How are Pa Chin’s anarchist politics conveyed in his novel Family?

The novel Family, written by Pa Chin in the early part of the twentieth century, is one of the most influential novels in modern Chinese Literature.  Set in the early twentieth century China, the novel has for its backdrop the most eventful period in Chinese history.  In retrospect, one could see the early signs of the impending Communist revolution in China by paying careful attention to the recurrent themes in the novel.  While the novel focuses on interpersonal relationships within and without the members of the Kao family, it also carries a broader political significance.  Historians and biographers alike have indicated that Pa Chin was a passionate advocate of anarchist political principles.  While the novel Family does not directly propagate his political beliefs, a careful reading of it reveals to the reader the author’s personal perspective.  Further, one could see the internal struggles of the Kao family as an allegory to the broader political and cultural questions confronting the Chinese people in the 1930s and 1940s.  As the new generation of Chinese was questioning the authority of the patriarchal family system and the authority of the older generation, a similar rebellion is witnessed in the political context as well, as China was moving away from its traditional practices and embracing modern political ideas.  One such influential idea is that of anarchism, which is founded upon the belief that concentrations of political power inevitably lead to corruption and hence a co-operative and non-authoritarian social arrangement is the ideal.

Although the Chinese nation eventually underwent a revolution and adopted the Communist system, the seeds for this radical transformation are to be gleaned from the novel Family.  The conflicts within the Kao family and the conflicts brewing in the broader society are accurately captured and portrayed by Pa Chin in his novel.  A scrupulous reader would understand that these microcosmic problems are a symptom of the wider political problems confronting the Chinese nation.  Hence, in conclusion, it is apt to say that Pa Chin’s anarchist politics are conveyed through his novel Family.  The author does not project anarchism openly, but rather uses subtle literary devices to convey his political beliefs.  Further, while after the publication of the novel the communist revolution found its full expression and ultimately took centre stage, it is fair to say that the anarchist ideas that were suggested by Pa Chin were highly influential in bringing about this change.


Bao-Puo. (1925). “The Anarchist Movement in China: From a Letter of a Chinese Comrade.” Tr. from the Russian, in Freedom. 39.423:4.

Martin, H. and J. Kinkley, eds. (1992) Modern Chinese writers: self-portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Olga Lang, Pa Chin and His Writings: Chinese Youth between the Wars (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967)