I loved this book when I read it.
I read it before my first trip to China – bok in hand, head phones plugged in (I even had audio cassettes of the book); Bliss. It took an enormous amount of time – this dwelling upon stories and going to the internet to look at the pictures of these women. My family was thoroughly sick of the book and possibly China by the end of it. My children learn Mandarin at school – so it may have given them some context to their second language.
I was full of it when I visited a year later. I was constantly regaling my Chinese hosts with stories of the women – and they would sit and listen. Humouring me no doubt – just another romantic or orientalist. For I was a massive orientalist – I was dissappointed in the China I was looking at. I wanted to see the China of deprivation and meagerness.
Then I wandered down into Donghua alley in Foshan. Its an old street with houses preserved from times gone by. You can see my images from that walk in this archive.
So check it out. If it doesn’t work for you – dont tell me about it.
Women of the Long March by Lily Xiao Hong Lee and Sue Wiles – Reviewed by Ann Skea – Eclectica Magazine v3n2
Of the three women whose lives Lee and Wiles follow, He Zizhen’s story is perhaps the saddest. She came from a peasant family but after joining the Communist Youth League she rose to local importance in the Party. She was seventeen when she met and married Mao Zedong. Mao divorced his first wife, Yang Kaihui (by whom he had three sons), to marry her and she was pregnant when she began the Long March with him.
At least three other women were pregnant when the they left Ruijin, but their relationships with the Communist leaders made it too dangerous for them to be left behind. All of these women gave birth during the march, sometimes in horrific circumstances, and all were obliged to leave their newborn babies behind, hoping that strangers would find and care for them. For He Zizhen, this was the second child she had to leave and, of her other four children, three died and one was brought up in Mao’s extended family. It is possible that these losses caused the mental disturbance she was later widely believed to suffer. But it is also possible that Mao’s powerful third wife, Jiang Qing arranged for her extended exile in Russia and her incarceration in a sanatorium. He Zizhen spent her last years in relative obscurity in China and died in Shanghai in 1984.
Wang Quanyuan was also of peasant origin. She joined the Communist Youth League and left an arranged marriage when her husband tried to stop her doing Communist work. She worked her way up in the Youth League and was admitted to the Party when she was twenty-one. She was one of the few women chosen to join the Long March who were not wives of the leaders. Her capture by Moslem anti-communists towards the end of the march was disastrous for her, automatically discrediting her with the Party. It took her years of hard work and a lucky meeting with Kang Keqing before she was reinstated. She is believed to be still living in Beijing.