Reading “Saboteur” was really ironic for me because I grew up in this kind of controlled place, and I could really relate to these feelings that Mr. Chiu had. In Poland, until I was about ten years old we were under the control of communist Russia. I remember that the government required every person to have their permission to get food. They did not let us use money; we had to apply for special vouchers and everybody was allowed the same amount because communism philosophy was that everyone is equal. There were many times that I saw this kind of totalitarian control by the police. For example, if someone said something against the government that they didn’t like, they could go to jail. Even worse, if some government official didn’t like someone, they would be falsely accused and sent to jail, even though the government officials were the bad guys and the person had done nothing wrong. Ha Jin’s short story “Saboteur” is filled with ever increasing irony from beginning to end that finally climaxes in the main character, Mr. Chiu, becoming that which he was falsely accused of being. Ha Jin’s tale of Mr. Chiu’s unfair arrest, imprisonment and eventual release in Muji City, China after the Cultural Revolution is filled with irony.
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The story opens at the end of Mr. Chiu and his wife’s honeymoon. Mr. Chiu had suffered from acute hepatitis and he was feeling like he was recovering but still worried about his liver. This is where one of the first ironic events occurs. They were having lunch in the square, waiting for the time to catch their train home, when the policeman at the next table threw a bowl of tea on their sandals. Mr. Chiu is obviously upset, and he asks the officers why they threw the tea. The officer tells Mr. Chiu that he is lying, and that he wet his shoes himself. The policemen arrest Mr. Chiu after he asks “Why violate the laws you are supposed to enforce?” (Jin par.15). The young officer then told Mr. Chiu “You’re a saboteur, you know that? You’re disrupting the public order” (par.17). This situation is very ironic because Mr. Chiu was minding his own business, doing nothing to disrupt the public. The police, who are supposed to keep the order, were the ones disrupting it. Many times, in communist countries, the enforcers of the law and rules end up being the ones who break them the most.
After Mr. Chiu’s arrest, he was taken to the Interrogation Bureau. He was asked some standard questions and we learned that he as a member of the Communist Party. Then the chief told him “Your crime is sabotage, although it hasn’t induced serious consequences yet… You have failed to be a model for the masses…” (par.40). Mr. Chui argued his side of the story trying to convince the chief that it was actually the police officers who were the saboteurs. The other man in the room then showed Mr. Chiu some statements given by eyewitnesses. The statements all said that Mr. Chiu had shouted in the square and refused to obey the police. Mr. Chiu was feeling sick. The chief told him that he would have to apologize and write a self criticism. Mr. Chiu told the chief, “I won’t write a word because I’m innocent.” (par.51). This whole scene is ironic because it is again the police who are saboteurs. They went so far as to get false statements to force Mr. Chiu confess to a crime that he did not commit. He refused to do that.
Mr. Chiu was feeling very sick. He asks one of the guards to let their leader know of his condition when he is informed that no leader is on duty on the weekend. Mr. Chui resolved himself to take his detention with ease, and he tried to be restful to not irritate his hepatitis more. When he woke up Monday, he heard moaning. Mr. Chiu looked out of his window, and realized that it was his lawyer handcuffed to a tree in the heat. The lawyer had been sent by his wife to get him out of the jail, and now he was being tortured for calling the boss a bandit. This is another instance of irony because it shows the upholders of the laws breaking them.
Mr. Chiu is taken to the interrogation room again after seeing his lawyer friend get more punishment. He felt helpless, and knew the only way to help was to sign a confession for a crime he did not commit. The chief told him he didn’t have to write it himself, only sign it. The confession said “…I myself and responsible for my arrest…I have realized the reactionary nature of my crime…shall never commit that kind of crime again” (par.95). Even though he was furious, he signed it to help his friend. Mr. Chiu and the lawyer left the police station, and then they stopped at many tea stands and restaurants. While eating little bits at each place, he kept saying “I wish I could kill all those bastards!” (par.106). Within a month over eight hundred people got hepatitis and six died. The irony here is that Mr. Chiu is the one who spread his disease, disrupting public order, they crime he was falsely accused of.
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This story has many wonderful instances of irony, and if we look even closer, we can see even more irony when we tie all of the past events to the ending. Even though Mr. Chiu takes the only revenge he can, becoming what he was falsely accused of by spreading his disease around because he was reacting to the crime against him. The real saboteurs were the police. If the police had not falsely accused Mr. Chiu, they would not have spread hepatitis to their city, disrupting the public. They are the ones who wrote the confession, and those were the crimes they were guilty of.
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