American-born Ruth Earnshaw Lo lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution at Zhong Da university, in Canton, where she...



American-born Ruth Earnshaw Lo lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution at Zhong Da university, in Canton, where she and her Chinese husband were on the faculty--hence, objects of contempt--and her daughter was a student, duly demonstrating. If the reader marvels at her situation, so, without rancor, does Mrs. Lo: on leaving China in 1977, she used a telephone for the first time in 31 years! She had met her future husband at the University of Chicago in 1933: he was giving a course in Chinese, she wanted to learn a second language so she could teach English abroad. They were married, in China, in 1937, and come the Communist victory, decided to remain--""attracted by the slogan of the new government: 'the united front.'"" But at the time she begins her story here, Dr. Lo is an outcast ""Rightist"" and the family--strapping, resourceful communard son Mingteh and cheerful daughter Tientung--is accustomed to one after another political campaign, each to correct the excesses of the last. Is this latest stirring more of same? No, she's told, ""This is the Revolution."" First, the university leadership directs student criticism toward the old professors--and Dr. Lo's name is ""on the wall"" again. Then, by Party dictate the administrators themselves are publicly shamed as ""monsters."" Bands of Red Guard students search staff quarters for incriminating materials (anything religious, classical, or foreign) and ordinary loot--Mrs. Lo loses her typewriter, Dr. Lo the manuscript of his book on English-language change. Factional fighting turns the campus into a battleground. . . until, quietly one night (the only sound ""was the unavoidable rustle of their rough cotton clothes""), a Workers Propaganda Team moves in, to restore order. Still, the inquiries and accusations continue; ailing, ever-hopeful Dr. Lo dies; and Mrs. Lo, lame since childhood and now invalided, collapses. At this point, the book sags briefly too. But Mingteh has just managed to build a TV set from odd parts when Nixon arrives in Peking, and Mrs. Lo sees, incredibly, ""the American flag against the skies of China""--topped by the sight of Chou En-lai, in an ""act of magnanimous forgiveness,"" taking the President's proffered hand. After she has recovered and gained permission to leave China (from yesterday's ""monsters,"" now restored to power), Mrs. Lo, giving thought to the ceaseless struggle she has witnessed, attributes it to ""too many people and too little food."" Whatever the basis, and regardless of her personal sufferings, she is a sympathetic witness, gifted with a sense of proportion and a sense of humor.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980