weaving through san huan lu

China’s observers tend overwhelmingly to attribute the successes and
failures of the Chinese revolution to individual leading figures. . . . [This
has] resulted in the neglect and even denial of the new social subjectivities
created through this process. . . . A reactivation of China’s legacy provides
an opening for the development of a future politics. This opening is not a
simple doorway back to the twentieth century, but a starting point.
wang hui, The End of Revolution
After all is said and done build a new route to China
if they’ll have you. Who will survive in America?
gil scott-heron
Writing a book about political traffic between black Americans and China con-
jured up my memories living in Beijing as an exchange student. There, I re-
ceived housing, meals, and genuine love and recognition from a middle- class
Chinese family my host parents, who were engineers, and my host brother,
a college student. In conversations with them I was often asked about U.S. life,
particularly about my family and African American culture and history. Much
of what my host family and neighborhood friends knew revolved around pro-
fessional basketball (Qiaodan!) and popular culture (Maike’er Jiekexun!). And
in turn, I learned a great deal about them.
A conversation that stands out was one night my host mother and father
briefly detailed their family’s and friends’ personal travails during the Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution. During the early 1970s, they and hundreds of
thousands of other students and youths left their homes, families, and edu-
cations to live in rural areas and experience sixiang gaizao (ideological remold-
ing): to learn what it would mean to surrender property, dwell in economically
underserved areas, and work as common laborers alongside the poor. The idea
was that in these educational and professional spaces, young people could give
up their social and material privilege and learn from those people below them
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