Anchee Min is noted for her versatility as a writer. Although she was born in China after Mao Zedong’s ascension to power, Min’s early years were still comparatively middle-class. Her father, Naishi Min, worked as an astronomy lecturer until he was fired for discussing sunspots; because Chairman Mao was likened to the sun, anything implying solar imperfection was not permitted to be mentioned. Min’s mother, Dinyun (born Dai) Min, worked as a teacher.
When Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the Mins were ordered to live in a run-down communal house in Shanghai. As a teenager, Min witnessed the daily humiliation and occasional killing of adults who became victimized by the Communist authorities and the youthful Red Guards, children used by Mao to terrorize Chinese society. She also observed the daily infighting among her fellow schoolmates.
At age seventeen, Min was sent to work in the countryside. At the remote Red Fire Farm, near the East China Sea, Min labored from 1974 to 1976 under prisonlike conditions. She witnessed the suicide of a young woman who had been caught having sex with a man, and she herself had a brief lesbian affair with a Communist cadre. In 1976 Min was selected out of twenty thousand applicants to star in a revolutionary propaganda film commissioned by Jiang Qing. Shooting had hardly started at Shanghai Film Studio when Mao died in September, 1976, and his widow and her fellow Communist hardliners were deposed. In 1977 Min was demoted from actress to set clerk and even contemplated suicide.
In 1984, Joan Chen, a Chinese American actress and director who had known Min from acting school, together with Min’s aunt in Singapore, helped her to obtain a passport and leave China to study at the...
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