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Spider Eaters is at once a moving personal story, a fascinating family history, and a unique chronicle of political upheaval told by a Chinese woman who came of age during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution. With stunning honesty and a lively, sly humor, Rae Yang records her life from her early years as the daughter of Chinese diplomats in Switzerland, to her girlhood at an elite middle school in Beijing, to her adolescent experience as a Red Guard and later as a laborer on a pig farm in the remote northern wilderness. She tells of her eventual disillusionment with the Maoist revolution, how remorse and despair drove her almost to suicide, and how she struggled to make sense of conflicting events that often blurred the line between victim and victimizer, aristocrat and peasant, communist and counterrevolutionary. Moving gracefully between past and present, dream and reality, the author artfully conveys the vast complexity of life in China as well as the richness, confusion, and magic of her own inner life and struggle.
Much of the power of the narrative derives from Yang's multi-generational, cross-class perspective. She invokes the myths, legends, folklore, and local customs that surrounded her and brings to life the many people who were instrumental in her life: her nanny, a poor woman who raised her from a baby and whose character is conveyed through the bedtime tales she spins; her father; her beloved grandmother, who died as a result of the political persecution she suffered.
Spanning the years from 1950 to 1980, Rae Yang's story is evocative, complex, and told with striking candor. It is one of the most immediate and engaging narratives of life in post-1949 China.
Excerpted from Spider Eaters by Rae Yang Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Preface to the Fifteenth Anniversary Edition
1. A Strange Gift from the Pig Farm
2. Old Monkey Monster
3· Nainai's Story Turned into a Nightmare
4· Nainai Failed Her Ancestors
5· Why Did Father Join the Revolution?
6. Second Uncle Was a Paper Tiger
7. The Chinese CIA
8. When Famine Hit
9· A Vicious Girl
10. Aunty's Name Was Chastity
11. Beijing 101 Middle School
12. The Hero in My Dreams
13· At the Center of the Storm
14· Red Guards Had No Sex
15· Semi-transparent Nights
16. "The Hero, Once Departed, Will Never Come Back"
In a Village, Think, Feel, and Be a Peasant
18. "The Tree May Wish to Stand Still, but the Wind Will Not Subside"
19. Death of a Hero: Nainai's Last Story
2!. Friends and Others
22. My First Love, a Big Mistake?
23. What Have I Lost? What Have I Gained?
Posted February 14, 2003
Spider Eaters is a fascinating memoir of Rae Yang and her life during the chaotic years of the Cultural Revolution in China. Rae Yang was born in 1950. Her parents were communist intellectuals, Chinese diplomats, and had impeccable revolutionary credentials. As a child she lived in Switzerland where her father worked as a diplomat before moving back to Beijing, China. It is in Beijing that Rae would transform from a diplomat¿s daughter into a Red Guard. She creates a hero, an almost god-like figure, who she later transforms into Chairman Mao. As a youth, Rae¿s imagination allows her to be manipulated and consequently becomes a lost soul. As a means of finding her identity she naively commits to Chairman Mao¿s movement. As a result, Rae travels throughout the country spreading revolutionary enthusiasm. Throughout her travels, Rae witnesses first hand the differences between the peasants in the countryside and the city dwellers. She experiences for herself the class struggle in China. In the countryside life seemed to be much more troubling. There were times when she would work and not bathe for months at a time. She encountered lice, hunger, cold weather, life without electricity, and boredom. In the city life had much more to offer a young girl. There was always something she could do, such as go to an opera, or read a book. However, instead she resided in the Great Northern Wilderness where she volunteered to work at a pig farm. While the two places were much different from each other, both areas had one thing in common. This commonality was the fact that the inhabitants of were experiencing Communism at it¿s height in China. Residents from the countryside and city were both on pins and needles in fear of being accused of speaking or thinking against the Party. If a person is accused, they risked defamation, imprisonment, being tortured or even killed. In this sense, Rae depicts herself as an agent as well as a victim of the Cultural Revolution. She describes the first months of the revolution as the most dreadful and also the most wonderful of her life. She felt empowered by the movement as she and other revolutionaries attacked their teachers, political leaders, parents, and all others who were considered Rightist, Traditionalist, or Counter-revolutionaries. However, Rae experiences moments of shame and embarrassment as well. While she and her companions beat a male counter-revolutionary, he pulls down his pants and displays his erect penis. This is truly insulting her and the other women in the movement. During this time Rae struggles to make sense of conflicting events that feeds her inner life through her dreams and imagination. Rae is burdened by the role of women in Party and the revolution. Women are expected to rid themselves of tradition means and adopt revolutionary ideas, such as cutting their hair and wearing men¿s clothing. In addition, women worked side by side with men on the farm and in the fields. Slogans, such as ¿women holding up half the heavens¿ were actually to no avail. At one point Rae describes how women were regarded as ¿jiashu¿, or disposable, by the Communist party. While there was supposed to be no gender differentiation between the sexes and prevailing equality, there was no real liberation for women. It is when Rae is working on the pig farm that she becomes aware of inconsistency within the revolution and Chairman Mao¿s movement. She was on the farm for five years working endless hours as a hard laborer. While political and military leaders uttered Mao¿s slogans, they were also corrupting the movement. It is the experiences on the farm that lead to her gradual recognition that the movement was a ¿waste¿. As Rae began to question the revolution and makes her way back to Beijing, she comes to the realization that is exemplified best only in her words: The officials at all levels abuse their power. The corrupt ones as well as thoseWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.