onsdag 6. april 2022

Watching a film about communism, I realised I had been lied to as a child in China

I was born in north-east China in a province that was particularly heavy-handed with party propaganda. I learned to march in formation before knowing how to write, and maybe even count. Every morning at school started with a flag ceremony and obligatory salutes to Mao Zedong. Textbooks were illustrated with watercolour Lenins and Stalins, drawn to look much more handsome than they actually were. The propaganda made its way home as well. I think that, even to this day, my father knows only socialist songs.

The life I’ve just described may sound extreme, but in fact it was a relatively free period in the 1990s, after the worst of our state terror and before Xi Jinping’s more recent crackdowns. We never had a democracy, but the 90s were as close to it as we ever got, and life was generally pleasant. The university where my mother taught arranged a one-room apartment for us in the city centre, within walking distance of the local Mao statue. 

Compared with today’s Chinese academics we couldn’t have been considered rich, but we were always able to buy fish, bananas and peanuts, and even Sprite and other western-branded gifts for my teachers in the hope that they would treat me well at school. I wasn’t considered patriotic enough to be class president; however, the school did allow me a young pioneer uniform when it was my turn to raise the flag.