The Execution of Mayor Yin and Other Stories from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Revised Edition
A classic of modern world literature, this collection of stories provides a vivid and poignant eyewitness view of everyday life in China during the Cultural Revolution. For this edition, Howard Goldblatt has thoroughly revised the text and updated it to Pinyin romanization. In a new introduction, Perry Link reflects on the book’s significance in the post-Tiananmen era. Twenty-five years after its first publication, The Execution of Mayor Yin has lost none of its power to move the reader, and remains unmatched as a document of the period.
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Indiana University Press
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Great collection of short stories relating the Cultural Revolution to everyday people
The Execution of Mayor Yin and Other Stories from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, by Chen Ruoxi, utilizes a number of short stories to illustrate the effects of the Cultural Revolution on the average citizens of Communist China. Each chapter tells the tale of an individual or family that has been adversely impacted by the Revolution. It also demonstrates the confusion surrounding the changes brought on by the Revolution.
The first chapter tells the story of Mayor Yin, a once respected member of the community whose pre-communist background leads to his execution. The main problem with his background was the fact that he fought for Chiang Kai-shek, even though he brought his entire military unit over to Mao Zedong’s cause.
Chapter two relates the fear parents held for their children, in this case Jing-jing, if they were caught making anti-Mao comments – even when the comments were innocent.
Chapter three describes life in a re-education camp, illustrating the waste of labor and intelligence fueled by the empty rhetoric of the Revolution, focusing in a revered scholar who now spent his time making crude kerosene heaters from scrap metal.
The fourth chapter, the story of an attractive, and possibly adulterous, young woman, serves to demonstrate how personal business became everyone’s business in the hyper-observant atmosphere of the Revolution.
Chapter five exemplifies how individuals fall into and out of favor during the Revolution, depending what faction is in power, using the “suicide” of a once respected leader of the Revolution that was forced into re-education when another group took power.
Chapter six uses the humiliation of an old man buying a fish at market – only to be forced to return that fish – as an example of stocking markets for the appearance (in this case, for an American reporter) of plentiful goods, not for consumption.
Chapter seven illustrates the isolation and loneliness returning Chinese experienced, while also showing how the perceived missteps of one’s family members impacted the individual. Geng Er is not fully accepted by Chinese society because of his time abroad, while his love interest, Xiao Jin, is considered a less than ideal bride because her parents were landlords before the Revolution.
The final chapter uses a visit by Nixon’s Press Corps as an example of Chinese policy to put on a false impression of order and cleanliness. Residents of an apartment complex are forced to voluntarily remove home-made drying racks on the off chance that a reporter will visit. One family leaves their rack up, even after repeated visits by apartment officials, nobody visits, and the drying racks are rebuilt.
The chapters are short and stand alone, allowing the instructor to use individual chapters as lessons for specific issues surrounding the Cultural Revolution. The Execution of Mayor Yin scored between 8 and 9 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level readability score, making it appropriate for high school readers. There is only one passage that could be considered inappropriate, involving salty language in chapter four. The stories found in this book give the reader real world examples of the problems associated with the Cultural Revolution. With the proper preparation, the individual stories can be used to illustrate abstract ideas in ways students can appreciate.