Magazine article CSLA Journal

Libraries Bridge the World

Magazine article CSLA Journal

Libraries Bridge the World

Article excerpt

Growing up during Chinas Cultural Revolution, my happiest moments were when I came upon a forbidden book. After passing through many eager hands, many had missing pages. I thought it was normal! For most of my childhood, the only complete books I read were propaganda books.

Burned books

One morning when I was twelve years old I heard that the Red Guard was ransacking the city library and burning the anti-revolutionary books. I put on my oversized jacket and ran to the library, hoping to rescue a few.

When I arrived, the Red Guard had lit a bonfire using broken table and chair legs in the library courtyard. A thick crowd had formed around it. I managed to squeeze to the front, hiding behind a group of women. When six Red Guards dragged out a large bamboo basket filled with books, the crowd laughed and cheered. The Red Guard feverishly threw books into the flames.

When a girl tossed a stack of picture books into the fire, I recognized my favorite among themThe Emperor's New Clothes. I took shallow breaths, watching the fire slowly destroy its cover, first the emperor's colorful robe, then his face and finally his golden crown. Burnt pages bounced around like frightened butterflies.

I lingered until the crowd dissipated and everyone left. In the waning rays of the sunlight, I carefully inched close to the dying flames. I poked at the black ashes with a stick. Most of the books were burned beyond recognition. To my delight, I spotted a book with half its pages and the back cover intact. Without thinking, I stuffed it in my jacket and rushed home.

Discovering Qin Shi Huang

I hid the book under my bed. That night, when I was sure my family was sleeping, I took it out. The book had no colorful pictures, only line drawings. It appeared to be a history book published before the revolution. I sat next to my bedroom window and read it in the weak light of the street lamp. This was how I first learned about Qin Shi Huang-literally translated "First Emperor of China" -who built the Great Wall and a massive terra-cotta army to guard him in his afterlife. I was fascinated that we shared the same surname: Ying, one of the most unusual and difficult written words in the Chinese language.

In 1986, I was accepted to the graduate school at University of Colorado. …

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