Dec 10, 2007 - OF DRAGONS AND HORSES    No Comments

Old Bones


Filly had begun to be acclimated to her new surroundings. And it seemed there was no end to her exhibition by her new hosts.

Apparently, there had never been a filly in these parts. Those who had come from Sunset Meadow before had been older or there had been a time that an entire dog family had come, but none of the pups were like Filly. And in the midst of all the introductions, Filly met the oldest and wisest Dog in the Barnyard, named KC. He had once been to Sunset Meadow. He brought her to his home and showed her his collection of bones. He was so proud of his bones and to look at them, his eyes shone. There was a time, when bones were forbidden and dogs were forced to carry their bones into the street and set them on fire while kneeling beside them. But now, after many years and with the help of those like Filly, KC now had a very precious collection of bones, carefully stowed and preserved.

When I arrived in Wuhu, there hadn’t been many foreigners to this countryside town. It was somewhat isolationist. The foreigners who had come had been middle-aged women in their fifties and once an entire family had come with little children, but no one had come who was the same age as the students. Oh, Miss Anne was younger, but at 30, she was more like their university young teachers. I was 21 and that was unusual. Many of the Chinese women instantly became mothers, wondering how mine could let me leave for so long at such a young age. Funny, an American mind would be wondering how mine had managed to hold onto me for so long. As a result, I was pretty much the university show piece. On display everywhere I went. Everyone wanted photos with me! People wanted to touch me. People would gather in close in crowds to stare at me.

One of the first people to whom I would be introduced was Dr. KC. I will talk about several of my Chinese friends, but I will not use their real names to protect their safety.

Dr. KC was the head of the English department at my school. He had travelled to the US before the cultural revolution to attend the University of North Carolina. To hear him speak, was like watching the Andy Griffith show…perfect English with a North Carolinian accent. When you don’t hear English everywhere, when you do hear it spoken, you can easily recognize the speaker’s dialect…non-native speaker’s easily assume the dialect of their teacher. Thus Eugene’s accent was New Zealand English and Dr KC’s was North Carolinian.

And just like every Chinese, Dr KC had a cultural revolution story. I imagine an event like that becomes a part of a nation’s people in the way that World War II or 9/11 shaped America. Life was one way before the events and another after, affecting even those who had not yet been born.

Dr. KC, because he was a student of English and had been to the US, enjoyed English books and literature. Before the cultural revolution, he had an extensive and rich library of works admired for its diversity and breadth. Then came the cultural revolution and the Red Guard.

To understand, I have inserted quotes about that time here from other sources:


In the field of literature, about 2,600 people suffered persecutions for having in their possession, or distributing censored material. A famous writer by the name of Lao She was one such victim. He was forced to undergo brainwashing, and went to Beijing on October 23, 1968. In the afternoon on the first day he arrived, Red Guards brought him in with other literary scholars. He was forced to watch books burn, as well as the Beijing Opera. There he was beaten and threatened throughout the day. He killed himself the following day on 24, August 1968.

During the Cultural Revolution people possessing materials in Min alphabetic writing were denounced as foreign lackeys and were forced to take the material out to the street, kneel down alongside them, set them afire, and reduce them to ashes. Elsewhere repression of Pinyin in any form was undertaken by xenophobic Red Guards, themselves staunch supporters of character simplification, who tore down street signs written in Pinyin as evidence of subservience to foreigners.

Needless to say, the day I was introduced to Dr KC and went with my team of foreign experts to his home for dinner, I was introduced to his library…his modest library of maybe 45 books. All the books were covered and well-preserved. When he brought over one to show me, he handled it as if it were gold. Then, with tears in his eyes, Dr. KC began to tell me the story of the day, not long after his return from school in the US, that he was dragged from his home by the Red Guard and forced to kneel in the street as they placed his books – his precious, diverse and hard to replace English language books – before him on the street in a pile, kicking and stomping on some, ripping pages from others and showing total disregard for the man’s property and belongings. Then, they drug out the beautiful cases that he had, wooden cases decorated down the side with beautiful carvings and placed them on the pile. Lastly, they lit a torch after screaming at him and using him as an example and parading his neighbors in front of him and forced it into his hand. As he hesitated, one of them hit him and grabbed his arm, forcing him to light the pile on fire.

And there, in front of him, in a blaze, his entire life of study and work going up in smoke while he was forced to watch and hear how he had brought it upon himself for associating with foreigners.

This he said with tears in his eyes, the wounds still as fresh in his heart the day he told me, as they were the day he watched them burn.

As Filly looked at the bones, and the tears in the eyes of KC the Dog, she realized the freedom of expression was as precious as a treasured book.

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