Born Red: A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution

Born Red: A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution

Born Red: A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution

Born Red: A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution

Synopsis

Born Red is an artistically wrought personal account, written very much from inside the experience, of the years 1966-1969, when the author was a young teenager at middle school. It was in the middle schools that much of the fury of the Cultural Revolution and Red Guard movement was spent, and Gao was caught up in very dramatic events, which he recounts as he understood them at the time. Gao's father was a county political official who was in and out of trouble during those years, and the intense interplay between father and son and the differing perceptions and impact of the Cultural Revolution for the two generations provide both an unusual perspective and some extraordinary moving moments. He also makes deft use of traditional mythology and proverbial wisdom to link, sometimes ironically, past and present. Gao relates in vivid fashion how students-turned-Red Guards held mass rallies against 'capitalist roader' teachers and administrators, marching them through the streets to the accompaniment of chants and jeers and driving some of them to suicide. Eventually the students divided into two factions, and school and town became armed camps. Gao tells of the exhilaration that he and his comrades experienced at their initial victories, of their deepening disillusionment as they utter defeat as the tumultuous first phase of the Cultural Revolution came to a close. The portraits of the persons to whom Gao introduces us - classmates, teachers, family members - gain weight and density as the story unfolds, so that in the end we see how they all became victims of the dynamics of a mass movement out of control.

Excerpt

Gao Yuan's chronicle takes us through the first violent years of China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Like Anne Frank's diary of the Holocaust closing in around her or the story of Dith Pran's journey through the killing fields of Cambodia, it offers a voice that speaks to us of the human anguish of inhuman events.

The immediacy of Gao's account of his experiences as a Red Guard in the Cultural Revolution brings us as close as we are likely to get to the political vortex that turned millions of teenagers into the agents of national madness. His description of how the movement gripped him and his schoolmates reveals, as no scholarly analysis can, the fury that brought China to the brink of civil war. Through his eyes we see how ideological expletives gave way to deadly explosives as the weapons of revolutionary conflict. His witness to the unspeakable violence that the young rebels inflicted on one another and their teachers evokes images of the children run amok in Lord of the Flies. The graphic depictions of brutalities committed in the name of idealism may at times shock us--yet they are also needed reminders that noble rhetoric can often be a mask for ignoble deeds.

But Born Red is so much more than the recollection of a political nightmare. It is a deeply personal narrative of an adolescent torn by conflicting loyalties as he is called upon to join in the destruction of the world that has nurtured him.

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