The Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1950s, when the Communist Party of China came into force to build the socialist country based on fear, absence of freedom of speech, and the need to strictly follow all the guidelines of the Party is one of the brightest examples of usurping of power by a political force that managed to control the thoughts and minds of the whole nation. This was namely the time when Liang Heng, the author of Son of Revolution, and at the same time its protagonist was born and brought up.
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Growing up in a broken family, the boy experienced all the advantages and drawbacks of the socialist country; he saw the horror of communism with his own eyes and came up to tell about it in a literary work. Thus, Son of Revolution is a masterpiece of the world literature which manages to combine the universal and the personal ideas in it in order to present the comprehensive picture of the life of people in the Communist China in the era of Mao and Deng.
The very family of Liang predetermined the future he had to witness. He was born in the family of the influential Communist Party journalist and a secretary responsible for validating the arrest warrants for their whole city, Changsha. Being the committed Communist Party supporters, Liang’s parents saw their whole future connected with it:
My parents were deeply involved in all the excitement of working to transform China into a great socialist country, eager to sacrifice themselves for others. They dreamed passionately of the day when they would be deemed pure and devoted enough to be accepted into the Party. It was only natural that the family come second; Father’s duties at the newspaper often kept him away for several months at a time, and my mother came home only on Sundays, if at all, for she had a room in her own unit and stayed there to attend evening meetings (Heng and Shapiro, 1984, p. 3).
Driven by this commitment to the sacrifice, Liang’s parents sent him to the child care center in order to focus more on the work, but their marriage was soon destroyed. As a firm Communist, Liang’s mother participated in the right-wing meetings of Party workers where everyone was encouraged to speak the truth of anything they did not like about the Party. Having spoken herself, Liang’s mother however, was labeled the rightist for her incorrect words. His father knew that since his mother was a rightist, he and his sisters would not be able to get education, good jobs and marry. He, therefore, decided to divorce his wife. At the court, his father was given custody over Liang and his siblings.
Society of Communist China
Needless to say, such a situation was typical of the Chinese society during the Great Cultural Revolution of 1950s. The social stratification of the country was destroyed from the former monarchial way of living and the social classes of people started being mixed up and made equal. Therefore, lots of intellectuals and the representatives of the most educated layers of the Chinese population were sent to the rural areas where the Communist Party of China saw their task in educating the peasantry and helping the latter to reach the level of overall literacy and access to the information (Heng and Shapiro, 1984).
The book by Heng and Shapiro (1984) presents the examples of this, as Liang’s mother and father were sent to the rural areas where Liang could first see the real life that the Chinese peasantry lived, and it turned out to be much harder than the life that intellectual families in the urban parts of China had. Instead of reading books and following the politics, peasants had to think every day of feeding themselves and their families. Therefore, it was a planned step by the Communist Party and the Cultural Revolution Leaders to inform the peasants of their activities to get their support in the future struggle (Heng and Shapiro, 1984). However, that was nothing about actual help to the lower classes as the intended social structure of the communist China included the Party leaders and the poor only.
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Communist Party and Personal Life
On the whole, the major ideological platform that Communist Party of China stood on during the early Cultural Revolution was the idea of the overall subordination of the activities, thoughts, and plans of every single citizen should be monitored and controlled in order to ensure the success of revolution. When a mass of people are involved in an activity, there is a great possibility of the fact that some of those people can fail in the tasks which would result in the complete failure of the activity (Heng and Shapiro, 1984). Therefore, Mao Zedong and other Communist leaders of China wanted their power over the citizens to be overwhelming and comprehensive. The book under consideration exemplifies this truth with several occurrences from Liang’s life.
For instance, the boy was excluded from the reactionist group of youth as soon as its leaders came to know that his father was an intellectual. Liang was mocked to be “a stinking intellectual’s son” (Heng and Shapiro, 1984) and sometimes even tortured by his peers. His mother was sent to the exile because of her courageous speeches criticizing her boss, Liang’s education was full of pro-communist and Mao-adoring ideas, and on the whole the life of China at that time was built around the cult of Mao’s personality.
Liang in the Red Guard
Nevertheless, one of the greatest dreams that Liang used to have in the childhood was to become a member of the Red Guard of China. Liang wanted to be enrolled into the Red Guards because he had a bad childhood at a daycare. He was also brainwashed by Mao’s belief that the revolution would prevent China from taking the revisionist road to capitalist restoration. Being a Red Guard was an honor to many young Chinese. The Cultural Revolution took the entire generation of the young students or slightly older “educated youth” and gave them an unintended education into how the Chinese political system worked.
Being a Red Guard Liang learnt that the new authorities were a hundred times harsher than the old ones, that the arrival of feudalism was the much more real danger in China than the rebirth of capitalism. Liang was one of the youngsters who were used by Mao to rampage the cities and homes with the aim of destroying the old ideas, culture and customs (Heng and Shapiro, 1984). The leaders of the Cultural Revolution argued that the first 17 years had been basically wasted until they discovered the correct revolutionary way. Red Guards allowed the Chinese youngsters to travel the country and exchange experiences, and Liang was one of the youngest members of the organization to be involved in the struggle for Mao’s ideas (Heng and Shapiro, 1984).
Socialism and Liang’s Life
In the early 1970s, the life of Liang develops in the direction that he never even expected it to. The young man finds a job at the local factory and starts seeing how his living conditions improve. Needless to say, by earning money Liang becomes able to say that socialism really brings good results. But he keeps thinking so until the moment when he becomes eager to enter a college or marry the girl he likes. What Liang faces in this situation can be called the brightest examples of corruption and bribery that dominated the socialist political structure of China (Heng and Shapiro, 1984).
For example, Liang’s relations with girls are broken when their parents come to know about Liang’s family background and his own Red Guards past. To apply to a college, Liang has to bribe the bosses of his factory as only they can guarantee a place in the educational establishment to Liang (Heng and Shapiro, 1984). Being unable to explain this, Liang realizes that the communist slogans he studied while at schools are empty words, and that is when Liang becomes disappointed in socialism (Heng and Shapiro, 1984).
Deng for China and Liang
With the death of leader of the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong, Liang and the whole China hoped for the better in their lives. Indeed, Deng did much to develop the Chinese economy and modernize the country’s enterprises. Although some people claim that Deng brought little improvement to the life of ordinary people in China, the example of Liang states the opposite. Studying in the college, Liang falls in love and later married his English teacher, Mrs. Shapiro who came from the USA.
Apart from being the love story, this marriage symbolizes the improving relations between China and the rest of the world; it is used by Heng and Shapiro (1984) as a picture of the greater openness that China was characterized by when Deng took the power after Mao. That is why the first thing that Deng did to improve the lives of people is that he gave the Chinese freedom of speech, conducting business, and thinking.
Thus, Son of Revolution by Heng and Shapiro (1984) is a skillful story about the life of a Chinese man who lived through the Cultural Revolution to see how the ideals proclaimed by Mao were transformed and later completely rejected by Deng who changed the China and the country’s economy to give people freedom and hope. The authors of this book manage to personify the history of China in the middle of the 20th century in the memory of the person who was like millions of other Chinese at that time. Liang was a fierce supporter of Mao but than was disappointed to the extent that he started perceiving the fanatic slogans of the Chinese Communist Party with irony (Heng and Shapiro, 1984).
For me personally, the book gave the much deeper insight of the Chinese history and the life of ordinary people during one of its dramatic periods. Moreover, this book rose China in my perception now as I see clearly that the freedom of speech is possible although at the first sight it seems absent in China. Finally, I think this book is a valuable source of information on history and the peculiarities of human relations; that is why I assess this memoir as highly skillful and informative.
Heng, Liang and Judith Shapiro. Son of the Revolution. Vintage, 1984.