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by Zhai Zhenhua

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-939149-83-4
Publisher: Soho

A candid memoir of the author's participation in China's Cultural Revolution—as well as a cautionary tale about youthful patriotic excess. Daughter of two dedicated Communists, Zhai (now a teacher in Canada) was a high-school student when the Cultural Revolution began. But even before that cataclysm, she explains, all aspects of Chinese life had been politicized. Young urban schoolchildren had to help with the harvest; indoctrination was incessant; and status was determined by one's family's political standing: As the child of low-ranking ``common office staff,'' the author was ignored by her teachers until her father was promoted. Ambitious, and determined to be a ``progressive''—the approved ranking—she was an ideal candidate for membership in the Red Guard when, in 1966, Mao set in motion the events that led not to only years of turmoil but to the destruction of a whole generation of gifted young Chinese. Zhai chillingly describes how, as a 15-year-old, she exhorted her school's detachment of Red Guards to root out class enemies; conducted humiliating self-criticism sessions of faculty and neighbors; and participated in fatal beatings. Her zeal was soon tempered not only by growing personal disquiet but by her political disillusionment, as she saw the Red Guards purged and replaced by even more revolutionary groups. By now, all education had stopped, and the author was sent with classmates to work with the peasants. Back-breaking work and bad food affected her health, and she despaired of ever going to college, since students were expected to live in the fields permanently. In time, though, Zhai moved on to factory work and was nominated for higher education. She admits that she was lucky—and that many of her peers weren't so fortunate. A searing tale of a regime that, in the name of patriotism, cynically manipulated the ideals of its most vulnerable members and then effectively ruined them—and a brutally frank mea culpa as well.