By Paul Gessell, The Ottawa Citizen, Canada, Oct. 4, 2009-
Egg on Mao
By Denise Chong
Random House Canada, $32.95
Ottawa author Denise Chong tried to look inconspicuous as she stood at the pre-arranged rendezvous point on a busy street in the Chinese city of Liuyang.
Before arriving, Chong had used a map to memorize the layout of the city and the locations of her clandestine destinations. She did not want to arouse suspicion or provoke queries from helpful strangers by looking lost or in search of something forbidden to foreigners.
Chong is of Chinese ancestry, lived in Beijing for a few years and has travelled to the country frequently, so she has learned how to blend in as much as possible. In her younger days, her glamorous, western-style hairdo and clothes would have instantly betrayed her as a foreigner gliding through a sea of dull Mao suits and stern haircuts.
These days, Chong jokes, she runs the risk of being the dowdy one, the only woman in China, it seems, without a dyed orange streak in her hair.
Amid the traffic of Liuyang, Chong pulled out a faded pink baseball cap and put it on her head. That was the signal. A stranger approached. The two walked towards the Liuyang River. The secrets of Liuyang were about to be revealed.
Those secrets can be found in the newly published book, Egg on Mao: The Story of An Ordinary Man Who Defaced An Icon And Unmasked A Dictatorship. This is Chong’s astounding story of Lu Decheng, a young bus mechanic from Liuyang imprisoned for nine years after he and two friends threw 30 paint-filled eggs on the giant portrait of Mao Tse-tung (often spelled Zedong) permanently displayed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The incident happened just after 2 p.m. on May 23, 1989, amid the pro-democracy student protests that ended so brutally when tanks bulldozed their way into the crowds, killing hundreds, if not thousands.
Chong’s book opens with the egg-throwing. The three men are quickly betrayed by the student demonstrators, turned over to the police and sentenced to long years in prison.
Interspersed with these events are alternating chapters on Decheng’s childhood and youth, showing how he came to despise Mao and the communist regime.
This was a regime that disciplined Decheng, while a young schoolboy, for failing to cry at a memorial for Mao, shortly after the death of the communist leader. (This transgression came back to haunt Decheng, the adult, when the authorities were investigating his egg-throwing.)
This was also a regime that tried to prevent Decheng and his girlfriend, Qiuping, both 17 at the time, from living together or getting married. And then when Qiuping became pregnant, the authorities tried to force her to have an abortion because she lacked a birth permit.
This was also a regime that tried to exploit the great love between Decheng, the prisoner, and Qiuping, the dutiful wife, for political purposes. In the end, the regime crushed that love.
By the time Decheng was released from jail, he and Qiuping were divorced. He soon remarried and later fled to Burma, then Thailand and, in 2006, he came to Canada.
Now, in poor health, he lives in Calgary with his second wife and their two sons. Decheng’s daughter from his first marriage has also come to Canada.
The other two egg-throwers served even longer prison sentences than Decheng. They have both recently left China to settle in Indiana. The three men have considerable star power within the West’s Chinese pro-democracy movement……. (more details from The Ottawa Citizen)