Anhua Gao dreams of visiting England, the edge of the sky, since her mother, a respected and beloved Communist party leader, points it out to her on a map in 1959, when she and the New China both turn ten. Her dream confuses her, however, since she’s taught to beware of the West’s “bullets coated with sugar,” its bourgeois ways that tempt youth away from revolutionary ideals. Like her mother and father, both Party officials, she loves British literature (despite Communist rules, her father is buried in a Western suit) and finds it hard to reconcile the life described in her books with the picture Mao paints of the West, where capitalist bullies treat workers like dogs. She’s taught life in China is the best in all the world.
Anhua Gao’s life, as she narrates it, is a prism of Chinese Communist contradictions. Her story is not anti-Communist nor anti-Chinese, rather, a straightforward, chronological account of her history set in a larger context. Her parents model the ideals of Communism — hard work, education, equality and honor among them — but as she grows older, she watches these ideals crushed beneath Mao’s rigid regime. His Great Leap Forward results in famine. Then, for the sake of “openness,” he asks citizens to speak out, only to root out dissidents. When he dies, his wife begins the 5.16 Campaign to dig out more counter revolutionary elements. What begins as a class struggle becomes class elimination, with no room for anyone other than the “winning” side.
Despite her hard work, good marks in school and loyalty to China, Anhua Gao finally falls prey to the persecution. She watches many family members and friends betrayed first. One injustice piled on another, she is all the more determined to use her English skills and get to Britain at any cost. Hers is not simply an escape story; this is also the tale of finding friendship and dedication, solidarity and hope that can’t be destroyed no matter the political circumstances. author blog