TeenLit Book Reviews

October 2000

China’s Son

Da Chen

It’s the year 1962. Your eyes open, revealing dried yams, chopsticks and eager eyes all subsumed within the obscure town of Yellow Stone in Southern China . Like every other baby you enter the world armed with a bag of opportunities, or do you? It was acrimonious, a pot spitting its contents, and began in 1966 – it was termed the Cultural Revolution and tarred many a person within the population with the epithet ‘bad’. Your ancestors were land lords, people many cocked a snook at due to Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s ideas which the wealthy and poor “pro-revolutionists” alike drank like adages. Thus your fate has been donned; you are to become nothing more than a farmer. That life was to be lead by Da Chen, the protagonist and writer of this book. The book is a memoir of his youth and what become of demure Da with nothing but drawbacks lacing every bridge. Da has four siblings of which he was the youngest. His three sisters, Si, Ke and Huang, and brother Jin were forced to drop out of school due to the political reform. They, thus, turned to their only other avenue: farming. Da’s education was threatened many a time by the authorities but Da, in elementary school was the top student, and thus he remained. I was fascinated by his thirst for knowledge and his determination to complete his studies. As it’s a true story it makes one reflect on one’s own life and I can with candor admit that I as a being have grown from all that Da experienced. One also discovers the acerbic antics of this so called revolution , in that for e.g. Da was the only member of his entire school who was banned from joining the Little Red Guard’s , a communist organization for the youth . I was angered by many of the goings as I’m confident any reader would be for e.g. intellectuals were the tortured refuse of China . The people lived in a commune and many fathers’ either farmed the land or, as Da’s did, were responsible for “mining” it.- many books are either set in England, America or Australia and this location informs one of the inhabitants’ cultural and living conditions during that period in history. During Mao’s reign he fed his people with the idea that education was of no relevance and thus Da, the shunned ‘enemy’ of china, reverted from a student of note to an insouciant smoker, drinker and gambler. At one period in his school career he had not a friend and when he did eventually make friends they cared not about his family being landlords as all the others had. Da was integrated into their “family” and soon adopted their ways – the result was that school hibernated lying dormant until the death of Chairman Mao. A death which sparked ideas about education and suddenly there was this lust for knowledge. College became ‘the’ fad and examinations were being held in search of 100 possible applicants. These could be of any age and political background. If one was accepted you were made as the government was willing to pay for your tuition and there was a promise of a job. Da’s studies lay in taters as before Mao went on his “vacation” academics meant nothing and after all he was the grandson of a landlord, a nothing. What becomes of this boy will amaze you – I know I was juggling tears and smiles at the end of this book. I think it’s quite controversial to pin a rating on such I book as it greatly depends if this book’s attributes will interest you. For e.g. if you are a fanatic of soppy romance novels don’t attempt it and if the book had to be rated by such a person the rating would be rather low. However, I am a lover of history and could drown in other’s cultures. Bearing that in mind I dub this book with a rating of 4 (on a 1-4 scale). If you wish to leave home and travel back in time without incurring the expense of a ticket or magical portal this book is for you. The diction is of a basic and easy to comprehend level – what a quick palatable read! From cover to cover I digested this book and the hope this book gives to any dreamer of reaching their utopia is so profound that I sincerely recommend this book.
Reviewed by Nicole. Grade: ----- in Johannesburg , South Africa , - Link directly to entry
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