My relationship with China is unique. You may recall that I went to China initially very soon after emerging from a ninety-day coma, with total experiential memory loss. It was as if I were born into a new family. I did not chose that family; it was chosen for me by fate. As with all families, there are good times and bad. One favours one parent over the other, one sibling over another, one period of time over another, one context of time and space over another.
As one for whom everything is at one extreme or the other – obsession or denegation – I remain, as well, bi-polar in regards to my experience in China. To describe the rapport that I have with China most simply, it is one delicately balanced between love and hate, in the most intimate of senses; not as an outsider, but as a family member, as one who underwent, who endured the entire expanse of life within the confines of that family.
I was always the black sheep, of course. I never played by the rules. I was not at all 乖，nor was I 坏。我总是不好惹的。I did not need the protection of a group, or of a crowd. Most of the time, I was alone. Fearlessly, I ventured where others in my ‘family’ dared not go. I travelled all over China, but never were my excursions approved by my 留学生办公室。I requested the time and the travel permits; I was refused. Then, disregarding all refusals, I went straight to the train station. Never, though, did I stand in line for a ticket. Instead, I bought 站台票，got on the train, got my hand slapped for not having a ticket, and there, with the train already underway, purchased my ticket. Just outside of Tianjin, at the 公安局，I told them where I wanted to go as a graduate student of Nankai University, identification in my pocket, badge proudly on my chest. Not once was I denied. Everyone got into the act, suggesting more and more places of interest. Originally, my request was to go to Shanghai to buy books as a student of 中国现代文学。The kind officers at the 公安局 understood all too well. Why would anyone deny such a reasonable request?
A month later, or two, or three, I would return to Tianjin, to Nankai, to the 留学生办公室。Showing them my travel permits to thirty cities, all officially stamped, they had nothing to say, nothing to do. School was easy. I can read; I did not require the Party line, the Party interpretation. The rest was on me – explore China for all I was worth. That is what I did.
As brazen as I was, though, I witnessed both the prettiest side of China, and the ugliest side of China. My stories would very likely shock even you.
Today, I blame history, predominantly, for the horrors of the period. Mao Zedong is a Water Snake, 水蛇，sixty years my senior. We share a soul. I know his story. He was a poet. He was a warrior. He was a revolutionary. He was brilliant. History intervened to alter his destiny dramatically. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and its accompanying fear campaigns, amongst many other twists of fortune or doom – political twists every one – rendered Mao Zedong but a bad memory in the minds of many.
I was there. I never cowered. I never hid.
Only forgiveness grants change. Today, too, as if it mattered at all in the grander scheme of things, I have forgiven China her past. I believe in her future. More than anything, I am profoundly grateful for every moment – good and not so good – that I spent in China, that I have devoted to China. I am one of the few Westerners who remained committed, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. Yes, I feel a member of the Chinese family. Still, of course, the black sheep, but her black sheep.