To the Storm
Daiyun, Yue with Wakema, Carolyn
University of California Press, 1985
Subtitled “The Odyssey of a Revolutionary Chinese Woman” this marvel of a find at Half Price Books outlet (first paperback edition from 1987, in perfectly new condition) has been one of the best bargain books I have come across in a long time. The book is basically an autobiography spanning the period from 1952 to 1979 from someone standing in the midst of the variations in post-revolutionary China.
Yue Daiyun became involved in the struggle against the Kuomintang while still a young girl, in part due to having been appalled by the behavior of US troops toward the local population. As a university student in Beijing she participated in the Communist Underground prior to the liberation of the city by the PLA, and joined the Communist Party while still a student. Selected to be a delegate to an international student congress in Prague, she was able to visit Moscow on the journey and further fuel her ardour for the implementation of the revolutionary goals she had struggled for. Graduating in 1952, she was selected to be the graduating class representative and was invited to join the faculty as a teacher in Chinese literature.
She married, had a daughter and a son, and things seemed to be going well until she was declared an enemy of the state and had her party membership revoked after having been part of a short-lived discussion group about founding a new academic journal to investigate new literature, which was considered to be outside of the approved way. Sent away from her husband and young children, she spent nearly two years laboring in a peasant village in the countryside while trying to understand how she, as a loyal member of the party, had been wrongly accused of trying to damage what she had fought for. Eventually allowed to return to her former employment at the university, she was banned from teaching and performed other activities for a period until being allowed back in the classroom.
And so it continued… Stigmatized for a fault which over 20 years later would eventually would be dismissed as unfounded, her life and that of her family would be marked by the stain of her unfounded conviction. Her husband, once her academic equal, quickly vaulted past her after her difficulties, only to be himself accused of more serious issues later. Her children had their own struggles due to their parents and the policies of inherited guilt.
Eventually, after the damage has been done and lives ruined, a few words are spoken which clear the initial occurrence from the official record – but at what damage to the country which had abused one of it’s most supportive citizens over the course of years. And this individual being only one of uncountable thousands.
On the theory of seeing “history from below” the book provides an overview of several of the critical phases in modern Chinese history as seen by someone who at varying times was both exalted and victimized. There were handshakes with Mao Zedong, being stripped of all respect and sent to work at the lowest jobs in a village, terror as undisciplined students with official sanctions burst into the family home, smashed music records, and made off with irreplaceable books acquired over a lifetime of collecting. There were friends who committed suicide rathar than give in, and others who were killed for no reason. There was near anarchy, and there were crackdowns. There were shifts in policy such that today’s hero was tomorrow’s villain. And through it all one woman tries to reconcile her faith in the improvement of her country against the realities of what she is seeing around her.