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A Glorious Nation? MAG
Chinain the early 1990s.
Can't I just sleep for five minutes more,Grandpa?" I murmured.
"Han, get ready! There's no time todawdle. You know how hard it is to go across town in the morningrush."
ReluctantIy, I crawled out of my bed and put on the green andwhite uniform of my school. I tied the crimson band of honor around my neck withgreat care and pride. The red brooch of honor glittered in the summersun.
I'm eight years old, and like any good child of the Communist Party,enrolled in the National Elementary School of the fifth district. My grandpa toldme that the leaders believe the people should be technically skilled, andpolitically committed to Communist ideas from the beginning of their lives.Hence, a solid education is the key to becoming good citizens.
Dropped offin front of the school, I quickly made my way to the assigned spot in theschoolyard. My friends looked drowsy, probably from getting up at 5:30 a.m., butthey were there nonetheless, waiting for the morning announcement. Sure enough,it began punctually at 6 a.m. Our flag was raised while the national anthemplayed in the background. Every student remained in a rigid posture and salutedthe gently swaying flag. I stealthily looked around, and saw my best friend, Lei,standing with pride and courage shining through his eyes.
An upperclassmansang the anthem in a clear, resonant voice.
Rise, those who wish to befree of oppression!
Rise, and topple the old regime.
We willestablish a greater republic, a People's Republic, based on the principles ofjustice and equality.
Through our combined efforts, China will emerge as aglorious nation.
Our future will be radiant!
O rise, rise,rise!
The music drew to a triumphant close just as the flag reached thetop of the pole. With the ceremony over, the classes walked into the building toour respective classrooms. I sat and methodically took out my pencil case,notebook and textbook, placing them on the worn desk.
"Hey,Lei," I whispered. "You wanna see my latest Action Mancards?"
"Wow! I tried every store to find them. Ireally-"
He stopped talking as Ms. Chen, our plump, middle-agedteacher, walked briskly into the classroom. Everyone rose from their seats andsaluted her.
"Good morning, Teacher Chen," we said inunison.
"Good morning, class, you may be seated. Today we will finishreading the story of Mr. Wen. Would somebody summarize the plot?" Six handsshot up, including mine.
I stood with alacrity. "Mr. Wen has a richson in America who owns two cars, a night club, and a mansion. He bid his fatherto join him there, but Wen refused resolutely because he was needed in hisvillage. Wen intentionally gave up the possibility of a luxurious life, and choseto remain behind in order to serve his community. America might be a good place,but it is nothing compared with one's homeland." I sat, beaming as theteacher praised me. What can I say? I am a glutton for commendation.
Thebell sounded at noon, signaling lunch. I grabbed my chopsticks, then quickly ranto the cafeteria. Today was special; we do not get large portions of poultry mostof the time. After filling my bowl with a generous amount of rice and chicken, Iwriggled out of the swarming crowd and sauntered back to the classroom.
Irounded the corner when these words caught my attention. "My mother asked meto give this to you for your great efforts and dedication to instructing theclass. I hope you like the lipstick and perfume. They were made inU.S.A."
I stopped in my tracks, and saw a girl handing a package tothe teacher. I was speechless. Bribery is cheating, right?
"Oh! Why,thank you. How thoughtful. Remind me to give you a good recommendation to thehonors class for next year. You are certainly a very motivated student. I'm surethe advanced Chinese literature class will not exceed your abilities." I wastreading on sensitive issues that I wanted to stay clear of. Pretending not tohear what had just passed, I briskly walked away.
* * *
Every summer we had to dedicate a day to community service. The dreadedday arrived and my friends and I stepped out into the sun wearing pants andlong-sleeved shirts. Killing flies in the local food market was our task. I wasarmed with insecticide sprays and fly swappers. I had every intention of devotingmy Saturday to ridding the community of pests. We were told to record the numberof flies we killed. After three hours of exterminating, I tallied 17, which wasquite a few compared with Lei's total. I wrote the fly casualty number on theregister, fully convinced that I topped the charts. The supervisor glanced at thepaper, sighed, and whispered to me. "Han, you should write at least 70!Everyone does that, you know."
"But I didn't kill 70flies," I said, furrowing my brows.
"It doesn't make adifference, nobody checks anyway."
Hesitantly, I crossed out the 17and replaced it with 70. I was a little skeptical. I wasn't sure if I had donethe right thing. However, if a party member says I should do so, it must beright. Still, I had misgivings about this cover-up.
* * *
One fine Monday morning I went to my usual spot to wait for theceremony. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see my gym teacher, Mr. Xu. Ibowed politely and started to say, "Good morning, Mr. Xu," but before Icould, he asked in a very pleasant tone: "Han, is it true that you have anuncle in America?"
"Yes," I replied feebly. I had mentionedthis to Lei because he was bragging about his cousin who visited Europe andneeded humbling.
"Well, you see, Han, my watch was damaged during thelast basketball game and I can't do without one."
I was gettinguneasy, partly because I saw where this was going, and partly because theceremony was starting and he was still talking.
"Since your unclelives in the United States, it would be convenient for him to get a little thingsuch as a watch."
The anthem was starting. I discretely dropped hintsfor him to pay attention, but he seemed blind to my efforts. I courteously turnedmyself so that I was facing the flag, and saluted.
"I prefer theRolex ... no, the Swiss Army brand. Could he get me one with a digital displayand black frame?"
Rise, those who wish to be free of oppression!
Rise, and topple the old regime.
"No, make that a navy blueframe. It goes well with my Levis jacket. Go home and tell your parents that ateacher of yours needs a watch, and tell them to ask your uncle to get hold ofone quickly." He smiled, and turned away.
We will establish a greaterrepublic, a People's Republic, based on the principles of justice andequality.
Mr. Xu turned back again, and added, in a hushed voice,"I'll make sure that you'll be on the top ten of the honor roll thisyear."
I looked at him incredulously. Did I hear correctly? Aren'tthey the ones who taught us not to lie, not to give or accept bribes? Theycontradict their own fundamental principles. If they do not abide by them, howcan they be good examples to younger generations?
Through our combinedefforts, China will emerge as a glorious nation.
Our future will beradiant!
O rise, rise, ri -
The song was cut short as the ropessnapped and the flag tumbled to the ground. Gasps came from all over the yard. Amortified teacher jumped on stage and explained that the ropes would require sometime to fix. For the first time in the history of the school, the national flagdid not sway in the wind.