China Beat Archive



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May 10, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 10, 2009. Used by permission.


May 7, 1989

The Yang’s spare living room was transformed into a vibrant cultural salon, with Gladys and Xianyi taking their habitual places in twin armchairs, bringing to mind a kindly old king and queen holding court. The rest of us, lined up on a long couch against the opposite wall behaved like loyal subjects, beaming with respect and admiration.

The Yangs had been through unimaginably hard times, including solitary confinement during the Cultural Revolution, but remained true to one another through thick and thin, emerging with a rare degree of contentment, humility and self-knowledge. They did their best to make light of their significant literary accomplishments, and though rocked by cruel vicissitudes of fate, they could joke and tease one another about it, perhaps a secret to their health and the enduring affection they held not just for one another but the country they had chosen to call home.

“The first time I met Mao…” Mr. Yang, said with a clipped British inflection, sounding rather like a seasoned raconteur who needed no prompting to start telling an oft-repeated tale, “the Chairman asked me if it was really possible to translate Chinese into English. He was really puzzled by that. Mao had a good mind, but he was not skilled at foreign languages…”

“Xian-yi,” Gladys interrupted. “Why are you speaking in English again? Everyone here understands Chinese!” Gladys scowled at him like a mother trying to discipline a wayward son.