Short summary - The Conquerors - André Malraux

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Conquerors
André Malraux

June 25, 1925 The narrator is sailing on an English steamer to Hong Kong. On the map, this island resembles a traffic jam in the Pearl River delta, along the banks of which the gray patch of Canton has spread. China is engulfed in revolution: grandiose demonstrations are being prepared in Beijing and Shanghai, a massive enrollment of volunteers is taking place in the southern provinces, the British are hastily hiding in all cities on the territory of foreign concessions, the Cantonese army received a large amount of ammunition and food from Russia. A radiogram has just been posted: a general strike has been declared in Canton.
June 29th. Stop in Saigon. The narrator gets the latest news from Canton. People are full of enthusiasm: they are intoxicated by the very consciousness that it is possible to successfully fight with England. The struggle is led by the Kuomintang created by Sun Yat-sen and the envoys of the International - most of them Russians. Chief among them is Borodin. Garin is in charge of the Propaganda Commissariat. He managed to awaken in the Chinese the individualism that was completely alien to them. They became fanatics because they felt they were the creators of their own lives - you have to see these ragged rice pickers when they practice their rifle techniques, surrounded by a respectful crowd. Borodin and Garin complement each other perfectly. The first acts with the unyielding determination of a Bolshevik, while the second perceives the revolution as a kind of cleansing action. In a sense, Garin can be called an adventurer, but he brings great benefits: it was thanks to his efforts that the cadet school in Vamloa was promoted. However, the internal situation is alarming. The most influential person in Canton is Chen Dai, who is called the Chinese Gandhi. Apparently, he is going to openly oppose Garin and Borodin, accusing him of complicity in terror. Indeed, the leader of the terrorists Gong allows himself too much - he even kills those who support the Kuomintang with money. This boy grew up in poverty - hence his fierce hatred of all the rich.
July 5th. A general strike has been declared in Hong Kong. The main street of the city is silent and deserted. Chinese traders watch the narrator with heavy, hateful eyes. Meeting with a delegate from the Kuomintang. The bad news is that the Cantonese government is still hesitant. The police and the trade unions are behind Borodin and Garin, while Chen Dal has nothing but authority - in a country like China, this is a tremendous force. Garin is trying to force a decree to close the Cantonese port for all ships that have made a stopover in Hong Kong.
The narrator travels to Canton with Klein, one of the employees of the propaganda commissariat. While the mortally tired German slumbers, the narrator looks through a Hong Kong security memorandum dedicated to his friend Pierre Garen, known here as Garin. Some information is accurate, others are wrong, but they all force the narrator to remember the past. Pierre was born in 1894. The son of a Swiss and a Russian Jew. Fluent in German, French, Russian and English. He graduated from the Faculty of Philology, from where he brought out only a book admiration for great personalities. He moved in the circle of anarchists, although he deeply despised them for their desire to find some kind of "truth." Because of the ridiculous bravado, he became involved in the illegal abortion case: he was sentenced to six months probation - in the courtroom he experienced a humiliating feeling of powerlessness and became even more entrenched in the idea of the absurdity of the social order. In Zurich, he became friends with Russian émigré revolutionaries, but did not take them seriously - it is easy to imagine his despair in 1917, when he realized that he had missed his chance. I came to Canton a year later - and by no means in the direction of the International. One of his friends sent him a challenge. Saying goodbye to the narrator in Marseilles, Pierre said that he had only one goal - to achieve power in any form. In the government of Sun Yat-sen, the propaganda commissariat eked out a miserable existence, but with the arrival of Garin it turned into a powerful weapon of the revolution. Funds were obtained through illegal extortions from opium dealers, owners of gambling houses and brothels. Currently, Garin's main task is to get the adoption of a decree that will destroy Hong Kong. The last lines of the memo are underlined in red pencil: Garin is seriously ill - soon he will have to leave the tropics. The narrator does not believe this.
Canton. A long-awaited meeting with a friend. Pierre looks completely sick, but he is reluctant to talk about his health: yes, the local climate is killing him, but leaving now is unthinkable - first you need to break the ridge of Hong Kong. All Garin's thoughts are occupied by Chen Dai. This amiable old man has an obsession, almost a mania - he worships justice as a deity, and considers it his duty to protect it. Unfortunately, Chen Dai is an untouchable figure. His life has already become a legend, and the Chinese need to be treated with respect. There is only one hope - Chen Dai hates Gong.
Events are moving fast. The narrator is present during the conversation between Chen Dai and Garin. The old man dismisses all arguments about revolutionary necessity: he does not want to see how his compatriots are turned into guinea pigs - China is too great a country to be an arena for experiments.
The city is invaded by the troops of General Thane, who was bribed by the British. Garin and Klein instantly recruit the unemployed to build barricades. The commander of the cadet school, Chiang Kai-shek, manages to put Tang's soldiers to flight. The fat man Nikolaev, a former employee of the tsarist secret police, is engaged in the prisoners.
Another assassination of a Chinese banker, a supporter of the Kuomintang. Chen Dai demands the arrest of Gong. Garin is also alarmed by the willfulness of the terrorists - it would be much better to create a Cheka, but for now he will have to wait. At night, Garin becomes ill, and he is taken to the hospital. The Cantonese government appoints Borodin as the head of the directorate of ground forces and aviation - henceforth the entire army is in the hands of the International.
News of Chen Dai's death - the old man died from being stabbed in the chest. Nobody believes in suicide. The propaganda commissariat is urgently preparing posters - they proclaim that the revered Chen Dai has fallen victim to the British imperialists. Garin is preparing a speech for the funeral. Borodin gives the order to eliminate Gon, who has fulfilled his mission. Terrorists retaliate by capturing and killing four people, including Klein. Garina shakes at the sight of the corpses. The hostages were tortured - you can't even close their eyes, because their eyelids were cut off with a razor.
August 18. Garin is on the verge of a big decision. He had a quarrel with Borodin - as the narrator believes, because of the execution of Ghosn. Pierre discovered too late that communism was a form of Freemasonry: in the name of party discipline, Borodin would sacrifice any of his supporters. In fact, he does not need capable people - he prefers obedient ones, Nikolaev confidentially informs the narrator that Garin should have left - and not only because of illness. His time has passed. Borodin is right: there is no place in communism for those who strive first of all to be themselves. The narrator is not sure of this: the communists are making the mistake of throwing away the conquering revolutionaries who gave them China.
Advertisement:
Before leaving, Garin learns that two agents of the propaganda commissariat with potassium cyanide have been detained near the military well. Nikolaev is in no hurry to interrogate them - it looks like the death of ten thousand people is necessary for the revolution. Having shot one of the arrested, Garin seeks a confession from the second - indeed, there were three scouts. Soon, a courier brings a report that a third agent has been arrested with eight hundred grams of cyanide. The water in the well will not be poisoned. Like seven years ago, the narrator says goodbye to his friend. Both of them know the opinion of Dr. Mirov: Garin will not even get to Ceylon.