The Water Lily Pond


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This evocative narrative draws us into the inner life of a young Chinese peasant girl, May-ping, and her first glimmerings of youthful love and idealism under the Maoist regime in China. As she grows into a mature woman, she becomes increasingly aware of the strife around her.

An intelligent girl born into a Poor-Class family in a small village in rural China, she is, because of the Maoist policy towards such families, able to pursue her dream of going to university. To her surprise, urban snobbery and “student thought-spying” at university make it essential for her to hide her real thoughts. Such self-protection becomes especially necessary once her idealistic boyfriend Dan — a secret boyfriend because young people were forbidden to be romantically involved — is sent to a labour camp for his outspoken ways.

In her village, she learns that everything has value except the lives of girls and women. One of her childhood friends, a landowner’s daughter who because of her family’s Landlord Class, is not allowed to go to university drowns herself when forced to face an arranged marriage. Hua-Hua, a shy and gentle neighbour, hangs herself after her husband beats her brutally for not bearing him a son.

May-ping manages to survive the Cultural Revolution as a member of the Communist party who feels outside the system and keeps her inner self intact. Her story reveals how political change during the Maoist regime left its mark on ordinary people.

Employing stories within stories, the narrator carries the reader to a mythological realm to images of the resilient water lilies and the nurturing lily pond.



Publié par
Date de parution 22 octobre 2009
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EAN13 9781554587322
Langue English

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The Water Lily Pond
A Village Girl’s Journey in Maoist China
Han Z. Li
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council fo r the Arts for our publishing program. We acknowledge the financial support of the GoOernment of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry DeOelopment Program for our publishing actiOities. We acknowledge the GoOernment of Ôntario through the Ôntario Media DeOelopment Corpo ration’s Ôntario Book InitiatiOe. We acknowledge a publication grant from the UniOersity of Northern British Columbia.
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Li, Han Z. (Han Zao), 1956– The water lily pond : a Oillage girl’s journey in Maoist China/Han Z. Li.
(Life writing series) eISBN 978-0-88920-431-7
 1. China—History—1949–1986—Fiction. I.Title. II. Series PS8573.I15W38 2004 C813’.6 C2003-907133-2
© 2004 Wilfrid Laurier UniOersity Press Waterloo, Ôntario, Canada N2L 3C5 CoOer design by Leslie Macredie using a photograph by Fang Nai-ping. Text design by P.J. Woodland. Chinese calligraphy by Liu Guan-you. Printed in Canada
This is a work of metafiction. The eOents are based on facts but the characters and institutions are fictitious with the exception of known historical f igures whose actual names are herein used. Therefore, any resemblance of characters and institutions to real-life counterparts is coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieOal system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the publisher or a licence from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright). For an Access Copyright licence, Oisit> or call toll free to 1-800-893-5777.
This book is dedicated to the memory of my paternal grandmother, Wei Ju-xiang (chrysanthemum), whose teachings have shaped who I am today.
Thespirit of water lily by Zhou Dunyi, a Song Dynasty poet and mandarin Peony is dazzling with large globular red flower. Chrysanthemum is charming with alluring blossom. I love water lily more. It stands above the water though in touch with it. It is pure and clean though it grows out of mud. Its petals are pinkish white, soft, yet durable.Thunderstorms cannot destroy it. Raindrops only make it fresher and more adorable.
ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a land called Red China. Everything in it must be Red, from people’s thought to deed. Anything less Red is refo rmed; anything White or Black is denounced until red blood trickles out. This is a tale of an observant village girl, growing up by a water lily pond, interpreting and coping with this tremendous Red world.
The Water Lily Pond
ONE SOOTHINGJULY EVENINGwhile I was humming a tune to congratulate myself for being born into a Poor Class family, my grandma ushered m e to her room and told me the following story. “We should thank your great-grandpa for picking up the habit of smoking opium.” She took a match and lit the small oil lamp on her old, still-elegant dressing table. “Selling his land. Paying for his habit. Otherwise we would be in the Landlord Class.” She sat on the bedside and signalled me to sit on a wooden chair opposite her. Unlike other village women, her bed was always neatly made—with her quilt folded in a ready-to-sleep fashion. The inside cover was a home-made white cotton sheet , and the outside a faded dark blue with many lively sparrows standing in twos on small tree branches. I had learned in our history class that in the 1800 s, Britain and France sent a great deal of opium to China in exchange for gold bullion. The Chinese fought two Opium Wars, first with Great Britain between 1839 and 1842, then with Britain and France from 1856 to 1860. Defeat of the Chinese resulted in the ceding of Hong Kong to Britain and the opening of five treaty ports to foreign traders. I had not known that our family benefited from opium. After sipping some tea, my grandma continued, with a serene composure. “Your great-grandpa was a respectable schoolteacher who owned a large amount of farm land, about three hundred mu. My father was also a schoolteacher, and they were good friends. When your grandpa was three and I was six, we were engaged. A few years later, your great-grandpa started to smoke opium and became addicted to it. H e could not carry on with his teaching job and sold most of his land. Your great-grandma complained and wept constantly. In one of their bitter arguments, he broke two of her front teeth. Feeling greatly humiliated, she drowned herself in a pond. Your great-grandma was from the Song Clan, the biggest and wealthiest in the Song Village across the Han River. Her brothers were indignant. They gave your great-grandpa a good beating and burned his house. Deep in debt and poor in health, your great-grandfather sent your grandpa, who was barely nine, to work as a cowboy for a rich villager. “When he was sixteen and I was nineteen, we were married. Although your grandpa was poor and my family was much better off, an engagement was an engagement.” She sighed, a complex expression in her luminous dark eyes. Lament? Submission to fate? I couldn’t tell. Framed by night, illuminated by the oil lamp, her tender, lined face was unfathomable. Sitting with her creased hands folded neatly in her lap, her whole being was a statue of time elapsed, of legend relayed. “By 1949, we had about ten mu of farmland and a small house. Naturally we belonged to the Poor Class. Thanks to opium, your uncle had the option of going to university and working in the army. Your father joined the Party. Now you may have the opportunity to go to senior high school.” I was a fortunate girl. At the age of fourteen, I could be one of the seven, among fifty-six junior high school graduates in our class, to be chosen by the best senior high school of Mian Yang County. In 1970, eligibility to attend a senior high school depended upon grades as well as one’s family background. Fifteen of us passed the exams, but there were only seven spaces. Among the seven, at least two must be girls. I knew that my chances were good because my math was the best of all the girls and my Chinese was the second best . I also had a third advantage: my family belonged to the Poor Class. In 1949, Mao Ze-dong classified every household: the Landlord, the Middle Class, and the Poor. The landlords were the exploiting class and were the target of the proletarian revolution— they needed to be reformed into labouring people. T he Middle Class were the friends of the revolution, while the Poor Class were the revolutio naries. In terms of promotion and school opportunities, the Poor Class was the priority. Our village, Qiong-li-he, or Riverside, was right a t the centre of the Jianghan plain, an
agricultural zone stretching miles and miles through the middle of Hubei Province. The high land grew cotton, wheat, and beans, whereas the low land produced two seasons of rice. The thirty-six households in our village were either in the Poor Class or Middle Class as none was a big landowner. To provide a target for the frequent class struggle meetings, the commune leaders moved a Landlord Class family from a neighbouring brigade to our village. The Jans were arranged to live next to our house because nobody else wanted them as a neighbour. My father volunteered to have them as he was then the Party secretary of the production brigade, which was made up of ten teams or villages. The Jans had four daughters and a son. The eldest daughter, Daju, had married into another Landlord family miles away from our village. In the early 1950s, the Communists shot her father-in-law because he was the biggest landowner in the region and had exploited many poor people. Their land was distributed among the poor and later confiscated by the state. Her husband kept a diary of the events and was found out when their ho use was ransacked in 1964 during the Four Cleansing Socialist Education Movement. Fearing the harsh treatment from the Communists, he and his brother hanged themselves. Da-ju followed them a few days later. Their second daughter, Er-Ju, was married to a man who was paralyzed from the waist down. Their parents were hesitant but ErJu was willing. Since the man was injured while making bricks for the collective, his injury was a “glorious one.” He could protect Er-ju politically. Lan-ann, the Jans’ youngest daughter, was four years my senior and became one of my three best friends in my early childhood. Although she was from a Landlord Class family, I liked her the most. She was honest, tolerant, and generous. Lan’s mother had a great sense of humour. One rainy afternoon, I had broken an expensive thermometer and my mother smacked me. With tears in my eyes, I went to see Lan. Her mother offered me a snack and teased me, “May-ping, what’s the matter with you? Raindrops in your eyes?” Amused, I forgot my sorrow immediately. Dryi ng my tears with my handkerchief, I observed that Lan’s mother carried her thick hair in a rather elegant fashion—a sickle-shaped green jade pin fastened the round bun. To strengthen the will of the Poor Class revolutionaries, it was necessary to have class struggle denunciation meetings. Lan’s parents were the target at such meetings, being the only Landlord Class family in our village. In the early 1960s, I saw Lan’s parents criticized several times but none was as devastating as the one in 1964, when I was eight years old. One mo onlit evening in June, all the villagers, except the elderly and children, were summoned to the large threshing ground of the production team. A reddish ray from a small oil lamp hanging on the pole of a water pump crane signified a bad omen to me. Usually we just used the moonlight for a normal production team meeting. I squeezed through the many legs of adults to the front. Lan’s parents were kneeling down on the small earth stage. Her father’s face was anguished, her mother’s submissive. A young man named Bere jumped up in front of Lan’s parents and shouted loudly, his right arm waving in the air, “Jan Shi-yi and Yun Jiu-xian, I denounce you. Listen, why did you name your youngest daughter ‘Lan-Ann’? What was your motive? ‘Lan’ means ‘to stop,’ and ‘Ann’ means ‘entering.’ Do you mean to stop the Communists from entering mainland China? Do you dream of the return of the Kuomintang from Taiwan? You miss your lost paradise under the Kuomintang, don’t you?” Bere’s thunderous performance upset me. Pushing my way out, I looked for Lan. She was hiding at the back of the crowd. “Let’s go home,” I said gently to her. She shook her head, not looking at me. I started to resent Bere. I had some faint idea that Bere was seeking some personal gain by being so active because we all knew that he had only one eye, the other being a false one from a dog. We also knew that he was having a hard time finding a girlfriend—several times the go-between’s efforts had failed because no girl wanted to marry a One Eye. By being politically progressive, he hoped to attract the attention of a girl. A few more people denounced Lan’s parents but with milder remarks. Next the crowd shouted