Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard (American Lives)
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Gang of One recounts how Shen escaped, again and again, from his appointed fate, as when he somehow found himself a doctor at sixteen and even, miraculously, saved a few lives. In such volatile times, however, good luck could quickly turn to misfortune: a transfer to the East Wind Aircraft Factory got him out of the countryside and into another terrible trap, where many people were driven to suicide; his secret self-education took him from the factory to college, where friendship with an American teacher earned him the wrath of the secret police. Following a path strewn with perils and pitfalls, twists and surprises worthy of Dickens, Shen’s story is ultimately an exuberant human comedy unlike any other.
But the book was too heavy and it plopped to the ground just outside the reach of the flames. The girl made a helpless step toward the book but was scooped up by her father. ‘‘Allow me,’’ Baby Dragon said. He had always liked to perform such little heroic acts. Pulling down his shirt to shield his face from the heat, he crawled on all fours toward the fire and bravely extracted the volume from the edge of the fire. He flipped over the volume and, with false sadness on his face, showed me the
shadowy hills around us. ‘‘It is an honor that the Party has decided to bestow upon you, the Beijing Kids. Will you let the Party down? The Great Leader has said those who show a Red heart will be welcomed back to Beijing, and those who don’t will spend the rest of their lives here. The village is watching you. The Party is watching you. The Great Leader is watching you. Now, before we start, let’s recite the Great Leader’s ‘Harden Our Hearts.’ ’’ Uncle Cricket’s words filled my heart with
Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and Gorky that had been translated, for they had been available in the county library. In his solitary years before the Cultural Revolution, he told me, he would get up at two o’clock in the earth morning on Sundays, walk ten hours to the county library, borrow two books (the maximum allowed), and come home after midnight. I had never had more fun talking about books with someone than I did with Moon Face. He had a good memory and could remember almost everything he
transported to the factory by military truck. On their arms they wore a black silk band bearing the large white character Xiao, or ‘‘Mourning.’’ Behind them we stood in neat columns, dressed in our white work uniforms. On each person’s breast was a single white paper flower. The funeral was brief. Following a short moment of silence and funeral music played on an old gramophone, Red Calf, the Party secretary, delivered a standard revolutionary eulogy, as was required at revolutionary funerals. On
shoulder, I stepped out of the room and went downstairs. In my satchel were my books and two hard-boiled eggs and two round steamed buns for breakfast and lunch. The dimly lit street was completely deserted. On the bike rack behind the building, I located the bicycle that I had borrowed from Master Pan the day before. There had been a light snowfall and the street was covered with a sheet of white dust. I shuddered a little as a gust of chilly morning wind found its way into my winter jacket, but