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Gang of One

Memoirs of a Red Guard

Fan Shen

Publication Year: 2004

In 1966 twelve-year-old Fan Shen, a newly minted Red Guard, plunged happily into China’s Cultural Revolution. Disillusion soon followed, then turned to disgust and fear when Shen discovered that his compatriots had tortured and murdered a doctor whose house he’d helped raid and whose beautiful daughter he secretly adored. A story of coming of age in the midst of monumental historical upheaval, Shen’s Gang of One is more than a memoir of one young man’s harrowing experience during a time of terror. It is also, in spite of circumstances of remarkable grimness and injustice, an unlikely picaresque tale of adventure full of courage, cunning, wit, tenacity, resourcefulness, and sheer luck—the story of how Shen managed to scheme his way through a hugely oppressive system and emerge triumphant.

Gang of One recounts how Shen escaped, again and again, from his appointed fate, as when he somehow found himself a doctor at sixteen and even, miraculously, saved a few lives. In such volatile times, however, good luck could quickly turn to misfortune: a transfer to the East Wind Aircraft Factory got him out of the countryside and into another terrible trap, where many people were driven to suicide; his secret self-education took him from the factory to college, where friendship with an American teacher earned him the wrath of the secret police. Following a path strewn with perils and pitfalls, twists and surprises worthy of Dickens, Shen’s story is ultimately an exuberant human comedy unlike any other.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: American Lives

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

I am a first-generation immigrant and a proud American. I came to America in January 1985 as a graduate student. Like most immigrants to America, I brought with me little money ($100 to be exact) but a big ambitious heart. In the next six years, I studied very hard, supporting myself ...

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pp. xiii

First of all, I want to thank countless friends in the Big Courtyard in Beijing, in Shaanxi Province, in the 5702 factory in Xi’an, in Lanzhou, in Tanggu, and in Tianjin. I would not have survived without their friendship and help. Some people, though

Part One: Fire

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1. "Burn the Old World!"

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pp. 3-9

‘‘Wowu—Wowu—Wowu’’—the cicadas on the poplar trees outside my window had been singing their labored, slow songs for hours, and for all that time, I had been lying restlessly on a wet reed mat, sweating and waiting impatiently for my father to hum his way out the door. The summer ...

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2."Long Live the Red Terror!"

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pp. 10-18

Chairman Mao, the Great Leader, officially launched the Cultural Revolution in his May 17 proclamation in the People’s Daily, calling for the masses to smash the five-thousand-year-old Chinese culture and to rid the country of any foreign influence, in order to build a brand new communist ..

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3. "That's My Piano!"

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pp. 19-29

General Hei’s death is not the only event that still troubles my sleep these days. I was involved in another event that not only resulted in a death which left an indelible guilt in my heart, but also changed my life in subtle ways ...

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4. The Great Wall Fighting Team

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pp. 30-41

On September 1, I went to school to see if it would open as it had in previous years, and I found out quickly—even without reading the notice at the gate—that the school would not open this year. In fact, most of the teachers and school officials were gone. Some, like my math teacher Mr. ...

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5. "Revolution Means Chopping Life"

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pp. 42-47

The disastrous retreat from Beijing University seemed to be the harbinger of a run of back luck that descended upon our proud Great Wall Fighting Team. I knew theword ‘‘revolution,’’ ge ming, literally means ‘‘chop life,’’ but I had thought it ...

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6. The Forbidden Books

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pp. 48-52

One day after breakfast, tired of going out to read wall posters that had become tasteless to me, I took out the big picture book with naked women that I had taken from the doctor’s house and tried, for the hundredth time, to entertain myself with those stimulating pictures. Flipping ...

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7. The Great Leader Meets the Red Guards

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pp. 53-61

During the time I shut myself up in my room reading forbidden books, a significant change had occurred in the Cultural Revolution. In the summer of 1967, the second year of the revolution, the Great Leader issued a decree to unite all warring factions of the Red Guards and instill ...

Part Two: Earth

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8. The Journey West

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pp. 65-71

It took me many years to figure out the possible reasons why the Great Leader sent me and millions of Red Guards to remote villages to live as peasants, which caused great destruction to the rural economy and brought enormous misery to our young lives. It must have been another ...

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9. The Beijing Kids

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pp. 72-80

We arrived at the headquarters of the Dragon Gorge Commune the next morning. Uncle Cricket met our group in the commune’s courtyard.He was the Party secretary of the Third Production Team, and was here to take us to his village.He was probably no more than fifty years of age but ...

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10. "Be a Revolutionary Peasant!"

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pp. 80-86

My wish to escape the village did not come to pass quickly, but I soon learned to ease the harsh labor and to make my existence in the village more tolerable. For this I owe infinite gratitude to Smoking Devil, who had emerged as the spiritual leader of our group and had taught us various ...

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11. The Great Mountain Flood

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pp. 87-95

The day after I received Baby Dragon’s letter, I went to see Uncle Cricket in the village office after work. ‘‘Uncle Cricket,’’ I said with a big smile. ‘‘You have taught me many great revolutionary ideas and I certainly would like to learn more, like Big Quilt has done with you.Would you ...

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12. The Barefoot Doctor

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pp. 96-101

The water eventually receded, but my fortune began to rise. Three weeks after the great mountain flood, Uncle Cricket rewarded me for my pig catching effort and nominated me to be the village ‘‘barefoot doctor.’’ Armed with a letter from Uncle Cricket, I left for the headquarters of the ...

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13. Moon Face

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pp. 102-105

The winter after the great mountain flood was especially long and harsh. With Smoking Devil and Water Buffalo gone and knee-deep snow and ice having closed off the roads, life in our small crowded cave-room was slow and sometimes boring. There was little to do and few patients to ...

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14. Smoking Devil's Wedding

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pp. 106-108

Toward the end of the fourth year, the Beijing Kids began to leave the villages. Some were sent to vocational schools; others were recruited by local factories. Anything was better than the harsh life in the villages, and everybody was glad when his chance to leave came. Several people from ...

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15. The Death of Uncle Cricket

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pp. 109-117

Shortly after Smoking Devil’s wedding, Uncle Cricket sent me to the construction site at the Three Red Flag Reservoir. I had been assigned to a six-month tour of duty as a barefoot doctor there, and I was glad for the change. In additional to the benefit of escaping Uncle Cricket’s boring ...

Part Three: Metal

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16. A Mouse Wants to Fly to the Sky

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pp. 121-126

The No. 8 Workshop of the East Wind Aircraft Factory to which I was assigned was a large concrete building, the size of a soccer field, where jet engines for MiG-16 fighters were assembled. More than anything else, the workshop reminded me of a hospital: it ...

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17. Li Ling

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pp. 127-133

The Chinese have a saying: There would be no books if there were no coincidences. And that was what flashed through my mind one Saturday afternoon in the factory’s puny library, a single room that contained little more than a few technical magazines. It was my habit to come here after ...

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18. "Another Jumped Last Night!"

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pp. 134-139

After I began working in the same building as Li Ling, we spoke almost every day, and our conversations gave me great pleasure. Sometimes we saw each other twice a day, in the morning and during the afternoon break. I lived for these conversations.When I came back from a talk with ...

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19. The Year with Two Augusts

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pp. 140-145

New Year’s Day 1976 was bitterly cold. The sky was gray and a strong northeast wind howled all day. A mighty Siberian storm had crossed the border and swept southward, freezing and paralyzing much of China, marking the beginning of a year that would bring the country unprecedented ...

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20. "The Goal: Join the Party!"

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pp. 146-152

To keep my mind from thoughts of Bean Sprout and the terrible dreams, I studied even harder, spending all my spare time on books. I made good progress when I completed my apprenticeship at the end of the third year: I had mastered high school mathematics and physics and had even ...

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21. "Confession Is Death!"

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pp. 153-164

My failure to join the Party threw me into a depression that lasted several weeks. All those months of political activism, all those revolutionary diaries, the hundreds of pages of applications, the countless hours of torture at confessional meetings—all of it wasted. In those depressed ...

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22. The Lucky Eleven

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pp. 165-173

‘‘This dinner is to make up for the one you missed at the Moon Festival,’’ Little Lenin said, standing up and holding a cup of liquor in front of him. ‘‘Let me be the first to toast Fan Shen’s safe return. Everybody, bottoms up!’’ ‘‘We were really worried when ...

Part Four: Wood

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23. The Heavenly White Pagoda

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pp. 177-185

I arrived at Lanzhou Station on a bright morning in February 1978 in an elated mood. I would be in a university, the place I had been dreaming of for so long. For six long and grueling years I had been struggling for this day, and I had won. On that day I felt that I was truly happy for the first ...

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24. "Two Uncles Are Here to See You"

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pp. 186-198

Wherever I went, I seemed to have a knack for befriending ‘‘dangerous’’ people and getting myself into serious trouble with the government. In the countryside, I befriended Moon Face, the landlord’s son; in the aircraft factory, Fountain Pen, the anti-revolutionary who was executed; and now in ...

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25. "Clever Zhao's Missing!"

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pp. 199-203

The Democracy Wall Movement, which Uncle Blubber wanted me to spy on, started quietly in Beijing in 1979, like a hungry mosquito landing noiselessly on a content, unsuspecting pig. In January, to commemorate the late premier Zhou Enlai, who had died in the year of double Augusts, ...

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26. The Nun

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pp. 204-209

Clever Zhao died in the second semester of our sophomore year, and so did my interest in politics.Never get involved in politics again, I told myself after his funeral.More than ever I sought refuge in books; I became particularly interested in English novels and began writing a novel myself. Because of my ...

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27. The Monster of Ambition

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pp. 210-216

In my junior year, after the crackdown on the democracy movement and the closing of the church,my life in college reached its lowest point.Ventures into political reform had been thwarted and avenues for exploring the religious aspects of life had been closed. Even with all the books ...

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28. The Last Battle in College

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pp. 217-224

Now that I had lost the battle to obtain a passport, I had to plunge into the other battle that had been looming in front me: my job assignment. Our class had entered its last semester. We all knew the importance of the long anticipated event. Some people had been positioning ...

Part Five: Water

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29. "Forget It!"

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pp. 227-233

After a brief visit to my parents and sister in Beijing, I went to Tianjin on August 1, 1982, to report for my job. The easy one-hour train ride from Beijing to Tianjin was pleasant and fast, and I got off the train in high spirits and boarded a bus, which took me to a place called Hui Dui ...

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30. Watery Stool, No Bacteria?

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pp. 234-240

I must have caught a cold after my conversation with Medicine Jug that night. Dejected and exhausted, I walked for hours through the deserted streets in a chilly breeze mixed with drizzle, thinking about my bleak future. The next day, my fourth day in Tanggu, I had diarrhea. I went to the local hospital. The doctor ...

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31. A Stinking Stone from the Outhouse

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pp. 241-246

Shortly after my letter-writing campaign, I opened up another front in my secret war against the Party. I started a weekly visit to each of the heads of the Tanggu campus. I knew that obtaining local consent was crucial. Squash Face had made it clear that the college would never approve ...

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32. "You Have Launched a Satellite!"

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pp. 247-253

Despite the euphoric effects of my nightly performances, the psychological warfare was not without toll on me as well. It was hard not to be genuinely angry with the stone-hearted bureaucrats. Sometimes my anger at being held as the collateral of their misery and my fear of being trapped ...

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33. "I'm the Only One Who Reads Your Letters"

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pp. 254-257

If I was surprised that I single-handedly ‘‘launched a satellite’’ in Tanggu, I was even more surprised when I bumped into Li Ling in the National Art Gallery in Beijing, just a month after my transfer to the main campus. I had not seen her since we left the East Wind Aircraft Factory ...

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34. The Campaign for a Passport

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pp. 258-265

After winning the transfer battle and settling down in Tianjin as a teacher, I began to transform myself into a new person. There was no need to pretend to be an invalid any more. To regain my health, I threw myself into a rigorous exercise program: running four miles every morning, ...

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35. "Savor It"

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pp. 266-270

I had seen very little of Li Ling in the past few months, having been busy pursuing connections in order to obtain my passport.When I finally saw her in October, after I received the passport, I was shocked to see how pale and thin she was. She was practically a skeleton, wearing a loose-fitting ...

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36.Don't Laugh Yet!

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pp. 271-279

In late November of 1984 I received my visa from the American Consulate. But I felt no sense of relief. There was no celebration, no looking back, no wild elation. Any such reaction would be bad luck. China was a highly unpredictable country: too many people celebrated prematurely, ...

In the American Lives Series

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pp. 281

E-ISBN-13: 9780803204119
E-ISBN-10: 0803204116

Page Count: 282
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: American Lives