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A Decade of Destruction

Dennison Qu'21

Strolling down by the nearby village, just under a mile from home, Ryan pays his usual visit to his friend’s house. It was right after school on a hot afternoon, and sweat intensely dripped down his face. On the way there, he passes by commoners going about their business. More and more hawkers had started appearing ever since the economy took a downturn last summer. He wore unwashed clothes for weeks with tears visible. Anyone could tell he was a proletariat from a mile away.

At last, he reached the steps of the small cottage. As he knocked on the door he scanned the property. His eye instantly caught the sight of cracked windows and he noticed most of the paint of the cottage had chipped away. He heard the sound of muffled footsteps and then the slow turn of the knob as the old man greeted him, “How’s it going, Ryan? Bad timing. Ming’s not home right now. He’s off running errands in town. But you’re welcome to join me. I’m just about to have dinner. It would be such a shame if you walked such a long distance for nothing.”

Nodding, Ryan takes his scuffed shoes off and follows the man to the kitchen. Inside, the house was like an oven; no AC, no fans. Just what you’d expect. The man pulls a wooden chair, and Ryan takes a seat.

“Make yourself at home,” the man says while pouring tea out some tea. “You must be tired from all that walking. You’re drenched. Anyway, I heard they might cancel school. The government is thinking about revamping the entire education system[1]. What do you make of this?” Ryan patriotically responds, “Mao’s probably doing it because he wants China to be better. The westerners have forced us to trade with them since the 16th century. Then the Japanese came and ravaged our cities. [2]Only then was China able to catch a break and stabilize. We need to be stronger.” The man counters, “Yeah, but didn’t he also plunge 95% of this country into famine?[3] Do you not remember the days where it was considered lucky to have a bowl of rice for a day? Why do you still support the guy anyway? Maybe he’s envisioning something that we’re not seeing. Can I use the restroom?” The man gestures toward it.

As Ryan navigates his way to the restroom, he stumbles upon a shelf of books. The stand is the largest piece of furniture in the entire house, extending to the ceiling. The majority of the works look dull and old fashioned. He takes a closer look at one, which is noticeably thicker than the rest. He flips to the first page and sees a set of Chinese characters written in calligraphy. It translates to “Monkey King”. Was this a Chinese myth my father once told him? He remembered his father telling him stories when he was younger, of China’s imperial days. “China used to be the most powerful entity on the planet. We invented paper, gunpowder, and the compass. All three revolutionized the world. But that golden age of China is long gone”, his father used to remark. They would frequently visit history museums over the break, but he had taken very little interest in them. He places the book back on the shelf and opens the door to the small, narrow space. In the restroom, his eyes widened, zeroing in on a painting depicting an image from ancient Chinese folklore. A combined green and red dragon is depicted in the clouds with a faint sun in the background along with a mountaintop. To the right, a man wearing a silk robe appears to try to control it. His intuition rang an alarm bell that something was off with the setting.

As Ryan makes his way back to the kitchen, he retakes a glance at the shelf. His heart races faster, and he can feel the adrenaline build-up. He approaches to find the man smoking a pipe. The words slowly escape his mouth: “I-I’m sure you're well aware of the Chairman’s new crusade, right? Probably just another one of his propaganda debacles,” the man chuckles. “Isn’t he doing a great service to China by purging old traditions? Can’t you see? He’s spearheading China into a new age.” Ryan takes a sip of the tea. Suddenly he felt that the tea was the strangest tea he had ever tasted. “The country needs to let go of its past. And the people who want to stay behind, I’d say get rid of ‘em. But those who do comply and adapt should be commended, not punished.” The man gives a stern look to Ryan. Suddenly he remembered his teachers always reminded everyone to adhere to the ideology: [4]Purge old culture. It was made clear that if one did not strictly enforce it, one could face harsh punishment and be thrown in prison along with the opposers. I can’t risk it. There is a brief moment of silence.

There’s no turning back now. In a firm voice, Ryan states, “You’re in possession of some forbidden items, are you not?” Silence follows. Finally, the agitated man responds in a nervous tone. “Yes, but-.” “The books. The paintings. I saw, no need to explain”. Ryan dashes over to the shelf and grabs the book. “I think we would both be better off if you disposed of this now.” “Wait, why are you doing this!?” Expecting this response, Ryan immediately responds, “Consider yourself lucky today. You should be glad I was the one who discovered this. I’m a nice guy. If it were some random kid on the street, I don’t know what would have happened to you.[5]”

“I think we’re done here. Listen to me and protect yourself. Next time, other people won’t be as soft as me. I can promise you that.” Ryan tosses the book on the table where the older man is still seated.

At a slightly faster pace, Ryan walks to the front entrance and puts his shoes on. As he exits, the man watches from the shattered window and sees people from afar burning something. There is a trail of smoke on the horizon. After taking a closer look and staring out the window, he abruptly closes the curtains, locks the front door, and smokes his pipe.

[1] One of Mao’s initial plans involved closing down schools. This resulted in many youth participating in the movement.

[2] Many foreign powers such as Britain, the United States, and Russia exploited China through unfair trade until early 1900. Japan invaded China during World War II, one the most notorious crimes they committed was the rape of Nanking.

[3] This event was known as the Great Leap Forward, which was a plan by Mao to rebuild the economy, but ultimately failed causing widespread famine and starvation in the late 1950s to early 60s.

[4] Mao referred to it as the four olds: Old culture, old customs, old habits, old beliefs.

[5] This younger generation of people were known as Mao’s “Red Guards” who led the movement.

Works Cited

"Cultural Revolution." History, A+E Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, Accessed 2 Oct. 2020.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, editor. "Great Leap Forward." Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, 18 Feb. 2020, Accessed 2 Oct. 2020.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, editor. "Red Guards." Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, 18 July 2016, Accessed 2 Oct. 2020.

Lieberthal, Kenneth G. "Cultural Revolution." Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, 7 Mar. 2020, Accessed 2 Oct. 2020.

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