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The Vulnerability of Primary Society in Front of Secondary Society     You-Sheng Li   1/2/2008


            Humans had been living in primary society for thousands of years and showed remarkable resistance to the emergence of secondary society. Surprisingly, once a secondary society well established itself and come to assimilate or conquer its neighbouring primary societies, the vulnerability of primary society is more than obvious: It is literally defenceless.

            Of course, there had been no typical primary society any more once all sorts of secondary society appeared in human history. But some lands were closer to the ancient system of primary society while others may be typical secondary society. During the numerous conflicts and violent confrontations in modern history, the more traditional societies were always the defeated side, and they showed very little resistance.

            A typical example was the colonization of Latin and South America by Spanish adventurers. Hermando Cortés and Francisco Pizarro each led only a few hundred men miraculously conquered vast lands of the powerful Aztecs empire and the Inca empire respectively. The following is a brief account of how Hermando Cortés defeated the Aztecs:

            When Hermando Cortés first met the Aztec king, he was received with great respect. The king sent presents of gold to Cortés, since he believed him to be an ancient Aztec god that was supposed to return one day. The king had thousands of armed warriors at his command, he could easily have Cortés and his men all killed if he had chosen to treat them as his enemy. Instead, he decided to welcome those Spanish invaders to his capital. Once inside the capital, Cortés took the king as a hostage and killed him later, and his followers invited Aztec nobles to a feast and murdered them all. As there were hardly any leaders left, the Aztecs surrendered in 1521. If the Aztecs had had a clear idea what a miserable life was waiting for them for the next few hundred years, they would have certainly not given up so easily. That the Spaniards were mutated to adapt an aggressive culture but still wore the same human appearance misled those innocent people.


            In comparison with the Western urban life, the Chinese rurual areas are much closer to Taoist ideal, and similar to primary society. Many Chinese peasants, especially the old generation, are still living their isolated life unaware of what going on in world and in the government above them. The following is my experience showing how vuerable those Chinese peasants are in front of unfriedly secondary society.

            Having brushed all criticism aside and dismissed the Minister of Agriculture, Mao Zedong (1893-1976) pushed forward the Agricultural Collectivization Campaign nationwide in 1956. My village formed the first agricultural cooperative in early winter that year. Since there was not much farming work to do, peasants had time to discuss their concerns. They all worried a little but felt excited too. Young people were so happy as if they were watching an interesting drama unfolding in front of them. As a child, I overheard many of their private discussions, since several peasants often stayed in my bedroom until midnight. Their minds were occupied by the uncertainties in the coming years. Nevertheless, all their words and calculations were limited to the difference in the coming wheat harvest next summer, or even in the annual income for their families. They did not have the slightest idea what a disaster would happen to them a few months later.

            Marx was said to have such comments on peasants: They are like the potatoes buried underground, and only through others such as leaves and stems, they received the sunlight and rain. The Communist collectivization of agriculture is a form of secondary society, and the peasants were brought unto the ground from their underground potato position. Of course they felt at loss.

            It must be pointed out that it went pretty well at the beginning. My village was divided into dozen so-called productive teams, each team had roughly 150 peasants including children. It was like they were once again in the primitive egalitarian society. Peasants were jubilant at their enlarged family life: Cheers and laughter filled up all their productive activities. Everybody worked hard with high ardour. They all let the fine quality of human nature emerge from them: They showed selfless concern for the ones in need; they showed enthusiasm toward collective affairs; They showed fine propriety and high style of self-discipline and self-refrain. Though there was no big event but everything was going smoothly. Whenever I remember those days in my village life, I feel certain that humans have the ability to manage themselves.

            As Lao Tzu worried, the disaster came from secondary society and their interference. In spite of tremendous political pressure, the Communist Government kept saying, “The agricultural cooperative is formed at peasants’ free will, and they will see this is the best for them.” About 10 percent peasants did not join in, and those were all able men. Their farms were cared better, and yielded better harvests. Peasants felt quite okay about this, since it did not mean much difference to them. Politics felt humiliated by this and could not condescend to admit it either. Politics was inseparable part of secondary society, and peasants had no such brains to understand it. All those non-collectivized peasants were beaten up, and they needed days in bed to recover. Then they all shout at top of their voice, “Agricultural collectivization is the best for us, we all want to join in”.

            You may say, what about if those peasants had stood up for themselves? We have lived in secondary society for so long, and we cannot judge those isolated peasants from our view. An old man in his late sixties or early seventies once picked up a bundle of green onion from the collective field but was accidentally seen by others. He hanged himself a few hours later. In the countryside setting of China in the 1950s, people would not call such act as stealing. On contrary, people would say those who went so far to steal a few green onions must really needed it, and it served the onion a better use.  But this bundle of green onion did not belong to anyone he was familiar with, but belong to an unknown world with godly power, the secondary society. With shame and fear, he gave up his life to redeem his sin. For the same reason, those peasants were beaten by the power from an unknown world, and they did not dare to fight back.

            Once corporal punishment started and dissidents were eliminated, all bizarre orders were carried out without much resistance such as cutting off the young crops off ground and then plant sweet potatoes and so on. In secondary society, ideas can become a leading ideology that has its own life, and action can trigger a chain of actions like an explosion beyond man’s control. Nobody understands this new world completely, though it is a creation of man.

            The productive team was no longer farming but dealing all those bizarre orders.   I still remember one summer evening in 1957, it was almost bedtime when an order came from above saying everyone had to work in the farm field. In dark, the team leader lowered his voice to tell each of us in turn, “You can sleep on the ground once you are in the field. You may come back after midnight.” I did sleep on my hand tools as he told me. When we groped back drowsily, our clothes were heavy with dew.

            Such chaotic leadership eventually stirred up the countryside life and caused trouble everywhere. When the autumn came in 1958, they were not good enough to coordinate the harvest but strong enough to keep peasants away from it. As the result, a major part of the crops was left in the field being rotten away. There was nothing to eat in the winter, and all oxen and horses were eaten. For years to come, the lucky peasants exhausted themselves in the place of oxen to pull loaded carts, ploughs, and grind mills while the unlucky ones were dying off with empty stomachs. Like the motionless pig standing in the middle of hundred pigs, the peasants all now wore a lethargic face, apathetic to everything happening to them.  Finally they have successfully entered the secondary society of human creation.