Written by Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro in 1983, the book Son of the Revolution is a classical masterpiece, which highlights the tribulations of the Chinese people during the Mao’s regime. The book is a first-person narration where Liang explores the challenges of growing up during a revolution.
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The book points to a strong political influence dotted with violence ignited by the Chinese Communist Party in its quest to gain unparalleled control over the government at the expense of ordinary citizens like Liang. The Communist Party engineers numerous campaigns, which end up hurting Liang’s family ultimately. The book has 22 content-filled chapters, but they can be grouped into three broad categories.
Primarily, chapters 1 to 8 major on Liang’s puerility coupled with the damnation that often befalls him simply because his mother is seen as an anti-communist from the right wing of the political divide. This labeling occurs in 1957 following the ‘Flowers Campaign’ where Liang’s mother has to contend with public humiliation.
In a bitter turn of events, Liang’s father divorces his humiliated wife, but the author is quick to point out that his father’s move is meant to protect the other family members from being dragged into the politics and mortification directed towards their mother. Liang’s grandma passed on in 1960, and this unfortunate occurrence exposes the vagaries of famine immediately after the Great Leap Forward.
In a series of misgivings, a political affright grips the entire community in 1962 after the resurfacing of Chiang Kai-shek, which forces Liang to flee to the rural areas where he experiences the life of a peasant.
He later returns to the urban center only to meet corruption for the first time after he is forced to buy his membership in the Young Pioneers club. The group is dubbed an ‘elite association,’ but Liang, despite coming from an ‘outsider’ background, buys his way into it. After this first bribery encounter, Liang exposes how corrupt the Chinese society is at the time.
In the fourth chapter, Liang highlights the impacts of the Cultural Revolution of 1966 on his life.
In a gripping narration, the reader encounters the moral stress of the revolution on young Liang coupled with the general sad story of the 20th century China. The communist leader, Mao Zedong, regrettably adopts the Cultural Revolution vendetta to defeat his fellow members of the Communist Party who differ with his extremist approaches concerning the remaking of China as a nation.
In essence, the revolution is turning against itself as the different factions within the Communist Party wage relentless war on one another. In a blind and poorly thought move, Mao authorizes the vernal Red Guards to take charge and run his ever-growing movement.
Unfortunately, the new group of power hungry brood of inexperienced leaders turns their machinery against the Communist Party, which is the very organization they should be protecting and building. This tragic turn of events destroys the party’s structure, its cohesiveness, its governance, and partly, its army, the PLA.
Throughout chapters 1 to 8, Liang is always attracting conflict, perhaps due to his parents’ stand against Maoism and communism. In chapter six and seven, Liang’s father is at the center of controversy due to the Cultural Revolution. One night Liang’s elder sister comes home and breaks the news that she has joined the Red Guard.
She explains, “Every night we go to a series of homes and go through every book, every page to see if there’s any anti-Party material…We have to check all the boxes and suitcases for false bottoms and sometimes pull up the floors…” (Heng and Shapiro 68).
Ironically, after the confession of what the sister is involved in with the Red Guard, Liang’s family suffers a similar raid because the father is viewed as a ‘stinking intellectual’ who sees or hears nothing good about Maoism. In chapter eight, Liang runs away to the rural areas to avoid the ever-growing terrors in Changsha, where he has all along been a victim.
In chapters 9 to 16, Liang makes a return to the city, where he finds numerous opportunities to participate in the Cultural Revolution movement. In chapter 9 and 10, Liang explains how he joins the Cultural Movement despite his background and moves to Beijing to meet Mao.
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His decision to join the Red Guards does not go down well with his father; nevertheless, the reenergized Liang discovers who he is coupled with the role he can play in the politics of the time. In chapter 11, rival street gangs emerge from the disintegrating Red Guards. This disintegration heralds the breakdown of the social and political order across China in the face of amorphous affiliations who at one point, become terrorists in their own country.
Luckily, for the innocent civilians, the army gains some footing in 1967, thus subduing the bloodletting street gangs. In the ensuing years, the Communist Party starts gaining momentum with the restructuring of its structures and functions, which then reestablishes the government of the day. From this point on, Liang focuses on the long way to reconstructing China and creating a centralized form of governance and power.
Liang explores his conflict of identity. He talks of the numerous battles and humiliation instances, which lead him to question whether he is Chinese. Broadly, chapters 9 to 16 delves into Liang’s family resettlement to the rural areas where they seek to spread the Maoism doctrines.
The last broad section of the book entails chapters 17 to 22. These chapters continue to chronicle Liang’s experience. At first, this section continues to highlight Liang’s tribulations, but at one point, he emerges as a hero and a winner. All of a sudden, his star starts to shine even though the elements that make it so are causeless.
Instead of rising due to his political activities or affiliations as politics dictate everything at the time, he shines courtesy of his physical appearances (unusual height) and his standing out as a gifted basketball player. This section highlights the rebirth of China from 1976 as the extremist Maoism doctrines start to wane with the rise of the Deng Xiaoping era. This era is characterized by market-oriented policies following the death of Mao.
The nation starts to creep into the international limelight, albeit slowly. Liang emphasizes the role of corruption in Chinese society running from the national level to ordinary citizens. In chapters 20 and 22, Liang deeply explores the role of Deng Xiaoping in making China the economic powerhouse it is today. As the author closes, he notes that Deng Xiaoping is his hero for his role in making China one of the economic giants of contemporary times.
Heng, Liang, and Judith Shapiro. Son of the Revolution, New York: Random House, Inc., 1983. Print.