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A story of three generation of the women set in Canada, the United States and China
The Long March Home tells the story of three generations of women. Agnes, a young Canadian goes to China as a missionary from the United Church of Canada and falls in love with a Chinese medical student. Growing anti-western sentiment forces her return to home to Nova Scotia, where she discovers she is pregnant. Meihua, their American-born daughter, travels to China in search of her father and winds up marrying a Chinese man, but the Cultural Revolution tears their lives apart. With both parents imprisoned, it falls to the family’s illiterate maid, Yao, to shield their daughter, Yezi, and her brother, from family tragedy, poverty and political discrimination, negotiating their survival during the revolution that she barely understands. Only after her mother is released, does Yezi, learn about her foreign grandmother, Agnes, who lives in Boston and has lost contact with the family since Yezi’s birth. Curious about her ancestry, Yezi joins her grandmother, Agnes, in the U.S. and learns about her life in China with the man her mother still longs to find.
One August afternoon, Meihua came home from another denunciation meeting organized by the Workers’ Propaganda Team and held in the university’s auditorium. She sat at the table and sipped the bowl of soup that Yao had prepared for her. She felt nauseous as she recalled that afternoon’s scene on the stage. A professor of economics, an older man, was forced to confess his crime because in class he had explained the practice of life insurance in North America. A loudspeaker in his hand, the lead worker had yelled at the professor, “Why don’t you admit you were brainwashed in the U.S.?” Pointing to the audience, the leader smirked. “Everybody knows ‘life insurance’ is a big lie! What can ensure a person’s forever life?” Turning to the audience, he hollered, “I’m telling you. He isn’t a professor, but a running dog of capitalists! Everybody dies even if you buy a life insurance!” He paused for a moment and then added, “No, I don’t mean everybody.” He clasped his hand over his mouth, with an exaggerated gesture, indicating to his audience that he had made a grievous error: “everybody” might be interpreted to include Chairman Mao. But Mao was immortal. So he shouted, “Long live Chairman Mao!” to cover his slip of tongue. These words still echoed in Meihua’s ears when she slowly finished the last spoonful of her soup. She shook her head as if to rid herself of that shameful vision. How is Lon? Meihua wondered with increasing anxiety. He hadn’t been allowed to come home since the Chinese New Year. Hopefully he doesn’t suffer because of the denunciations. Hopefully he is not attacked because of his American wife.
“You didn’t like the soup?” Yao asked.
Meihua returned to the present. “Of course I did. I just finished it,” she answered, pulling her face into a smile. “How’s Yezi?” she asked. Yao was her principle caregiver now. Lon was not at home, and Meihua was preoccupied with her classes and endless political studies meetings.
“She’ll be awake any minute. Her bottle’s ready.”
Watching Sang bite into a steamed bun and swallow big mouthfuls of scrabbled egg with tomato, Meihua smiled. My children are healthy. That’s all that matters. But she could not help but also worry incessantly about Dahai. Like most of the high school students dispatched to the countryside, Dahai had been sent to a military farm in an area bordering Vietnam and Laos. Hopefully he’s fine there, Meihua thought, going to her bedroom to check on Yezi. The 14-month-old baby was already wide awake, her feet kicking and hands grasping at the air. She giggled when Meihua bent over the
crib to kiss her.
“Oh, my dear!” Meihua’s face lit up as she picked her daughter up and carried her back to the living room. She took the warm bottle Yao had placed on the table, sat down in a chair near the room’s only window, and placed the bottle in her baby’s eager mouth. Wrapped in the cocoon of Meihua’s arms, Yezi drank thirstily from the bottle, one hand on the bottle, the other wrapped tightly around her mother’s fingers. Yao and Meihua were started by the sound of heavy footsteps outside their door. Meihua raised her eyes from her daughter’s face to see a large man push the door open and stride purposefully into the room.
Yao stood up. “What are you doing here?” she asked, a worried frown on her face.
“Who is Meihua Wei?” his voice boomed.
“I am,” Meihua said.
A middle-aged woman followed the man into the room and walked toward Meihua. “You’re American, right? And your real name is Mayflora Willard!”
“But I live and work for China. My Chinese name is Meihua Wei,” she said firmly, wondering how they had gotten the information from her official dossier. “I have lived here for 19 years. My father is Chinese. I am married to a Chinese man.”
“You are an American spy!” The woman yelled. “You—”
Shocked and afraid, Meihua watched Yezi’s bottle tumble to the floor, Yezi started wailing. Stroking her daughter’s back, Meihua implored the woman, “Can you please not shout? My child—”
“Come with us! You must confess your crime!” the man barked, his thick eyebrows twisting on his furrowed forehead.
As Yao walked toward Meihua and took Yezi from her arms, she turned to the intruders and pleaded, “Don’t scare the kids, please.”
“We’re from the Red Workers’ Brigade,” the man shouted, placing himself directly in front of Meihua, his heels clicking loudly against the floor. “You are under arrest for your anti-revolutionary crimes!”
“Come with us. Don’t waste our time!” The woman beside him pulled Meihua’s arm, dragging her toward the door.
“Mamma, can I go with you?” Sang cried out, weeping as he ran toward her and grasped her hand. “Please, mamma, take me with you! Please mamma!”
Meihua’s heart constricted. She could hardly breathe; her lungs felt as though they would explode inside her chest. “My darling Sang, stay with Yao, and be a good boy. Mamma will be back very soon.” Turning toward Yao, Meihua gasped, the anguish in her eyes almost unbearable. “I will go with them, Yao. Please take care of the children.”
“Everything will be fine,” Yao said, tears streaming unchecked down her face. “We’ll wait for you to come back.” Yao was nodding, wiping the tears from her eyes with her sleeve. Yezi cradled in her arm, Sang’s hand in her hand, Yao led them both into the bedroom. She did not want the children to be any more frightened than they already were.
“Don’t wait for me. Go to bed as usual,” Meihua said, her voice tight, turning to walk through the already open door.
“Let’s go!” barked the man, pushing Meihua roughly out into the courtyard.