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April 23, 2006

Love, Fear, And Death In Mao's China

I urge those of you who are interested in China and what it is like to live under absolute communist totalitarianism to read any one of the many Chinese memoirs now coming out. Their virtue is that they provide feeling and insight into what it was like to live day-by-day under such a system. These memoirs get away from the cold abstractions of scholarly and journalistic books on China, and their sterile analyses and statistics. To understand Mao's China, you have to take to heart and sense its reality for the people, and these memoirs help you do so.

The latest I've read is Son Of The Revolution by Liang Heng and his wife Judith Shapiro. It is not as well written as Jung Chang's Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, nor as historically far reaching, since her book covers the personal history of her family over three generations. But, Liang's memoirs are more detailed in its focus on his life and that of his mother and father. Moreover, unlike Chang's parents and Chang herself, who were high Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadre, Liang and his parents were nothing but ordinary small city dwellers. His father was a reporter for a local newspaper and his mother worked for the local police.

His parents suffered incredibly from the various attempts by the CCP to cleanse China of bad thinkers, rightists, spies, and capitalist roaders. Of most interest to me was Liang's experience as a Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. He lived in Changsha in central China, which was one of the more violent cities during this period. The Red Guards, nothing more then teenagers and even younger children, divided into enemy factions, each claiming to represent the true revolutionary spirit of Mao. Each had weapons handed out by the army or stolen from armories, including even cannon, machine guns, mortars, and so on. The Army and policy were ordered to be neutral in the battles between factions, although they themselves often broke into warring groups.

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Posted by Rudy at April 23, 2006 10:14 PM





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