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Yun B

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  1. Title: to Love or Not to Love - Forbidden Love in Two Acts Author: Yun Butler Genre: Memoir Comparable: Son of the Revolution – Heng and Shapiro Red Azalea – Min Hook Line: Forbidden loves amid the tumult of Maoist China and its aftermath. Pitch: My family and I are living on the beautiful Peking University campus in the mid-1950s. Our future seems bright. But when China is rocked by a succession of societal upheavals that culminate in the death and destruction of the Cultural Revolution, everything crumbles. Early on, father is caught in a political trap and is largely absent from our lives. As my family falters, mother struggles to keep us afloat. Despite our travails, I become a fervent believer in Chairman Mao. Worn down by the pressure, mother seeks solace in the arms of a much younger lover. She tricks father into a divorce and marries her lover, a culturally forbidden relationship that tears the family apart. I struggle to navigate through our disintegrating family and a society gone mad. Personal betrayals by those wanting to burnish their Maoist credentials end my revolutionary dreams. I move from a true believer to a free thinker. Still, my future looks bleak. Hope is injected into my life with the death of Chairman Mao. Although I was not allowed to attend high school, I pass the entrance exam and enter college. Despite a government ban on relationships with foreigners, I fall in love with one of the first American students in China. I feel great joy but worry - what will happen if I’m caught?
  2. Chapter 1 Anti-Rightist Movement Five minutes, that’s all it was. Actually, it was less than that. There was no violence, no natural disaster, no screaming throngs. All that happened was some words were spoken. Words that abruptly changed the trajectory of my life and which have haunted me for the last half century. It happened one day in 1957 after a long trip father took with Russian experts. It happened in a meeting in which the leaders of Beijing Geology College asked for advice. It happened on that podium father used to give lectures that so captivated his students. It was rooted in father’s scholarly mind that was always questioning. It was transported through father’s voice that could travel to the farthest corner of the auditorium. It depended on father’s naïve heart, which trusted the leaders. It could be blamed on father’s belief that he could do better than the bureaucrats. But it should all be credited to the great leader, Chairman Mao. Let me explain that last statement for those not familiar with modern Chinese history. In 1957, Chairman Mao felt that he did not have the upper hand in the struggle for power. Each time he was not completely sure of his position, he would drag the country into the struggle by creating some mass movement. He had no hesitation to stir up the country to maintain control. This time he created a movement called “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred parties compete for their voices”. His intention was to attack his enemies within the Communist Party. He stated that the Party sincerely wanted all walks of life to offer their criticisms - the harder, the better - to strengthen the leadership and, thus, the country. But when the intellectuals opened their mouths, Mao realized that his position might be threatened and changed directions. Instead of attacking his enemies in the Party, he was going to get those obnoxious intellectuals. His strategy was to set an open net to let the intellectuals speak out, and then close the net to catch them. He not only set up the strategy, but also, without any basis, created a percentage of intellectuals that must be caught in each unit. If not enough people spoke up, then the leaders of that unit had to find fault with those who had remained silent. “Rightist” would be the label given to this new category of enemies of the country. “Listen to Chairman Mao’s teachings and follow the Party’s guide” was the call and leaders at all levels enthusiastically followed to catch those who dared speak up. The leaders of the Geology College followed the plan and announced an all-staff meeting. The day arrived and the leaders and staff gathered in the auditorium. The head cleared his throat and began to speak. He said that the college was only a few years old and the leaders did not have much experience in running it. Although they had made progress, they had also made mistakes. They needed everyone to offer their criticisms, suggestions, and opinions to help the college function better. There were different reactions in the audience. People who knew the game plan either by their position in the Communist Party or from friends were quiet. People who cared nothing about the leaders were unmoved. People who were trying to avoid trouble were silent. People who did not trust the leaders ignored the plea. Only a few naïve, outspoken individuals were ready to answer the call. Father was a scholar, pure and simple. He did not know how to play political games and did not know how to read the leaders’ minds. But he also could not just mind his own business. He believed what the leader had said and that they needed help from wise men like him. He was a good but arrogant man. He stood up and walked to the podium. He was sure that this movement would correct some of the past mistakes of the leadership, and he was just the man to bring those mistakes to light. He stood behind the podium with a straight back. He looked taller and more important than at any other time at that podium. He pointed out that the head of his department had hired relatives without going through the appropriate search procedures. That was corruption he thundered, an abuse of power. He was a person who could deliver a speech with passion and with an attitude, and his loud words reached every corner of the auditorium. He was quickly done and walked back to his seat. He had released his pent-up frustration regarding the behavior of the head of his department and was confident that his words would produce change. They did, but not in the way he had anticipated. What did he say exactly? I do not know. The above description is based on a few words from mother, third-hand information, and father’s personality. No one ever told me and no written record could be found. In 2007, I accompanied my husband to the China University of Geosciences in Beijing (formerly, Beijing Geology College) for a lecture he presented. There I met a student of father’s, Mr. Shen. At the banquet following the lecture, I asked him what father had said and he replied, “What could be said? It was just all those odds-and-ends about the leaders’ faults at the college.” Odds-and-ends! That was the cause of the big disaster that befell father and the family, and for which we paid dearly for so many years. Each department had a quota for Rightists and the head of father’s department was understandably eager to remove him from the scene. A few days later, the college leadership categorized father as a “Rightist”. In fact, he was labeled as the “Number One Rightist” at Beijing Geology College and as an “Extreme Rightist” in the country. His name was listed among all the “elite” Rightists in the Communist Party’s leading newspaper “The People’s Daily”. An estimated one-quarter (more than 550,000) of the educated elite (intellectuals) were labeled as Rightists and paid a harsh price for their frankness. We were told that the term Rightist was derived from a meeting in the early days of the Russian Revolution in which Lenin presented one of his plans. He sat at the head of a long table and comrades sat on his right and left. When the time for votes came, the comrades on the left side all voted yes for his plans while those on the right all voted no. Consequently, all the comrades on his right ended up in jail. Thus, the term Leftist referred to the revolutionary faction, while Rightist referred to the anti-revolutionary group. I was taught the Lenin story in my political classes while growing up. Later, I learned that the roots of the term can be traced back to the French Revolution. In any case, in China, Rightist became the term to describe enemies among the intellectuals. The days after father was categorized as a Rightist were dark and gloomy. He was criticized in meetings big and small, day and night. His face was like an immutable stone carving and he was silent at home. There was no life and motion in his eyes, which gazed through the window at the willow tree that he had planted when the family moved into the new house in 1953. His mind was numb; nothing occurred in that organ that once had been the source of such pride. That one day, one meeting, and one speech ruined all that he had studied, worked and struggled for since he was a young boy. The title of Number One Rightist was accompanied by the harshest punishment. He was fired from his post (and thus lost his salary) and sent to a labor camp for reeducation. I always wondered what would have happened if some of the following ifs had occurred. If that trip with the Russian experts had lasted a little longer; If father had those in the know warning him that Chairman Mao’s words should not be taken at face value; If he had not been so arrogant; Back up a few years for another if: if he had stayed at Tsinghua University, he would not have gained the top Rightist title; there were too many big fish and sizable turtles in that big pond. He would have been a “normal” Rightist with a minimum penalty. But, in the small pond of Beijing Geology College, he was the big fish. … … Even if any of those ifs had occurred, the Communist Party would still have found a reason to sentence a questioning intellectual like father. He might have escaped the 1957 movement, but he would not have escaped later ones. As the Chinese proverb states: “If you want to proclaim someone guilty, you can always find some reasons”. What a “gift” the Communist Party and the People’s Government gave to the families of the Rightists for the Spring Festival of 1958, the biggest traditional holiday in China. On February 17, 1958, nine days after I turned three and on the eve of the Spring Festival, father packed a little suitcase with a change of clothing and toiletries. He had to go. What kind of scene was it? I can only use my imagination to fill the gap in my mind of his sad departure. Father quietly glanced around the house after he finished packing. Mother sat silently on the sofa; she was seven months pregnant with their last child. My seven-year-old Brother Mao stood next to her, the only child who had some understanding of what had happened. Brother Star and I played in the corner of the living room. For us, our father was just going away on one of the trips he always took. Father tied the luggage on his back and pushed open the door without a single word. He walked on the brick path in the yard, opened the front gate, turned left, walked eastward along the fence, turned left again at the telephone pagoda, and then walked north toward the cafeteria. He might have looked back at his home as he started his walk toward hell. Army trucks were parked on Chengfu Road behind Zhongguan Garden. Father joined a crowd consisting of hundreds of Rightists sentenced to labor camp from universities and colleges in that area, which was designated as the Eight Universities and Colleges District (all the major universities and colleges were located there). Soldiers with machine guns were watching as the crowd formed a single file to board the trucks. What was the point of machine guns? This crowd was just a bunch of “half-drowned dogs”, a term the Communist Party used to describe its captured enemies. No families were allowed in that gathering. No one was to say goodbye - there was no need for such nonsense. No one was to say see you later - there was no known later. The truck was full. The engine roared to life and the truck began to move. Where was the labor camp? How long would the labor reform last? No one knew and no one dared ask.
  3. New York Pitch Assignment Final Yun Butler Feb 20 2022 updated March 9 4AM 2022.docx
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