Out of the Gobi Summary
Out of the Gobi is the second book I read about the Cultural Revolution. My first book is “Life and Death in Shanghai” by Nien Cheng. I highly recommended both books if you are interested in knowing that period of history.
If you are originally from China, most our parents had endured during the Cultural Revolution, even at that time they were young, but they still had memories of the period of time. Most people at my age have heard about the history, but never experienced ourselves. If you just heard the stories, sometimes it’s really hard to relay this whole experience to your day to day life.
After read Weijian Shan’s book, I feel like I have experienced the period of time myself. The book brings you vivid memories of many instances on the author’s harsh years as a hard labor in a work camp in the Gobi desert. He lived through Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”, endured starvation, hard labor, being forced to live in the Gobi desert, shut out of 10 years of education, eventually made it out and went to study in the United States.
The reason I feel personally touched by his life story is because my parents were in the Gobi desert and worked in the Military camp as doctors for many years, and from this magic place they met each other. I always want to visit there and see the desert in my own eyes. One day, I will go and visit the place.
The Cultural Revolution began in 1966, from very age, Shan started to notice from his own eyes, how Mao’s policies impacted everyone’s life. He walked past public “struggle sessions” in Beijing which is his hometown where people were denounced by crowds as well as walked past and saw an old couple being beaten by a group of schoolgirls in a dark room inside a school.
Due to the suspension of classes in schools that had resulted in lots of idle and violent students in the cities, Mao changed his policy and sent millions of urban youth to the countryside to live and work alongside peasants for years and supposedly learn proletariat ideas. At the age of 15, Shan was sent from Beijing to a work camp in the Gobi desert which was part of inner magnolia region. Alongside with other youths, they dug ditches, harvested grain, and even cut river reeds for making paper in the extreme and harsh cold winter weather and living conditions. Food was scarce and doled out a precise amounts.
Most painful part was all the futility of the work did not help in any way to develop or transform the impoverished countryside for the better instead wasting and consuming three to four times the amount of food peasants produced. What a waste! Not only waste the resources, but also waste the life of the youth in that generation.
After six years, Shan eventually escaped the work camp by being selected to attend university in Beijing. That was his turning point, he married and applied for a university exchange to the US, then finished both a graduate program and a PHD program there.
This book is not only a life story but it’s a very important historical document of the Cultural Revolution. This is a story of humanity and dignity. How a life of seemingly insignificance in an overwhelming turbulent years was able to overcome all odds and ultimately achieve the highest stage of financial world.