Sample The Story…
Mother stood straight and calm as the men with red armbands scattered through the house. I heard those boots thudding on the high ceiling. They were in our bedrooms above, except for one man who stayed behind. I huddled under the seat with hands over my ears, rocking, rocking, telling myself, “Wo bu ting, Wo bu ting, I won’t listen, I won’t listen”.
With his gun raised, he faced my parents. “Stand over there, now.” He flicked his gun in the direction of the wall that held the memorial painting of Great Grandfather.
“We are here to officially take over your home, it is needed by the people for another purpose. You have been warned before. I am told that you dared to question the decisions of Chairman Mao.”
“The last time it was very cold, Father’s pants never dried. They stood right here by themselves as though he were still inside them”. I pointed to the place in our main room standing stiffly with arms locked by my sides, coaxing a smile from her.
“It is not so cold today as it was the winter day your Father’s pants stood up in this room without him.” Mother started to smile as she packed her sewing basket.
“And Father had to stay in bed for an entire day for the lack of clothes to wear, remember, DaDa?” I continued. I was certain that would change her mind.
“Yes, if not for the sun that melted his pants on the floor from that hole in the crumbling ceiling, he would still be in bed today.”
She smiled slightly. She was trying to hold back her laugh… I knew I would lose the fight when there was no laughter.
“You need to be as good at laundry as you are at negotiating”, she said.
She broke the buzzing silence, waving her torn palm fan to cool me and in a low voice she said, “Someday, you can even wear long dangling earrings. Did you ever see real dangling gold earrings?”
“No, only the pretend ones we made out of the sweet potato stems,” I said. She put her fan on her lap and measured, spreading her thumbs and first fingers as far as she could beside each of her ears, “They can be as long as this…thin and long and gold. When you have them on, and you move your head, they dangle and dance around your happy face.”
“Did you once have them, DaDa?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she said. She closed her eyes, turned her head slowly from side to side, lifted her shoulders and her cheeks rose up into a smile and I could almost see them swaying.
“I can see them, DaDa,” I whispered.
“Swat! “ACCH!” The screaming of mosquitoes in our ears interrupted the magic of the spell. …The reality was that food was always scarce and the dream of earrings became faded and remote, so I tucked it deep within me along with my city dreams for a nother time.
He read the imaginary sign, accenting the memorized words with a tap on the wall for each rule:
Number 1: Not allowed to speak freely
Number 2: Not allowed to act freely
Number 3: Not allowed to move about freely
Number 4: Not allowed to commit arson
Number 5: Not allowed to commit crime
Number 6: Not allowed to steal
Number 7: Not allowed to form a gang
Number 8: Always obey the communist orders
Number 9: Willing to be reformed
Number 10: Ready to receive punishment
“No sign on your house, little devil?” he asked.
With frightened eyes I moved my blue lips to answer, using the term of respect, “No, Uncle, it was, uh, we had no paper for a sign,” I answered to cover up our family’ disregard for the government’s rule. Mother would never have a sign by her front door, I thought.
“Very defiant,” he answered sternly.
“So, what do you think of the genius of the government’s other latest plan?” one man asked.
“The Four Pests Campaign? Eliminate all rats, all sparrows, all mosquitoes and all flies from the entire country, ha, another failed campaign,” Doctor Wong said.
“There is always a new campaign,” Uncle Bu said to the short man, “First they spray all the people with DDT, as well as the mosquitoes, to see who dies first. Then, just have all the people in the entire country kill every sparrow so they won’t eat the seeds in the fields. Even children with slingshots are knocking over the little fellows. Teach them to kill while they are young, I say,” Rightist Bu said.
“Your commentary is stinging, Brother Bu,” said Uncle Huang.
“How could it be stinging when there are no more mosquitoes?” one of the quiet Ogres said.
I lifted the pole, which was twice my height. Mulan was in my imaginings and I found my strength to lift it high.
“Stop right there!” I ordered, like Mulan in the battlefield shouting against her enemy. Hitting one tip of the pole to the floor, I dug into the dirt.
“If you move one more inch, the spear goes right through into your head,” I said, pulling it out of the dirt. The world of my young suffering turned me into my heroine.
“How dare you! Are you crazy? Did you eat leopard’s gall?” he yelled, trying to grab my pole, but I screamed and pulled it back.
“Aiyaaa, you kill me! Go ahead, kill me!” A scream came from my little throat that was the voice of someone else, I’ll become a ghost. I’ll haunt your son, Treasure, haunt him, haunt him until he is dead!”
Mother broke out of the bedroom and a space opened up in the room filled with a powerful silence.
Everyone looked around at each other waving their thin arms. “You may all put your hands down. Lastly, anyone from a Landlord family, raise your hand.” My hand was so heavy that I could not move it. I was the only one left to raise my hand and I had to because I belonged to this category, Landlord, the worst Enemies of the State. He gave no option for the Industrial Business classification. When my shaking hand reluctantly stuck up, the entire class fixed their eyes on me. From then on, I wasn’t just an Enemy of the State; I was the enemy of the class.
I heard the thunder of a plane overhead. I covered my ears but still heard the sounds of chaos in the streets that flooded our classroom. I could see wild fights and heard the screams of those being beaten. Da! Za! Qiang! The three slogans of the Revolution were happening everywhere, Da, beating, Za, destroying, Qiang, looting. I had never seen the students talk back to the teacher, but the crack in the old wooden bowl had finally given way, splitting my world in two.
“Stay seated where you are!” the teacher cried.
Everyone rushed for the door ignoring the pleas of the stunned and fragile teacher.
“Students! Do you hear? Sit down!”
His face showed that he knew the reins were slipping from between his fingers. He slammed a chair down in front of the door to block their exit but the force of the students’ passion broke the dam and I was swept along like a twig in the wild spring flood of the Yangtze River.
The crowd thrust their fists and their ever-present red books into the air. I could not raise my hand at first, not knowing quite why. The presence of Mother in my mind would not allow my hand to rise until the energy of the crowd around me drew it up against my will. I murmured with the crowd, “Long Live Chairman Mao, Down with Tyrant O Yang!”
“Down with American Imperialists, down with Imperialist Soviet Union!”
“Repeat, now,” the teacher continued, “I am principal O Yang. I am stupid and I am old.”
“I am Principal O Yang. I am stupid and I am old,” the principal said hanging his head. “You think you are above us? Sing it now, louder!”
The principal began the song with no choice, the crowd bearing down on him.
“I am Principal O Yang, I am stupid and I am old,” he said with dignity as though giving a lecture on some important subject. An inflamed Red Guard hung a sign around the principal’s neck and the crowd cheered. “Stinking Intellectual” they all called at once, reading the shameful sign aloud.
Sing this, “I am a stinking intellectual,” another student insisted.
“I am a stinking intellectual,” the poor man repeated.
“No, I said to sing it, now sing it!”
The man copied the tune of his accuser, obediently.
“Much better. Now, go on!”
- “The Imperialist capitalists are paper tigers. We will burn them with one match!” a young Red Guard screamed and the crowd became more frenzied.
“My brother confirms it, America has sent men to explore the moon in a rocket. They have landed and walked on the moon. Walked on the moon!” he continued, “And do you know what they found?” I peeked around the corner to see the other young man lean in close to hear the news. “Nothing, nothing but craters of ash. So, our foolish people have been praying and looking for guidance from the god of the moon for thousands of years and there was, nothing, no god.
“So, our government is right, there is proof there is no god?” the listener said, “And the country which believes in a god the most, our capitalist enemies, the paper tigers, have proved that Chairman Mao is right!”
“Ha! Ha! Ha! They might as well exchange that so called holy book of theirs for the truths found in this Red Treasure Book of Chairman Mao,” the informant said, gripping his little book.
My mind was riveted on the American man on the moon and how he must have felt to stand with the thick dust of nothingness around his feet. How devastated he must have been to be the one human being to first learn that there was no god. I felt burdened. I did not want to tell Mother. It would sadden her even more than crushing the family temple, even more than burying her goddess to preserve her life.
Finally, as the sun left us, Mother stood watching the enormous fire that took her soul. She ran her hand gently over the hand-stitched cover of each book that held her family legacy, dropping tears at the funeral of the ancient texts. The poetry escaped in smoky phrases and took refuge in her mind. The elegant brushstrokes, the carefully hand-written characters, shattered into the ghosts of the learned as they rose in bursts of red crackles and black smoke, releasing one thousand years of wisdom to the darkening sky. She released each book into the air in ritual like beautiful birds, freeing them, delicate pages flapping, fluttering in the night breeze, innocent of their fiery fate below. With dignity, she honored each book in unhurried ceremony. One by one they were lifted high with hope, then fell helplessly into the flames.
“You must be cold,” Danny said.
He took my chilled hand in his and buried it in the warmth of his jacket pocket. My head snapped in both directions, searching over my shoulder to make sure no one was looking. The blood drew to my face and despite the cold air I became red and perspiration moistened my cheeks. My fear began at my mouth, I should have said something; it moved to my hand, I should have pulled away; when it reached my heart where the memory of the red, red rose lived, the clanging cymbals quieted and I was helpless to withdraw. I left my trembling hand to warm within his pocket. It was the first time we had touched. I could not believe that the elusive yellow book romance was happening to me. It was dreamlike. It was evil, wrong and lovely.
For weeks, she taught me the theory of Qigong, and she let me feel her commanding power of Qi, the vital force from her hands. To my amazement, she stood behind me rocking me on my feet without touching me. I was nearly knocked over by the gushing Qi she directed toward me. I was fascinated. I mastered the theory, the movements, the acupressure points, the meditations, the recharging of Qi, and the natural energy healing techniques.