Lao She is thinking of the 1920’s when he was teaching in London University and had tried to follow the lurid ghost of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu (with his devilish oriental subhumans, opium dens and white slavery) through the streets of the East End. But the Yellow Peril was just mist and incense; Fu Manchu melted into myth. Lao She’s witty novel Mr Ma and Son took its place. The book, written in Chinese, portrays the realities of life and Sinophobia encountered by overseas Chinese in Limehouse’s Chinatown in the 1920’s.
But now it’s the summer of 1966. The Cultural Revolution is in full swing. Like thousands of other intellectuals in China, Lao She has been targeted by the Red Guard for mistreatment as a counterrevolutionary. He has been paraded through the streets, beaten and physically and mentally humiliated in public on the steps of the Temple of Confucius in Beijing.
Does Lao She regret his return to China? He is one of China’s most acclaimed writers and intellectuals. Over the last 35 years he has published plays and novels read by millions including his novel Rickshaw Boy (1936), his Sci Fi story Cat Country (1932) and his plays Tea House (1957) and Drum Singers (1952).
Lao She is at the water’s edge of Beijing’s Taiping Lake; is he alone?
At his house relatives are gathering up all evidence of his writings; manuscripts are shared out to be secreted away, stuffed in chimneys, hidden under coal piles, pasted under wallpaper.
Official records say Lao She has committed suicide by drowning himself.
Wading into the water holding a rock is a ritual suicide following the classical Chinese tradition of Qu Yuan: a form of protest against corruption.
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