Monday, July 26, 2010

Story of the Other Side

Lin Yulan had good reasons to pronounce her whole life a failure.

Her revolutionary course with the nationalists in pre-communist China, to which she devoted the heyday of her life, was denounced and forgotten in her homeland once the communist party won the civil war. She fled to Taiwan, along with other nationalist elites. Personally, the man she married to cheated on her throughout their marriage, no matter in Guangzhou or Taiwan. Worst of all, amid the chaos and despair right before they fled the mainland, her only son wandered away in the city of Guangzhou, never seen by his parents again.

Lin Yulan is one of the characters in a newly released novel, A Thread of Sky, written by Chinese American writer Deanna Fei. Although not the leading role in the novel, Lin’s story is particularly touching to me, because it made me realize that something is missing, on the part of mainland China, in the representation of last century’s revolution.

Growing up in the mainland, I have known the nationalists almost always as the bad guys, while the communists the good ones, in all kinds of representation of the revolution—novels, movies, television dramas, children’s stories, etc, with Mr. Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) being the only exception. Occasionally, the nationalists are portrayed as heroes, but usually only when they cooperated with or joined the communists. I never got to know how it was like for the individuals who belonged to the other camp, what they experienced, how they felt, and what they had to tell.

Lin Yulan’s story somehow became my first chance to gain some insights. Born and raised on the mainland, Lin rose from the countryside to join the nationalist revolution, fighting for women’s equal rights. Qiu Jin, the legendary female revolutionary who sacrificed her life to overthrow the rule of the Qing court, was Lin’s idol.

I found Lin’s passion and dedication just as strong as her communist counterparts depicted in stories popular in the mainland. They might have served different party, but they had the same goal of liberating Chinese women from cruel depression and above all, to change China.

Lin’s story is also the first one that shows me the personal distress and pain experienced by the nationalists when escaping the mainland. It was chaos, fear, and misery. Mainland stories never gave much attention to the kind of human suffering the other side lived through.

The corruption of some nationalist officials notwithstanding, thousands of individuals like Lin in the nationalist party fought, died and shed blood for the revolution: first to overthrow the Qing ruling, later to defend the nation against Japanese invasion. Their life, their struggle, their pain and sacrifice should also be recognized and remembered in mainland China, as have been done with stories of communist revolutionaries.

As mainland cultural workers increasingly try to move the focus of narrative from prominent historic figures to ordinary individuals in the communist camp, more similar stories should be devoted to the nationalists as well. The commemoration of the revolutionary achievements of the nationalists should not be limited to showing the giant portrait of Sun Zhongshan on the Tiananmen Square during the October 1 national holiday. The younger generations of China deserve to know a more accurate and complete version of the revolutionary history. To quote from the novel, “But her [Lin Yulan’s]sacrifices, even forgotten, had made a difference.”

Related article: 

For a Chinese-American Writer, Split Images of China

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