I have a faint recollection of a movie on the Japanese occupation. The last scene: an old Chinese woman holding a child in her hands and crying, “八年了!八年了! (8 years! 8 years!)

My father fed the child that was me with a constant stream of war movies – wars waged in China during World War 2 and the Civil War between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang. Perhaps because of him, I grew up with an affinity to the ideas of Chinese socialism. He kept magazines and books smuggled in from the People’s Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution, at the time when our home country banned all things Communist. The pictures in the magazines he kept still float in my nostalgic world, like autumn leaves floating on a golden sunbathed midday. His idealistic stories of the Chinese Communist leaders inspired my young mind. His accounts of Mao Zedong’s protracted warfare and the heroism which he attributed to the Red Army became incunabulums of idealism in the then verdant meadow of my young world.

It thus came so when I became a mid-teen, I voraciously devoured history after history – both political and social – written by China-watchers on the turbulent decades after Liberation. Han Suyin, a Eurasian writer and her semi-historical, semi-autobiographical trilogy – The Crippled Tree, A Mortal Flower, and Birdless Summer – were amongst my main informers. The picture for me then was like a white-washed building bleached by morning sunlight. Until Jung Chang came into my world a decade ago with Wild Swans. The building exploded and what remains now is the brutal reality of a charred ruin.


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