Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard (American Lives)

Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard (American Lives)

Fan Shen

Language: English

Pages: 282

ISBN: 0803293364

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In 1966 twelve-year-old Fan Shen, a newly minted Red Guard, plunged happily into China’s Cultural Revolution. Disillusion soon followed, then turned to disgust and fear when Shen discovered that his compatriots had tortured and murdered a doctor whose house he’d helped raid and whose beautiful daughter he secretly adored. A story of coming of age in the midst of monumental historical upheaval, Shen’s Gang of One is more than a memoir of one young man’s harrowing experience during a time of terror. It is also, in spite of circumstances of remarkable grimness and injustice, an unlikely picaresque tale of adventure full of courage, cunning, wit, tenacity, resourcefulness, and sheer luck—the story of how Shen managed to scheme his way through a hugely oppressive system and emerge triumphant.

Gang of One recounts how Shen escaped, again and again, from his appointed fate, as when he somehow found himself a doctor at sixteen and even, miraculously, saved a few lives. In such volatile times, however, good luck could quickly turn to misfortune: a transfer to the East Wind Aircraft Factory got him out of the countryside and into another terrible trap, where many people were driven to suicide; his secret self-education took him from the factory to college, where friendship with an American teacher earned him the wrath of the secret police. Following a path strewn with perils and pitfalls, twists and surprises worthy of Dickens, Shen’s story is ultimately an exuberant human comedy unlike any other.

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the driver’s, Smoking Devil skillfully rolled a cigarette, lit it, took a deep draw, and blew out an almost perfect circle. ‘‘Smoking is the universal language,’’ he said, turning and smiling to us proudly. ‘‘All smokers are brothers who help each other. The driver is a brother who will take care of us all the way to Shaanbei. It’s a ten-hour ride. If you don’t have a seat, God bless your legs. Now, close your windows. It will save us some trouble later.’’ Although he was only three years older

limp, barely moving, and could manage only squeaky cries in response to my probing.  earth The mother herself could not have been more than sixteen. As she sat down, she bared one of her breasts and started to suckle another baby in her arms. Laying the boy on the kang, I carefully unwrapped the dirty rag that was half stuck to the wound, and the boy moaned weakly. A pungent odor of spoiled eggs rushed to my nostrils. The wound was below the elbow, a deep open sore the size of a five-cent

remained immobile at the foot of one of the dams. Wheelbarrows and shoulder poles were used to move dirt to the dam, and hand-tampers to pack it down. Progress was slow and injuries numerous, which kept me busy. My clinic was set up in a tent by the broken bulldozer, which had become a landmark that could be seen from any position in the construction site. Most of the injuries were accidents—gashes on the arms or legs, sprained ankles, or the occasional broken leg. I could handle the minor

three months to prepare for the examination, and I knew I had a lot to do. I had to start that very night. I could hardly wait for the dinner to end so that I could go back to my dorm to plan my course of study. I had to brush up on math, physics, and history, and I had to study chemistry and geography almost from scratch. The next day, I found out that I was getting a late start. While I was in prison, millions of young people across the country had already started preparing for the exam. Many

of the desk, and we pulled in opposite directions. Squirm grimaced and moaned as the desk was forced across his belly and hip and he was finally dislodged. But before he could stand up, an ominous thud outside the door stopped us in our tracks. A chair had been planted against the door. Above the door there was a small glass transom. Two hands soon appeared at the bottom of it. Mr. Breakwind was climbing up the back of the chair! As if a starting pistol had been fired, all four of us dove into

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