Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Wild Swans - #17

Yes, I know that image is Japanese not Chinese. Not to mention god knows what or who is doing what to whom. But it sums up this book for me. Elephant-Swan. The thing was huge.

This was one of those highly acclaimed and raved about books I had been meaning to read for a very long time. I was given it by my housemate who bought it at a garage sale down the road for 50 cents. He was very pleased with himself how little it cost. While appreciating the present, it was one of those occasions where you kinda didn't want to know how little was spent on you, no matter the bargain  It has sat on my shelf since then, trying to lure me to read it to see if it was worth 50 cents.

Was it? Yes. Was it insightful? Yes. Was it astonishing? Yes. Was it informative? Yes. Did it inform me how much of a bad person I have become? Oh hell yes.

I was amazed and horrified at the autocracies described in this book. By the Chinese landowners, by the Japanese and especially by the Communists. I had no idea about the Long March. I knew the phrase the Cultural Revolution, but actually had no idea what it meant. Chatting to my brother the other night highlighted how my education has lacked from doing no history in high school and very little in Uni. He knew all about this stuff from a subject he took in Yr 12. I, however, was completely in the dark.

Which lead me to an interesting discovery. I was listening to Jung talk about how she could not challenge Mao in her mind. How she was brainwashed into believing he was almost a god and infallible. And I thought, how stupid do you have to be? Well, not stupid as the consequence was torture and either death or complete destruction of your family and their futures. But how could you accept this and not challenge it at least internally.

And then I realised. Being a child of the 1980s I was always brought up to think that China was wrong. That they were bad and not good. They had human rights issues and freedom of speech problems and you don't want to end up like them. Oh and that Mao guy? Bit of a dick really. Not very nice. And I, until this book, had never known why besides one or two stories I had heard over the years. Except I accepted this premise. It was what we were taught. It's what was right.

While I am definitely on that side still after reading this book, my questioning of her brainwashing, lead me to discover the almost brainwashing of my own. My quick judgement of her made me realise that as a child especially, it is so easy to be talked around to other people's way of thinking. While I'm not saying we are comparable to Maoist China, I am saying that maybe we are throwing stones and not realising we are in a glass house.

But that's not why I am a bad person nor why this book is an elephant-swan. Why I am a bad person and this book to me is an elephant-swan is because my boss, who happens to be a Professor of Literature (you know, I mention this for the street cred haha), saw I was reading this book. While work is still insane, she was all "You have to go and read this book!! Now! Stop that work and read! I was all puffy-eyed for over a fortnight while reading that book. I couldn't stop crying!!".

I sort of looked at her, and replied, "Really? Until we got to the Cultural Revolution I was a bit bored. Hopefully things pick up a bit now".

There was a bit of a blank stare in return.

Really. I was bored. I was just thinking over and over again:

If it wasn't for the fact I had to read the book in September I may have, possibly, dumped it. Not sure, as the positives for reading it far out weighed the bogging down bits. But still. Bad person. I mean, seriously, who gets bored hearing about a families persecution and torture and harassment by a flawed but immensely powerful system?!? Not a good one.

But whether I am a good person or not, it's 3.5 elephant-swan stars. Recommend to everyone to read who has no idea about Chinese modern history, but be prepared you may be bogged down in the middle. Or I'm just horrid.