A refugee now living in England graphically chronicles the hardships, losses, and horrors she endured in Mao’s China.
Born in 1949, the year the Communists took over, Gao was the third daughter of two prominent Party members. The first years of her childhood in Nanjing were happy, but in 1956 her father died of cancer, and five years later her mother succumbed to heart trouble. Her family, which now included a brother, was split up among relatives, and Gao was sent to live with an uncle in Shanghai who frequently berated her and failed to give her adequate clothing. Her life was to be even more drastically affected by the series of purges and upheavals initiated in 1964 that culminated in the Cultural Revolution. To redress the tremendous losses caused by the Great Leap Forward of 1958 and the subsequent famine, Mao ordered educated young people to settle in the countryside. Fifteen-year-old Gao and her middle-school classmates were sent to help the peasants bring in the harvest at a primitive commune with no toilets and only hay to sleep on. When students were again ordered to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, Gao’s memories of these ghastly conditions prompted her to join the army medical corps instead. There, needing a skeleton for instruction, her superiors exhumed a body, rendered the flesh, and tossed the remains to wild dogs. Like millions of other Chinese, Gao was betrayed by a family member during the Cultural Revolution; her embittered elder sister passed on to the authorities letters that included complaints about her situation. Gao was dismissed from the army, but her knowledge of English helped her find other work. An abusive husband and a volatile political climate continued to make life difficult, and she suffered a brief imprisonment as well, but Gao was determined to prevail over her troubles. Almost miraculously, she did.
An authentic survivor’s story, more disturbing and awe-inspiring than any TV reality show.