Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard (American Lives)

Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard (American Lives)

Fan Shen

Language: English

Pages: 282

ISBN: 0803293364

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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.

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his back were broken. He must have been a thousand years old. He was weak, limp, and dying of thirst. ‘‘ ‘Could you give me something to drink?’ The old porcupine murmured, his head resting on the dusty ground. But there was no water to be had. Sweet Yucca took pity on the old porcupine and picked up the beast, raised her blouse, and put him to her breast. Sweet milk flowed into the mouth of the dying animal. The porcupine’s spikes pricked her hands and chest, but she held on. Finally, the

scandalous news spread throughout the entire village literally overnight. The next day, a mad-as-hell Uncle Cricket and his eldest son-in-law, who was the commander of the village militia, stormed our cave-house and ordered Smoking Devil to go with them. I found out later that Smoking Devil was given two choices in Uncle Cricket’s office: marry the girl and stay in the village, or be taken to the county jail for raping the girl. A conviction for rape was virtually assured—Uncle Cricket made it

would leave the factory and go back to college, back to their studies. When they walked into the workshop, everyone’s eyes followed them. They were the chosen ones, the ones the Party trusted. What could I do to gain the Party’s trust? How did they gain the confidence of the Party? How did they please people like Master Deng, Red Calf, and Combat Zhu? I thought often these questions and sometimes even seriously contemplated going back to Combat Zhu and playing ‘‘pulling carrots.’’ Those were the

pleasant, almost as if he were inviting me to a dinner at his home that night. But I knew better. ‘‘Yes, I want to confess,’’ I nodded eagerly and meekly. ‘‘I know the good policy of the Party. I will confess my mistakes and tell you everything . . . ’’ I smiled humbly and began elaborating on a long self-criticism. I was an expert at self-criticism; I had learned the trick when I was in the first grade. ‘‘I ask the forgiveness of the Party. I was too naı¨ve. I was deceived by Fountain Pen. He

walkway barely a yard wide from the door to the only window. Four people shared the room, but I certainly did not mind the crowded living conditions. From the laughter and happy shouting in the hall, I sensed that everybody in the dormitory shared the same elation. I heard genuine laughter everywhere, a laughter free of worries, a laughter I had never heard before in my life. This was the class of , the first crop of students who had been admitted to universities and colleges solely on the

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