudiated.  Love is sacred, and absolutely cannot be arranged by others, cannot be forced, cannot be bought.  We must not fail her, we must not allow the sacrifice of her life to have been in vain.

Readers, what are your views?

The Question of Reforming the Marriage System (November 19, 1919)

Yesterday, my piece on Mr. Jiangong’s “Those Sacrificed to Reform of the Marriage System,” and his words on which I was elaborating, offered an appropriate proposal for young men and women.  Today I would like to say that since we have already mentioned “reform of the marriage system” we should proceed to discuss “How to reform the marriage system.” I really hope that all of you young men and women will come up with solutions to this question. This newspaper would of course greatly welcome your essays on such solutions.

 “The Evils of Society” and Miss Zhao (November 21, 1919)

My friend Mr. Yinbo [Peng Huang], in his editorial comments published the day before yesterday in this paper, criticized my article, “Commentary on the Suicide of Miss Zhao,” saying that I had placed all the blame on circumstances, letting Miss Zhao off scot-free, and that this was not right.  He wrote, “The action of Miss Zhao was a weak and negative action.  Such actions must never never be advocated.”  I am basically in total agreement with this positive critique, forcefully put forward by Mr. Yinbo.  On the question of the suicide of Miss Zhao, I had originally intended to criticize her on several different small points.  Among the several small points that I was considering, one was precisely “against suicide.”  Mr. Yinbo’s view and my view are really identical.

In the end, however, I cannot let “society” off.  No matter how weak you might say Miss Zhao’s act of committing suicide was, you cannot say she “died without cause.”  And the “cause” of her death, to one degree or another, indisputably did come from outside of herself, from society.  Since society contains “causes” that could bring about Miss Zhao’s death, this society is an extremely dangerous thing.  It was able to cause the death of Miss Zhao; it could also cause the death of Miss Qian, Miss Sun, or Miss Li.  It can make “women” die; it can also make “men” die.  There are still so many of us who today have not yet died.  We must be on our guard against this dangerous thing that could find the occasion to inflict a fatal blow on us at any moment.  We must protest loudly, warn and awaken those fellow human beings who are not yet dead, and cry out: “Society is evil!”

I said that there were three factors that drove Miss Zhao to her death.  One was her parent’s family, one was her fiancé’s family, and one was society. Ultimately, both her parents’ family and her fiancé’s family are each one component of society.  We must understand that the parents’ family and the fiancé’s family are guilty of a crime, but the source of their crime lies in society.  It is true that the two families could themselves have perpetrated this crime, but a great part of their culpability was transmitted to them by society.  Moreover, if society were good, even if the families had wanted to perpetrate this crime, they would not have had the opportunity to do so.  For example, if the Zhao family had heard that Madame Wu, the prospective mother-in-law, was bad, the go-between, Fourth Madame She, would have insisted that it was not true.  If this had taken place in Western society, there would have been no system of go-betweens to force them together, and no lies to trick them.  Or again, if this had been in Western society, and Miss Zhao’s father had slapped her in the face when she refused to get into the sedan chair, she could have taken him to court and sued him, or she would have resisted in some way to protect herself.  Or yet again, when Miss Zhao wanted the Wu family to change the date, the wife of the eldest brother of the Wu family had the right simply to “refuse adamantly,” and the other side was forced to accept this “refusal,” and go ahead with the marriage.  All these are dirty tricks peculiar to the evil society of China.

Mr. Yinbo wonders why Miss Zhao didn’t just run away, and he says that it would have been possible for her actually to do this.  I say, true enough, but first let me raise a few questions, after which I shall present my view.

1) Within the city of Changsha there are more than forty peddlers of foreign goods.  Within a 30-li radius of Shaoshan Village where I live there are seven or eight peddlers of mixed foreign and domestic goods. [1]  Why is this?
2) Why is it that all the toilets in the city of Changsha are for men only, and none for women?
3) Why is it you never see women entering a barber shop?
4) Why is it single women are never seen staying at hotels?
5) Why is it you never see women going into teahouses to drink tea?
6) Why is it that the customers hastening in and talking business in such silk shops as the Taihefeng or in stores selling foreign merchandise such as Yutaihua are never women, always men?
7) Why is it that of all the carters in the city not one is a woman, they are all men?
8) Why is it that at First Normal School outside South Gate there are no women students?  And why are there no male students at Old Rice Field First Normal?

Anyone who knows the answers to these questions will understand why it was that Miss Zhao could not run away.  The answers to these questions are not difficult.  There is only one general answer, that “men and women are extremely segregated,” that women are not allowed a place in society.  In this society, in which “men and women are extremely segregated” and women are not allowed a place, even supposing Miss Zhao had wanted to run away, where would she have run to?

To those who say that there are examples in this world of those who have run away, I again reply, yes there are.  Once more, I will give you an example.  “In our village of Shaoshan, there is a young woman of eighteen named Mao who is both intelligent and good looking.  She was married to a man named Zhong who was both extremely stupid and extremely ugly.  This young woman was extremely unwilling.  Finally she threw off her husband and had an affair with the son of a neighbor named Li.  In August of this year she ran away from her home to exercise the freedom to love.

You certainly must think that this was very good.  But…

“In less than two days, she was surrounded by some other people who notified her family.  Her family then sent someone to catch her.”

Just being caught wouldn’t have been so bad.

“She was dragged home, where she was beaten very severely and locked in an inner room, where as before she was left with her stupid husband to fulfill that ‘most proper’ marital relationship.”

This still wasn’t much.

[Third Brother Zhang]

“Zhang San says.  ‘She deserved to be beaten.  She ran away.  She’s shameless.’ ”

[Fourth Brother Zhang]

“Zhang Si agrees.  ‘If you don’t beat her now, when will you!  If a family produces a girl like this, it’s really a miserable disgrace to their whole clan.’ ”

This Miss Mao should be seen as putting into practice a positive view of things.  Not afraid of danger or stopped by difficulties, she did everything possible to struggle against the evil demon.  But what was the result?  As far as I can see she got only three things: she got “caught,” she got “beaten,” and she got “cursed.”

If we look at it in this perspective, how could Miss Zhao have done anything else but commit suicide?  Alas for Miss Zhao!  Alas for the evils of society!

After I had finished writing the draft of this article, I saw the critique of Mr. Rulin. [2]  He also emphasizes the aspect of society, on which our views agree.  But from the standpoint of Miss Zhao, as to whether or not there were other means by which she could have fulfilled her free will, and what the relative value of the different means might be, I will discuss that next time.  Any further details on what Miss Zhao’s personal name was, or what school she graduated from, or whether she had bound or natural feet, would be most welcome.

 Concerning the Incident of Miss Zhao’s Suicide (November 21, 1919)

In recent days there have been many commentaries on the incident of Miss Zhao’s suicide, and I too have written a few comments on it that have been published in this city’s Dagongbao.  This is a public event that concerns all mankind, and leaving aside those who advocate extreme individualism and living alone, everyone should pay attention to it and study it.  Because for several thousand years perverse customs based on the [Confucian] rites have prevailed in China, women have had no status in any area of life.  From politics, law, and education, to business, social relations, entertainment, and personal status, women have always been treated very differently from men, and relegated to the dark corners of society.  Not only are they denied happiness, they are also subjected to many kinds of inhumane mistreatment.  That this incident of a woman being driven to suicide should occur at a time like this, when the truth is very clear and there are loud calls for the liberation of women, shows just how profound are the evils of our nations’s society.  Today we need not express more pity for the deceased, but rather we should look for a method that will thoroughly correct this problem so that from now on such a tragedy as this will never happen again.  But before we look for a method, we must first search for the controlling root causes of this domination.

Let us consider why it is that women have been bullied by men and have not been able to emancipate themselves for thousands of years.  Regarding this point, we must examine the question of what, in the last analysis, are the defects of women?  Looked at superficially, women have a lower level of knowledge than men, and are weaker willed than men.  Women have deep emotional feelings, and when the emotions well up, one’s conscious awareness recedes.  In this respect, they are psychologically not the equals of men.  Also, women are physically somewhat weaker, and to this must be added the suffering and painful difficulty of walking with bound feet.  These are the physiological defects of women.  Actually, none of these are inherent defects.  Generally speaking, the psychological processes of women are not different from those of men.  This has already been proven by the fact that the effects of education in all countries show no differences based on gender.  The last two items of physical weakness are the result of custom.  The binding of women’s feet was not practiced in antiquity and cannot be regarded as a basic biological defect.  The search for any inherent biological deficiency in women finally comes down solely to the question of childbearing.

The relationship between men and women should, according to the contemporary view, center on “love,” and apart from love, must not be governed by “economics.”  Thus the contemporary position is, “Each is economically independent, sharing the fruits of love.”  Before modern times, this was not the case.  No one knew of the principle “Love is sacred.”  In the relationship between men and women, love was considered to be only secondary, while the core relationship remained economic, and was thus controlled by capitalism.  In antiquity, eating was a simple affair.  People picked fruit and caught wild animals and fish, and were easily satisfied.  Men and women were equals, and economically women asked nothing of men and men asked nothing of women.  Men and women sought of each other only “love.”  Thus woman sometimes, on the contrary, used her physiological strengths (physiologists say that in sexual physiology women are stronger than men) to control men.  Later, as population increased, and food supplies became inadequate, the competition for survival made it necessary to emphasize work, and with this arrived the terrible age in which women became subjugated to men.

In doing physical labor, women are not inherently inferior to men, but because women cannot work during the period of childbearing, men took advantage of this weakness, exploited this single flaw, made “submission” the condition of exchange and used “food” to shut them up.  This then is the general cause that has kept women subjugated and unable to emancipate themselves.  On the one hand, what member of the human race was not born of woman?  Childbearing by women is an indispensable element in the survival of humanity.  That men should have forgotten this supreme act of benevolence, and on the contrary should have wantonly and unscrupulously oppressed them, merely for the sake of petty economic relationships, is truly a case of returning evil for good.  On the other hand, childbearing is an extremely painful event.  “The pangs of childbirth” is a term that frightens every woman who hears it.  Despite the medical discoveries that have changed the “difficulty of childbirth” into the “ease of childbirth,” we should show great reverence and compassion.  How can we instead take advantage of trivial economic benefits to press the other down?

Having presented the “reasons” above, we can now turn to the “methods.”  The methods by which women can become free and independent and never again be oppressed by men may in general be listed as follows:

1) A woman must never marry before she is physically mature.
2) Before marriage, at the bare minimum, a woman must be adequately prepared in knowledge and skills to live her own life.
3) A woman must prepare herself for living expenses after childbirth.

The above three items are the basic prerequisites for a woman’s own personal independence.  In addition, there is a further condition of “public child support,” to which society should pay close attention.  If women themselves are able to fulfill the above three conditions, and if society, for its part, provides for the public rearing of children, then marital relationships centered on love can be established.  This will depend on the efforts of all us young men and women!

Against Suicide (November 23, 1919)

I have placed the blame for Miss Zhao’s suicide on the circumstances that forced her to this.  I have said nothing so far about “suicide” itself.  On the question of suicide, scholars of ethics, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, have presented who knows how many arguments.  Whether extolling or condemning suicide, their point of departure has always been their philosophies of life, how they viewed human life.  My attitude toward suicide is to reject it, on several levels.

1) Ethics is the science of defining the objectives of human life and the methods for attaining the objectives of human life.  Aside from a small number of pessimistic moral philosophers, the majority hold that the goal of man is “life.”  Some may define that as meaning “for the public good, freely develop the individual,” and others may define it as meaning “the life and development of the individual and all mankind.”  But Paulsen says it is “developing all the human bodily and mental powers without exception to their highest, with no apologies for doing so.”  I feel that Paulsen’s words, as a concrete expression of the objective of human life, are most apt.  But this objective is definitely not attainable through suicide.  Not only is suicide not a means for “developing to their highest the powers of the human body and spirit, with no apologies for doing so,” it is ultimately the opposite of “developing to their highest the powers of the human body and spirit, with no apologies for doing so.”  This principle is very easy to understand.

2) As to what is going through the mind of the person who commits suicide, we cannot really judge, since we have not had the experience of committing suicide.  Living persons generally reject the concept of “death” and welcome the concept of “life.”  The vast majority of human beings welcome the concept of “life” and reject the concept of “death.”  Thus we have to say that those few who welcome “death” and reject “life” are exceptions to the rule.  These exceptions may be seen as persons having a kind of mental abnormality.

3) Physiologically, a person’s body is composed of cells, and the life of the person as a whole is the composite of the lives of the individual cells.  The natural condition of cellular life is to continue living until a certain age, at which time one dies of old age.  Suicide is a revolt against this natural physiological condition.  This natural physiological condition falls under the control of a kind of abnormal mentality, and is thereby terminated.  We may say that this is a kind of physiological irregularity.

4) In the world of living things, very few of them commit suicide.  Although there are tales about so-called loyal dogs of animals who have been faithful unto death, these are not common occurrences.  Ordinarily animals delight in life, are adapted to their environments, and strive in every way to seek life.

To summarize the above, suicide has no place in ethics, in psychology, in physiology, or in biology.  Thus the criminal law of many nations includes prohibitions against suicide.  Social custom, too, celebrates life and grieves at death, and both of these attitudes are rooted in the “principle of seeking life.”

Today we are concerned with why there are, after all, suicides in human society, and why they are not altogether rare, and also with the question of why we invariably express a feeling of respect for heroic suicides, and sometimes even suggest that it was “a good suicide.”  What is the reason for this?

My response to these two points is:

1) Before the idea of committing suicide develops, a person does not want to commit suicide, but rather wants to seek life.  Moreover, his hope for life is unusually strong.  Such an unusually strong hope as this can only be fulfilled under conditions which are at least adequate.  If one’s environment or poor treatment causes one’s hopes to be repeatedly frustrated and turn into disappointment and loss of hope, then one will invariably seek death.  Thus a criminal cannot be told that he has been given a death sentence very many days before the sentence is actually executed.  Therefore, we know that the motivation for a person’s suicide is absolutely not to seek death.  Not only is it not to seek death, but it is actually an urgent striving toward life.  The reason why there are suicides in human society is that society has robbed that person completely of his “hope” and has left him “in utter despair.”  When society robs someone completely of his hope, leaving him in despair, then that person will surely commit suicide.  Such was the case of Miss Zhao.  If society robs a group or clan of people completely of hope, and leaves them in utter despair, then this group of clan will inevitably commit suicide, as in the case of the 500 Tianheng martyrs who all committed suicide at the same time, [3] or of Hong and Yang’s army of 100,000 who set fire to themselves, [4] or the beginning of the Dutch war with a certain other state when they declared that if pressed too hard they would breach the sea dikes and drown themselves.  If society in a certain place leaves more people in despair, then there will be more suicides in that society.  If society in a certain place leaves fewer people in despair, then there will be fewer suicides in that society.

2) We respect the heroic suicide for the following two reasons.  First, because that person dares to do what others dare not do, we recognize that his spirit surpasses our own, and thus a feeling of respect arises unwittingly within us.  Second, because of his spirit of rebellion against oppression, we recognize that although his body is dead, his aspirations live on (they do not actually continue to exist, but his suicide makes us feel as if they do), and the powers oppressing him are thus foiled.  We derive a feeling of happiness and comfort from this, which turns into respect for the person who has committed suicide.  Consequently, we respect only heroic suicides, which represent the triumph of righteousness over treachery.

At this point, I would like to explain the topic under discussion, “against suicide.”

First, as has been proved in many ways, our goal is the search for life, so we ought not turn around and seek death.  Therefore I am “against suicide.”

Second, the condition of suicide is that society robs a person of hope.  In such circumstances, we ought to advocate struggle against society, to take back the hope that has been lost.  To die in struggle is to “be killed,” it is not “suicide.”  So I am “against suicide.”

Third, we do not feel respect for “suicide” as such, so if we respect a heroic suicide, it is because he has “performed a difficult action,” and “resisted oppression.”  If it were not for these two aspects, suicide would be easy.  Furthermore, if there were no oppression in this world, there would be no need to resist it; in that case, even though suicides might take place, how could they inspire a feeling of respect?  Since we have no feeling of respect for “suicide” as such, we ought to oppose this thing called “suicide.”  Regarding the first point, respect for a “difficult action,” we should look elsewhere for it, rather than in the callous act of suicide.  As for the second point, “resistance to oppression,” we should seek it in struggle.  Thus I am “against suicide.”

“Her suicide had only ‘relative’ value in terms of ‘preserving the personality.’”

The above article, drafted in haste, presents my own personal views.  The reader is invited to judge whether, in the last analysis, I am right or wrong.  I do find it difficult to express agreement with the view of Mr. Xinman, [5] who sees suicide as “a most happy and joyous event.”  In case of glaring errors, corrections would be extremely welcome.

 The Question of Love – Young People and Old People. Smash the Policy of Parental Agreement (November 25, 1919)

I often feel that in matters of all kinds, old people generally take a position of opposition to young people.  From such things in daily life as eating and dressing, to feelings about society and the nation, and attitudes toward mankind in the world at large, they are always drearily, rigidly, and coweringly passive.  Their views are always ingratiatingly humble.  Their position is always negative.  I think that if young and old are none the less able to live together, it is mostly because of a relationship of mutual benefit.  The old rely on the young to provide their food and clothing, while the young rely on the elderly to provide experience and wisdom.  Although you may feel that this is an “extreme” way of putting it, this very peculiar phenomenon does exist in China, thanks to an evil system and evil customs.  It is a fact that there are fundamental differences between the life of the old and that of the young.  This proposition has physiological and psychological foundations.  The reason why human life is different for the old and for the young lies in the differences between the physiology and psychology of the old and of the young.  Generally speaking, human life is the satisfaction of physiological and psychological desires.  Desires differ according to differences in sex, differences in age, differences in occupation, and differences in beliefs.  The difference in desires resulting from age differences is, however, the most pronounced.  This has already been proven by both Eastern and Western scholars.

We have many different kinds of desires, such as the desire to eat, the desire for sex, the desire to play, the desire for fame, and the desire for power and influence (also called the desire to dominate), and so on.  Of these, the desires for food and sex are fundamental, the former to maintain the “present” and the latter to open up the “future.”  Of these two desires, there is no absolute difference in the desire for food according to age.  Sexual desire does, however, differ with age.

The expression of sexual desire, generally speaking, is love.  Young people see the question of love as being very important, while old men don’t think it’s worth worrying about.  The relationship between husband and wife was originally meant to be totally centered around love, with everything else being subordinate.  Only in China is this question put to one side.  When I was young, I saw many people getting married.  I asked them what they were up to.  They all replied that a person takes a wife to have someone to make tea, cook, raise pigs, chase away the dogs, spin, and weave.  At this I asked, wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to hire a servant?  It wasn’t until later that I heard that people got married to “carry on the family line.”  This left me still perplexed.  And right down to today, when you look at what society says about marriage, you still can’t find even a hint of anything about love.  Society does not regard love as being important, and thus, except for the slave’s work of making tea, cooking, and so on, marriage is nothing but that base life of fleshly desire.  (What we call sexual desire, or love, involves not only the satisfaction of the physiological urge of fleshly desire, but the satisfaction of a higher order of desires — spiritual desires and desires for social intercourse.)  The slave’s work of making tea and cooking is a result of capitalism.  Old people pay no attention to love, only to “eating.”  Thus when their sons want to take a wife, they say they are taking a daughter-in-law.  Their goal in getting a daughter-in-law is to have the daughter-in-law do the slave’s work for them.  A passage in the Book of Rites says, “Even if a son is very pleased with his wife, if his parents are not, he repudiates her.  A son should not be pleased with his wife.”  This is firm proof of the fact that the question of love between the son and the daughter-in-law is to be put to one side, and that a wife is only doing the slavework.  When a woman is given in marriage, her parents don’t say that they have chosen a husband for their daughter, but rather that they have selected a happy son-in-law.  A “happy son-in-law” means only that this will make the parents happy.  It doesn’t matter whether their daughter will be happy or not.  And even all the dowry payments are just so that they themselves can eat well.  In short, capitalism and love are in conflict with one another.  Old men are in conflict with love.  Thus there is a tight bond between old men and capitalism, and the only good friends of love are young people.  Wouldn’t you say that old men and young people are in conflict with each other?

Observing that the Zhao family forced their daughter to commit suicide, Mr. Pingzi [6] strongly opposes parent’s controlling the marriage of their children, but he does not bring out the real reasons for this disposition.  The arguments of others like Messrs. Yunyuan, Weiwen, and Buping [7] mostly vacillate back and forth on the issue of parents interfering with the marriages of their children, and do not take a firm stand against such encroachment.  (Mr. Buping’s suggestion that parents act as participants with a strong say in the matter goes even farther.)  I have adduced physiological and psychological evidence to prove that parents absolutely cannot interfere in the marriages of their sons and daughters.  On their side, sons and daughters should absolutely refuse parental interference in their own marriages.  This must be done, for only then can capitalist marriage be abolished; only then can marriage based on love be established, so that loving and happy couples may truly appear.

Smash the Matchmaker System (November 27, 1919)

Speaking of this thing called a “matchmaker,” this is another cheap trick of Chinese society.  Chinese society contains a great many cheap tricks.  Things like those literary essays, imperial examinations, local bandits, and bureaucrats are all nothing but a bunch of tricks and games.  The same is true of things like exorcizing devils, sacrifices to appease the gods, dragon lanterns, lion dances, and even doctors treating patients, teachers teaching classes, and men and women getting married.  A society like that of China should really be called a society of cheap tricks.  This trick called marriage is connected with the problem of men and women, and also gives birth to a bunch of smaller games, such as “crawling in the dust,” “robbing the sister-in-law,” “raising the hero,” “fighting the wind,” “wearing a green bandana,” “making the genie jump,” and so on.  But as regards marriage, standing above all these little tricks, so that it may in all conscience be called the “ultimate cheap trick,” is that three-headed six-armed ubiquitous demon, the “matchmaker.”

The Chinese matchmaker has the following strange features:

the basic philosophy is “successfully dragging them together”;
each marriage is at least 80 percent lies;
the “gods” and the “eight characters” are their protecting talismans.

In China, it is always said that the major power over marriage is in the hands of the parents.  In actuality, although the parents are nominally the ones in control, they do not really make the decision.  It is in fact the matchmaker who has decision-making power.  In China anyone is qualified to be a matchmaker.  Moreover, matchmaking is recognized as a kind of duty.  As soon as someone has a son who needs a wife or a daughter who needs a husband, everybody and anybody around them, no matter who, is eligible to step in and join the search.  For this kind of matchmaker the first thing is to have the basic philosophy of “successfully dragging them together.”  Going around selling both parties on the idea that she genuinely wants the marriage to be a “success,” the matchmaker always says forcefully, you two families must make up your own minds.  In fact, however, after all her badgering, even parents with iron ears have long since become limp rags.  I have seen a lot of matchmakers, 80 or 90 percent of whom have been successful.  The matchmaker thinks that if she can’t get the couple together it is her own fault.  In the event that they do come together, and the two parties go from “unmarried” to “married,” she will have a meritorious deed to her credit.  At the bottom of such a philosophy of dragging people together, one thing is indispensable: “telling lies.”  Since the two families of the man and woman are not close to one another, there are many things that they do no know about each other, and the girl is locked away in the inner chambers, making it even more difficult to find out about her.  So the matchmaker rambles on, making up all kinds of stories, so that on hearing them, both sets of parents will be happy.  A marriage contract is written up on a sheet of paper, and thus the affair is concluded.  As a result, it is frequently the case that after the marriage, the two turn out to be completely incompatible.  This case of Fourth Madame She bringing together Miss Zhao and Fifth Son Wu is a perfect example of such lying.  Some even go so far as to substitute another bridegroom, or switch the bride.  This constitutes “a match between unmatchables,” and not just “a few little lies.”  Totally incompatible marriages in which the matchmaker has simply “dragged” the couple together and then lets out a futile fart to the heavens (country people call a lie a “futile fart”) practically fill Chinese society.  And why is it that one never hears of the man or the woman picking a quarrel with the matchmaker, or that of all the lawsuits in the courts, one rarely hears of one against the “old man of the moon”?  On the contrary, such people get off scot-free, with money in their pockets from the fee for their services.  Why is this?  Thanks to the blessings of the “gods” and the “eight characters,” the responsibility is placed on the supernatural.  Quite apart from the fact that the parents as usual do not blame the matchmaker, even the son and daughter can do no more than bemoan their sins in a previous life.  The wrong has already been cast in bronze, and all they can do is to make the best of a bad job.  This is one of the main causes preventing suitable marriages.  I have already discussed this at length in yesterday’s paper.

Since matchmakers are as bad as all this, when in the future we think about marriage reform, it is imperative that we immediately do away with the matchmaker system.  Vocabulary such as “matchmaker” and “the old man of the moon” must be expunged from dictionaries of the Chinese language.  With the establishment of a new marriage system, provided only that the man and the woman both know in their hearts that they have a deep and mutual affection for each other they should be fully able to mate freely.  If and when they want to make this clearly known to their relatives and friends, the best thing is to place a public announcement in the newspapers, declaring that the two of us want to become man and wife, and that the wedding date is set for such-and-such a month on such-and-such a day, and that’s that.  Otherwise, it should also be sufficient just to register at a public office, or in the countryside to report to the local authorities.  This thing called the matchmaker should be hurled beyond the highest heavens and forever forgotten.  If the atmosphere in the countryside is not yet receptive, so that it is difficult for the time being to abolish the system completely, the couple should at least meet face-to-face to prevent the matchmaker from lying.  And if the marriage does not work out, an inquiry can be requested in which the matchmaker cannot escape responsibility.  An examination of the origins of the matchmaker system would show that it came about because the line separating men and women is drawn too deeply.  Therefore, if we want to abolish the matchmaker system we must first thoroughly crack open the great prohibition against men and women meeting.  In the past few days Messrs. Xincheng, [8] Yuying, [9] Borong, and Xitang [10] have already discussed this in detail, so I need not go over it again here.

The Problem of Superstition in Marriage (November 28, 1919)

In studying the reasons why it is still possible to maintain the old marriage system, I frequently think that it is because of one enormous superstition.

Why do I say this?  At the center of marriage is love.  The power of the human need for love is greater than that of any other need.  Nothing except some special force can stop it.  Since love is an extremely important human need and is extremely powerful, everyone should be able to find what he’s looking for, and after marriage, the relationship between husband and wife should be full of love.  Why is it that, carrying a lantern as big as a house and searching the far corners of all of Chinese society, we find not even the faintest shadow of love?  The two phoney billboards of “the parental command” and “the matchmaker’s word” are easily capable of completely blocking even such a great power as this.  Why?

Some people reply that it is “because of China’s religion of the rites.”  But how many of our 400 million people really understand what the so-called “religion of the rites” is?  It goes without saying that all of China’s 200 million women are totally illiterate.  All of China’s peasants and all of China’s workers and merchants can recognize only a few big characters.  If we eliminate all of these, those who really understand the religion of the rites are only a small portion of those self-styled scholarly gentlemen dressed in long dark robes.  Apart from the “scholarly gentlemen,” for the vast majority of uneducated women, peasants, workers, and merchants, what controls their spiritual world, and enables the two phoney billboards of “the parental command” and “the matchmaker’s word” to block this surging tide of the need for love, is none other, I believe, than “superstition.”

The greatest superstition is the theory that “marriages are determined by destiny.”  Of an infant who has just dropped out of its mother’s belly, it is said that its marriage is already predestined.  When the child gets a little older and develops its own need to be married, it dares not propose a partner itself, but leaves it up to the parents and a matchmaker to make arrangements.  The child believes that making his own choice and leaving it up to the parental and matchmaker intermediaries amounts to the same thing, since it is already predestined and everything will be fine no matter what.  The wedding is held, and the husband and wife are united.  Except for those who have yielded to the irresistible natural force of love, people either throw out everything and start a big ruckus, turning the bedroom into a battleground of deadly mutual hostility, or find themselves another world outside the home, among the mulberry fields on the banks of the Pu River, where they carry on their secret amours.  Apart from these, those numerous husbands and wives who are called good couples with harmonious families have the words “marriage is predestined” writ large in their brains.  Thus they frequently commit to memory such maxims as, “Each generation cultivates sharing the pillow as those who cross over in the same boat have cultivated it for a hundred generations,” “The old man in the moon knots the threads,” “A match made in heaven.”  Such marriages that obey the theory of destiny probably account for 80 percent of Chinese society.  For these 80 percent of Chinese couples the flavor of love is an obscure mystery.  You might say their marriage is good, but then again, they are often known to sigh and moan.  But if you say it’s no good, they are, after all, a couple who live together in the same room, eat and sleep together, give birth to children and raise them as if their marriages really had been “made in heaven.”  Following their periodic quarrels and fights, when they have calmed down a bit, they recall that “each generation cultivates sharing the pillow” and that “matches are made in heaven,” at which point they return to their original state, and go on eating and sleeping as before.  It is because of this theory of predestination that the matchmaker is able to avoid responsibility.  Any Chinese, even the blind and deaf, is qualified to be a matchmaker.  Marital predestination is implanted in everyone’s mind, and when there is a wedding in some family, everyone, always goes along with it, whether or not the match is appropriate.  You think that if you don’t go along with it, you’re certain to be condemned by the gods.  You hear the saying everywhere “go along with marriage, don’t work against it.”  Anyone who “investigates the prospective spouse” by inquiring from the neighbors will never hear anything bad from them.  Once the bride enters the bridegroom’s house, it is considered “determined by the trigrams qian and kun,” and “celebrated with bell and drum.”  After that, no one would dare back out, no matter how bad it is.  All they can do is remember that “marriage is determined by destiny.”  It is this theory of predestination that gives rise to such extremely irrational practices as “marriages decided in the womb” and “choosing a partner in infancy.”  Everyone thinks, however, that it’s all a matter of “perfect destiny.”  No one has even considered that it might be a big mistake.  If you ask someone for a reason, the reply will be that “marriage is determined by destiny.”  Oh, how powerful you are, “marital destiny.”

The theory that “marriage is determined by fate” is an overarching superstition, to which many other small superstitions are appended:

1) “Matching the Eight Characters.”  When arranging for the marriages of their   sons and daughters, it is not that Chinese parents are utterly unselective.  On the contrary, they waste a lot of effort worrying about the selection of a mate for their sons and daughters.  Their criteria for selecting, however, are not looks or disposition or health or learning or age, but rather only whether or not the eight characters.”  There are two ways of matching the eight characters.  One is to ask a fortune-teller to match them, the other is to ask a “Buddha” to match them.  As long as the eight characters can be matched, even a demon can be dragged into becoming a husband or wife.  In society there are many cases of a young girl being mated with an elderly husband, or of a young man taking an elderly woman to wife.  In our village there is a joke, “Eighty-year-old Grandpa produced a baby, and the hundred thousand families of Changsha laughed themselves to death,”  which refers to the story of an eighteen-year-old girl, married to an eighty-year- old man, having a baby.  In addition, there are frequent instances of an ugly husband matched up with a beautiful wife, or a beautiful wife matched up with an  ugly husband, with the consolation that “happiness and wealth come to the ugly.”  None of the other factors, such as disposition or learning, are regarded as significant criteria.

2) “Registering the Dates.”  After the eight characters are matched, the second   step in the marriage procedure is “Registering the Dates,” in which the eight characters of both the man and the woman are written down in the Book of Dates   in the presence of “the illustrious spirits.”  Incense is burned and prayers are invoked that the couple may “live together to a ripe old age.”  From this stage forward, the marriage is considered an ironclad case.  Registering the Dates originally meant sealing the contract, but in the Book of Dates itself nothing is said about contracts.  The only thing that is written down is eight big characters indicating the year, month, day, and hour.  All the many really essential  conditions of marriage count for nothing.  How can this be considered anything but superstition?

3) “Selecting an Auspicious Day.”  After registering the dates, and the exchange of presents, it is necessary to select a lucky day.  It must be a day of no “evil  spirits” or “taboos.”  The almanac is commonly consulted for “suitable” and   “impropitious” days.  Next, a fortune-teller is asked to calculate the position of   the stars.  Then the Buddha’s permission is asked.  It was at this point that Miss Zhao begged her parents to change the wedding date, to which her mother replied. “The auspicious day has already been determined and is virtually impossible to   change.”  Had they agreed to change the date, and waited for her elder brother to  return home, it might not have been necessary to bury her on this “most auspicious day.”

4) “Sending the Sedan Chair.”  This is even stupider.  There is some tale to the effect that when King Zhou of the Shang dynasty was receiving his concubine, Daji, a fox-spirit changed places with her during the journey.  Ever since, whenever a bride is on the way to her groom’s house, it is feared that she might become a second Daji.  First, therefore, a heavy closed sedan chair must be used; second, its door must be locked tightly; and third, the “god of good luck” is entreated to offer proper protection.  Some say that if on this occasion Miss Zhao had been in a light open sedan chair, not tightly locked and sealed, so that she could have been seen from outside, she might not have committed suicide.

5) “Greeting the God of Good Luck.”  Seated in the dark inside a sealed sedan chair, a bride is already depressed, but when she arrives at the bridegroom’s house and the sedan chair is set down, she must also calmly greet the “god of good luck,” requesting him to “ward off unlucky influences.”  On this occasion, when Miss Zhao arrived at the Wu family home, she was already about to expire, but the Wu family was just getting ready to greet the “god of good luck,” in order to “ward off unlucky influences.”

6) “Worshiping Heaven and Earth.”  Worshiping heaven and earth means being presented to the ancestors.  It is said that when a new bride is added to a household it is necessary to ask the ancestors to protect and assist in “giving birth to many heirs,” so that “abundant descendants may glorify the ancestors.”  In the West, they do not report to their ancestors, but they do thank some God, and say that the love of the bride and groom is a gift from God, and their marriage relationship has been put together by God.

These superstitions are really just so many cheap tricks of marriage, and have no other purpose than to be the rope that tightly binds a man and woman together.  Between the matchmaking and the exchange of gifts, the bride and groom are so tightly bound by the bonds of superstition that they can’t even breathe, and afterwards, they become a stable, proper, and very harmonious good couple.  Miss Zhao’s marriage had, of course, gone through all the “big ceremonies” except that of “worshiping heaven and earth.” [11]  Her choice of death was certainly closely related to these superstitions.  As we put forward our call for the reform of the marriage system, it is first of all these superstitions about marriage that must be demolished, above all the belief that “marriages are decided by destiny.”  Once this belief has been demolished, the pretext behind which the arrangement of marriages by parents hides itself will disappear, and “incompatibility of husband and wife” will immediately start appearing in society.  As soon as incompatibility between husbands and wives manifests itself, the army of the family revolution will arise in countless numbers, and the great tide of the freedom of marriage and the freedom to love will sweep over China.  Riding the crest of this tide, new husband and wife relationships will be formed wholly on the basis of a philosophy of love.  At this point, I could not help associating this with a subject that everyone is talking about, “universal education.”

  1. The peddlers to whom Mao alludes were those who brought cotton cloth, particularly that used for women’s undergarments and for children’s clothes, to people’s homes.  The point of this reference is that, unlike the men referred to under item 6 below, who hung about silk shops, women were sequestered in their houses and could only wait for the peddlers to come to them.
  2. Mr. Rulin is believed to be Xiao Rulin (1890-1926), a native of Hunan Province.  After the 1911 revolution he became editor-in-chief of the Changsha Junguomin ribao (National Military Daily), and was deputy chief of the office of Governor Tan Yankai in 1917.  The Dagongbao published his article entitled “My Views on the Suicide of Miss Zhao” on November 19, 1919.
  3. Tianheng (?-202 b.c.) was a nobleman of the state of Qi and a supporter of the king of Qi during the war between Chu and Han.  When Liu Bang became king, Tianheng was unwilling to act as his subject, so committed suicide.  Five hundred of his followers, on hearing of this incident, also took their own lives.
  4. The “army of Hong and Yang” refers to the forces of the Taipings.  In July 1864 the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was taken by Zeng Guofan’s forces, after the campaign for which Mao earlier expressed such admiration.  On the day the city fell, the Xiang Army ravaged the city, looting shops and killing many people.  On seeing this, officers of the Taiping army gathered up all remaining valuables and set fire to the lot, including themselves.  As indicated in the note to Mao’s letter of August 23, 1917, Yang Xiuqing had, in fact, died in 1856, though the supreme leader Hong Xiuquan was still alive.
  5. Mr. Xinman’s identity is unknown.  He was one of three authors whose articles were published in the Dagongbao under the heading “Public Opinion on the Suicide of Miss Zhao” on November 20, 1919.  In his piece, he praised Miss Zhao for being a resolute person who refused to bow to circumstances, and criticized the “erroneous arguments” of Mao and others, who failed to grasp that her suicide (not suicide in general) was a “joyous event.”
  6. Mr. Pingzi is Zhang Pingzi (1885-1972).  zi Qihan, like Mao a native of Xiangtan xian.  Hunan.  A member of the Tongmenghui, he became in 1919 one of the chief editors of the Hunan Dagongbao.  His own arcticle entitled “I Do Not Approve of Parents Controlling Marriage” appeared in the November 22, 1919, issue.
  7. The identities of Yunyuan, Weiwen, and Buping are unknown.  On November 20, 1919, the Dagongbao carried an article by Weiwen, “The problem of the Reform of the Marriage System,” as well as a brief note by Buping under the heading “Public Opinion on the Suicide of Miss Zhao.”  An article signed Yunyuan, “My Views on Reform of the Marriage System,” was published the following day.
  8. Xincheng is Shu Xincheng (1893-1960), a Hunanese who was editor of Hunan Jiaoyu (Hunan Education), a monthly critical of the existing education system founded on November 1, 1919, and suppressed after its fifth issue in March 1920.  At this time he was teaching at Changsha Fuxiang Girl’s School.  The article to which Mao refers had appeared on November 23, 1919, in the Dagongbao.
  9. Yuying is Long Bojian (1879-1983), a Hunanese who had been editor-in-chief of the weekly Xin Hunan (New Hunan).  His article entitled “A Question” was published in the Dagongbao on November 22, 1919.
  10. Borong is Li Borong (1893-1972), and Xitang is Li Youlong (1881-1953), zi Xiaoshen, hao Xitang.  Their articles on the incident were published in the Dagongbao on November 22 and November 24 respectively.
  11. There is an apparent contradiction between Mao’s observation here and the statement, not only in the other sources on the suicide of Miss Zhao, but in Mao’s own article of November 18, to the effect that the victim cut her throat in the sedan chair while being carried to her future husband’s house, so that Orange Garden Street was “splashed with blood.”  The explanation apparently lies in the account published in the Dagongbao on November 16, 1919, according to which Miss Zhao was still bleeding and did not appear to be dead when the chair was opened in front of the Wu family home, and medical attention was sought.  In a macabre twist to the tale, she was taken first to the Red Cross infirmary, and then (because they had no woman doctor to treat her) to the Hunan-Yale Medical College outside the north gate, where it was too late to save her.  This version is compatible with Mao’s statement, in paragraph (5) above, that when she arrived at the Wu family home, she was already “about to expire.”  Assuming it is accurate, Miss Zhao did indeed live to complete all but the last of the marriage ceremonies.

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from Peuchet on Suicide


Born in Trier, Prussia, the third of seven children, Karl Heinrich Marx was educated at home until the age of 13. His father, descended from a long line of rabbis, was prohibited by the Prussian authorities from practicing law as a Jew; he converted to Lutheranism despite his liberal, deistic beliefs. Karl attended the universities of Bonn and Berlin, where his involvement with political thought and activism began early. In 1842, he became the editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, published in Cologne, but it was suppressed by the government a year later. He spent the next years in exile in Paris, where he wrote for the radical newspaper, Vorwärts, and in Brussels. When revolutionary activity broke out in 1848, he returned to Cologne to found the Neue Rheinische Zeitung; a year later, it too was suppressed, and he was expelled from Prussia. Marx then moved to London, devoting himself to developing his theory of socialism and to political activity in on behalf of revolution and social reform.

Marx collaborated with Friedrich Engels in the writing of the short and politically incendiary Communist Manifesto (1847) and in the extended theoretical work on political economy critiquing capitalism and developing communist economic theory, Das Kapital (3 vols., 1867, 1885, 1895), which Engels completed after Marx’s death. These works are particularly sensitive to issues of exploitation, which were central in Marx’s understanding of not only industrial capitalism and the labor theory of value, but also of suicide, as the selection here makes clear.

The excerpt is Marx’s only published discussion of suicide. It is his translation from the French of a text from Jacques Peuchet (1758–1830; Marx misidentifies Peuchet’s birth date as 1760), with interpolations added by Marx to augment the argument Peuchet was making. In the text here, Marx’s interpolations appear in boldface in the text; omissions from Peuchet’s text are provided in the footnotes. Peuchet, a prolific researcher and writer, and the editor of Dictionnaire Universel de la Géographie Commerçante, was the archivist of the Paris Police Prefecture, who, Marx tells us in his introduction to Peuchet’s text, drafted his memoirs as an old man, using materials from the Paris Police Archives and relying on his lengthy practical experience in police work and administration. With the interpolation of a few deft sentences, Marx transforms Peuchet’s already unsettling case histories—like the wedding of the daughter of a tailor that ends instead in suicide, or the case of the Creole from Martinique, whose sister-in-law is understood as property—into serious social critique. Marx’s translation/essay was published in 1846 in Gesellschaftsspiegel (Mirror of Society), a small German socialist journal in which Engels was involved, but it was not mentioned in any of the surviving letters with his colleagues at the time, nor was it reprinted during Marx’s lifetime. The original on which it is based, Peuchet’s Memoires tirés des archives de la police (1838), is available in a facsimile edition.

Eric A. Plaut and Kevin Anderson, eds., Marx on Suicide, trs. Eric A. Plaut, Gabrielle Edgcomb, and Kevin Anderson. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999, pp. 45-70. Material in introduction from Kevin Anderson, “Marx on Suicide in the Context of His Other Writings on Alienation and Gender,” ibid., pp. 3-40. Footnotes deleted.


French critique of society has, at least partly, the great advantage of demonstrating the contradictions and the unnatural state of modern life, not only in the relationship between particular classes, but also in all spheres and forms of current intercourse. Indeed, their descriptions have a direct warmth of feeling, a richness of intuition, a worldly sensitivity and insightful originally for which one searches in vain in all other nations. One need only compare, for example, the critical descriptions of Owen and Fourier, insofar as they deal with actual intercourse to get a picture of the superiority of the French. It is by no means only the “socialist” French writers among whom one should look for these critical descriptions of social conditions. Included are writers of every type of literature, particularly those of fiction and biography. I shall use an excerpt about suicide from the Memoirs drawn from the Police Archives by Jacques Peuchet as an example of French critique. At the same time, it may show the extent to which it is the conceit of the benevolent bourgeoisie that the only issues are providing some bread and some education to the proletariat, as if only the workers suffer from present social conditions, but that, in general, this is the best of all possible worlds.

With Jacques Peuchet, as with many older French practitioners (now mostly deceased) who lived through the numerous upheavals since 1789—the numerous deceptions, enthusiasms, constitutions, rulers, defeats, and victories—there appeared a critique of the existing property, family, and other private relationships (in a word, of private life) as the necessary consequence of their political experiences.

Jacques Peuchet (born 1760) went from the fine arts to medicine, from medicine to law, from law to administration and police work.

Before the outbreak of the French revolution he worked, with the Abbé Morellet, on a Dictionnaire du Commerce of which only a prospectus appeared, and he preferred dealing with political economy and administration. He was a supporter of the French Revolution but only briefly. He soon turned to the royalist party, was for a time the director of the Gazette de France and later even took over, from Mallet-du-Pan, the infamous, royalist Mercure. Cleverly wending his way through the French Revolution, some times persecuted, then occupied in the Department of Administration and the Police, his five-volume Géographie commerçante (published in 1800) drew the attention of  Bonaparte, the First Consul, and he was appointed a member of the Council of Commerce and the Arts. Later, during the ministry of François von Neufchâteau, he assumed a higher administrative position. In 1814 the Restoration appointed him censor. During the 100 days he withdrew. With the reinstatement of the Bourbons, he attained the position of archivist of the Paris Prefecture of Police, a position he held until 1827. Peuchet was directly involved, and, as a writer, not without influence on the spokesmen for the Constituent Assembly, the Convention, the Tribunate, and, under the Restoration, the Chamber of Deputies. Among his many, mostly economic works, in addition to the aforementioned commercial-geography, his Statistique de la France (1807) is best known.

As an old man, Peuchet drafted his memoirs, partly from materials from the Paris Police Archives, partly from his long practical experience in police work and administration, but insisted they be published only posthumously.  Thus, under no circumstances can he be included among those “premature” socialists and communists who, as is well known, lack so totally the wonderful thoroughness and the all-encompassing knowledge of the vast majority of our writers, officials, and practical citizens.

Listen then to our archivist of the Paris Police Prefecture on the subject of suicide:

The yearly toll of suicides, which is to some extent normal and periodic, has to be viewed as a symptom of the deficient organization of our society. For, in times of industrial stagnation and its crises, in times of high food prices and hard winters, this symptom always becomes more prominent and takes on an epidemic character. At these times, prostitution and theft increase proportionately. Although penury is the greatest source of suicide, we find it in all classes, among the idle rich, as well as among artists and politicians. The varieties of reasons motivating suicide make a mockery of the moralists’ single-minded and uncharitable blaming.

Consumptive illnesses, against which present-day science is inadequate and ineffective, abused friendship, betrayed love, discouraged ambition, family troubles, repressed rivalry, the surfeit of a monotonous life, enthusiasm turned against itself.  These are all surely causes of suicide for natures of greater breadth.  The love of life itself, the energetic force of personality, often leads to releasing oneself from a contemptible existence.

Madame de Stael, whose greatest service was to beautifully stylize commonplace fictions, was eager to demonstrate that suicide is contrary to nature and that it cannot be understood as an act of courage.  Above all, she argued that it is more worthy to fight despair than to give in to it.  Such reasoning has little effect upon those souls who are overwhelmed be misfortune.  If they are religious, they may be thinking about a better world: if they believe in nothing they may be seeking the peace of nothingness.  Philosophical tirades have little value in their eyes and are a poor refuge from suffering.  Above all, it is absurd to claim that an act, which occurs so often, is an unnatural act.  Suicide is in no way unnatural, as we witness it daily.  What is contrary to nature does not occur.  It lies, on the contrary, in the nature of our society to cause so many suicides, while the Tartars do not commit suicide.  Not all societies bring forth the same results.  We must keep this in mind in working to reform our society to allow it to reach a higher level. What characterizes courage, when one, designated as courageous, confronts death in the light of day on the battlefield, under the sway of mass excitement, is not necessarily lost, when one kills oneself in dark solitude.  One does not resolve such a difficult issue by insulting the dead.

All that has been said against suicide stems from the same circle of ideas.  One condemns suicide with foregone conclusions. But, the very existence of suicide is an open protest against these unsophisticated conclusions. They speak of our duty to this society, but not of our right to expect explanations and actions by our society.  They endlessly exalt, as the infinitely higher virtue, overcoming suffering, rather than giving in to it.  Such a virtue is every bit as sad as the perspective it opens up.  In brief, one has made suicide an act of cowardice, a crime against law, society, and honor.

How is it that people commit suicide, despite such great anathema against it?  The blood of the despairing does not flow through the same arteries as that of those cold beings who have the leisure to debate such fruitless questions.  Man is a mystery to man; one knows only how to blame him, but does not know him. Has one noticed how mindless the institutions are under whose rule Europe lives?  How they dispose of the life and blood of the people?  How civilized justice surrounds itself with large numbers of prisons, physical punishments, and instruments of death to enforce its doubtful arrests?  How one observes the shocking number of classes left in misery by all concerned?  How social pariahs are dealt brutal, preventive, contemptuous blows, perhaps so one does not have to take the trouble to pull them out of their dirt?  When one has noted all these things, one cannot comprehend how, in the name of what authority, an individual can be ordered to care an existence that our customs, our prejudices, our laws, and our mores trample under foot.

It has been believed that suicide could be prevented by abusive punishments and by branding with infamy the memory of the guilty one.  What can one say about the indignity of such branding, hurled at people who are no longer there to plead their case? The unfortunate rarely bother themselves with all this.  And, if the act of suicide accuses someone, it is usually those remaining behind, because in this crowd there was not one person for whom it was worth staying alive.  Have the childish and cruel means, that have been devised, successfully fought against the whisperings of despair?  To one who wishes to flee this world, how do the insults that the world promises to heap on his corpse matter?  He sees therein only another act of cowardice on the part of the living.  In fact, what kind of society is it wherein one finds the most profound loneliness in the midst of many millions of people, a society where one can be overwhelmed by an uncontrollable urge to kill oneself without anyone of us suspecting it?  This society is no society, but, as Rousseau said, a desert populated by wild animals.  In the positions in police administration that I have held, suicides were part of my responsibilities.  I wanted to find out if, among the determining causes, one might find some whose consequences could prove to be prevented.  I undertook a comprehensive study of this subject. I found that, short of a total reform of the organization of our current society, all other attempts would be in vain. Among the sources for the despair that leads easily excitable people, passionate beings with deep feelings, to seek death, I found the primary cause was the bad treatment, the injustices, the secret punishments that these people received at the hands of harsh parents and superiors, upon whom they were dependent. The revolution did not topple all tyrannies. The evil which one blames on arbitrary forces exists in families, where it causes crises, analogous to those of revolutions.

We must first create, from the ground up, the connections between the interests and dispositions, the true relations among individuals.  Suicide is only one of the thousand and one symptoms of the general social struggle ever fought out on new ground.  Many warriors withdraw from this battle, because they are tired of being counted among the victims or to take a place of honor among the hangmen.  If you want some examples, I will draw them from authentic police proceedings.

In the month of July 1816 the daughter of a tailor became engaged to a butcher.  He was a young man of good morals, frugal and hardworking.  He was very taken with his beautiful fiancée.  She in turn was much drawn to him.  She was a seamstress and was held in high esteem by all who knew her, and the parents of her bridegroom loved her dearly.  These good people missed no opportunity to anticipate the arrival of their daughter-in-law.  They threw many parties wherein she was queen and idol.

The time for the wedding approached. All arrangements between the families had been completed and the contracts signed. The night before the day set for the trip to city hall, the young daughter and her parents were to have dinner with the bridegroom’s family. An unimportant event unexpectedly interfered.  The tailor and his wife had to stay home—customers from a rich house had to be taken care of.  They excused themselves; but the butcher’s mother came herself to pick up her daughter-in-law, who had received permission to follow her.

Despite the absence of two to the guests of honor, the dinner turned out to be one of the jolliest.  The anticipation of the wedding occasioned the telling of many family anecdotes. People drank; people sang. The future was discussed.  The joys of a good marriage were the subject of lively discussion.  Very late at night, all were still around the dining table. The parents of the young people, in an easily understandable indulgence, closed their eyes to the still secret understanding of the engaged couple. Hands sought each other. Love and intimacy were on their minds.

Besides, the marriage was a foregone conclusion and these young people had been visiting each other for a long time, without giving the slightest reason for reproach. The sympathy of the lovers’ parents, the advanced hour, the mutual longing (set free by the compassion of their mentors), the unabashed joyousness that reigns at such repasts, the wine spinning around in their heads, the opportunity that smilingly beckoned, all these combined to end in an easily anticipated result.  After the lights were dimmed, the lovers found themselves in the dark. One pretended to notice nothing; they had no inkling.  Here their happiness had only friends, no envious witnesses.

It was the next morning before the daughter returned to her parents.  That she returned alone is evidence that she had no sense of wrongdoing. She slipped into her room and performed her ablutions.  No sooner had her parents noticed her, than they furiously poured scandalous names and curse-words on her.  The neighborhood witnessed all this: there were no limits to the scandal.  The child was shattered by these judgments; her modesty and her privacy were outrageously assaulted.  The dismayed girl pointed out to her parents that they themselves brought blame upon her, that she admitted her wrong, her foolishness, her disobedience, but that all would be set to rights.  Her reasons and her pain did not disarm their fury. Those who are most cowardly, who are least capable of resistance themselves, become unyielding as soon as they can exert absolute parental authority. The abuse of that authority also serves as a cruel substitute for all the submissiveness and dependency people in bourgeois society acquiesce in, willingly or unwillingly. Neighborhood men and women, drawn to the uproar, supplied a chorus. This awful scene aroused such feelings of shame, that the child decided to take her own life.  In the midst of the crowd’s cursing and scolding, she rushed down to the Seine and, with a crazed look in her eyes, threw herself into the river.  The boat people pulled out her dead body still adorned with wedding jewelry.  Not surprisingly, those who had been screaming at the daughter, now turned against the parents.  The catastrophe scared these empty souls.  A few days later the parents came to the Police Bureau’s depository to reclaim that which had clearly belonged to their child—a gold necklace that had been a present from her future father-in-law, as well as a silver watch, earrings, and a ring with a small emerald, all objects deposited with the police, as would have been expected.  I did not fail forcefully to throw up to them their foolishness and barbarity.  Telling these infuriated ones that they would be accountable to God would have made little impression, given their hard-hearted prejudices and their particular kind of religiosity, so common among the lower mercantile classes.

It was greed that drew them to my office, not the claim to ownership of a few relics.  And, it was through their greed that I thought I could punish them.  They claimed their daughter’s jewelry; I refused to give it to them.  In order to get the jewelry which, according to the regulations, had been placed in the depository they needed a certificate that was in my possession.  So long as I held my position their claims were in vain.  I enjoyed defying their attacks on me.

That same year there appeared in my office a very attractive young Creole from one of Martinique’s richest families.He was absolutely opposed to our releasing the corpse of a young woman, his sister-in-law, to its claimant, the lady’s husband and his own brother.  She had drowned herself.  This is the most common form of suicide.  The officers assigned to fishing the corpse out of the river found the body near the Argenteuil shore.  Through one of their conscious instincts—namely shame—which governs women even when they are in darkest despair, the sad victim had carefully wrapped the seam of her dress around her feet.  This modest precaution was evidence that she had committed suicide.  She was hardly disfigured when the sailors brought her to the morgue.  Her beauty, her youth, her rich attire, her despair, occasioned a thousand speculations about the cause of this catastrophe.  The despair of her husband, the first to identify her, was boundless.  He did not understand this disaster, at least so I was told: I had not yet seen the man.  I told the Creole that the claims of the husband had priority.  He had ordered a magnificent marble tomb to hold the remains of his wife.

“After he killed her, the monster,” screamed the Creole, as he ran off enraged.

After the excitement, the despair of this young man, after his fervent supplications to grant his wishes, after his tears, I believed I could assume that he loved her and I told him so.  He confessed his love, but with the most vivid protestations that his sister-in-law never knew of this.  He swore to it.  Only to save his sister-in-law’s reputation, whose suicide public opinion would, as usual, ascribe to some intrigue, did he want to shed light upon the barbarity of his brother, even if thereby he were to place himself on the accuser’s bench.  He begged me for my support.

What I could ascertain from his disconnected, passionate description is as follows: M. de M., his brother, was rich and a connoisseur of the arts, a lover of high living and high society. He had married this young woman about one year before.  It seemed to have been mutual attraction; they were the loveliest pair imaginable. After the wedding, the bridegroom suddenly and strikingly began showing unmistakable signs of a possibly hereditary blood defect. This man, formerly so proud of his handsome appearance, his elegant figure in matchless perfection of form, suddenly fell victim to an unknown evil against whose devastation science was powerless. He was terribly transformed from head to toe. He had lost all his hair: his spine had become bent. Most noticeable were the day-to-day changes in his appearance as he became thinner and more wrinkled. At least this was so to others; his vanity sought to deny the obvious to himself. None of this made him bedridden. An iron will seemed to overcome the attacks of this evil.  Forcefully, he overcame the wreckage. His body fell in ruins, but his spirit soared. He continued organizing celebrations, overseeing hunting parties, continuing to live the life of wealth and splendor. It seemed to be built into his character and his nature. Yet, when he exercised his horse on the bridle paths, there were insults and innuendos, jokes by schoolboys and street children. There were rude and scornful smiles. The well-intentioned warnings by his friends about the frequent ridicule he was subjecting himself to by his fixation on gallant manners with the ladies, finally dissolved his illusions and caused him to be on his guard toward himself. As soon as he acknowledged his ugliness and deformity, as soon as he became conscious thereof, his character turned embittered and cowardice descended upon him.

He seemed less eager to take his wife to soirées, balls, and concerts.  He fled to his country home, ceased issuing any invitations, avoided people with a thousand excuses. So long as his pride gave him assurance of his superiority, he indulged his wife the attention she got from his friends. Now they made him jealous, suspicious, and violent. He saw in all those who persisted in visiting him the determination of making his wife’s heart surrender, she who was his last source of pride and his last consolation. At this time the Creole arrived from Martinique on business, the success of which seemed to benefit from the reinstatement of the Bourbons to the French throne. His sister-in-law welcomed him superbly.  In the course of the many connections that she arranged for him, the new arrival had the advantages to which his status as M. de M’s brother naturally entitled him. Our Creole foresaw the isolation of the household that was developing, stemming not only from the direct quarrels his brother had provoked with numerous friends, but also from the thousand occurrences by which visitors were driven away and discouraged. Without very much taking into account the amorous motives which made him also jealous, the Creole supported these ideas of isolation and furthered them himself through his advice.  M. de M. concluded the process by completely withdrawing to a lovely house in Passy that, in sort order, became a desert. The slightest thing will stir jealously. When it does not know where to turn, it feeds on itself and becomes inventive—everything nourishes it. Perhaps the young woman yearned for the pleasures suited to her age. Walls cut off the view of the neighbors’ houses, and the shutters were closed from dawn to dusk.

The unfortunate woman was condemned to unbearable slavery and M. de M. exercised his slaveholding rights, supported by the civil code and the right of property. These were based on social conditions which deem love to be unrelated to the spontaneous feelings of the lovers, but which permit the jealous husband to fetter his wife in chains, like a miser with his hoard of gold, for she is but a part of his inventory. M. de M., weapon in hand, strode around the house at night, and made his rounds with dogs. He imagined finding tracks in the sand.  He lost himself in strange assumptions about the placement of a ladder, which a gardener had moved.  The gardener himself, an almost 60 year-old drunkard, was placed as a guard at the door.  The spirit of exclusion knows no limits to its excesses, it extends to absurdity.  The brother, an innocent accomplice in all this, finally understood that he was collaborating in the young woman’s misfortune.

Day after day she was watched and insulted.  It robbed her of all that might have helped distract her through her rich and happy imagination. She became gloomy and melancholy, where before she had been free and cheerful.  She cried and hid her tears, but their traces were there to read. The Creole became remorseful. He decided to declare himself openly to his sister-in-law and to rectify his error, which surely stemmed from his secret feelings of love. One morning he crept into a little grove where the prisoner occasionally came to get some air and look after her flowers. Even in this circumscribed freedom, one has to believe, she knew she would be under the watchful eye of her jealous husband.

For at the sight of her brother-in-law, who at first appeared before her unexpectedly, she became greatly agitated and wrung her hands. “For God’s sake, leave!” she cried in a panic. “Leave.” And indeed, he had hardly hidden himself in a greenhouse, when M. de M. suddenly appeared. The Creole heard screams. He wanted to eavesdrop, but the pounding of his heart prevented his recourse to even the smallest word of explanation of this escapade, which, if discovered by the husband could result in a lamentable outcome.

This event spurred on the brother-in-law; from this day on he saw the necessity of becoming the victim’s protector.  He forced himself to give up hidden thoughts of love. Love can sacrifice anything except its right to protect, for this last sacrifice would be cowardice. He continued to visit his brother, prepared to talk openly with him, to tell him all, to expose himself. M. de M. had no suspicion of this aspect, but his brother’s persistence let it arise. Without clearly reading the cause of his bother’s interest, M. de M. mistrusted him, sensing in advance where it might lead.

The Creole soon realized that when he came to ring the bell at the gate to the house in Passy and received no answer, his brother was by no means always absent, as he subsequently claimed. A journeyman locksmith made him keys, copied from the models his master had used for M. de M. After ten days absence, the Creole, embittered by fear, and tortured by wild fantasies, climbed over the walls one night, broke the gate to the main courtyard, and, with a ladder, climbed up to the roof.  Sliding down a drainpipe, he reached a garret window. Loud cries induced him to sneak, unnoticed, to a glass door.  What he saw broke his heart.

A lamp brightly lit the alcove.  Beneath the draperies, his hair in disarray, his face purple with rage, a half-naked M. de M., on his knees near his wife on the same bed, showered biting reproaches on his wife who cowered, not daring to move, yet trying half-heartedly to extricate herself.  He was like a tiger, ready to tear her to pieces.

“Yes,” he said to her, “I am ugly.  I am a monster as I know only too well.  I scare you.  You wish to be freed from me, never again to be burdened with the sight of me.  You long for the moment that will make you free of me.  And, do not tell me the opposite.  I can read your thoughts in your fear and your repugnance. You blush at the undignified laughter that I arouse.  Deep down, I revolt you.  Surely you are counting every minute that has yet to pass until I shall no longer burden you with my infirmities and my presence.  Stop!  I am filled with horrible desires, a rage to disfigure you, to make you resemble me. Then you would no longer have the hope of solace from lovers for having the misfortune to have known me. I will shatter every mirror in this house, so that they will no longer reprove me with the contrast, will no longer serve to nourish you pride.  Must I take or let you go out into the world so all can encourage you to hate me?  No, no, you shall not leave this house until you have killed me.  Kill me; do it, that which I have been daily tempted to do.”

With loud cries, with gnashing of teeth, with spittle on his lips, with a thousand symptoms of madness, with enraged self-inflicted blows, the wild man threw himself on the bed near his unhappy wife. She wasted tender caresses as well as pathetic entreaties on him. Finally she tamed him. Pity had, undoubtedly, replaced love, but that was not enough for this now revolting man, whose passions still retained so much energy. A prolonged feeling of dejection followed this scene, which turned the Creole cold as stone.  He shuddered and knew not whom to turn to, to free the unfortunate woman from this deadly torment.

Apparently this scene was being repeatedly daily.  To allay the spasms that followed these scenes, Mme. de M. took refuge in the medicine bottles, prepared for the purpose of affording her tormentor some peace.

At this time the Creole was the sole representative of the family in Paris.  Perhaps he foresaw that starting legal proceedings would be risky.  It is above all in these cases that one wants to curse the law’s delays and its indifference. It cannot budge from its narrow, humdrum way, particularly when it is a question regarding a mere woman, the creature to whom the legislator provides the least protection.  Only an arrest warrant of an arbitrator’s act might have forestalled the tragedy that the witness to this madness forsaw.  Nevertheless, he decided to risk all, to accept the costs of his decisions as his fortune enabled him and to make enormous sacrifices, not fearing for the accountability for his bold undertaking.  Some physician friends of his, similarly determined, planned to break into M. de M.’s house to confirm the episodes of insanity and to separate the couple forcefully, when the occurrence of the suicide justified the too-long-delayed preparations and ended the problem.

Surely, for anyone who does not reduce to its literal meaning the whole spirit of a word, this suicide was an assassination perpetrated by the husband, but it was also the result of an intoxication of jealousy.  The jealous man requires a slave he can love, but that love is only a handmaiden for his jealousy.  Above all, the jealous man is a private property owner.

I prevented the Creole from creating a useless and dangerous scandal, primarily endangering the memory of his beloved, as the idle public would have accused the victim of an adulterous relationship with the husband’s brother. I witnessed the funeral. None but the brother and I knew the truth. Around me I heard unworthy mumblings about the suicide, and I regarded them with contempt. One blushes at public opinion when one observes it close at hand, with its cowardly malice and its salacious inferences. Opinion is too divided through the isolation of the people, too ignorant, too corrupt, for all are strangers to themselves and to one another.

Few weeks passed, by the way, without bringing me similar revelations. That same year I recorded love matches that ended in two pistol shots, occasioned by the refusal of parents to grant their consent.

I also recorded suicides by men of the world, reduced to impotence in the bloom of their youth, having been plunged into uncontrollable melancholy by the abuse of pleasures.

Many people end their days subject to this obsession. Medicine, after long, unnecessary torment through ruinous prescriptions, could not free them from their miseries.

One could compile a strange collection of quotations from famous authors and poets which the despairing have written, preparing for their death with a certain splendor. During the moment of wonderful cold-bloodedness that comes with the decision to die, breathes a kind of contagious inspiration that flows from these souls onto these pages, even among those classes who were deprived of education. As they gather themselves together before the sacrifice, whose depths they have plumbed, they summon up all their powers and, with characteristic, warm expression, bleed to death.

Some of these poems, now buried in the archives, are masterpieces. A dull bourgeois, who places his soul in his business and his God in commerce, can find all this to be very romantic and refute the pain that he cannot understand with derisive laughter.  We are not surprised by his derision. What else to expect from three-percenters, who have no inkling that daily, hourly, bit by bit, they kill themselves, their human nature.  But, what is one to say of those good people who play the devout, the educated, and still repeat this nastiness?

Undoubtedly, it is of great importance that the poor devils endure life, if only in the interest of the privileged classes of this world who would be ruined by the large scale suicide of this rabble. But, is there no other way to make the existence of this class bearable besides insult, derisive laughter, and beautiful words? Above all, there must exist a kind of greatness of soul in these beggars who, fixed on death as they are, destroy themselves rather than choosing the detour of the scaffold on the way to suicide.  It is true that the more progress our economy makes, the more rarely do these noble suicides occur, and conscious hostility takes its place and the unfortunate recklessly chance robbery and murder.  It is easier to get the death penalty than to get work.

In rummaging through the police archives, I found only a single obvious symptom of cowardice among the list of suicides.  It was the case of a young American, Wilfred Ramsay, who killed himself in order not to have to duel.

The classification of the different causes of suicide would be the classification of the failures of our society itself. One has killed oneself because some schemer stole one’s invention, on which occasion the inventor plunged into the most awful misery due to the long, learned investigation to which he had to submit, without even being able to buy a legal brief.  One has killed oneself to avoid the enormous cost and the demeaning persecution in financial difficulties, which have become so common, by the way, that those men mandated to administer the public weal pay no attention whatsoever.  One has killed oneself because one cannot find work, after having groaned for a long time under the insults and the stinginess of those among us who are the arbitrary distributors of work.

A physician consulted me one day regarding a death for which he accused himself of being responsible. One evening, on his return to Belleville, where he lived on a small street, he was stopped by a darkly veiled woman.  In a trembling voice she begged him to listen to her.  At some distance a person, whose features could not be discerned, was pacing up and down.  She was being watched over by a man.

“Sir,” she said to him, “I am pregnant and if this is discovered I will be dishonored.  My family, the opinion of the world, the people of honor would not forgive me.  The woman whose trust I have betrayed would go mad and would certainly divorce her husband.  I do not defend my actions.  I stand in the midst of a scandal whose eruption only my death can prevent.  I wish to kill myself; others want me to live.  I have been told that you are a compassionate man and this convinced me that you will not be an accomplice to the murder of a child, even an unborn one.  You see, it is a question of an abortion.  I will not lower myself to pleading or to the glossing over of that which I consider the most despicable of crimes.  I’m giving in to the request of strangers, as I present myself to you, as I shall know how to die.  I invoke death and for that I need nobody.  One gives the appearance of finding pleasure in watering a garden; one puts on wooden shoes; one chooses a watery place, where one draws water every day; one arranges to disappear in the pool of the spring; and people will say it was a ‘misfortune.’ I have foreseen everything.  Sir.  I wish it were the next morning, for I would go with all my heart.  All is prepared, so that it will be so.  But I was told to tell you and so I tell you.  You must decide whether there are to be two murders or one.  Out of my cowardice I have sworn an oath that I will abide by your decision without hesitation.  Decide!”

“This alternative appalled me,” the doctor continued, “the woman’s voice rang pure and harmonious.  Her hand which I held in mine was fine and delicate.  Her free and unequivocal despair bespoke a fine sensibility.  But, an issue that really made me shudder was at hand.  Although in a thousand cases, for example in difficult deliveries when the surgical choice hovers between saving the mother and saving the child, politics or humanity decide the issue accordingly without scruple.”

“Escape abroad,” I said.
“Impossible,” she responded.  “It is unthinkable.”
“Take clever precautions.”
“I can’t; I sleep in the same alcove with the woman whose friendship I betrayed.”
“Is she a relative?”
“I may tell you no more.”

“I would have given my life’s blood,” the doctor continued, “in order to save this woman from suicide or crime, or so that she could be freed from this conflict, without needing me.  I accused myself of barbarity, for I shrank in dread from being an accessory to murder.  It was a frightful struggle.  Then a demon whispered to me that one doesn’t necessarily kill oneself just because one really wants to die; that, by taking away their power to do harm, one forces these compromised people to renounce their vices.”

I inferred luxury from the embroideries moving beneath her fingers and the resources of wealth in the elegant turn of her speech.  One believes one owes the wealthy less sympathy; self-esteem aroused indignation against the thought of being seduced by the compensation of gold, although this matter had not been touched upon up to now.  That was a matter of tact and evidence of respect for my character.  I gave a negative response; the lady removed herself quickly.  The sound of a carriage convinced me that I could never undo the harm I had done.

A fortnight later the newspapers brought the solution to the mystery. The young niece of a Parisian banker, at most eighteen years old, the beloved ward of her aunt who had not let her out of her sight since the death of the girl’s mother, had slipped and drowned in a stream on her guardian’s estate near Villemomble. Her guardian was inconsolable; in his role as uncle, he, the cowardly seducer, let himself be overcome by his sorrow before the world.

One sees that, for want of anything better, suicide becomes the most extreme refuge from the evils of private life.

Among the causes of suicide I very frequently found dismissal from office, refusal of work, and a sudden drop in income, in consequence of which these families could no longer obtain the necessities of life, all the more so since most of them lived from hand to mouth.

At the time when one reduced the royal guards, a good man was fired, without ceremony, like all the rest. His age and his lack of patronage precluded his transfer back to the army; his ignorance closed industry to him.  He sought to enter the civil service but competitors, numerous here as everywhere, blocked his way.  He fell into heavy sorrow and killed himself.  In his pocket one found a letter and disclosures of his circumstances.  His wife was a poor seamstress; their two daughters, ages 16 and 18, worked with her.  Tarnau, our suicide, wrote in the papers he left behind “that, since he could no longer be useful to his family and was forced to live as a burden to his wife and children, he saw it as his duty to take his life and free them from this added burden.  He recommended his children to the Duchess of Angoulême.15  He hoped that the goodness of this princess would take pity on so much misery.”  I drafted a report for the police prefect Angles and, after the necessary formalities, the Duchess provided 600 francs for the unfortunate family. Sad help, without doubt, after such a loss!  But, how should one family aid all the unfortunates since, when all is said and done, all France as it currently is, could not nourish them.  The charity of the rich would not suffice even if our whole nation were religious, which it is far from being. Suicide reduces the most violent share of the difficulty, the scaffold the rest. Only by completely recasting our entire system of agriculture and industry can sources of income and true wealth be anticipated.  It is easy to proclaim constitutions on parchment guaranteeing every citizen’s right to education, to work, and, above all, to a minimum subsistence-level existence.  But it is not enough to put these magnanimous wishes on paper; there remains the essential task of bringing these liberal ideas to fruition through material and intelligent social institutions.

The ancient world of paganism brought splendid creations to this earth; will modern freedom be left behind by her rivals?  Who will join together these grandiose elements of power?

Thus far Peuchet.

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