The Gunners of Shenyang
The Gunners of Shenyang is set in the early ´60s in Maoist China. The student narrator might, in this country, be telling us a story about college pranks, or the weird and disgusting habits of his roommates—all the usual things expected of a coming-of-age story. Sadly, Yu Jihui, whose story this is, lived in China during the “Great Leap Forward,” a criminally negligent program of industrialization in which as many as 45 million Chinese died of starvation. This environment certainly put a damper on any “Animal House” fun and games. These young men were simply too hungry to get up to much, except flatulence contests, which resulted from a diet of soybean husks. The cover picture, of the hand clutching a carrot, represents the grim story, where ordinary, lively young men try to stay alive and suitably patriotic in an insane world of endless political meetings and under the continual threat of denouncement and banishment. A stolen carrot, in fact, precipitates the ultimate, fatal action. Of necessity, this is a gray novel about a gray time; nevertheless, it is also a worthwhile personal testament both to the horrors of a murderous dictatorship and to the resilience of the human spirit.