Ann’s Letters Home from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

An excerpt from Chapter 7, a compilation of some of the letters Ann wrote to her family while in China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The photo is of her eventual roommate, a student.

Rather unexpectedly, Ann found herself in the People’s Republic of China as an honored guest. Because of her principled stance at the Helsinki Peace Congress in favor of U.S. recognition of China, she was offered a trip paid for by a Chinese peace committee. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse and she soon found herself in a country which had no diplomatic relations with the United States, with no firm plans and no scheduled trip back home……

Oct. 29, 1965 (written from London)

Dear Beloved Mummy,

I’ve had the greatest good news recently! So good that I’ll say nothing about it. I fear you might worry! thinking of boat via Israel (Ruth), India (Mark) Hong Kong (Anna)…except that I’m extremely happy…almost numb really. It isn’t every day that one has their fondest dreams come true! So…while I’m very happy, I hope you will be too.

Oct. 4, 1966

Dear Mummy,

…..my after lunch nap fixed me up fine (first chilly day today, and the quilt over me felt good and I snuggled in for a real sleep…despite the voices of Red Guards who are using our classroom as dormitories while they are in town “to exchange revolutionary experiences”). Then I went for “laodong” (physical labor) on the nearby commune…..We helped bring in the harvest of some sort of cabbage-lettuce-like plant. It was easy enough to cut and stack, but the ground is very low! It is the squatting position that is killing! I managed tho, but welcomed the rest break when it came. (Hardly able to stand up again! That squat is something one should practice from infancy!) At the break, the peasants all eat in a sheltered sunny place, some taking out long-stemmed pipes to smoke, others with cigarettes, but the young with neither. Several young ones pulled out their little red book of Quotations from Chairman Mao’s Works. The reading out loud began…and for 40 minutes we read to each other. Yes, I read in English from my own copy which was just made available four days ago! And one of the students read each section in Chinese, so the peasants heard the English and understood the Chinese. Very nice.

I’ve been at this brigade daily for over a week…and they are feeling very friendly to me now. My point is that these are a happy people. They talk, joke, and work together in an unhurried but purposeful way. They are full of smiles, and songs, and are thinking and studying “serious solutions.”…..the freedom to make a criticism, the pleasure they take in study, in having a foreigner share work with them, in trying to understand my stumbling Chinese…it is just healthy, democratic, purposeful living, with the purpose of making a world where all men are free of exploitation as the Chinese are now. Life is simple, hard, but with great joy for every single one.

May 13, 1967

Dear Mummy,

Indeed, A Happy May Day! I celebrated!Of course, but also not of course! This year I went along to celebrate with the other comrades of my institute, not with the foreign guests. It was good. I saw what the Chinese saw, or “the other side”…etc. The dances and performances were not such exceptional quality, in fact many were amateur, such as our own contribution. But the spirit of great joy, holiday, love for Chairman Mao, the Communist Party, for socialism and the international proletarian spirit were just as fine…and everywhere to be found. I was a rare object, of course, since most foreigners were elsewhere in special events…..We rose at 5:15 a.m.,ate, got in the truck, with large red banner with our school name and the name of our “regiment” (GPCR organization) flung high over the truck, singing our way to the “Summer Palace” (with huge artificial lake included, was summer resort for Empress – and, of course, common people not allowed!)…which is now the People’s Park (I think that is the new name)…..We were in a place with many many small school children…..and I saw roughhousing, and being “naughty”…and I thought of many situations at home…felt for the first time that these kids are really kids that I could understand after all…but even so, these kids are really very different. The general level of behavior is far superior to our home situation…for obvious reasons and also for reasons that I still cannot discover…seem to be some old traditions, some very different attitudes on some questions.

…..back to school to eat, sleep until 3 and by truck again to Tien An Men Square to await the evening fireworks! The whole city is decorated with red banner, lighted and gay gateway decorations, slogans of world unity of the proletarian class, long life to Chairman Mao, etc….people dancing and singing and talking in the streets…..We walked around…result…we missed seeing Chairman Mao who came where our group was!…..But we do love theChairman…the fireworks are splendid…but small sparks compared to the fire burning in the hearts of the Chinese people.

…..”I still think that people are good,”…I think this statement lacks class analysis, Mum! Some people are lice! fascist! etc. People are shaped by their internal and external conditions…and only 5% are exploiters, says Ch. M., the rest wanting and needing revolution. End of lecture for today! Glad you’re still feeling positive and hopeful in the midst of USA today…it’s right to feel positive, I think.

Feb.26, 1968

Dear Mummy,

…..I sent you the wood cuts – and do not want such things here, for several reasons. Do treasure them, if you can – and want to. But I’m sure that my future is going to pay much less attention to things – even though they do express love and interest, etc. They also take space, require attention, and take time from other efforts – which must be primary and rather all encompassing – by choice – only by choice in the context of the world we find ourselves in.

Here I live in one room – probably about 10×14 (maybe 16) and share it with a Chinese student. One desk, one bed, one closet – (closet is good one – storage space above) – and I have 2 book shelves (that’s special). Because of my typewriter (yours), shortwave radio (very few of the Chinese have their own – except family people so), and tape recorder (I don’t know of any Chinese who have private one – school has several – one for each class or more) – and such things make my room unusually “crowded” – also I save my foreign publications and my Peking Reviews – which most of them use at the library only. But – for me – and for us in general – I’m down to very simple living – and I like it.


One thought on “Ann’s Letters Home from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

  1. The excerpt is illuminating and I hope you are able to get the book out while I am still around – I am somewhat older than Ann – we were in High School together and the time I spent on the WanderBird opened up the world for me.

    I went through the procedure to make a donation but got stuck because I have no code. What to do??

    Best wishes for success – Ruth Fradkin

    Like

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