Anchee Min Red Azalea
Born in 1957, Min is a Chinese-born memoirist now living in the United States.
Recounting Min's coming of age and sexual awakening in Communist China during the 1960s and 1970s, Red Azalea (1994) details how the private lives of individuals were affected by the political indoctrination that permeated Chinese society under the regime of Chairman Mao Tsetung. A series of vignettes related through Min's precise and sparse language, Red Azalea begins with Min as a child; she cares for younger siblings in a dilapidated, multi-family dwelling, while her parents work long hours in a factory. Min also works diligently at school, becoming one of the best students in her class. However, her faith in Mao's vision for China is severely tested when she is forced to denounce one of her favorite teachers. In 1974 she is sent to a youth camp, an assignment that separates her from her family and introduces her to a life of intense, regimented labor in which individual needs are sacrificed for the sake of the Revolution. Despite threats of punishment, including execution, Min develops an attraction for one of her female comrades. Sustained through the hardships at the camp by her love of Revolutionary operas, Min is unexpectedly selected as an actress for the government's musical productions and propaganda films. Apparently destined for a leading role in the Cultural Revolution, she engages in a surreptitious affair with a man known as the "Supervisor," who helps her attain the leading role in Red Azalea, a film about the life of Mao's wife, Comrade Jiang Qing. Min's harsh but upwardly mobile path collapses with the death of Mao in 1976, and she is immediately demoted to a custodial position in the studio where she had recently been a leading actress. In 1984, nearly penniless and able to speak little English, Min came to the United States under the sponsorship of a fellow actress who had previously immigrated. She began writing Red Azalea as an assignment for an English class, and over the course of seven years she worked through the painful psychological toll of her experiences in Communist China. Critics have applauded the book as an important case study of the Cultural Revolution's impact on average citizens. Although some reviewers disliked her short, sharp sentences and her use of anglicized Chinese names, others praised the stark bluntness of Min's story and the power of its language. As Laura Shapiro and Karen Springen have argued, "much of [Red Azalea's] strength lies in [Min's] prose, as delicate and evocative as a traditional Chinese brush painting."