Dreams of Joy: A Novel

Dreams of Joy: A Novel by Lisa See Read Free Book Online

Book: Dreams of Joy: A Novel by Lisa See Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lisa See
the village, because everyone here shares the family name of Feng,” Tao explains. “Since Liberation, we’ve used the temple for meetings. Come. Come.”
    He motions to me. Something about the way his fingers beckon makes me follow him closely. Although from the outside there seemed to be a massive roof, the interior of the temple is more of an open-air courtyard, which allows the last of the day’s summer light to stream in. Huge wooden pillars painted blood red support those parts of the roof that rim the courtyard. The middle of the floor is sunken and filled with water. Carp swim desultorily. Green moss covers the stones. The pond gives a feeling of coolness, although the air temperature is no brisker or less humid than anywhere else I’ve been. Even with the open roof, the smell of gasoline lingers, but again, I haven’t seen any cars, motors, or engines since I’ve arrived.
    People—young, old, men, women, and children—sit on the stone floor along the hall’s edges. The women are dressed almost identically, in loose blue pants and short-sleeved blouses with a tiny floral print. A few wear kerchiefs over their hair. Most have braids. The men also wear loose blue pants, only with sleeveless undershirts—the kind my father and uncles wore when they sat around the dinner table on hot summer nights but what my girlfriends in Chicago always said was a marker for bad boys, like Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire .
    A well-fed man steps forward with his hand extended. He looks to be about thirty-five, and he has puffy half moons of fat under his eyes. “I am Party Secretary Feng Jin, the highest-ranked cadre in the village,” he says. After shaking hands, he points to his wife, a plump woman perched on a stone bench, her heavy legs spread wide like a man’s. “That’s my wife, Sung-ling. She’s the second-ranked cadre. We’re in charge of all activities in the collective.”
    Z.G. tips his head in greeting. “My daughter and I are honored to be here—”
    “No one said anything about a daughter,” Party Secretary Feng says bluntly.
    “She received permission to come with me,” Z.G. assures him. Until now, I hadn’t realized that maybe I shouldn’t have come with Z.G. or that I might be a problem for him, and I try to keep my face as impassive as his. “She also wants to learn and observe from real life.”
    The Party secretary eyes me suspiciously—I really need to get some different clothes—but after a long moment, he shifts subject and tone. As he speaks, it’s as though his words are meant less for us than for the villagers. “After Liberation, our great Chairman ordered all temples, shrines, and monasteries closed. Diviners and fortune-tellers were banished or arrested. Folk songs, operas, and love songs were banned. Feasts and festivals were discouraged. It’s my duty to make sure these rules are followed, but I change with the government. If I’m told to reopen the temple for village meetings, then I obey. If planting songs are once again allowed, then so be it. I’ve now been told we’ll have art lessons.” He motions to the peasants sitting and waiting. “We’ve done our work in the fields and are ready to learn.”
    He leads us farther into the temple along a wall covered with posters that seem to form a time line of life in Green Dragon Village from before Liberation to now. The first shows Red Army soldiers, smiling and helping peasants repair a break in a dyke. In the next poster, people hold slips of paper. This must be when land was redistributed. Another poster illustrates daily life: a man with a bag of wheat slung over his shoulder, another man screwing in a lightbulb, yet another talking on a telephone, while fat children play at their feet. The slogan at the bottom is straightforward: COLLECTIVIZATION MAKES EVERYONE PROSPEROUS AND CONTENT .
    “I’m honored to see that some of my work has come to your collective, Party Secretary Feng,” Z.G. says. “I hope it

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