It is clear from Ann’s letters home that it wasn’t long before the luxury of the Friendship Hotel caused her to question her role in the evolving story of China. She lived alone, while her Chinese co-workers lived four or five to a room. Her room had a rug, bedspread and curtains, hot and cold running water. Such things were rationed for the Chinese and most did not have them. She had a choice of five dining rooms with a selection of Western food.
Ann had arrived in Peking with no set agenda other than to learn as much as she could and learn she did. She would later say that this new adventure was about “opportunity and curiosity and hope.” Disillusioned with the Communist Party in both the United States and Russia, Ann was looking for a new “road” on which to travel. Life in China was changing quickly and she understood the importance of what was taking place around her and wanted to be a part of it, not just an observer. That could never happen as long as her relationship with the Chinese people was limited to that of teacher and student, but it was the custom to treat foreigners as honored and spoiled guests.
Years spent studying and observing the issue of class had led Ann to expect something different from this experience in China. That there was a special “class” of people – foreign experts, who were exempt from living as equals – did not sit well with her. As she understood it through the writings and speeches of Mao, the emerging Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was, in her words, essentially “a struggle between two ways of looking at the world, two different points of view: the bourgeois world outlook and the proletarian world outlook. Put more simply, and brought down to the level of each individual who wanted to be a revolutionary in this day and age, the struggle goes on in each of our minds every day as a struggle between the ‘selfish interests’ and the ‘public, or collective, interests.’ Thus, at various times, Chairman Mao Tse-tung has issued the calls to ‘Destroy selfishness, build the public good.’”
What could be more selfish than living with luxuries that the vast majority of people outside the hotel, including her students, did not enjoy? Ann’s negative reaction to her privileged working and living conditions would set the stage for the remainder of her years in China. She was not willing to sit idly by as exciting changes were happening all around her. With a few close friends, she would take positive action and elicit what would become the most memorable experience of her life; one she would continue to celebrate for more than fifty years.