Feathers

csaw

United States

"All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Message to Readers

Hi Everyone -- published this to the competition a few days ago, would love some final feedback! What feeling were you able to get from this piece, and what feeling were you left with? Clarity, I would also love for you to take a look at -- if you're able to understand this without knowing a ton about the Post Cultural Revolution in China. Thank you so much for reading!

Reclaim: Shanghai 1977

April 21, 2016

I stepped out of the apartment quickly, closing the door behind me. For a beat, I stopped -  hearing the sounds of neighbors scurrying grow louder, forcing me to pause before continuing down the hall. Children talking and parents laughing engulfed the air. Echoing through all the years that they been missing.              
    The streets of Shanghai glowed to me that day, not because of any blinding marble or gleaming stone, but the hostile attitude of the city had started change, engaging in a fierce battle with a new challenger. Standing on the stoop, I saw the some of masses slowly sprinkle onto my alley decked in dark cobblestones and buildings that didn’t block the sun, but six stories leaving only a streak of light visible, no longer seeming a lifetime from where I was standing.
    At 28 years old, I had not been with my mother or father in ten years. The letter proclaiming denouncement of family was as fresh in my mind as Chairman Mao’s death, the day where I could finally take it off of the display on the wall after years of having to be prided every time I walked past it. I waited a month before quietly slipping it in a kitchen drawer.
    As I started my way into the bustling intersection, I merged with the engulfing crowds carrying me to a route that I remembered from another life, a time where I was free to think. To learn. The streets were lined with polished signs for  shops, restaurants, and markets with lights spanning overhead, red signs dangling from the sides of buildings. As I passed the herbal store the strong scent of jasmine filled my lungs. A left here, a right. People passed me and cut across me, observing the ways the streets had changed from just a year before. There, a woman with her bob cut and slim figure wearing a top on unlike anything I had seen before Deng Xiaoping came back to government - a top bright and blue, mixed with shades of purple in a decidedly Western pattern. Here, a man dressed in his factory outfit of a grey uninteresting fabric, pockets at the breast - still wearing the armband of the Red Guards, showing that he was still deevoted. As I quickened my pace, I gave a bowed head salute, no longer knowing whether or not I should be proud of being a student of Mao.
    My heart rate increased as I grew nearer to the University, newly minted signs first showing their faces. Ten years ago this path was a familiar one, and my feet took me onward to where my classes building would have been if I and hundreds of thousands of others were able to go. I never heard back as to whether or not I was accepted. By the time I was eighteen, for the short period before the schools were shut down for good, the only studies were that of Maoism, and of how Red we could possibly be. The last year of High School was filled with repetitive phrases of how Chairman Mao was the ultimate leader of our China, drilled into our minds until it was unquestionable fact.
    As I rounded another corner, I turned to see the vast buildings looming above me. The sign for Tsinghua University was no longer recognizable through all the sheer uncare and disuse that the Cultural Revolution had done to the college - the  remnants of condemning dazibaos still visible against the new whitewash. The campus had seemed deserted when I visited earlier. Now, the torn benches lining walkways were filled with students younger than I, the messy dirt paths replaced with manicured lawn borders and patted down mulch.
    There, right ahead, was a concrete building that I had yearned for. In visible characters, taped to the wall was a sign proclaiming, ‘FIRST HIGHER EDUCATION EXAM TESTING HERE.’ Inside, the anger turned to panic - the wanting to a nervousness. Deng Xiaoping’s change of China might not stay, and these tests may be deemed as horribly black and bourgeois -- but still, I had to try. I had been deprived of ten years of my life, of being able to claim to know almost anything, of having access to a job beyond that of a steel maker, of being a citizen in a New China. There was no other time to try to reclaim a generation. I walked into the building.

The cultural revolution would not hold me any longer.

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  • April 21, 2016 - 7:09pm (Now Viewing)

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