Excerpt of The Long March by Sun Shuyun
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1. DRAIN THE POND TO CATCH THE FISH
Im sending you to the Army my man,
You must see the reason why
The Revolution is for us.
Im sending you to do or die.
Heres a towel I've embroidered
With all my love to say:
Revolution for ever!
The Party you must not betray!
The song pierced the silence of Shi Village, which nestled at the foot of a hill covered in thick bamboo groves. It was midOctober, 1935, in Jiangxi Province, southern China. The autumn harvest was already in and the land surrounding the village was yellow with the stubble of rice stalks, but some fields stood as if wasted, with grass sprouting in the driedout paddy, already turning brown. A few water buffalo were plodding home, only stopping when they came to their favorite place, the village pond, where they drank, ducks and geese swam, children bathed, women washed their clothes, and men asked one another about their day. Nearby stood the giant camphor tree, whose overhanging branches gave ample shelter from the rain and intense heat of the South.
Today the water buffalo had the pond to themselves, and only the village ancestor shrine opposite showed signs of life, but not with pious prayers and hypnotic chants offered to the ancestors: only the revolutionary song calling on young men to join the Red Army. Through the imposing entrance topped by greytiled eaves, boys carrying spears rushed in and out, looking solemn, as if they had been entrusted with the most important task of their lives. Two young women were putting a table and some benches outside the gate. As the song died away, more women came out, clutching shoes they were making out of cloth, calling their children, while others gathered up firewood from outside the gate, and went home to cook.
Nobody is too tired to sing! Keep up the good work! called Wang Quanyuan, the young woman who had just emerged from a house nearby. She had on a grey cotton jacket, the kind every soldier wore, tied with a rope round her waist, but its simplicity made her beauty stand out even more. She asked one woman to bring more benches, and then stopped one of the boys who was running by, and whispered something in his ear; nodding eagerly, he took to his heels.
Wang noticed the slogans on the white wall of the shrine, written in black ink but slightly washed out by the summer rain. Down with the Landlords and Evil Gentry! Long Live the Communists! Long Live the Soviet! I mustnt forget to tell them to repaint the slogans, she murmured to herself, remembering that until four years ago she had no idea what Soviet was. Someone had told her that it was a foreign shop, and others said he was the brother of a famous Communist labor organizer. A warlord definitely thought so: he had posted a notice throughout the villages, offering a reward for the capture, dead or alive, of Mr. Soviet. In the local dialect, Soviet was pronounced Suweiai, which meant we, so perhaps the Soviet was our government, she once thought. Now she was actually working for the youth and women's departments of the Soviet, a government of workers and peasants that had been set up by Mao and his Red Army in southern Jiangxi in 1931. Small as it was, with barely three million people in half a dozen counties, hemmed in on all sides by Chiang Kaishek's Nationalist troops, the Jiangxi Soviet had all the functions of a state. Wang was told that the Communist Party was working to turn the whole of China into a Soviet. That would be the day, Wang smiled, but then became very solemn. Everything hangs on tonight, she muttered to herself.
As darkness fell, the bell hanging from the camphor tree rang out. Four giant bamboo torches lit up the pond and the gate of the shrine hall. Women, and a few men, old and young, gathered with several hundred people from nearby villages, summoned by Wangs Red Pioneers. She had also sent for half a dozen militiamen from the county Party headquarters; when they finally arrived, Wang stood up and delivered her speech:
Excerpted from The Long March by Sun Shuyun Copyright © 2007 by Sun Shuyun. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.