Love in a time of totalitarianism.
“The past century has seen more upheaval than any other time in the 5,000-year-old history of Chinese civilization,” writes Xinran (Buy Me the Sky: The Remarkable Truth of China's One-Child Generations, 2015, etc.), a London-based journalist whose books have focused on social mores and family life in her homeland. “The ways in which people show love for each other have also changed in the face of war and cultural development.” One such change is an emphasis on “talking love.” Since public displays of affection are not commonplace and privacy is difficult to secure, it is a way of falling in love by conversing and negotiating. So the dictionary says, though Xinran insists it is far less clinical than all that. By way of illustration, she examines the course of a single family over a century, beginning with the marriage of a man and woman in 1919 who then went on to produce nine children whom they named after favorite colors: Orange, Green, Cyan, and so forth. Getting to their stories, as Xinran writes, required navigating difficult tangles of emotion; so psychically painful were many of the events of war and revolution that older Chinese people invent less terrible pasts for themselves, a comfort to the memory but one that weighs against historical accuracy. Of the pre-revolutionary generation, those memories are of a country that no longer exists. The child named Red, for instance, was contracted in marriage when she was just 9: “My marriage sentence began that day,” she tells Xinran quietly, later remembering an argument from long ago over whether to believe newspaper accounts of the Korean War. Relates Green, three of the siblings went abroad, three remained in Communist China, and “three met death before their time.” Their descendants now live much different lives, including a young woman who studied in the U.S. and dates an American whom she met there: "Doesn’t it sound just like a love story from a movie?”
A minor but graceful work that restores a lost generation to history.