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January 2014, vol 9, no 4

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Jianqing Zheng


The art of losing wasn’t hard to get. I lost my voice in the Chinese Cultural Revolution after brandishing Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book and shouting my heart out for his long, long life.

Upon graduation from a boarding school of foreign languages, I became a peasant because our great helmsman Mao said that high school graduates could play an important role in the countryside. So I gave up reading Mao’s books in English in order to dig the earth to rebuild my body for strong bones and muscles. I even mastered the local dialect, excited that I could speak without an accent.

One afternoon while I was picking cotton under the September sun, a peasant came over to tell in a casual voice that Mao died. “Oh!” I responded and went on picking. I was hungry; I cursed the sun for not sinking faster; I cursed the bellman for not striking the bell sooner. A blur in my eyes, and tremor, anxiety, and cold sweat all assailed me.

Finally the sun sank, bloody-red, and the long tolling came from the village to drag me out of the fields.

Great Wall tour—
each souvenir stall sells
Chairman Mao badges