“Saboteur” by Ha Jin

Introduction

In Ha Jin’s story “Saboteur” readers are shown a fictional account of an abuse of power and authority wherein the main character, Mr. Chiu, is forced to undergo false arrest, imprisonment and subsequent degradation at the hands of the local police located near Muji train station. It is based on this account that it can be determined that one of the prevailing elements in the story is the application of authority and its ability to create power.

First and foremost it must be stated that the concept of “power” is considered to be the ability to influence or control people to perform a certain action. On the other hand the term “authority” is more closely related to a form of legitimacy wherein a person is justified by law to exercise power in a particular manner to induce a certain effect.

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Thus it can stated that a person may inherently have power to cause people to do a certain action but that doesn’t been they have the authority to actually do so. Conversely it can be stated that those in authority have ability to utilize power in order to cause an effect on a population group or an individual.

Though it is not apparent in the story it can be seen that both sides, namely Mr. Chiu and the police actually have differing forms of power. In the case of Mr. Chiu his power was his academic ability and his ability to convey ideas through either written or oral works while for the police it was in the use of authority in order to enforce their will on Mr. Chiu and other members of the population.

What must be understood though is that the story delves deeply into fact that authority in effect enhances the application of power and that this results in the ability to enforce a person’s will upon an individual or group. Thus it can be stated that the story exemplifies the legitimizing ability of authority which creates the ability to utilize power to influence and control people.

Examining the Legitimizing Power of Authority

In the case of the application of power, for Mr. Chiu while he did have power he lacked the legitimizing ability of authority in order to actually enforce it. For example it can be seen in numerous instances throughout the story that he stated he was a university professor, that people would come looking for him and in instances of self-dialog he stated that he would create an article detailing his experiences in order to get even with the police.

Yet despite these apparent forms of power Mr. Chiu was in effect unable to effectively utilize or manifest them in order to set himself free. In the case of the police it can be seen that the legitimizing ability of authority enabled them to effectively utilize their power to first arrest Mr. Chiu in public without public protest, were able to keep him in jail despite his innocence and finally were able to bind and torture Fenjin to a tree on the basis of their authority.

One important aspect point to remember from the story was the reference to Chairman Mao in the story. It must be noted that based on the various references in the story it can be assumed that the story took place at a time when Mao Zedong was still alive and in control of the communist party of China.

Mr. Chiu’s reference to Mao Zedong can actually be seen as yet another effect of the legitimizing ability of authority wherein despite his tenure as an educated University professor apparently well-versed in various international concepts he still seems to hold an apparent high regard for Mao Zedong and his various concepts.

This is due to the fact that by virtue of his position Mao Zedong was able to utilize his authority in order to exercise a certain degree of power to influence the people of China towards particular trains of thought.

In fact evidence from that particular time period shows that it was often the case that people were made to chant mottos regarding Chairman Mao in which they often elaborated on his various accomplishments and his supposed intelligence and moral lessons.

It is due to this that the true ability of authority to legitimize power can be seen since people readily accepted the various teachings of Mao on the basis of this authority and position and not on any considerable achievement in the realm of philosophy, ethics, law or economics.

Examining the Application of Power

Further examination of the story reveals two different types of power being applied by Mr. Chiu and the police namely: coercive power and expert power.

Coercive power can be defined as the ability to force a person to do a certain action due to the threat of reprisal while expert power on the other hand is due to high level of knowledge a person has about a particular subject. In this particular case it can be seen that coercive power applies to the police while expert power applies to Mr. Chiu.

As mentioned earlier power is the ability to influence or control a person thus it can be stated that both coercive and expert power both have the abilities to influence people in the story. It can be seen though that coercive power was in effect able to overpower expert power; the reason behind this can once again be connected to the legitimizing effect of authority.

The fact is that when it comes to a contest of skills between powers a power that has the weight of authority behind it most often wins due to the fact that it is inherently justified by the authority accorded to it. Thus it can be seen that the relationship of power in the story is one wherein the justification behind the utilization of power is inherently based on the authority accorded to it.

The greater the authority behind the power the more likely it will be exercised, this can be seen in the case of Mr. Chiu wherein the greater authority of the police was exercised in order to harass Mr. Chiu and out him in jail without justifying their actions since their power to do so is already inherently justified by the authority accorded to them by the virtue of their position as police officers.

Conclusion

Based on the facts presented in this power it can be seen that the legitimizing ability of authority creates the ability to utilize power to influence and control people. The story shows how the extent of the application of power is dependent on it being justified by a form of authority.

The greater the amount of authority accorded to an individual the more likely they are able to create justifications for their use of power thus resulting in various actions, as seen in the story, which could be considered abuses of power but are inherently justified by the authority accorded to an individual by virtue of their position.

It is due to this that it can be stated that extent of one’s power is entirely dependent on the amount of authority accorded to them which influences their ability to properly influence and control people.