- Editor's Note
There was a moment in the Chinese Communist Party's history when the citizens of the People's Republic of China were invited to openly give their opinions of China's advanced socialist culture. At the beginning of 1957, Chairman Mao spoke to the Supreme State Conference of the PRC and launched a campaign of freedom of speech in which he not only suggested, but also insisted that the country's people—especially writers, lawyers, intellectuals, and students—boldly express their candid opinions and criticism of the Party and its policies. "Let a hundred flowers bloom / Let a hundred schools of thought contend." He promised there would be no reprisals for speaking the truth.
By summer, millions of letters had arrived criticizing the CCP and Mao himself. Thus, the Chairman discovered there were too many of what he called "poisonous weeds" among the flowers; taken aback at the outpouring of grievances, Mao called a halt to the Hundred Flowers Movement, declaring that "the snakes had been enticed out of their lairs." In the Movement's place, he initiated the Anti-Rightist Campaign to round up all the snakes. Half a million people or more were arrested, beaten, tortured, imprisoned in labor camps, or executed. Their families were also defamed and persecuted.
One of many prominent figures caught up in the Anti-Rightist purge was Zhang Bojun, the minister of communications and chairman of the Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party. Zhang was labeled the country's Number One Rightist, stripped of his ministerial post, and publicly disgraced. His family, too, did not escape the Party's wrath.
Three years after Zhang Bojun was purged, his daughter, Zhang Yihe, was admitted to the Literature Department of the Chinese Opera Academy, on track for a career in the arts. In 1963, against her wishes, she was assigned to work in an opera troupe in Sichuan province. There, she wrote a passage in her diary that, when discovered, was reported as a criticism of Mao Zedong's powerful wife, Jiang Qing. In part because of her diary entry, and because she was the daughter of Zhang Bojun, Zhang Yihe was arrested; she was convicted in 1970 of being a counterrevolutionary and sentenced to twenty years in a rural labor camp. She was released after serving ten years, following the downfall of Jiang Qing. [End Page vii]
Following her release, Zhang Yihe was allowed to work for the Sichuan Provincial Office of Culture. Later, she was hired as a researcher for the Opera Academy in Beijing, where she became a professor of theater arts. After she retired in 2001, she wrote two books of non-fiction dealing with the post-1949 lives of some prominent persons, one about several family friends and the other about well-known opera actors who had lived like celebrities before 1949. She also wanted to tell the stories of the women she had met in prison. She cast this work about the prisoners as fiction, but her novellas are thinly disguised memoirs; the protagonist in the stories is named Zhang Yuhe. The third of her novellas, The Woman Zou, is translated here by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping for the first time in English. Their translations of her previous novellas were published for the first time in English in Red Peonies, the winter 2016 issue of Mānoa.
The Woman Zou is set in a women's labor camp deep in the rural mountains. Some of the inmates, like Zhang Yuhe, are educated political prisoners, convicted of being "class enemies." Most inmates, however, are illiterate peasant women. Zhang Yuhe learns to survive by gradually becoming hardened by prison life. But she also experiences a liberation from her former, naïve life, in which it was possible to trust people not to denounce their friends and coworkers to the police. Over the course of the story, she befriends fellow prisoner Zou Jintu, whom she comes to cherish for the rest of her life. The story of their binding relationship forms one strand of the novella. Another strand tells the story of Zou Jintu's upbringing—her mother, father, and their devoted maid, Liu Jiu—and...