How did the relationship between the narrator and Zhu Wenli change over the course of Ha Jin's short story "A Decade" from his collection Under the Red Flag?

In the beginning, the narrator looked at Zhu Wenli with suspicion. Her teacher seems too fragile and bourgeois to embody the characteristics of the revolution. At the end of the story, things have changed. The narrator now seems remorseful of her poor treatment of her teacher and her transformation into an indelicate person.

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"A Decade," the final story in this collection, consists of the narrator's memories of her former school teacher, Zhu Wenli. When she first came to teach at the school, the narrator and her classmates viewed the teacher with suspicion. During China's Cultural Revolution, delicate feminine beauty was not something to...

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"A Decade," the final story in this collection, consists of the narrator's memories of her former school teacher, Zhu Wenli. When she first came to teach at the school, the narrator and her classmates viewed the teacher with suspicion. During China's Cultural Revolution, delicate feminine beauty was not something to be admired. Rather, it was meant to be feared and reviled. This was a time when the country was rebuilding itself and strength was to be admired above all else. Zhu Wenli appeared too weak, timid, and submissive to embody the traits of a true revolutionary.

Zhu Wenli taught music. Songs and dances in praise of the national spirit and Chairman Mao made up the curriculum. The narrator notes that she did not think her teacher a fitting singer of these songs. Songs of strength require boldness and passion. Zhu Wenli's voice was much too soft for this. Therefore, the narrator and her classmates considered themselves better singers than their teacher. However, they still admired her skill as a dancer even if they thought her style to be too elegant and fragile to express national strength.

Over the course of the story, the narrator seems to discover the nuances about her teacher's identity. She learned about her fondness for Uighur folk music and her background as part of a capitalist family from Shanghai. When the narrator and some friends stumbled upon Wenli's love affair with another teacher, things got worse for the teachers. They are condemned for their "bourgeois lifestyle" and publicly shamed. The narrator seems to have noticed the toll this took on her teacher. While she does not directly say so, she seems to have felt some pity for her teacher.

Zhu Wenli really rankled her students when she contradicted Mao's accusation that Americans and Russians were dirt. She told her students that that is just a metaphor. However, the students, including the narrator, saw this as an affront to Mao. When Wenli was sent away as a result, the narrator was pleased. As she put it, being sent away to be reformed through hard labor "was almost a natural thing."

Years later, the narrator is back in the town. She feels remorse for her role in Zhu Wenli's dismissal and wants to apologize. When she finds her former teacher, the narrator is shocked by what she sees. Zhu Wenli is no longer the delicate feminine person she once was. She is now a large, gruff, and rough-looking person. There is no longer any of the tenderness in her that the narrator remembers. The narrator ends the story feeling hatred and misery over what the regime has done to her former teacher.

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In the story, the author reminisces about Dismount Fort, the small town where she attended elementary school in the 1960s. After a decade, she returns for a visit but finds country life dull. At night, she passes her time by reading books and magazines and writing her boyfriend. It is while reading a narrative poem in an issue of Youth magazine that she remembers her elementary school teacher, Zhu Wenli, a young female teacher who taught at the school eleven years before.

The narrator remembers that Zhu Wenli was a pretty and delicate recent college graduate when she first taught at the school. Her features were exquisite, 'lacking the stern looks of a woman soldier,' and 'her voice was much too soft and too weak for those revolutionary songs' the children had to learn how to sing. Chairman Mao's words were gospel at that time, and the narrator learned to scoff at her teacher's fragile sweetness. After all, the children were being taught that 'sweet flowers are poisonous.'

As history bears out, Mao had no patience for delicate female attributes such as the ones Zhu Wenli possessed. Mao's ambitious agricultural five-year plans depended upon brute labor from both men and women for successful implementation. Therefore, it was not unusual for elementary students to be taught to hold all beauty in suspicion. Mao himself taught that all sex and romance was a corrupt bourgeois practice; in fact, the ages for marriage for both men and women were pushed back by the regime (to 25 years of age for women and 28 years of age for men).

In the story, the typical regime practice was to inform on those considered disloyal to the Communist government. When the narrator and her friends come upon Zhu Wenli singing an Uigar folk song, one of them immediately reports her. Later, when Zhu Wenli and Miao Jian (the class teacher) are caught in a sexually compromising position, both suffer the consequences of their dalliance. Miao is immediately sentenced to hard labor in the fields while Zhu Wenli is openly shamed and mocked by the students for her supposed debauchery (as defined by the Communist Party).

Later, when Zhu Wenli makes the mistake of admitting that the Russian Revisionists and American Imperialists are still human (despite Mao's assertion that they are dirt), she is sent to labor camp to atone for her capitalist 'sins.' Once again, Zhu would not have gotten into trouble if her students had not reported on her, this time to the Workers' Propaganda Team.

The story takes a sad turn when the narrator tries to visit Zhu Wenli after a decade. As mentioned above, the narrator is visiting Dismount Fort; while there, she attempts to look in on her old teacher. When she comes across her arguing with a woman on East Street, the narrator can hardly recognize her former, pretty teacher. At present, Zhu Wenli is no longer attractive nor delicate. The narrator is shocked by Zhu Wenli's 'thick body and fleshy face.'

All the tenderness and innocence which had marked that face was now replaced by a numb, stony look. Even her voice had changed too, full of scratchy metal.

The cruelty of the labor camps have transformed Zhu Wenli into a caricature of what she used to be. The narrator finds herself overwhelmed by 'a kind of hatred rising' in her for what the Communist regime has reduced her former teacher to. Overwhelmed with sadness, the narrator sheds tears of misery and walks away without greeting her teacher. The relationship changes, but it is a negative change. Fairly or not, the narrator has lost any feelings of admiration she once held for Zhu Wenli.

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