Moying Li was four-years-old in 1958 and lived with her maternal grandmother and grandather, Lao Lao and Lao Ye in a traditional Chinese house. It was also occupied by her mother, her father, her 3-year-old brother, Di Di, aunts and uncles, the families of a tailor, electrician, and a clerk.
In the fall of 1958 Moying returned home one day to find the backyard, her beloved playground, strewn with: "...bricks, holes, and scrap metal". A huge big black furnace as tall as her father, was standing in the center. Her family was gathering materials for the "Great Leap Forward", launched by Chairman Mao. The leaders believed: "they could catch up with the west..." mainly Britain: "...in just ten to twenty years - in a giant single stride. The family was trying to gather strong construction materials and using the furnace to melt them down into steel. Women were giving up their favourite frying pans and woks. Too little Moying, the furnace looked like: "...a roaring dragon"!
Between 1958 and 1961, China underwent a siege of disasters. A plague of insects, then a serious drought and finally far reaching famine in which millions of people died.
Moying remembers with clarity the day her childhood ended. It occured one evening in the summer of 1966, when her elementary school headmaster hanged himself. Moying was twelve-years-old.
In the summer of 1963 Moying was packing to attend a school two-hours away from her home. She would reside there Monday through Friday. Moying was one of many students selected to attend this school where they would learn nine languages! The expectation was that after: "...ten years of training, many of the students would continue their studies in leading universities, with the possibility of diplomatic careers".
In late Spring of 1966 disturbances at Beijing and Tsinghua universities began. Large character posters were accusing school authorities of: "...departing from Chairman Mao's teachings". The posters demanded that these educational institutions be opened to workers and peasants instead of the privileged minority. Classes were cancelled and the students began to form groups, calling themselves the "Red Guards", and displayed red arm bands on their sleeves.
In mid summer, Chairman Mao stood at Tinamen Square, on top of the "Gate of Heavenly Peace" telling large crowds that he supported the Red Guards. Like piles of newspapers catching on fire one after another, Red Guard units appeared in all universities and high schools denouncing authorities.
One afternoon there was a scuffle in the headmaster's office. Moying and her friends went to see what was going on. The high school students were pasting up a poster saying that he should confess his crimes, he was poisoning their minds with western ideology and that he was training students to follow capitalism instead of communism. Moying and her friends were shocked and wondered why their headmaster would try to poison them? After speaking to a friends sister, they were told she was denounced the right to become a Red Guard as they believed she was following the headmaster's teachings. Moying and her friends were even more confused.
Every day uncertainty abounded. There were posters everywhere and some now included not only their headmaster, but teachers as well.
The Cultural Revolution continued on with every family losing someone to a labour camp. I have left a lot of information out of this review as I didn't want to give away any spoilers, except maybe one.
Moying Li's memoir was penned with deep thought, deep feelings, and the love of her country which touched her heart and soul. This is an excellent memoir that I would recommend to all and at 176 pages you'll be done in two hours. This book had more information and histories packed into it than some books of 250 pages or more do, truly amazing!!
April 29, 2011