I worked at a school for a time that I was sure was going to be the academic challenge and delight of my career. It was, but not for the reasons I had originally thought…. rich_and_poor_in_china

shoulda been my first clue) who had many a fascinating tale of post Maoist China. Like Ms Yue, Li-Young Lee’s father (the personal physician to Mao), and hundreds of others deemed to have had it too good, family property was seized and heads of households were jailed or placed in re-education camps/farms. Ms Yue’s father, a military officer of more than 30 years spent six years with a farm “camp” (a Chinese euphemism for “chain gang”) forcibly leaving his family with barely enough to eat. Li-Young’s father landed in a leper colony before his secret escape that took him, via Indonesia, to his final home final home in America. The director’s family had been benevolent landowners and often hired neighbors with nowhere else to work. But, the Red Guard saw their huge holdings as feudal in origin and took possession of it all in the name of the state. In the years I knew him his parents, elderly and ailing, could not take care of a developmentally disabled sibling. The director would have to state house her or attend to her needs. You would expect such a man to be more emotionally attuned to the needs or pains of others. It was not so…. His cheap, government subsidized, house, and the salutes at the security gate held enough allure that, despite being vocally anti-Mao, he pledged allegiance to the local party. He had not concern one for the well being of his student charges or the faculty that served them. His was devoid of anything we might call heart. I watched his distrust of anything western, complete with coached racial and cultural ignorance. This kind of animosity, usually bred into a family line, was passed on to him grow though emotional osmosis from an old cadre of hard-liners who dominated the school. He increasingly began to refer to the foreign teachers as outsiders and refused opportunities to meet with western staff or help them some navigate very rough cultural seas. He once told me that I could not possible be able to remember the Chinese names of my students as I surely saw Chinese as he did Americans: “They all look alike, don’t they?” It is like a a story I found at David Michael Porter’s Blog: Via the Washington Post: Wu’s parents were beaten to death by a gang of Red Guards on Aug. 3, 1966. At the time, his father was the top educator in Jiangsu province and his mother was the party secretary at a leading university in Nanjing. The gang descended on their home, dragged the parents out onto the streets in their pajamas and set upon them savagely. The autopsy report on Wu’s father listed six broken bones, a brain hemorrhage and massive trauma to his internal organs. A few years later, Wu had the opportunity to join the Communist Party — a road to a good future in China — but there was a condition. Party officials told him he had to have a “correct” understanding of why his parents died. Wu wrote in his application that his father died of chronic hepatitis and his mother of high blood pressure, and he added the requisite denunciation. “My parents made mistakes and you must criticize mistakes,” he wrote. “The Cultural Revolution is great!” His application for party membership was accepted. He felt no remorse for joining an organization responsible for the murder of his parents. “I know I wrote lies. They made me write lies,” he rationalized to me later. “But a party membership helped improve my life.” I think as competition gets tougher and the gap between rich and poor widens in China there will be more loyalty to survival than to principle. And since “habit is a great deadener” I see hearts and minds following antiquated thinking. This will be in sharp contrast to the folks living in rural areas who are spoiling for a fight. They have a hard time understanding high-rise apartments, and chauffeured cars, while they are burying family members unable to pay for medicine. They don’t want salutes, they want a food on their table 365 days a year. China reminds me of the days of Pullman and Rockefeller in America. They have already had strikes and Ludlow massacres. I am anxious, in both senses of the word, about the future.

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