Ch'en Ta Erh: The Time Bomb

In Man's Fate, Andre Malraux examines the compelling forces that lead individuals to join a
greater cause. Forced into a life of contempt, Ch'en portrays the man of action in the early phases of the
Chinese Revolution. He dedicates himself to the communist cause. It is something greater than himself, a
phenomenal concept that he has fused into. It is something for which he will give his life. How did this
devotion come about? A combination of his personality, his interior life, as well as society's influence,
molded him into a terrorist. Ch'en is self-destructive; he is controlled by his religion of terrorism and his
fascination with death. He is representative of the dedicated soldier who begins as a "sacrificial priest" (4)
and ends as a martyr. After all, the ideologies of communism and terrorism were practically a religion to
those involved in the revolution.
An examination of Ch'en's past gives us an idea of how he formed his beliefs, and fell into a state of
isolation. At an early age, his parents were murdered in the pillage of Kalagan. In addition, at age twenty-
four, his uncle was taken hostage and killed because he couldn't afford the ransom, and with no wife or
children he was severed from any attachment to a family. He was practically brought up by pastor
Smithson, representative of the thousands of Christians that were present in Shanghai, who gave him his
Christian education. However, "[a]s he was devoid of charity, a religious calling could lead him only to
contemplation or the inner life; but he hated contemplation and would only have dreamt of an apostleship,
for which precisely his absence of charity disqualified him" (64). Thus, he was unable to be a devout
Christian, and in addition to this Old Gisors makes a comment about Ch'en's basis for a belief: "No sooner
had he observed Ch'en than he had understood that!
this adolescent was incapable of living by an ideology which did not immediately become transformed into
action...." (64).
Although he is Chinese ethnically, he felt estranged and unconnected to his heritage. His
separation from his ethnicity can be demonstrated through his physical appearance which relates more to a
Mongolian than a Chinese national. His attachment to a class rather than a nation is reflected in Suan, who
states "I don't want to create China... I want to create my people, with or without her. The poor. It's for
them that I'm willing to die, to kill. For them only...." (189). It is clear that Ch'en and Suan do not feel as
though they are part of China, and the quote also indicates that one of the chief reasons for feeling this way
is their economic condition. For it was a time when many were starving in China, and agrarian land reform
was most desperately needed. Colonialism causes an indeterminate quality of identity, and it creates a
need for a radical change to link people such as Ch'en to a culture. They have been tainted by foreign
culture, and no one feels like an !
insider. Ch'en has been shaped by this society and wants to diminish the suffering that it has brought about.
It is the historical situation that Ch'en is in that helps him make the choices that he does. At 24 years of age,
Ch'en had no money, but only worthless diplomas. He was a truck driver, then an assistant chemist:
"[e]verything had pushed him into political activity: the hope of a different world, the possibility of eating,
though wretchedly (he was naturally austere, perhaps through pride), the gratification of his hatreds, his
mind, his character. This activity gave a meaning to his solitude" (65). It leads him to fight to unite
everyone under a big community, where they escape from isolation and live more equal lives.
Ch'en can not live in his present situation, however "The world they were preparing condemned him -
Ch'en - as much as it did that of their enemies" (103). What would he do in a factory? He is not taken as a
working class member, as seen by the scene in which the antiquarian believes him to be of the higher class.
The store clerk is somewhat justified for Ch'en lies between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, with his
University of Peking education. However, Ch'en is not rich either. Thus, it