This photo was taken when I was about 14 years old, in junior middle school. When I look back at the three not very eventful years of my junior middle school from 1978 to 1981, there was only one thing that affected me deeply.
As I have shared in my article “Banned Books Mean Everything”, I had always been hungry for books ever since my childhood. When I was in junior middle school, although my best friend and main “supplier” of “out-of-class” reading materials had left, I somehow still managed to get books to read through other channels (Where there is a will, there is a way).
One day in our so-called “self-study class”, I was reading a picture-story book about Yue Fei (1103—1142) , a great Chinese military general in Song dynasty. He was described as a national hero in the book. But I remembered that our history teacher had told us that Yue Fei couldn’t be called a national hero because he had suppressed peasant uprisings. So I whispered my doubts with a classmate.
Unfortunately enough, my whispering was caught by the students who were on duty to patrol the school to check how disciplined every class was. In the “self-study class”, everyone was supposed to study or do their school work quietly. So my reading a non-textbook and my whispering were all regarded as misconduct. As a result, the score of our class was 0.5 or 1 point lower than usual.
When our class teacher, who happened to be our history teacher too, learned about this, and especially about the fact that I was questioning what she taught us about Yue Fei, she became so furious that she ordered me to write a “self-criticism” statement no less than 800 words and then read it out in front of the entire class.
This shocked not only me, but also all my classmates. Until then I had always been a role model and a “three good student”, who had always been the No. 1 student in every single exam; and who had always been winning the highest level award of every category. If ever I went to the stage, it was always to receive awards, either for myself, or on behalf of our class or even our school. If ever my name was mentioned, it was either praise or asking others to learn from me. I had never been criticized or scolded in school whatsoever.
So, for me, it felt like the world had suddenly been turned upside down. I begged my mother, who was also a teacher at the same school, to transfer me to another class to avoid this humiliation. But she refused, saying that if I fell, I should just get up and face my difficulties instead of running away.
I was left with no other choices but to “face” this problem. I guess during the Great Culture Revolution in China, the public denunciation meetings (also known as “struggle sessions”) were so common that everybody had already become “accustomed” to this kind of public humiliation culture. But for me, as a timid girl of only 14 years old, the pressure was as heavy as a giant mountain.
The first difficulty was: How could I write a self-criticism statement as long as 800 words? Up to then, the longest essay we had ever been required to write was only 500 words. Never anything of 800 words! Usually other students’ “self-criticism” statements were only a few sentences, saying something like “I was wrong to do such and such; and I will correct myself in the future.” And that was it.
I struggled very hard to come up with 800 words to criticize myself; but failed miserably. After many sleepless nights, I finally ended up copying many long, long paragraphs from the “Selected Works of Mao Zedong” to serve as the “theoretical guide” to craft enough in-depth reasons about why my behavior was so wrong, as well as to express my resolution to correct myself at a “high” and “revolutionary” enough level.
When it was time for me to read my “self-criticism”, I instinctively chose to read at the top of my lungs, contrary to all my “predecessors”, whose voices were usually so low that nobody could actually hear them. Because of this, sometimes they had to repeat the process.
I guess that was why I was reading so loudly: I didn’t want to give the teacher any excuse to ask me to do it again. The atmosphere was very strange and embarrassing. For one, every student was embarrassed to see their role model having to go through this. Secondly, never had anyone read the “self-criticism” so shamelessly loudly, as if I were reading a “self-ode” instead of something humiliating.
After I finished reading the longest ever “self-criticism” in the history of our class, and with the loudest ever voice, the entire classroom fell into dead silence. Everyone was at a loss as to how to absorb and handle the very unusual occurrence.
After a very long pause, our teacher finally broke the silence and asked, “Did everybody hear her clearly?”
Dead silence again. Nobody dared to say “yes”; nobody dared to say “no”. In the end, the teacher had to let me go, but very, very disappointed. She had obviously expected something different.
She soon claimed that she had been so upset by me that she had become ill. She lied in bed and refused to teach us any more. My mother had to go to her home many times to apologize and to cook Chinese herb medicine for her.
Contrary to what happened to her, I looked perfectly fine, at least on the surface. Maybe nobody had ever noticed any changes in me. I was only a little bit less quiet, less mild; and a little bit more “active” and talkative . I also laughed a little bit more; and sometimes more loudly and exaggeratedly.