“Gong’s class was on the fourth floor.” Her mother was undeterred: “School was her only way out.
We didn’t want her to work in the fields like us.”The medical bills drove the family into debt, which tormented Gong.
(“If anyone ever liked me, I have yet to hear about it.”) She spent her childhood at the foot of a mountain in the village of Waduangang, in Hunan, the home province of Chairman Mao. During the Cultural Revolution, they were paired because they had been branded as “well-off peasants,” one of the Five Black Categories.
When Gong was sixteen, her test scores got her into the top local high school, a transformative moment for a farming family.
But those practices merely reinforced existing barriers, and for vast numbers of people the collision of love, choice, and money was a bewildering new problem.
“There was one especially tall building, the laboratory,” Jiang said.Arranged marriages were banned in 1950, but twenty years later, when the anthropologist Yan Yunxiang moved to a village in China’s northeast, local women had so little say regarding whom they married that they sobbed when they left home on their wedding day.Elders continued to oversee the choice of spouses until a wave of modernization swept across the country in the early eighties.She recently released a book, “Love Well, Don’t Get Hurt,” and her advice reads like an argument against China’s ancient pieties.If your mother-in-law sees you as “nothing but a baby-maker” and your husband won’t help, she told one new wife, forget the husband, “get some courage, and get out of that family.” In the case of a newly rich couple with the husband sleeping around, she applauded the wife for not becoming a “blubbering, feeble, pitiful creature,” and, instead, making him sign a contract that will cost him all his assets if he cheats again.