Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard

Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard

Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard

Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard


In 1966 twelve-year-old Fan Shen, a newly minted Red Guard, plunged happily into China's Cultural Revolution. Disillusion soon followed, then turned to disgust and fear when Shen discovered that his compatriots had tortured and murdered a doctor whose house he'd helped raid and whose beautiful daughter he secretly adored. A story of coming of age in the midst of monumental historical upheaval, Shen's Gang of One is more than a memoir of one young man's harrowing experience during a time of terror. It is also, in spite of circumstances of remarkable grimness and injustice, an unlikely picaresque tale of adventure full of courage, cunning, wit, tenacity, resourcefulness, and sheer luck--the story of how Shen managed to scheme his way through a hugely oppressive system and emerge triumphant.

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.


I am a first-generation immigrant and a proud American. I came to America in January 1985 as a graduate student. Like most immigrants to America, I brought with me little money ($100 to be exact) but a big ambitious heart. In the next six years, I studied very hard, supporting myself with a scholarship and odd jobs at a restaurant and a bookstore. To complement my formal schooling, I also took every opportunity to visit various institutions that make up the vital parts of American society, in order to study and understand the country that I admired. I sat through church services and court trials, visited farms and state penitentiaries, toured TV stations and newspapers offices, and volunteered in retirement centers.

I received my master’s degree in a year and a half and my Ph.D. in five years. Today, I have a happy family life and I teach as a professor at a beautiful college in southern Minnesota. Happy as I am, I still often wake up in the middle of the night and find myself reliving my tormented past, a life full of struggle and despair, and yet, a life that sharpened my determination to succeed and made me appreciate the opportunities in the land of the free.

It took me a long time to make up my mind about whether to write this book and to divulge the secrets that I had harbored in my heart for many years. The decision was agonizing because the book will almost certainly upset my parents; it may even cause them to regret that they had ever given birth to me. Having been revolutionaries all their lives, they will be angry and hurt because I have committed the ultimate crime as a revolutionary: I have rebelled against the Great Leader, Chairman Mao, and have become an anti-revolutionary despite their lifelong teachings.

Without a doubt, my “treachery” will be unbearably painful and disappointing to my parents, since they had every reason to believe that I would grow up to be a perfect revolutionary, having been born and brought up in a family full of dedicated revolutionaries. Both my grand-

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