Red Azalea Essay - Critical Essays

Anchee Min

Red Azalea

Born in 1957, Min divides her text into three parts: her childhood and schooling in Shanghai; her years as a peasant laborer at Red Fire Farm, an agricultural commune; and, finally, her years spent working on RED AZALEA, a film/opera propaganda project of Madame Mao.

Madame Mao’s operas are the unifying element in Min’s life, as well as a propagandistic technique for controlling the masses. They blare from radios and speakers everywhere in Shanghai. Min and her comrades sing these operas as they do endless arduous labor in marsh, infertile fields. Min ultimately escapes Red Fire Farm by being chosen to compete for a role in RED AZALEA, a film/opera being produced in Shanghai.

Min’s life is, she makes clear, the antithesis of the typical heroine of the propagandistic operas. She has not been an ideal revolutionary, happily conforming to all the Party’s rules, or a public persona without a personal life, lovers, romance. She is a deeply feeling, sexually awakened woman—a true rebel.

In the end, when she has lost both love and a starring role in RED AZALEA, she titles herself “Red Azalea.” This is Min’s ironic declaration that she has lived, unlike the heroine of a propagandistic opera that has never been performed, a really revolutionary life. Her story is the real story, with much joy and more pain, of human survival in the era of the Cultural Revolution.

Min’s narrative voice speaks in simple declarative sentences with concrete details and, as she matures, figurative language that expresses her intimately human story within the complexity of China’s Cultural Revolution. The true revolutionary, one must conclude, was Anchee Min.

Sources for Further Study

Library Journal. CXVIII, December, 1993, p. 136.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 20, 1994, p. 3.

Ms. IV, January, 1994, p. 68.

New Statesman and Society. VI, October 22, 1993, p. 41.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, February 27, 1994, p. 11.

The New Yorker. LXX, February 21, 1994, p. 119.

Newsweek. CXXIII, April 11, 1994, p. 76.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, December 20, 1993, p. 57.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, March 13, 1994, p. 1.

The Women’s Review of Books. XI, May, 1994, p. 1.