The Short Story “Saboteur”

“Saboteur”, written by Ha Jin exposes a social problem of China: the consequence of Culture Revolution on people’s life. How the faithful educated scholar becomes a merciless assassin. Who is the real Saboteur, Mr. Chiu or policeman? Through the author’s skillful description, we are able to understand the theme of the story is revenge. And “Saboteur” is irony. The setting of a story has a ponderous influence on our perception as it often justifies a character’s behavior. The story takes place in Muji city, China. This place maybe is a beautiful place, because Mr. Chiu and his bride select this place for spending their honeymoon. Time seems around 1980s, “the Cultural Revolution was over already and recently the party had been propagating the idea that all citizens are equal before the law. “(P635). The concrete statue of Chairman Mao is located in the middle of a square before Muji train station. Experienced the Culture Revolution, people’s opinion of morality has a great changed. Mr. Chiu eager to get justice, but he suffered unjustified treatment. Let we see how Mr. Chiu’s character changed. Finally he became a “saboteur”.

During and after the Cultural Revolution, the relationship between the government and the intellectuals was not among the most pleasant. Mr. Chiu, a professor of Harbin University, is worried about his bad liver and acute hepatitis. His wife whose cheeks are pale wears “glassed” (P634), which could be perceived as a sign of fragility. They live a comfortable life as indicated by the fact that they own a color TV. The couple obviously belongs to the intellectual, and it helps understanding the policemen’s behavior towards them. It is easy to understand that an uneducated people is easier to rule than a well-informed one.

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After his unfair arrest, Mr. Chiu seems hope that he will be treated with justice. “He wasn’t afraid. The cultural revolution was over already, and recently the party had been propagating the idea that all citizens were equal before the law”(P635). Later in the story, when Chiu is taken to the interrogation bureau and questioned by the chief if the bureau, his behavior seems to have changed: “The moment he sat down in the office, he burped”(P635). As a scholar burping in public is improper action. This starts suggesting that Chiu might be in more trouble than what he thinks he is in.

The two policemen had a brutal behavior and Chiu always thought they were no match in front of the power of his education and the fact that he can defend himself. With the chief of the bureau, Chiu faces somebody being as intelligent and smart as him. Chiu even feels physical pain when “something stirred in his stomach”(P636). He is drifting from hopefulness to doubtfulness showing the dynamism of his personality. When he is sent back to his cell, Chiu tries to find courage in an old saying: “When a scholar runs into soldiers, the more he argues, the muddier his point becomes”(P637).

We can also realize his change. This event also foreshadows and justifies Chiu’s final reaction. As he rests in his cell, Chiu’s anger starts to grow and he feels that “those hoodlums had ordered more than they could eat”(P637). The scholar already thinks about revenge underlining again the character’s dynamism. His health deteriorates as he sees his ex-student in the backyard and he is “overcome with a wave of nausea”(P638). Chiu had initially refused to sign his self-criticism as he was hopeful in the fairness of the system and he was convinced of his innocence.

However when he realizes that his fate and his lawyer’s depends on this piece of paper, he becomes hopeless and signs. We can share the rage of the scholar feelings when he was released. Chiu is so angry that “he would have razed the entire police station and eliminated all their families”(P639). This part of the story also marks the turning point in Chiu’s behavior, when “he made up his mind to do something”(P639). The central character decides to cause pain to the people of the province town by spreading Hepatitis in a revenge frenzy. Through his lawyer’s eyes Chiu’s face becomes “jaundiced” and he looks like an “ugly man”(P640).

This symbolizes that the scholar has now become a fundamentally immoral person. Sabotage is defined as a willful damage to machinery. Chiu accused the policemen to be the saboteurs of the social order”(P635) however he finally being a saboteur himself when he infects eight hundred innocent people with Hepatitis and even kills six inhabitants including two children. We also feels the hero’s anger when “holding back his rage” Mr. Chiu says, “let me look at that”(639) or when he keeps saying. “if only I could kill these bastards”(P640). The theme of the short story is revenge.

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The Short Story “Saboteur”. (2017, Apr 01). Retrieved from