Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China
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“A mesmerizing read.... A literary work of high distinction.” ―William Grimes, New York Times
This “gripping and poignant memoir” (New York Times Book Review) draws us into the intersections of everyday life and Communist power from the first days of “Liberation” in 1949 through the post-Mao era. The son of a professional family, Kang Zhengguo is a free spirit, drawn to literature. In Mao’s China, these innocuous circumstances expose him at age twenty to a fierce struggle session, expulsion from university, and a four-year term of hard labor. So begins his long stay in the prison-camp system. He finally escapes the Chinese gulag by forfeiting his identity: at age twenty-eight he is adopted by an aging bachelor in a peasant village, which enables him to start a new life.
early. She’d get the bride price, and a son-in-law would be an extra pair of hands to help around the house. Matchmakers started visiting us in the evenings, but Ma couldn’t make up her mind. I was against the idea anyway, and she couldn’t force me into it. She was an ignorant, fatalistic woman who wasted all her money on incense and firecrackers for the gods. Completely illiterate, she couldn’t even recognize paper banknotes, so I’d been managing our family finances from the time I was little.
example. How much writing has there been about its radical zeal, its pushing of Communist theory and practice to a new level? Kang does not bother to tell us that this writing is superficial. He just relates what he saw and heard in daily life and in passing makes clear that much of the popular rage that burst forth during the Cultural Revolution was born of recoil from what the Communists had already done, not from a demand that they do more of it. The Cultural Revolution also brought Kang more,
table and two stools, so that Zhengguan and I barely had enough room to turn around. The dilapidated paper panes in the old-fashioned windows whistled in the icy wind. The only source of heat was a coal-burning kitchen stove, which was barely warm to the touch. All their belongings, even Grandfather’s set of divination dominoes, were gone. Grandmother had pitched them into the well in panicky preparation for the coming Red Guard raid. On the day of our visit I found Grandfather lying in bed,
was cheap, often costing only a few pennies. For example, at the gates of my school on chilly winter mornings, vendors sold hot, steaming bowls of creamy date soup or almond-scented wheat porridge. For a few cents more, I could add a twisted cruller to dunk in my porridge or a sesame flatbread sandwich filled with comb-shaped fried wontons. Food rationing was still unheard of in those days, and the street markets were as colorful and earthy as they had been before the Communist takeover. People
immediately. Walking straight to the mouth of the cellar, he shouted at me and ordered some convicts to go inside and drag me out. He took me back to headquarters, where he weighed my apples. There were ten pounds. Then he called Brigade Chief Yang so that they could conduct a joint interrogation, during which I insisted that I had picked up all the apples from the roadside. Brigade Chief Zhang did not believe me. “So,” he scolded, “you just assumed they were yours for the taking and helped