Mao’s Town by Xie Hong is the first English-language novel from Chinese author Xie Hong, and showcases the author’s unique voice in exploring the Revolutionary era of recent Chinese history. Told in short, pointed sentences, Mao’s Town expresses something that only an author who lived through the terrible era could truly understand. Nonetheless, this book gives an excellent introduction to so many horrors of the time–from the hunger pains of the Great Leap Forward to the abusive madness of the Red Guards circa the Cultural Revolution. It was a time that hopefully will never be repeated, but needs to be remembered.
Mao’s Town is told from a childhood point of view, full of memories and written in direct language that always seems appropriate. The central theme is the concept of family as well finding one’s place in a small town which represents the enormous nation of China, and furthermore the narrative explores how the edicts that came down from the dictatorship of Chairman Mao can affect everything for one small boy.
There are the little things that one remembers, details like enjoying food in the early days. Though then the lack of it later when the hardships begin. The protagonist of the story spends his days watching propaganda “Red” films about fighting landlords, celebrates Chinese New Year, and plays with his friends Sun and Ahn as all of the families are eventually torn apart culminating in his brother’s and father’s sagas.
Some of the memories can be very intense, like when a teacher must be chosen as the “rightist” of the school for public punishment. Others seem so innocently naïve, such as when the family gives up their pots and pans out of faith to the Party’s now known horrific steelworks projects. They townspeople kill sparrows, and more, yet never know the full impact even while the path leads to starvation. All the while, the children don’t even know what the word “capitalist” means…
Mao’s Town is a quick read about both Chinese history and about how young minds process tragedy. Recommended for historians of all ages.
Mao’s Town by Xie Hong is published by Whyte Tracks and is available on Amazon.
Last week on a Sunday afternoon I participated in an event in which writers based in Shenzhen can read their works aloud. It was part of the Shenzhen Book Exchange, which is an interesting sort of amateur library that English-language readers put together to promote reading and finding books while abroad. I’ve borrowed a lot of books from there, and donated a few myself.
While at it, I decided to print some of my one-page comics and share them as little books. That went over pretty well. (They don’t work very read aloud but great to give away.) Now six pages long. The working title of this slowly-growing anthology is “A Random Assortment of Cautionary Tales.”
I am somewhat afraid that I’m not very good at reading. The audience seemed attentive, but maybe I read too fast. Ah well, I’m not quite an actor but I hope the words are interesting.
Reading from my new story THIS MODERN LOVE:
As much as the point was to share my works, it was also much fun to organize the event in that I found new writers in Shenzhen to work with as well as help to edit for translations. While I’ve read at the book exchange before, and I had a ‘Shenzhen Writers Night’ earlier in the year, this was the first time putting those two in particular together and I think it was a good forum for the city’s literary scene. I’m lucky to have come across these great authors, both established Chinese and (such as me) aspiring American. Here they are with links to their works below:
Xie Hong is the Chinese author of 14 books, and he also writes in English. He studied in New Zealand in the English department of the Waikato Institute of Technology. Xie has won the Shenzhen Youth Literature Award as well as the Guangdong New Writer Award and New York Award. He will share some of his experiences in writing, and read poems or excerpts of short stories. He read from his poem collection The Story of Time, and the short story Casino.
Greta Bilek is a self-published travel writer and author of the book China Tea Leaves. Writing about travel in China, she finds inspiration in ancient poems, historic travelogues, stories told by Chinese friends and more. This is her second time presenting at the Book Exchange, sharing reflection from the road and experiences of taking on layers of cultural traditions as an expat.
Tiga Tan is the scriptwriter and novelist. She has written more than 300 episodes of TV series for Shenzhen’s children’s channel and the animated series Fuwa for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She is author of “G.O.D.I.S.E.T” a science fiction novel. She read from her short fairy tale “So Long, Aga.”
Nicole A. Schmidt is a published author, poet, educator and editor. She shared poetry, creative non-fiction and art she has created while in China. She is the author of Inside a Young Soul, and runs NAS Writes as an editing platform.