I just finished reading one of the best books I have ever read. I never heard of it before. It is called The Warlord by Malcolm Bosse. I picked it up from somewhere (my Father-In-Law I think, who passed away quite a few years ago). I have been holding onto it for all this time because I always had something else to read. I finally got tired of all my other books and decided to read The Warlord.
The Warlord is a sweeping story that takes place in China in 1927, which was during what is known as the Warlord Period. The protagonist is a Chinese warlord named Tang, who is devoted to Chinese tradition, particularly Confucianism. His worldview is being challenged from all sides by Bolshevism, Nationalism, Democracy, and foreigners who are affecting his life in spite of himself.
The book is multi-dimensional. It is a history book that thoroughly teaches about both the Chinese Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, even including some historical characters in the story. The book also compares and contrasts Chinese religions and religious traditions, such as Buddhism and Confucianism with different forms of Christianity. It also successfully portrays differences in the cultures of different nationalities, from Chinese, to German, to Russian, to American. The character development is extraordinary. The main characters are diverse, yet all believable; those that are likeable are also seriously flawed. The book has adventure, romance, war, cutting edge social commentary, and philosophy to boot. There is a gritty realism that makes this a book for adults only, but the adult content is not gratuitous, it is essential to the story.
Malcolm Bosse, I believe, was trying to tell us something about China. We often think of China as a closed society historically, but this book shows us that foreigners were always present trying to influence events. The portrayal of daily life is vivid and frank. Life has always been hard for the majority of Chinese peasants and laborers, who seem to be always on the brink of starvation or worse. It’s as if without maximum effort, mere survival would not be possible. With that said, the sense of tradition is stronger in China than almost anywhere else in the world. I think the author is telling us that outside forces can’t change China, though change in China is inevitable. Of course, I just said it here much more plainly than it was ever said in the book. Subtlety is another distinct characteristic of Chinese culture that the book reflects throughout.
I mentioned before that the character development is superb. The only fictional author I have encountered that does character development this well is Stephen King. There is a Czarist Russian woman that experienced the war between the Reds and the Whites. These horrific experiences have forced her to make many immoral decisions out of necessity that she struggles with continuously. There is an American missionary whose strict Protestant upbringing is challenged and changed forever by China. Tang, the likable main character, is a conservative militarist whose calling was to be a scholar, but whose fate was changed by his family history. His struggle to hold on to his traditional beliefs in the midst of turbulent forces of change is one of the main themes throughout the book.
Another thing I found interesting was how the book treated Communism, which was a relatively new idea that was just being put into practice at the time the story takes place. Bosse was very astute in his portrayal of the reasons and circumstances that may have led to the adherence to Communism by much of Asia in the last century. He also makes arguments against it, but not by openly criticizing it. His portrayal of the Communist characters and their motivations and attitudes says more about what drives Communism than any description of the political philosophy ever could.
As I said at the top of the post, The Warlord is one of the best books I have ever read. I highly recommend it. I learned a lot about Chinese culture and its potential to dominate us. However, do not take this book lightly. It is a substantial undertaking and will challenge you intellectually, but it will satisfy in the end.