Once upon a time, at the edge of the world where the sun rises, lay sleeping a great dragon. The dragon was very large and very old.
On the other side of the world where the sun goes down, there came a joyous celebration when a fiery horse was born.Suddenly, the Great Dragon awoke and smoke flared from his nostrils fanned from the flames of revolution stirring in his belly. The smoke wafted into the air where a Mighty Ancient Wind found it and carried it to the land of the Fiery Horse where it came to rest in the dreams of the sleeping foal.
In 1966, the People’s Republic of China was thrust into the midst of unrest and inner turmoil that came to be known as the Cultural Revolution. During that time chaos and violence engulfed the Dragon, and millions of Chinese died while millions more were injured or imprisoned at the hands of student socialist revolutionaries termed The Red Guard.
Most of what these students fought against in their struggle for political recognition was the following:
Our objective is to struggle against and crush those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic “authorities” and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art, and all other parts of the superstructure that do not correspond to the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.
In order to see the dragon, one must begin to understand his pain and tears. They stem from behavior encountered during the CR. Here are a few examples:
Millions in China reportedly had their human rights annulled during the Cultural Revolution. Millions were forcibly displaced. During the Cultural Revolution, young people from the cities were forcibly moved to the countryside, where they were forced to abandon all forms of standard education for the propaganda teachings of the Chinese Communist Party.
Crimes against the government were brutally and publicly punished. People were forced to walk through the streets naked, were flogged publicly, or forced, some report, to sit in the jetliner position for hours. Many deaths occurred in police custody, although they were often covered up as “suicides”. People had to carry two or more copies of Mao’s Little Red Book to avoid being accused of not supporting Mao. Numerous individuals were accused, often on the flimsiest of grounds, of being foreign spies; to have, or have had, any contact with the world outside of China, could be extremely dangerous. Accusations were often based upon ‘symbolic’ language or gestures, such as the omission of certain strokes from a written character, or the placing of a picture of Mao in a subordinate position in a room. This paranoia may in part have derived from the tradition of Chinese revolutionaries, who used code-words and symbolic gestures in communication. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_revolution
And that’s when a young married woman named Zhang Ma was traumatized by the Red Guard. It was bourgeois to be married and have a wedding ring.
She had been married to a handsome young Chinese businessman during the Great Leap Forward. They had started a family and he had become mildly successful. Then came the Three Years of Natural Disasters, wherein they survived because she took in laundry and he found odd jobs. Then came the weeks of Self Criticism and the purgings.
Everyday, she watched as her friends and neighbors were dragged away and publicly shamed by the Red Guard. She was spared, although she knew that she couldn’t be spared for long. And then they came for her closest neighbor. They drug her out of her house. They stripped her naked. They made her walk through the streets while forcing everyone in the neighborhood out to watch. If they tried to hide their eyes, they were hit from behind to force their eyes forward. They brought out all the woman’s personal belongings and thrust them into piles and burned them. Her crime? She had just gotten married…and marriage was a bourgeois ideal not to be tolerated. They stole her ring, as they had the wedding rings of all other married women, a symbol of ideas to be blotted out.
Zhang Ma managed to take her ring off and hid it under her tongue until they were allowed to go back to their homes. Her husband was worried for his family, knowing it was merely a short time before the Dragon was breathing on them.
So Zhang Ma came up with an idea. She cleverly hid her ring inside the hem of her Mao jacket, the required dress of the Revolution. She stiched it up tight in a position where it was not noticeable, yet she could feel it whenever she wanted. Two days later, her family was desecrated. It was her husband dragged out into the street and their family home that was tossed. And when they dragged her husband away from his family and sent her and the children to Wuxi, she could always smile under the thickness of the Dragon’s breath because she always had a piece of their life together with her at all times.
Twenty-two years later. Zhang Ma has been assigned to work as the maid and cook for the foreign teachers residing at the Foreign Students Dormitory on the campus of Anhui Xi Fan Da Xue in the countryside city of Wuhu. Since the University has been selected by Beijing with the honor of Foreign Teachers, these teachers must not be burdened with domestic chores. Their only concern must be the teaching of English.
Li li li (pronounce LIE) after several months in China, I had learned the word for come. Zhang Ma was beckoning me to follow her into the kitchen again. Apprehensive because lunch was past, the dishes were cleaned and stowed, and dinner was merely a thought, I wondered after why she sought for me to follow her.
Earlier that week, I had received the gift of a ring from a student. She pointed at that ring now before deftly playing with her worn Mao jacket and retrieving a gold circle a bit unlike the plain bands of cheap gold worn by most every married woman. I was curious.
She began to recount the afore-mentioned horror with fresh tears welling in her eyes as if the memory of the moment was as fresh as this morning’s rain. My eyes welled, too, at the idea that she felt comfortable enough to relate to me her tale of woe as well as with the pain as if it had been me.
She replaced the ring and I gave her a hug. I thanked her and left her in solitude with her thoughts.
The fiery horse realized there are many ways to triumph. For Zhang Ma, it was pure gold.