Fiction Fest: We’re not monkeying around! Here’s more from Patrick Nohrden’s ‘The Crystal Monkey’

Crystal-Monkey_9781462114818Patrick Nohrden’s “The Crystal Monkey” has been available since Nov. 11 and recently received praise on the book’s blog tour.

For instance, this blogger said, “This is a fantastic coming-of-age story that will make you feel like you’re witnessing history.”

“The Crystal Monkey” is available in bookstores and from online retailers.


From the author: Min Li witnesses her first “struggle session,” typical during the Cultural Revolution when friends, neighbors, and even relatives reported each other to the authorities for being exhibiting traits that went against Chinese communism and against the teachings of Mao Zedong. The results were usually more than expected and often with horrific results.


Soon Min Li, her mother, and her brother were on Liberation Road in front of Mr. Li’s shop. A reluctant fragment of an angry crowd was there, some still with rocks in their hands. Broken glass and debris from inside the store lay strewn on the dirty street. Min Li recognized some of the European porcelain dolls, their faces shattered, as well as other toys, knickknacks, and assorted items formerly for sale in Mr. Li’s shop. She could not see whether the crystal monkey was there or not, nor did she have time to look further, since she was being tugged by her mother who was walking with the flow the crowd.

They turned left at the corner and had just started up the gradual slope of Cemetery Road when Min Li nearly stopped breathing due to what she saw. A large platform had been erected in front of the old church, flooded in light by several stage lights while Chinese patriotic music played over the loudspeakers. On the platform stood a perky Red Guard wearing a green Mao suit and sprouting a red armband proclaiming her affiliation to a particular Red Guard unit. To her right and her left were six older villagers, all badly beaten, all on their knees, and all with their hands tied behind their backs. Their arms had been placed over boards that were arranged across their backs so that their tied hands were elevated behind them, giving them the appearance of imitating airplanes. One of the old men fell as if having passed out, but he was pulled back into position by his hair. That was when Min Li recognized him as Father Wang, the retired priest.

Along with the priest were Mr. Li, the gift shop owner; Feng Lan Lan, the wife of Zheng Yun Fei; Zhao Hui Ren, the agricultural planning office cadre alleged to be Feng Lan Lan’s boyfriend; Bai San Ni, the headmaster of the village primary school; and Sun Peng Jiu, the director of the agricultural production teams. All were similarly tied, kneeling, and airplaned, with evidence of having been beaten.

Min Li found herself in the largest crowd she had ever experienced. With few exceptions, everybody in the village was present, including her Ye Ye and Nai Nai. The excitement of most of the crowd was contagious, and too many people seemed pleased with the events, so much so that there appeared a single vapor over the entire crowd created by the breath of the speaking mixing with the cold air, partially blurring the spectacle on the platform. A much smaller number of people appeared anxious, even apprehensive or fearful. Fewer people still muffled sobs as tears froze on their cheeks from the arctic-like night air.

At the front of the crowd, just before it met the platform, were all the teachers from the village primary school, lined up and on their knees, although none had been bound. They were there to learn so that they could better teach China’s next generation of revolutionaries.

Suddenly, the music stopped, and the young woman on the platform began to speak into a microphone. “The Chairman said: ‘It is up to us to organize the people. As for the reactionaries in China, it is up to us to organize the people to overthrow them. Everything reactionary is the same; if you don’t hit it, it won’t fall. This is also like sweeping the floor; as a rule, where the broom does not reach, the dust will not vanish of itself.’ Comrades, that is exactly what we are doing tonight. We have come to Shangguang, a small corner in the great house of China, in order to sweep out the grime that pollutes this village, to sweep out the contagion that infects our great dictatorship of the people, to save China and to invigorate the revolution.

“You see before you some of that dirt, the same dirt that’s been contaminating your good village since before the revolution. Holdouts from the past, reactionaries, counterrevolutionaries, capitalist roaders, agents of imperialist powers, and those that seek to foul the air of Shangguang, of China, with their bourgeois habits.”

Min Li understood little of this. She had heard many of the words before. They were much of the same that raked her ears every day from the village public address system. She listened anyway, because she was expected to listen, and she was a good Chinese. Meanwhile, she scanned the crowd for her Ye Ye and Nai Nai, spotting them near the back. Min Li grabbed her mother’s hand and pulled her toward her grandparents. Xiong Yong followed, nodding at his classmates as he passed them.

“Did you see Teacher Luo in the front row?” one of them asked.

Xiong Yong’s eyes widened in surprise. Luo Mei Guo was his teacher, and he liked her when she was not yelling at him for not knowing all of his characters. “Why is she up there?” he wondered aloud.

“They’re all up there, all the teachers—even the janitor, but he’s standing.”

Just then Lian Min tugged her son sharply, giving him no more time to gossip with his classmate. Ye Ye spotted the trio first and acknowledged their presence by holding his hands out for Min Li to jump into. Especially because of the cold air, she welcomed Ye Ye’s warm embrace, his smile not so much, though. Three of his good friends were on the platform. Ye Ye regularly played mahjong with Mr. Li, Father Wang, and Headmaster Bai San Ni.

“Our Chairman believes that most people can be reeducated and become productive members of society,” continued the Red Guard on the platform. “Some, however, are beyond hope. Those who cling to the bourgeois habits of our imperial enemies are the most difficult. In these individuals, there is no hope of acceptance into the proletariat. They are too corrupted by the false promises of the West, and even if they show evidence of rehabilitation, they quickly fall prey to their past recklessness while encouraging others to do likewise, thereby causing an awful strain on society. These are counterrevolutionaries of the worst kind and must be swept from society.”

What happened next caused Ye Ye to hug Min Li even tighter. She was just starting to nod off in his arms, but Ye Ye inadvertently woke her. Min Li turned to look across the large crowd in the direction of the platform as the young woman continued her diatribe.

“Feng Lan Lan and Zhao Hui Ren, you stand accused of encouraging counterrevolutionary activities in this village by your indiscreet liaisons. The Western imperialist dogs tolerate such conduct, but this cannot be tolerated in a dictatorship of the proletariat. You are the dirt that can never be cleaned from the surface of any floor. You are the dirt that can only be eliminated by replacing the floor. You are therefore sentenced by the people to be summarily eliminated.”

Just as she finished speaking these words, two male Red Guards, who were standing at each end of the line of teachers, raised their rifles and shot the illicit lovers in their foreheads. The look of surprise froze on both victims’ faces as they slumped over, spraying people in the first three rows with blood. Women in the crowd screamed, children cried, and men gulped air or uttered oaths. This was more than they expected. Before the murmuring of the crowd could cease, four more Red Guards dragged the bodies off the platform and hung the corpses on the eaves of the old church, then they tied them together so they would sway in unison.