Red Azalea

by Anchee Min

Hardcover, 1994




Pantheon (1994), Edition: 1st, 306 pages


Biography & Autobiography. History. Multi-Cultural. Nonfiction. HTML: A revelatory and disturbing portrait of China, this is Anchee Min's celebrated memoir of growing up in the last years of Mao's China. As a child, Min was asked to publicly humiliate a teacher; at seventeen, she was sent to work at a labor collective. Forbidden to speak, dress, read, write, or love as she pleased, she found a lifeline in a secret love affair with another woman. Miraculously selected for the film version of one of Madame Mao's political operas, Min's life changed overnight. Then Chairman Mao suddenly died, taking with him an entire world. This national bestseller and New York Times Notable Book is exceptional for its candor, its poignancy, its courage, and for its prose which Newsweek calls "as delicate and evocative as a traditional Chinese brush painting." From the Trade Paperback edition..… (more)


½ (285 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member cestovatela
In 1966, Chairman Mao and his wife Jiang Ching launched the Cultural Revolution, a mass purge of the Communist Party and a veiled attempt to revive Mao's dying personality cult. The doctrines of Mao became a religion, armies of school children joined Mao's Red Guards, and thousands of
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"intellectuals" were tortured, imprisoned, publicly humiliated or exiled.

This was the backdrop for Anchee Min's childhood. Poor and initially rejected by her classmates, she used her intellect to gain respect by becoming the leader of her school's Red Guards. Her position left her vulnerable to manipulation by senior Communist officials and at the age of 12, she was forced to publicly denounce a beloved teacher at a show trial. This was the first of many occasions when desire for recognition required her to renounce her humanity. These sections struck me the hardest -- Min was exactly the kind of hungry overachiever I was and it's chilling to see how easily teachers and Party members make young children complicit in their evil. I have no doubt that a younger version of myself would have done exactly as Min did.

This is a powerful example of show-don't-tell writing; Min never needs to step back and explain the inhumanity of Communism or the heartbreak and insanity that went with it. It's right there on the pages every time Min is criticized as a "burgeois individualist" for taking a solitary cigarette break. This is a passionately written, surprisingly erotic memoir that reads like a novel. I recommend it for everyone.
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LibraryThing member chorn369
In the West we have a vague idea of the violent mayhem of the Cultural Revolution in China (1964-1976). Millions likely died, directly or indirectly because of the policies of Mao and the politburo. Any dream, ambition or desire that could be characterized as reactionary was mercilessly crushed by
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party cadres. Even sex was generally regarded as "anti-revolutionary."

Anchee Min somehow survived this upheaval and its aftershocks, first in an agrarian labor camp and later as a film star in Jiang Chang's (Mao's second wife) opera school. While life at the school was certainly less physically punishing, both places were filled with rivals and spies ready to turn the slightest indiscretion into a harsh, penalizing offense. An atmosphere of rampant paranoia and utter, stifling banality permeated the labor camp and the school, and undoubtedly China entirely.

Anchee Min managed to cultivate a scrap of sensuality and sexual appetite while suffering; first with a woman at the labor camp, and later with an effeminate male director at the opera. What is also astounding is that Anchee escaped China in 1982, immigrating to the U.S. I'd love to read about what happened in the two-year span when she made the decision to leave China and landed here.

This is where the book ends abruptly, but somehow it feels right. Her prose moves along in short, matter of fact, desperate sentences that evoke the wrenching unpredictability of circumstances. Your life is not yours to decide what to with; this is a world rife with people who will do this for you, One minute you could be swinging a pick 14 hours a day in a rice swamp. The next you could be the star of the opera. Tomorrow you could be sent back to the labor camp or scrubbing toilets at the theater (if you're lucky). Imprisonment or possibly even execution awaits you if you're caught having sex.

Anchee Min is a hero not just because she survived and escaped this terrible period, but because she risked everything by not subsuming her natural sexuality and sensuality. This book is a paean to that idea, that no political or social system can crush this craving that possibly keeps us alive.
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LibraryThing member mattviews
Anchee Min has created a powerful sense of life in China during its darkest period: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The year was 1966, revolution powered by the Red Army just began to crumple the country. 9-year-old Min was the most excellent student in her grade for her revolutionary
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mind. She had memorized Mao's Little Red Book, secretively criticized her parents' reactionary (counter-revolutionary) behaviors, sang heroic operas raved by Jiang Ching (Madame Mao) and was selected as the head of student Red Guard. Utterly ignorant of the revolution's poignant consequence, Min, afterall, was too young to understand the meaning of public criticisms and purges. Manipulated and brainwashed by the Party members at her school, Min openly criticized and betrayed her most favorite teacher by accusing her as being a spy from the United States.
At the age of 17, Min was told that she needed to be a model to the graduates as a student leader. The ambitious I'll-go-where-Chairman-Mao's-finger-points attitude stirred Min's heart and made her eager to devote herself in hardship at the Red Fire Farm. Upon cancelling her residency in Shanghai, along with million other youths Min joined the Advanced 7th Company to plant rice in leech-filled water along the eastern coast. There Min finally caught up with the terror and hardship of Mao's ambitious revolution. She befriended with and eventually worshippped and fell in love with Party commander Yan. Here Min contrasted the dark horror of Communist China, the purges and the criticisms with her own desirous passion. She picked fight with the deputy commander Lu who diligently sought to catch Yan's mistakes. The secret meeting with Yan at the brick factory, the fondling and cuddling in bed under the mosqutio net-such personal desires are politically dangerous that the culprit could be rewarded a death sentence. Min was then engaged in an affair with the "Supervisor" who directed the revolutionary film Red Azalea. After Cultural Revolution and the arrest of Jiang Ching, pro-Revolutionist like Min was labeled. She continued to work as a set clark at the film studio. The Party sent her younger sister Coral to the Red Fire Farm in order to fulfill the peasant quota for each family. She was not granted sick leave even though she caught TB. "My despair made me fearless", noted Min. She decided to fight for permission to leave not only the film studio but the country. The year was 1984. At the age of 27, Min immigrated to the United States. *Red Azalea* is her powerful memoir-a joltingly honest testimony to life in China under Mao. The prose is haunting, heartbreaking, and erotic.
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LibraryThing member autumnesf
Another true story about a woman who grew up during the cultural revolution. These are really amazing stories and I cant believe the things people lived through.
LibraryThing member xieouyang
utilizing very poor and bad prose, Anchee Min manages to convey the extreme suffering conditions of the Chinese people during Mao's Cultural Revolution. Although there are much better books on the cultural revolution, her experiences as a potential opera singer are somewhat unique.
But, without a
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doubt, it is the most poorly wrriten book I've ever read.
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LibraryThing member anterastilis
It only took me a few days to get through this book. I have to say, it didn't really cut into me like some of the other books I've read this year. I enjoyed the historic aspect of it - but I was left wanting more. Perhaps I should stop and consider this - I had the same problem withThe Birth of
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Venus. Stop reading historical novels unless they're more historical than novel!!!! I wish that I could have been given the same advice as I give at the end of this review.

This book takes place during the Cultural Revolution. Anchee Min is one of the Red Guard youth - Mao came into power when she was tiny, so she grew up knowing nothing other than the Chairman. She grew up in this strictly regimented world, she is the representative from her family to go and work as a peasant on one of the giant farms.

This is an autobiographical work, which of course means that there's no real beginning, end, or happy little story arc with all the loose ends neatly tied up. I wish that I had known a bit more about China during the Great Leap Forward before reading this book - I do think that this would be an invaluable supplement to anyone studying - or just interested in - the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I would suggest that a prospective reader have some knowledge of Mao, Communism, and the Great Leap Forward; otherwise this story won't be as effective and won't be much more than a semi-interesting tale.
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LibraryThing member kchung_kaching
Heartbreaking...yet deserving of a read. The lens through which the Cultural Revolution is filtered through should crack even the most stout of readers...unless you're a robot.
LibraryThing member pussreboots
A rather quick read for such a heavy subject. Min writes with an odd matter-of-factness so that all the details of her life both good and bad are given equal weight as she reports them. It is difficult sometimes to judge how things affected her. I come away feeling I have learned more about the
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Cultural Revolution but Min still remains a mystery.
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Autobiography of her youth in China as a member of the Red Guard. Choppy writing style works well here. 3.5 stars.
LibraryThing member datrappert
A compelling and very personal story of a unique experience. Well-written and definitely not something that would have been published in China. Stands out from other books about that period of time because of how personal it is.
LibraryThing member mutantpudding
Intense and interesting, im glad the author was able to write this and tell her story. However there were some very disturbing scenes and I found the animal abuse particularly upsetting so use caution. I was also uncomfortable with many of the scenes involving sex. Theres a reason I mostly read
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kids books I guess.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

306 p.; 9.25 inches


067942332X / 9780679423324
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