Are there lessons in “Red Sorrow”?

Red Sorrow: A Memoir”, by Nanchu (2001), ISBN 1-55970-569-8

Imagine a world where the government closes all the schools; where the government looks the other way while bands of young thugs destroy property and beat people; where people’s lives are destroyed because of something they said years earlier.

Of course, we don’t have to imagine it – we are living it. But it could be worse.

It was much worse during China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Nanchu, a pseudonym, was a 13 year old teenage girl in Shanghai in 1966 when Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. Her memoir recounts her experiences, interspersed with elegiac descriptions of the landscapes & cities.

Her parents were long-time Communist Party members, and her father was an important figure in the university. Even so, Red Guards invaded the family home. Her father was beaten and humiliated; her mother was paraded around the district bound to a fire truck before being jailed. Then Nanchu joined the Red Guards.

How do people react in extreme circumstances? Nanchu’s honest memoir gives us pause for thought.

Two years of chaos & misery later, Mao triggered his “Up to the Mountains, Down to the Countryside” movement in which the Red Guards were dispatched to remote areas to learn from the peasants. The author believes Mao’s action was actually driven by China’s economic collapse and the resulting lack of jobs for young people. The author was eventually sent about 2,000 miles from Shanghai to a military farm on the Sino-Soviet border.

Conditions in the north were very harsh. Work was hard, rations were short, and political indoctrination was constant. While there were incidents of great kindness and self-sacrifice, there were also incidents of great cruelty. Some of the young city kids would try to escape across the border to the “paradise” of the Soviet Union. The Russians would send them back, and the Chinese Army would shoot them.

Finally, in 1973 at age 20, she was able to escape by getting selected to go to university back in Shanghai. But the university was still roiled by chaos. Education took a back seat to political indoctrination, and professors were regularly humiliated and replaced by peasant teachers. It was only after Mao’s death in 1976 that sanity began to return.

One of Nanchu’s many interesting observations is that after the Cultural Revolution came to an end, many of those who had been abused were restored to their earlier positions, and there were retributions against many of those who had been prominent in the Red Guards.

She was at last able to pursue the education she had been denied in her younger years, and in 1986 at the age of 33 she left China to pursue advanced education and a new life in the US.

One of the most moving sections of Nanchu’s memoir is her return visit to Shanghai in 1997. By then, the skyscrapers of dynamic modern Shanghai were rising – but life was still hard for members of her generation. They had missed out on education, missed out on their youth, and now found themselves around 50 years old and almost unemployable in a city & country which was changing around them. The evil that Mao did lived after him.

What can we learn from Nanchu’s experiences? That human beings are capable of great cruelty. That human beings are resilient. That people can endure the unimaginable. That the wheel turns, and those who are first shall later be last. That what happens to young people affects them for the rest of their lives.

If her experiences are any guide, today’s long Covid Lock Downs of schools and businesses will ultimately be found to have marked an entire generation.


Excellent post. I have been saying for years that the Democrats have become latter-day American Maoists. They need to be voted out of power posthaste, while it is still possible to do so.


Is it still possible to do so? I, for one, believe it is more likely than not (a preponderance of the evidence) that Biden’s ‘victory’ resulted from manufactured mail-in votes in the key states. It only took a few thousand in a handful of states. The timing of just when enough votes appeared is highly suspicious, along with documented shenanigans at various city polling places. Who was it who said: “Who votes doesn’t matter. Only who counts the votes”.