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Anchee Min: Explaining a Revolution

Anchee Min speaks on Wed., Nov. 10 at 7 pm in the Marshall Performing Arts Center.

From the late 1940s to the late 1970s, China was a Communist country, ruled by Mao Zedong, from whom the term Maoism is derived. During the Cultural Revolution, the People’s Republic of China launched a violent mass movement fueled by the indoctrination of the country’s youth. Anchee Min has written a memoir, Red Azalea, detailing her experiences during this time. She has also subsequently written six historical novels about China.

The world-renowned author Min will speak at UMD about her experiences growing up in communist China on Wed., Nov. 10 at 7 pm in the Marshall Performing Arts Center.

Cindy Christian, program director for Alworth Institute, was instrumental in bringing Min to UMD. “We wanted to express the importance of China and promote an understanding of Chinese culture,” Christian said. “Min’s work is used in many English and Women’s Studies classes on campus.”

Growing up in Communist China

Red Azalea was written during the first eight years after Min arrived in the United States, 1984-92. In it she discusses how difficult life was growing up under the control of Mao. The main focus of the revolution was living a proletariat life, where living poor and working hard were virtues.

Min believed in Mao’s political theories wholeheartedly. She was taught to write, “I love you Chairman Mao” before she was taught to write her own name, and to love Mao more than her parents.

Chinese Culture during Mao’s Reign

“Min provides a unique insight into the Chinese mindset,” Christian said.

Min was a devoted member of the Red Guard. However, her belief in Mao began to crumble over time as she was forced to work on a labor farm and continually testify against various friends who were accused of espionage and being “enemies of the state.” She eventually realized that Chairman Mao and his wife Jiang Ching, more famously known as Madame Mao, brainwashed the Chinese citizens into worshipping Mao.

“Because she was a part of the Chinese revolution and eventually came to the U.S., she has a foot in both worlds and she can bridge gaps in the understanding of Chinese culture,” Christian said.

Creating Complex Characters

“Min does an excellent job of portraying women in history. Even the women in her novels that have a negative image are shown to be holistic and complex people,” Christian said. “People are multi-dimensional – not just good or evil.”

Min’s other novels portray various pieces of Chinese history. For example, in her novel Becoming Madame Mao, Min brings the reader on a journey of Madame Mao’s life and examines the motivation and reasons for her actions. In fact, Madame Mao’s name has virtually been erased from Chinese history books.

Bringing Messages of Diversity

Christian also said that Min offers a diverse viewpoint on the experience of immigrating to America. “Min immigrated to the U.S. and taught herself English by watching Sesame Street,” Christian said. She then went on to write in order to bridge the gap between her homeland of China and her new home in America.

Cantore Davunt, a junior international studies major, feels that Min’s story will give all students an interesting look into the mind of a woman who grew up in communist China. “Min will open doors and make people more aware of China’s culture and the importance of the growing nation,” Davunt said. “She helps further the knowledge of diversity and its importance at UMD.”

Anchee Min’s work includes: Red Azalea, Katherine, Becoming Madame Mao, Wild Ginger, Empress Orchid, Last Empress, and Pearl of China.

For more information, visit Min's website.

Written by Mandee Kuglin

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