Motorbikes and Mao: dancing and standing

by Kit Munro

Without really knowing how it happened, I found myself acting as a security guard at the Hampton Downs racetrack for a motorbike event. This job consisted of standing, rooted to the spot, outside a pub near the racetrack. Actually this pub was inside the circle of the track so I had a good view of the action.

I had to tell the bikies (motorbike enthusiasts) that they were not allowed to take their drinks with them when they left the pub, else the racetrack would loose its liquor license. The weather was atrocious, nobody really wanted to drink outside, so over the four hours of the job I only had to warn about twenty people. They were all very good about it. In fact, the rougher and harder they looked the more polite they seemed. Some of the roughest looking folk even commiserated with me over having such an awful job, although the job did not seem that bad to me.

The only downside to the job would have been the boredom, I had no interest in watching motorbikes go round in circles for four hours.

Here I am, feeling uncomfortable in pants, shoes and vest. At least I am a world away…in a tiny village in northern China.

Naturally, I had secreted my ipod and headphones in my uniform. On the ipod, were loaded three new books. I decided to start Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin.

If I had felt sorry for myself (which I didn’t) at having the bad luck to be stuck at a race track in the pouring rain, dealing with bikies,  then the first few chapters of this book would have given me a little perspective.

I had heard about these two major events in 20th century China, The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution, from history at school. However, aside from knowing that they happened, and that they were pretty rough going, that was about all I knew.

To read about it from the perspective of one of the countless millions of poor, who saw the consequences of these events, was difficult, but important.

Mao’s Last Dancer also shows the changing face of China in the mid-20th Century:

Cunsang was lucky to have survived his first week in the Li family. When he was only a few days old, there was an accident. Two of the bigger brothers were playing, stacking up chairs, and the chairs crashed down upon Cunsang’s head. He started having seizures. My mother took him immediately to the hospital where the doctor told her that he most likely had brain damage, but was too young to have any treatment. All my mother could do was take him home.

For several days he did not feed, he cried nonstop and the seizures continued. Finally, in desperation, my mother wrapped him in a little handmade blanket, took him out into the snow, and left him on the Northern Hill, close by our village. She thought somebody with magic power might save him. She cried all the way home.

My father’s mother, Na-na, came by later to check on her new grandson. Na-na was a kind, tiny little woman. When she found the baby missing, she begged my crying mother to tell her where he was. Eventually she did, and Na-na rushed on her crippled, bound feet to the Northern Hill. She found Cunsang and took him home. He was blue all over, nearly frozen to death, and had a severe fever for several days. But then, miraculously, Cunsang stopped crying. The seizures ended and he seemed to recover.

He too grew up with the rest of his brothers in that crowded house, and my mother eventually came to be known as “that lucky woman with seven sons.”

I found my copy of Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin here.If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.