Mao's Lost Children
Stories of the Rusticated Youth of China's Cultural Revolution
Ou Nianzhong and Liang Yongkang, editors
Translated by Laura Maynard
2015, 398 pages, illustrated
ISBN 978-1-937385-67-5 Paper $28.00
ISBN 978-1-937385-68-2 Cloth $65.00
This is a collection of memoirs written by more than fifty Chinese who as young people during the rule of Mao Zedong were rusticated to Hainan Island to clear the jungle for rubber plantations. For the first time outside China, they tell of the fervor with which they embraced rustication, but also of the disenchantment that often followed it. They recount the hardship, back-breaking labor and hunger they suffered, but also the joys and achievements. Their stories are of families torn apart, but also of love affairs—of difficulties ingeniously turned to advantage, of self-education, entertainment and artistic endeavor improvised in a cultural wilderness, of humor and jokes in the darkest of times. They provide unique, first-hand insights into this turbulent and crucial period of China’s recent history, and are also a moving testimony to the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
“During decades of reading and reviewing books on China I have learned a great deal, even from those I didn’t like. Only a few have surprised me. Mao’s Lost Children is such a book, and those like me who believe that the Mao period was bad for China and the Chinese will also be surprised—although, as I note below, some of the surprise is negative. It starts with the cover, which shows laughing girls being drawn on an oxcart.
Since I supposed that young middle school graduates, or zhiqing, “sent down to the countryside and up to the mountains” to “learn from the peasants” must have had a bad time, I thought initially that the cover was misleading. But in this book, most of the former zhiqing recall happy, or at least nostalgic, years of rustication . . .”
“I found this collection fascinating . . .”
— The New York Review of Books