Review | Memoirs of life as a Red Guard suffer a credibility deficit
Fan Shen’s story of revolutionary zeal and subsequent disillusionment treads a well-worn path – but it was originally written as fiction, so how reliable is it?
by Fan Shen (read by Kirk Winkler)
University Press Audiobooks
Former Red Guard Fan Shen’s story is a familiar one: a young patriot becomes one of Mao Zedong’s fanatical foot soldiers and then gets confused when some loyal Communist youths are branded anti-revolutionary and punished. Like millions of other Red Guards, Fan was sent to the countryside – in Shaanxi – to live as a peasant. After entering the barefoot doctor programme (and being forced, with no training, to amputate a child’s arm), he trained at an aircraft factory, where strange illnesses, possibly caused by the industrial use of heavy metals, accompanied alarming rates of suicide. It would be another 10 years before he’d find his way to the United States, where he entered academia. Gang of One has narrative drive but suffers from having been originally written as fiction, leading to questions about factuality.