Instability in Leadership in “Red Azalea”

The book “Red Azalea” narrates Anchee Min’s life in the era of Mao China prior to escaping this harsh regime and moving to the United States. Min’s story provides her readers with an overview of her early childhood memories and a description of the period she worked for the Communist Party as a farmhand and ultimately her big break into stardom in a film called “Red Azalea.” To date, its message is still significant because control and government influences continually emerge as issues of discussion worldwide (Lanlan 130). This paper, therefore, examines how Anchee’s story explains the instability in leadership and its impact on the lives of the people who lived during the Mao era. More specifically, its focus is on the instability in leadership at both the personal and the governmental levels as they are significant for understanding the events.

In the memoir, Min states that she grew up wearing rags and going for days without food. She states that she was “an adult since the age of five” (Min 10). At that time, Min tended to her young siblings and parents, who, although educated, were forced to take on difficult jobs for the Communist Party to fulfill the Cultural Revolution’s goals. Min learned to take on a leadership role when she was just a young child. These events prove that people’s perceptions and responsibilities differed from present-day notions due to the system’s influence.

Hence, the instability of leadership in Mao’s China resulted in the trend for parents to overwork and expect their children to take on parental roles. As can be seen from Min’s case, it took away her childhood, whereas simple pleasures of the age were inaccessible (Lanlan 131). Moreover, although she feared crossing the road, she could not reveal her fear since she was obliged to act as a role model for her siblings (Min 12). Nevertheless, Min and other children were thrown into leadership positions without their consent because of the strict regime. As seen in the memoir, these roles further confused them; they grew up scared and fearful of the government. Min’s parents expressed their ultimate respect alongside the same feelings. This situation, in turn, caused Min to follow their path and sacrifice her loyalty to give in to the urges of the Communist Party.

Additionally, Min was given a leadership position in school: she was an outstanding learner who achieved recognition for being skillful in Mao’s teachings. She became the Little Red Guards leader, the party troops responsible for implementing and enforcing the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, Min claims that she was “raised on the teachings of Mao” and “became a leader of the Little Red Guards,” and red was her color (Min 19). By saying so, she expresses her attitude with irony since the idea behind these words is the dangers of brainwashing at school. They are also confirmed by the fact that leadership seems unstable, and this position defines the seriousness of consequences for young people. Thus, they might not be able to readjust to changing circumstances with the replacement of leaders, and this condition will adversely affect their lives quality.

The principal idea of this piece is the conditions of life at the time affected people’s perceptions. Thus, for example, Min states that growing up wearing rags and going for days without food led to her view of herself as an adult since the age of five (Min 10). From that moment on, she had to help her younger siblings and parents forced her to take on difficult jobs for the Communist Party. This situation explains why the poverty of those generations was the main factor contributing to their perspectives on hardships. It implied the need to take responsibility for all the aspects of their existence regardless of young age or other circumstances.

Hence, the instability of leadership in Mao’s China resulted in the trend for parents to overwork and expect their children to take on parental roles. As can be seen from Min’s case, it took away her childhood, whereas simple pleasures of the age were inaccessible (Lanlan 131). Moreover, although she feared crossing the road, she could not reveal her fear since she was obliged to act as a role model for her siblings (Min 12). Nevertheless, Min and other children were thrown into leadership positions without their consent because of the strict regime. As seen in the memoir, these roles further confused them; they grew up scared and fearful of the government. Min’s parents expressed their ultimate respect alongside the same feelings. This situation, in turn, caused Min to follow their path and sacrifice her loyalty to give in to the urges of the Communist Party.

Additionally, Min was given a leadership position in school: she was an outstanding learner who achieved recognition for being skillful in Mao teachings. She became the Little Red Guards leader, the party troops responsible for implementing and enforcing the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, Min claims that she was “raised on the teachings of Mao” and “became a leader of the Little Red Guards,” and red was her color (Min 19). By saying so, she expresses her attitude with irony since the idea behind these words is the dangers of brainwashing at school. They are also confirmed by the fact that leadership seems unstable, and this position defines the seriousness of consequences for young people. Thus, they might not be able to readjust to changing circumstances with the replacement of leaders, and this condition will adversely affect their lives quality.

The levels of stress deriving from the non-compliance of the Mao teachings with human feelings seem incredible. In Min’s story, they are reflected in the part when she describes her unwillingness to betray her teacher she was ordered to spy on and the fear of opposition to the system and its consequences. The fact that the woman looked at her “with sympathy and love” when Min was ill or praised her performance in mathematics could not affect the need to follow the orders (Min 14). This episode confirms that leadership of this nature instilled in schoolchildren inevitably leads to fear and desperation (Armbruster 173). In this case, truth does not matter, and the promoted ideology prevails over any other considerations. As a result, children like Min are forced to lie out of the fear of the country leaders and live with this guilt and regrets.

Generally, under cruel regimes, adolescents and teenagers have been manipulated for the purpose of advancing government-related plans. Min accurately portrays how children are forced and what terrible consequences follow such treatment (Lau 583). Disapproving her beloved teacher for fear of political leadership draws some emotional responses from Min, highlighting how children and the youth are trapped in the political leadership tugs of war. Education is supposed to be the channel leading children into a bright future (Armbruster 175). However, in the described situation, this provision can hardly be followed, and children are adversely affected. This influence is determined by the government and leadership dictating the curriculum in many schools pursuing their goals instead of complying with the specified need. In the end, students’ minds are shaped for producing the next generation of leaders, whereas the system neglects them. From this perspective, it is unclear what impact this intention might have on their offspring.

The values and teachings deep-rooted into Min’s teenage life comprehensively reflect the problems of the learning system. This era was marked by politics, deception, and corruption, which changed children’s identity, thereby creating a system in which young people are not afraid to turn against their values for the sake of power (Armbruster 176). Min’s portrayal of leadership during the Cultural Revolution shows that individuality in its high personal perspective is tough in a community where an individual’s values and identity do not belong to them. This opinion is explained by the fact that one is incapable to be a leader in a system, in which he is only an instrument of regulating people’s relationships.

Instability in leadership can be seen not only on the governmental level but also in personal affairs. Min’s story proves this stance by emphasizing the effects of her teacher’s betrayal. In the beginning, she enjoys her position as the head of the class, an excellent student, and the Little Reds leader, which gives her peace of mind (Lau 586; Min 14). Nevertheless, when her loyalty to the system is tested by the order to betray her teacher, it shows her not only her own instability in this environment but evokes doubts regarding the authorities’ position. From this perspective, both her education and the party’s fairness appear elusive when she ends up at the farm and her future becomes less optimistic.

Another source of instability in the regime is the personal feelings of people, as in the situation when Min fell in love with Yan, and her loyalty to her became stronger than to the government. The two young people met at the farm, and the woman was Min’s camp commander (Lau 583). This situation was unacceptable for the government since it banned exploring one’s passion, especially with people of the same sex (Lau 583). However, this secret affair turned into a silent rebellion and a political scheme against Communist China. Min explains her love of Yan’s “shyness because no one else would think of her as shy, her intimacy belonged to me.” (Min 26). This opinion correlates with the disguised attempts to protest against the system, and their passion becomes solely political. When Min and Yan cross each other’s bodies, the memoir expresses it as a rebellious statement rather than a passionate one. Thus, the instability comes when the loyalty shifts away from the party to Yan, which is especially significant, as she is another woman.

Additionally, Min demonstrates how easy it was in Communist China to provoke the instability in leadership by simply insinuating that anti-revolutionary activity took place. Lu, one of the well-known political leaders at the farm, despised Min and Yan and tried to expose their relationship as anti-revolutionary; eventually, she herself became the subject to the one-party system, which she wanted to exploit. Yan seduced Lu, and they were found half-naked by the Chief Party Secretary, who viewed them as his two best officers (Min 50). As a result of this discovery, they both were sent to prison. This event shows that even the most loyal people to the regime are not guaranteed any stability under dictatorial rule. Lu, who previously had a flawless reputation as a party leader, in one instant became an anti-revolutionary in the eyes of her superiors and the team. It also demonstrates that the instability in leadership could be triggered simply by the fact that an individual is engaged in a romantic relationship with another person. The importance of this conclusion is in the manifestation of such events on a personal level significantly affecting governmental affairs.

Finally, the death of Chairman Mao needs to be addressed more thoroughly since it constitutes one of the major acts of leadership instability, which shows that under a dictatorship, even the most powerful people can lose their influence in an instant. The departure of the influential political figure exposes the main flaw of many strict systems, namely, the lack of any methods, which would govern the standard procedure of the transition of power. As a person who controlled every aspect of the Chinese state, Mao’s relatives were considered potentially dangerous to the government, which would be installed after the death of the chairman. Eventually, the passing of the beloved leader of the nation resulted in a decision by its successors to neutralize the threat posed by Mao’s widow, Jiang Ching, whose real name was Jiang Qing. She was the fourth wife of Mao and represented the image of “Iron Girl,” who always wore military attire in public. Yet, despite being a reputable figure during her husband’s lifetime, she completely lost all her power after the death of Mao since the ministers chose her as one of the people to blame for the Cultural Revolution (Rossman 58). As Min writes in her memoir, even during Mao’s funeral, which was televised, “we hardly saw the face of the widow” (Min 86). Essentially, an effort was made to completely undermine the status of the widow in the face of the public. Yet, more importantly, the loss of political influence and power by Jiang Ching also meant negative consequences for everyone who was associated with her and her projects. Min (86) compared being recognized as a follower of Ching as having “Black stains splashed on my dossier.” Essentially, leadership instability on the top resonated through the hierarchy and reached the lowest levels of it.

“Red Azalea,” tells a powerful story of how leadership and instability intersected in the Chinese Cultural Revolution era and warns about the shortcomings of these forces in our modern society. This essay provides a complete analysis of the existing leadership instabilities highlighted in the text. Min learned to take on leadership duties when she was just a young child; a role which took away from her childhood. She relates this occurrence to the harsh regime existing in her country during this era. The memoir reveals Min’s rendition of the brutal Cultural Revolution and its related consequences. The memoir exposes the leadership instability, which affected all citizens of the country during and after the Cultural Revolution. Such instability is sensed in all aspects of life and on all levels of the state’s hierarchy. For instance, using the example of Mao’s wife, Jiang Ching, it demonstrated how authoritarian regimes do not guarantee any protection from harassment even to the most privileged members of society. Essentially, the memoir indicates that in the absence of any democratic institutions, instability becomes an inherent part of the state.

References

Armbruster, Elif. “The Chinese American Miracle: An Interview with Anchee Min.” MELUS: Ethnic Literature of the United States, vol. 40, no, 4, 2015, pp. 173-190. Web.

Lanlan, Du. “From Taboo to Open Discussion: Discourses of Sexuality in Azalea Mountain and Red Azalea.” Comparative Literature Studies, vol. 52, no. 1, 2015, pp. 130-144. Web.

Lau, Emily. “Anchee Min’s Red Azalea: Memoir as an Enterprise to Self-Discovery.” Forum for World Literature, vol. 11, no. 4, 2020, pp. 583-606. Studies

Min, Anchee. Red Azalea. Anchor Books, 2006.

Rossman, Gabriel. “Red Terror.” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, no. 306, 2019, pp. 55-60. Gale Academic OneFile

Wilson A. Fences. Plume, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a Division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 1986.