Red Azalea by Anchee Min
This is Anchee Min’s memoir of her struggle to survive in China under the power of Mao’s communist government. But it is also a story of the pain and anguish that all of China endured during those dark terrifying years… years when the communist party controlled every aspect of everyone’s life including where they lived, how they lived, and if they lived.
Anchee Min was born in 1957, but never experienced childhood. From the age of 5 she was tending to her younger siblings while her parents worked. In elementary school she was a leader of the “Little Red Guards” and a Mao activist. Anchee accepted this responsibility without question, trying to bring honor to her family and increase the family’s chances of survival. Party loyalty and party connections were everything, and many times meant the difference between life and death.
A common school song students were forced to sing was “I’ll go where Chairman Mao’s finger points”. Anchee had no clue that upon graduation Mao’s finger would be pointing for her to attend military camp where she lived in a primitive barracks on a remote, isolated, barren, mosquito laden country farm working in the rice fields.
And then a life changing event occurred. Mao’s wife, Jiang Ching, launched a program to indoctrinate the public and to pacify the masses; propaganda through opera. Communist scouts traveled the country looking for hidden talent. Like every other young woman in China, Anchee hungered to get the starring role in the most acclaimed opera, Red Azalea. But even this golden opportunity could not bring solace. Anchee and her loved ones continued to suffer pain and hardship at the hands of the tyrants.
Anchee explains in the preface of Red Azalea, that the government and Chinese historians call the Cultural Revolution “Mao’s tiny flaw” deeming it not worthy of mentioning. She says, “I despise the Communist government’s attitude to the past. I consider the regime’s new slogan ‘lets forget about the Cultural Revolution’ as an act of betrayal against humanity.” She humbly states, “I haven’t taken the publication of Red Azalea for granted, I know that millions of my people did not live to tell their stories”.
On October 1st, 2011 China’s National Day celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China, I was in China. I watched the multitudes make the pilgrimage to Tiananmen Square to honor Mao by visiting his tomb, a waiting line as far as the eye could see. Our Chinese Communist interpreter and guide proudly assured us that Mao has been forgiven for his atrocities because his intentions were good. Everything he did was for the good of the people. But back in my hotel room, later that evening, after a long day of sightseeing, I was curled up on the sofa reading Red Azalea. The Chicago Sun Times describes the book as “scorching – powerful – a remarkable story”, and indeed it is.
Rated 5 Stars