Huifang is desperate to overcome her parents blackened Nationalist reputations and falls for a Peoples Liberation Army soldier. She carries out a discreet affair despite the possibility of his discharge. Jianfei, a politically astute and rabidly idealistic Maoist, idolizes her childhood sweetheart. She finally fulfills her desires when the two enter college in Shanghai, only to be forced to abandon her lover as affirmation of her own political ideals. Lishan, a bookish painter, wrestles with her own unspeakable yearningsan overwhelming infatuation with her best friend. In a world lacking a word for sex, let alone homosexual, Lishan defiantly rejects everything except for the passions that compel her. All three dare to pursue their own visions of love, and all three come to learn that a love, persistent in the face of rejection, hate, and violence, brings with it tragedy.
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Today the sky will be blue. She read the weather report through her shut eyelids. The screen of her closed eyes was red, not black: sunbeams. It should be a transparent autumn day.
"Good boy, you got up as early as the adults."
Jianfei pulled the quilt up to cover her ears.
"Dad is going to the athletic field. Are you coming?"
"I will wake up Big Sister first so that we can go together."
Annoying imp! Go away! She turned her back to the door.
"Could you wait outside?" her back said, "Sister needs time to get dressed."
"All right," her seven-year old brother Xiaoshi, Little Rock, waddled out.
Procrastinating. Bed is so comfortable. It requires strong will to get out of it. She debated with herself. Procrastinating, one minute, ten seconds, she began to count: eleven, twelve ... Suddenly the alarm clock screamed, shooting her out of bed. Six thirty. Li Shan and Huifang must be there already.
Once outside, she was deeply touched by the brilliance the world offered her. Almost with gratitude, she inhaled the essence of fall; her eyes drank the grandeur of green. Green, green everywhere, young, handsome, and full of virility; it was a picture of youth and glory, these cadets. In her eyes they were all Alex, Ivan, Dmitri and Gregory, and she herself was Natasha. A Soviet ideal.
As China's first, and the only, institute to educate and train its commanding staff, the Nanjing Military Academy occupied the address of its opponent, the Department of National Defense of the Kuomintang. Since Nanjing was the old capital city, the location suited the Academy in size. Nestled at the foot of the picturesque Purple-Gold Mountain, the Academy was kept away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and stood secluded behind thick walls and curtains of trees. To the south, a bus line ran in front of the main gate, though not very frequent, sufficient enough to carry the studious cadets downtown for a change of scenery on weekends; a tributary of the Yangtze meandered to the east, severing the campus from the market with its boorish haggling and daily shopping on the opposite bank; to the north and west, a stretch of forest merged with a great expanse of farmland.
There were four campuses. Compound One, the North compound, was the headquarters, the buildings of the Administration and the President's office. In the old days, this was also the site of the enemy's brain. It was here that the strategists and tacticians, prestigious military celebrities, passed the prime of their lives: Marshall Liu, who had lost one arm and one eye in the battlefield, one of the founders of the Academy; the three-star General Yang, a radical hot pepper addict from Hunan, who later was promoted to Secretary of National Defense; and numerous other three-star and two-star Generals. Not only were they the trailblazers, but they had opened a new phase of military training, teaching the fledgling republic how to build and strengthen its commanding officers, creating the foundation of its national defense. Compound Two, the South Compound, was the residential area for all the officers and faculty members. Ironic that this compound was formerly the cavalry regiment. Where the Nationalists raised horses, the Communists were now raising their families. Jianfei grew up here in Building Seven. Compound Three, the West Compound, had a strange name in the old days, "Little Barracks". It was now the teaching area. Every morning people stopped on the streets to watch the cadets in their smart green uniforms marching in synchronized square formation to the classrooms, slogans and songs maintaining their harmony all the way along. Compound Four, the East Compound, the old "Artillery Regiment", was now allocated to the Department of Provisions and Warehouse.
When Jianfei got to the field, the morning drills were at their peak. Young cadets filled the air with rousing patriotic songs, punctuating their precise march, arms swaying to the height of their second button, legs raised in a line as straight as the one on the blackboard the math teacher drew with a ruler.
"One, two, three, four," shouting, they brought unison to their gait.
Incessant slogans accompanied their marching, striking the ears like firecrackers. Green, green, green everywhere — the sports ground was a green sea. The department heads passed greetings in front of each perfectly formed squadron. Discipline was addressed and a weekly song sung: The Red Flag Fluttering on Jinggang Mountain or The Anthem of the New Fourth Army. Sometimes a Soviet song was taught and the cadets displayed higher spirits, louder voices and greater passion: "The sun sets behind the mountain ... Soviet soldiers are returning from the battlefield ..."
The philosophy department was in the east corner of the field. Jianfei spotted her dad who was inspecting his green square marching across the field like a piece of moving turf. Since last Sunday's National Day drill rehearsal, the day by day competition among the departments intensified, drawing large audiences. To Jianfei, it was more interesting than a movie, not only because of the beauty and heroism embodied in masculinity, the marvelous clean-cut lines of human torsos and limbs, but also because of the great spectrum of emotion registering on the faces of the department heads from uneasiness, concern, foreboding, worry, complacence and smugness that passed revealing the secret code hidden beneath the pageantry of the drill competition. Whoever won would go to Beijing and demonstrate to the great leader Chairman Mao himself, a display of our powerful national defense! Who would not want such an honor? As the holiday drew closer, the drill rehearsals replaced the daily exercises. In the History Department, the cadets stood on one leg in mid-stride, the other leg suspended parallel to the earth.
"Together, together!" the trainer tilted his head, measuring the line with a pair of slanting eyes, "You, one inch shorter! Keep it in one line!"
In another squadron, the performers' arms thrust backwards, forking a forty-five-degree angle at the armpit, the other arm hoisted to their chests.
"Number six, right arm, wider! Number seven, left arm, higher!" the instructor roared, "Discipline your eyes, straight ahead, no rolling around!"
Sweat beaded down, their uniforms pasted to their backs. And then there was the band that contained faces puffed up with earnest self-importance. The drummers produced an emphatic rhythm for the marchers to keep abreast and accentuate the straight line of their strides. In the Department of Chemical Warfare, a voice led, "Raise our health; strengthen our defense!" The Song of the People's Liberation Army soared in the air joining with the early autumn heat to mobilize every young heart within earshot including that of the juvenile whose eyes had never left the green, moving squares.
Jianfei concluded that man as an individual was boring but as a collective, fascinating. She fell in love with men on the whole, but decided that to fall for any single man was folly. A disdainful glance was cast from the corner of her eyes to the far end of the field where an undisciplined group of grey, brown and blue boys assembled. Look at those good-for-nothing loafers! A natural sense of superiority arose in this good-for-everything girl.
The sky, as if vacuumed, was free from even a speck of cloud. The buildings, the trees and the uniforms were gilded in the sun. The air was charged with the ebullience of youth. This was the color of a September morning: blue, gold and green, blended in unison, woven into one piece called the Military Academy. Everything was in unison.CHAPTER 2
To its east and west, the sports ground was flanked by two lines of residential buildings. To its north was the Officers' Club which was a haven for chess players in the evening and a beehive of ballroom dancers on the weekends. To the south was the children's playground where slides, jungle gyms and seesaws were commanded by toddlers. Brave ones tried the swings. Timid ones popped their curious heads from the cave of the miniature mountain, a large block of West Lake stone. Boys of Xiaoshi's age ran amuck, leading their maids on wild-goose chases. In their consternation, these maids often stubbed their toes on the holly bushes, worried to death that their career might stop short if their charges tripped over the curbs or got scratched, even injured, in God knew what way and where. They found themselves in an evil cycle; the more anxiously and desperately they tried to catch the kids, the more joyful the kids became. A permanent smirk lit the toddlers' eyes and their faces, red and steaming, gleamed with their mastery of mischief. Perspiration oozed out of the maids' foreheads, evidence of their devotion to their masters.
Here and there, in the blue air, as yet unpolluted by the daily routine, was a diversity of names, shouted with the precision of a drilling cadence.
"Little Ocean, come back and eat your breakfast."
"Building the Country, your dad will give you a spanking if you keep playing cat-and-mouse with me!"
Little Ocean adroitly skipped from one cave to another; while Building the Country stepped out from his hiding place, surrendering to the maid who grabbed his swiveling arms and dragged them home.
"No, no, I don't want to go to school, I want to play!!" like a piglet towards a butcher's knife.
These little ones were a real nuisance. While their more mature siblings primly engaged in fitness exercises to cover their ineffable social interest, the little ones tailed them, spied on them and quickly tattled on them to their parents. And while their teenage siblings were scolded for improper behavior, an unnecessary word or glance exchanged with the opposite sex, the brats wagged their tails like running dogs but were quickly deserted by their older siblings.
Jianfei looked around. Her tail was nowhere to be seen. She sighed with relief. Shaking off her tail had become a constant challenge, first daily, now hourly.
When teenage boys gathered in twos and threes in front of the Officer's Club, aloofly observing morning drills from a distance, or when teenage girls, scared away by the boisterous masculine activities, sheltered themselves in a remote corner, they all had two pairs of eyes: one skimming over the lively drills and cadets; the other, alert behind the first pair, studying the opposite party. Like predators crouching for their prey, with camouflaged patience and curbed expectation, they loitered, moving slowly.
A scarlet dot decorated the green field, like a rose standing out against its leaves, Huifang's jacket. Jianfei waved and headed towards this sole, female presence. Sure enough, the two friends of hers were already waiting. Of the same age, twelve years old, attending the same girls' school and in the same grade, with a father of the same profession, these three girls found a natural bond among themselves. Whether they chose to live a life of three as one and act as a league so as to draw more attention in public or pass the masses unnoticed as individuals was quite vague in their mind. All they knew was that this bond, like a cocoon, had wrapped their teenage timidity and audacity seamlessly and made their lives cozy and safe.
"Hi, girls. The early bird catches the worm. How many worms have you caught?" Squinting in the direction of the Officer's Club, Jianfei patted Huifang on the shoulder.
"You're asking the right person. Huifang is a worm expert," slowly, Lishan, her name Mandarin for Beautiful Mountain, echoed, a wisp of a smile hanging over one raised corner of her closed lips, squeezing out a couple of dimples, her lips protruding towards the Officers' Club.
"Hey, it's unfair I should come all the way from Beiji to be made fun of by you," Huifang pouted.
Beiji, the North Pole, was the short name for Beiji Xincun, the North Pole New Village, a compound which otherwise would be ranked as Campus Five along with the other four if not for its inferior image in the eyes of hundreds of cadets. Yet it held a unique position and enjoyed special favor from the Beijing leaders because the residents here were the nation's old foes whose hands were smeared with Communists' blood. They were the former KMT officers, now part of the faculty of the Academy.
Before the Chiang Kaishek administration sluiced down to Taiwan like waves dissipating as they pounded the immovable rocks of shore the Nationalist Party had undergone another crisis from within. Secret liaisons had been established between some of its high ranking commanders and the underground Communist forces, among them, the Navy General Lin, the descendant of the celebrated Lin Zexu whose name was associated with the infamous First Opium War that opened China's modern history. These officials, after years of observation, deep thinking and calculated planning, had turned their backs on their comrades in arms and walked towards the opposite side as the cannons sounded closer and closer. They had played a decisive role in the Red Army's intelligence and helped the Communists in their effective campaigns and final seizures of the major cities. They were rewarded for their complicity, and the reward, dramatically, was to let them keep their original ranks, but in the People's Liberation Army. To show its generosity and magnanimity, the Beijing regime later even appointed the above-mentioned Navy General Lin, to be President of its Naval Academy.
Without shedding a single drop of blood, these renowned historical figures had completed the metamorphosis from bloodthirsty monsters, in their enemy's eyes, to Buddha's; from commanders to professors. Some weren't so lucky. Dashing through the rain of bullets and braving the forests of bayonets, in the fire and smoke, refusing to bow their heads, they were captured in the battlefields. Huifang's father was one of them, as was Colonel Wang, now his neighbor.
When Mao Tsetung came to power, announcing in his heavy Hunanese dialect on the rostrum of Tian An Men, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, "China has stood up!", he was well aware that his army, though tempered in the Long March, the Civil War and the eight years of the Anti-Japanese War, was still a fledgling army, whereas his ill-fated enemy, though long passed their Waterloo in the three major battlefields of Pingjing, Liaoshen and Huaihai and reduced to a tiny island home, had been much better equipped with formally trained military talents, some of whom were western educated. The People's Liberation Army was still in its infancy. His Military Academy needed strategists and tactical operators. Now a large body of this enemy force had fallen into his hands. It would have been easy enough to dump these defeated warriors into the jails; easy enough, but not easy for Mao, whose mind teemed with the intrigues and stratagems of five thousand years of Chinese emperors, generals and eunuchs. To use them to benefit us, to employ the KMT resources to arm the PLA staff, to see ourselves from the eyes of our enemies, especially from a defeated army, was Mao's keen interest. Mao sorted the trash and decided to put some in the recycling bin. Eagles with clipped wings, these officers could hardly fly. Their insurgence was an impossibility. When the time was ripe for recapturing Taiwan, our intelligence would work even better this time. Mao proved to the world his gamesmanship. Enclosed and separated from the other four compounds, the North Pole New Village was nearest to the Administration campus, under immediate surveillance.
"It's great you can join us at an early hour every morning," Jianfei proffered a hostess' hospitality. "How long did it take you by bike?"
Huifang was the first among the two hundred seventh graders and one of the only five out of six hundred students in the junior high who rode her bike to school, drawing avid eyes from all directions wherever her red Flying Pigeon carried her. Now her enviable Pigeon stood perched in the corner, leaning against the wall.
"Not long, ten minutes at most, but I could not wallow in bed. See, I have already had my breakfast but you just got up." Huifang was chewing a candy.
"Want one?" she produced from her pocket a handful of nougats. Jianfei and Lishan each took one.
"You are different from us," calmly peeling the rice paper and sticking it to her tongue as a prelude to a serious speech, Lishan said in her hoarse, nasal alto, "At such an hour? For breakfast?"
Huifang giggled, shrugging and nodding, in denial and admission. Her cheeks were like marble shaded with red blossoms, another outstanding feature among hundreds of faces at school. Lishan called her "Natasha" as they stepped out of the Soviet movie. Her personality was like Natasha's, a merry-go-round, carefree, singing "Lalala-lalala" all the time. Today she was wearing a pair of black leather shoes, which made Lishan's jaw drop the third time in five minutes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Red Love"
Copyright © 2018 Lijian Zhao.
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