Mind-Dancing the Loneliness of Freedom: The Life-dance-story of “Sanmao”1943-1991

For her mainland devotees, these sentiments echoed in a paradoxical way the feelings of former “Red” rebels – once (66-69) free to travel almost anywhere in China, then (69-72) reconfined (“sent down”) to such places that had no exit. Border country. The reversal and gradual “re-enchaining” into the schoolroom where they were taught nothing, only disciplined into attendance, only amplified the romance of travel = exit – as metaphor. making it the de facto definition (synonym) for democracy. qua “freedom”. This we see mapped out in the true or less than true portrait of Jose: a hookey-playing, school-hating 16 when she met him (middle schooler), but “back” from his last imprisonment in Franco’s army military (ended 1975) and finally “free” to pursue her as a symbol of what he had never been allowed to be. The yellowed photos lining his walls seem to replace the more usual religious or Madonna portraits – and triggered dismay on the part of his (never shown or named) “family”. Or were so meant to in his mind.

But this dreamed freedom was, for her, another way of getting her back into jail – if we can take Jose’s actions – his dreams of her a doing the kitchen work in his place-for-passers-through (parador or pension) – as a clue. (She certainly did). Was this warning understood, taken to heart? That seems to have been as far as her readers could go, because, unlike her, the lacked the educated self-confidence to hitch-hike to places where there had never been a Chinese, or Chinese-speaking community. Her figurative Sahara – comfortably picking up languages as she (of course) had her parents’ as fallbacks. Her knack for disarming suspicious E German “guards”, charming them, may or may not have bee real, but it placed on the agenda the problem never solved by the generation that followed her: how to (re-) accept uniformed Authority. The June 4 Mov’t’s angst, exactly what led to the in-your-face bravado of 1989. With which she is meant to have sympathised but never to the point of open defiance or risk of jail (never agaian “hem me in”).


So her definition – an anarchist and perhaps narcissist one – of freedom was iconographic, poetic. It is hard to ignore the overtones (pre-cursorage) of Ai Weiwei in his dream sculpture park. Democracy as an artist’s posture, translation of impulsivity. but also perhaps harboring a fantasy of “silent” (gagged) suicide.

If the above is anywhere near right, it helps in turn explain why there has/was even before the Jan 2011 panel so much vitriol in the Mainland media, so much and ceaseless negative editorializing, first by investigating her no doubt partly fictional travel sketches (but don’t all authors dose up here and there with expansions of real experience?) the next and much more perniciously working over her suicide – even denying it was intentional – so as to make sure it will never elevate her to a heroic status? To constrain – again 缠 chan – her possible arborescence (again the olive tree counters by its ceaseless branching out)? If she indeed wished death – had indeed co-contemplated a late-life suicide with Jose before he -as I suspect went solo- what is degrading about that? Is not in a not in a sense even rational for an artist of confession to bring silence upon herself once she recognized she was losing – had already lost?- her iconic appeal to the post Mao “enfants” she dreamt surrounded her in the maternity ward?

晨曦 chenxi the first rays of the morning sun
和祥 ausipicious


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