Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro’s Son of the Revolution is a literary insight on the historical evidence of Mao Zedong’s attempt to create the utopian world of the new socialist men of China with the means of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”. While the major aim of Mao was to preserve his personal power through the elimination of the old party and government cadres, his Idée Fixe reached the edges of possible: to destruct traditionalism and create the totally transformed united socialist society stuffed with the Mao slogans. From the autobiographical perspective of a child growing in the period of Cultural Revolution, authors illustrate the minimalistic portrait of the Mao’s revolution effects, ensued with the large-scale deep scars it left upon Chinese society. Furthermore, the alteration of the Chinese society, going through the different levels, targeted the main cell of society – family institute, which was purposed to be gradually destructed under the commune privilege.
The whole book is based on the facts that support the Cultural Revolution, provoked by the Chinese Communist Party in a series of progressively fierce political campaigns between 1956 and 1966, succeeded to bring out not only the total chaos and cultural destruction but also the family breakdown. Liang Heng’s family, along with the hundreds of other families, encountered with that common misfortune. It is possible to look through the story, find the evidence of the breakdown and to explain the Party actions with the reasoned purposes. Hence, the troubles of Liang were predisposed to happen, taking into account the intellectual class his family belonged to and against whom Mao armed his propaganda forces. When the “Hundred Flower Campaign” was gaining momentum, Liang’s mother was trapped with the governmental move to detach the dissidents within the society after publishing the anti-governmental article. Claimed the “rightist”, person almost equal to the national betrayal, she was forced to move to the countryside, being separated from her husband and children. The whole situation worsened due to constant condemnation and baiting the rest of the family, faced from the part of the government and society. That impacted Liang badly, as he was a child separated from a mother, bullied at school, and depressed by the unhealthy environment at home. With the campaign progression, Liang and his family felt the relentless pressure on the side of society that associates them with the counter-revolutionary mother. Thus, they were forced to withdraw themselves from her physically and mentally to continue life without being harmed. Liang had the antagonistic feelings against the situation, being emotionally related to his mother and mentally blaming her for bringing that chaos and pain they suffered. His thoughts were especially vulnerable under the propaganda effects the Party had over his mind, as Liang became the student named Mao’s “Red Guards”. “Red Guards” were taught with the ideological idea in mind that intellectuals and “bourgeoisie” are the foes of socialism that, in fact, was the way Party admonished children against their own parents. Fortunately, time and natural curiosity that forced Liang to dig dipper with the analysis assisted him with the clarification of the real disastrous essence, Revolution was bringing into the family relationship and the individual’s conciseness.
Impaling the minds of Chinese people, Mao’s name was the first word of a child and the last devotion of an adult, as the conscience of people was programmed for reconsideration of their own deeds and critical observations of the people around in a constant search of traitors. The total social nightmare absorbed the Chinese reality when these traitors were met in the faces of friends, colleagues, and even beloved relatives who suppose to be guilty in treason of Mao and the Revolution. The main purpose that Mao obsessively followed is to quickly rebuild the nation. Thus, it would be significant to find the explanation for those purposes of the family breakdown. In general, Communist China was about to create completely new forms of labor relations, social life, family, and morality. It was assumed that the commune, which later was extended to the urban population, will be a universal industrial and consumer unit of the existence of each person. All the pre-existing social and personal forms of relationships were doomed to failure, including family.
First of all, it is crucial to understand the meaning that family values used to have for Chinese, as the hearth that holds people together and used to be fundamental for Chinese society for hundreds of years. The Confucian or traditional family, as it is usually referred to, was about the filial devotion of being a good son, which, in turn, forms a good personality. It was always important for Chinese children to be respectful for their parents and take care of them. The social changes grasped Chinese society with its class struggle and ideas to realize the true communist state, replacing family value with the value of the inspirited commune. Thus, the main issue was to transform the devoted son of parents into the devoted son of socialism and revolution. The most effective way is the breakdown of family institute and substitution with the socio-political one, which was possible with the repetitive dogma and propaganda the Party constantly produced.
The other interesting aspect is that most urban families that usually belonged to the intellectual class were broken, while the rural were less harmed. The reason is that Socialism, struggling for utopian equality, could promise a lot for the poor village areas, for peasants and works to receive the wealth of the nation, while it has nothing to offer for wealthy and intellectually rich “bourgeoisie”; thereby, the best way was to break the tights that kept them together, changed their mind, and reestablished the tradition. The minds disconnected from the family, children that grow under the pressure of social shame for their parents, substitute the family with commune; love for parents was changed into the love and devotion for the Party.
In order to make those practices operative, Chinese social system created many ways to break family customs and substitute it with the commune practices, as communal mess halls or nurseries. The book provides with the examples of such practices when the family dinner, as the recognition of the mutual commitment, was substituted with communal mess halls, where sometimes total strangers shared the meal and emotional remoteness. Even this practice was not certainly directed against families, but it definitely influenced the disunity, while nurseries were the perfect tool to make the state and not the family the main educational center. With the children put in the nurseries, emotional bond between them and parents was becoming weaker and the educational supremacy was entirely given into the arms of the dogmatic state.
Furthermore, the young boys that psychologically strived to have a hero to follow and usually could found him within family (father, brother, uncle), under the new circumstances retrieved that hero in Mao’s image. With the first word on the lips of a child, his name echoed in the minds of hundreds of teenagers that joined the “Red Guardians”. While state did its best to disconnect family with distance, sending one of the parents to the village for “reeducation”, as it happened with Liang’s mother, the flourishing propaganda slogans disconnected members of the family mentally. As a result, the broken family members and, especially, children accepted slogans as the other’s milk. They taught to be devoted to Revolution, to be ashamed of prioritizing the personal or family needs over social ones, and to deify Mao. The control over minds was at the highest extent with family members to accuse each other of being “less-Communists” and ready to alert about that to the specific organization. In addition, the “Red Guardians”, a vicious mixture of children and soldiers, empowered with the right to create the Revolution, were also empowered to destruct, to decide and to rule over the other “improper” classes and their parents. That, in turn, led to the change of roles between the reputable parents and obedient children. Cultural Revolution put the family order upside down.
As a result, the Son of Revolution emphasizes with the Heng’s story the disaster of the whole nation under the blind obedience and false communist slogans. In order to control the society, Mao decided to change its cultural background, creating the anti-hierarchical (substitution of the rural and intellectual minds), anti-traditional (monitoring of families, breakdown of a family structure, creation of the workers’ communes as the antithesis for a free peasant), and anti-spiritual (no religion, no cultural values) society. Disintegration of family supposed to disaccustom from the personal attachments and rebuild the commune-based nation love, which, in turn, led to the spiritual impoverishment, degeneration and destruction of the independent, strong-willed layer of the Chinese nation, broke hundreds of families and sowed the social antagonisms. The book brings out the vivid biographical example of the tragedy Heng’s family unfortunately could not overcome, as Mao Zedong’s thoughts undermined the basic psychology of the family by the separation emotional, physical and within generations.