Wild Ginger, by Anchee Min

Saturday, August 28, 2010


If you got here through Crazy-for-Books, I'm glad you decided to stop by.  That crazy Jennifer hosts the Book Blogger Hop each Friday. 

This week's question/topic comes from: 
Anne @ My Head Is Full of Books

Post a link to a favorite post or book review that you have written in the past three months.
Which is how you ended up here!  I hope you enjoy my review of Anchee Min's Wild Ginger.

I've always been baffled by religious, cultural, or political philosophies that seem to fly in the face of the very things that make us human.  Love, sex, the need to celebrate-rather through biological imperative or the need to feel a sense of belonging, humans have always found ways to express these and other emotions through our cultural and societal institutions.  This is one reason that, while I consider myself religiously tolerant, I don't really get Jehovah's Witnesses.  It feels against human nature somehow to deny a community the right to celebrate together.  Say what you will about the Catholic Church, but when they wanted to convert the heathens they were smart enough to co-opt their holidays and ceremonies.  I don't really get the prohibition against sexual behavior in most religious doctrines, either.  We are all sexual beings, and having healthy sexual relationships can only make us as a people stronger.

I experienced that familiar sensation of bafflement when reading Wild Ginger, by Anchee Min.  Wild Ginger tells the story of two teenagers living in China during the Cultural Revolution.  Maple is the daughter of a former teacher of Chinese history who has been sent to a labor camp for being a reactionary.  Every day at school Maple is taunted and beaten by Hot Pepper, the head of the Red Guard at their school.  Every day, that is, until Wild Ginger joins the school.  Wild Ginger, the daughter of a French-Chinese man and a Chinese mother, is viewed with suspicion because of her European roots.  Having nothing to lose, Wild Ginger stands up to Hot Pepper, and Maple and Wild Ginger begin a deep and abiding friendship.  Together with a boy named Evergreen, Maple and Wild Ginger begin preparing to sacrifice their personal lives in pursuit of Mao's vision for China-until a love triangle forms that threatens all of them.

The story of Wild Ginger is a familiar one-love triangles are not exactly new in the world of literature.  What makes this novel feel new and different is the setting.  China during the Cultural Revolution was a place turned on its head.  Mao, a communist, used the country's poor economy, uneducated populace, and history of exploitation at the hands of the West, and marched his Red Army right into power.  Everyone and everything that could have threatened the absolute control he had over the country was rendered suspect.  Teachers, prosperous business owners, artists, foreigners-all had to be turned to the purposes of Mao or expelled from China.  Anyone considered an intellectual was also an automatic reactionary.  The schoolchildren were only taught Mao's Little Red Book-a book of the famous sayings and speeches of Mao.  They were expected to memorize the entire book, and regurgitate it on command.  Any hint of questioning the Maoists could get you arrested, jailed, sent to a labor camp, or executed.  It was a time of wide-spread fear, as anyone who felt wronged by you could turn you in as a reactionary with very little evidence.

Maple and Wild Ginger both lived on the edge-Maple, because as a teacher of Chinese history her father was suspect, and Wild Ginger because of her mixed heritage.  But while Maple was more conflicted about being a Maoist, Wild Ginger threw herself into it wholeheartedly.  By pushing away her unsatisfactory parentage, she hoped to make herself a model of what a young Maoist should be.  Despite her family's persecution, Wild Ginger takes on the very characteristics of the people who have rejected her.  As she began to gain power within the movement, the pressure on her to be the perfect Maoist in every way grew and grew, until she was consumed with it.  Evergreen, who at first appears as zealous in his Maoism as Wild Ginger, begins to realize that his desire to recite Mao's teaching every night has less to do with Mao and more to do with his feelings for Wild Ginger.  Despite her own feelings, Wild Ginger cannot give up her quest to ultimately be respected by the very people who appeared to despise her and her family when she was a child.

And this is what I mean about doctrines-religious or political-that deny basic human needs.  Mao was indeed treated like a god by his most ardent followers, and his theology, if you will, included no recognition of the need for physical or affectionate love.  In order to be an ideal Maoist, you were supposed to not just deny yourself love and sex, but denounce the very idea of love as Western and bourgeois.  Never mind the folk songs no longer sung, or the Buddhist rituals driven underground-the very emotion that created the joyous reasons for songs and celebrations was forbidden.  Ultimately, I suppose that's one reason Maoism was doomed to failure (that and the fact that it brought down the entire economy of China!).  People will only submit to being stripped of their humanity for so long.


  1. Discovered your blog via the Hop. I'm looking forward to reading your reviews!

  2. Found you via the Blogger Hop so I hopped over to say HI :)

    Would love it if you visited our BLOG sometime!

    Happy Friday and Happy reading!!
    Book ♥ Soulmates

  3. Your blog is so fun looking. I'm glad I came hopping by and I'm a new follower

    If you have time Hop by my blog


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