Knocking at a Closed Gate…-Sophie

Over this Thanksgiving vacation, I was able to find some time to work on my short writing. Although this writing is not a condensed historical account that covers every aspect of the communist society in China, it unfolds a unique perspective on viewing the history. Given the free time I had during break, I finished most of the writing. In this upcoming weekend, I plan to wrap up this short story, enrich its content and polish its language. As soon as this writing is finished, I will quickly start my study on Eastern European literature because I want to finish reading one more book for my project before this semester ends. In this blog post, I would like to share more about my writing process and talk about the challenges I have met.


A writing teacher once told me, in order to set a coherent tone for your writing, it is better to listen to one song over and over again throughout your writing process. I found this suggestion rather interesting and decided to apply this knack into my short writing. Therefore, before I started writing, I picked Opus by Ryuichi Sakamoto, a Japanese musician. It is a piece of light music, which helps me to concentrate. Later, when I reflect upon this writing experience, I do think it is helpful to listen to only one song over the entire process because I can easily focus, without wasting so much time on switching songs or generating a music list.

Unlike my past writing habit, I first wrote down the opening along with the ending for this short story, and then filled in some family stories in the middle. I intentionally do so because I want to create an ending that echoes with the opening. The beginning of this short story focuses on describing the appearance of a closed door. The door is opened later when the little girl visits the “lunatic”, the old man who lives inside. In the end, when the little girl leaves the old man’s house, I wrote, “The door is closed again, but Maomao (the little girl’s name) can still hear the music that the old man plays on his radio.” For me, this little girl embodies my peers, the young generation who has never experienced the Cultural Revolution. Our knowledge is rather limited and often filtered. The old man’s door is closed not only because it is his own choice, but also because of governmental censorship and the young generation’s unwillingness to explore the history. To build a bridge between the little girl and the old man is to bring those hidden stories under exposure. I hope that we can recollect these stories just as how Maomao remembers the old man’s music.

When I was compiling this piece together, I had lots of concerns over its credibility because I am writing a fictional short story on a historical event that already happened. Without a deep understanding and a close analysis, I am not sure whether the chronological timeline I designed for my character matches with the reality. In other words, it is rather difficult for me to collect resources that confirm whether there were people who had similar backgrounds and comparable amount of tortures as my main character. I hope my story can remain a certain degree of objectivity and avoid distorting reality. For example, I had a couple of questions with regards to the setting of my story. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I started this writing by introducing a little girl who visits the house of a so-called lunatic. She is there to distribute spring couplets and red lanterns for Lunar New Year. Although my community center has previously organized similar activities, children usually visit others’ houses with the escort of an adult member. I was worried that readers might consider it not safe for a little girl to visit a total stranger’s house; however, for the purpose of this story, I prefer to create a scene in which the little girl visits the old man’s house by herself because it emphasizes the connection between the old and young generations. After consulting with Teacher Pat today, I realize that it is not necessary to have a meticulous fact check for my short story because my ultimate goal is to reflect people’s emotions of that time.

Through this writing, I not only illustrate people’s hardship and resilience, but also unfold the perspectives a communist country has on viewing western capitalist societies. For example, the main character has several self-contradicting thoughts with regards to the “imperial” countries in the West. He studies music in France at a young age and thus is heavily denounced after he returns back home. As he is insidiously brainwashed through the course of the Cultural Revolution, he often uses derogatory terms to describe Western countries, even when he is talking with the little girl. But at the very end of their conversation, he asks the little girl whether she knows how to speak English and encourages her to study abroad. In my perspective, this paradox represents the old man’s predicament – those “imperial” western countries invade his hometown, but they also give him music to love; he has deep attachment to his motherland, but the local regime destroys his dreams and hopes. This is not only his frustration, but also that of many others who went overseas in the early 19th century and returned back home.

It is a very rewarding experience for me to write a fictional writing on how Communism affects the people of China. In preparation for this writing, I have collected family stories and researched online. The information that I received is very different from what I had learned on my old textbooks. On my journey to gather personal narratives, I feel that I am somewhat in resemblance to the little girl I created – I am the one who knocks at a closed door and walks inside to discover the truth.



Taken by me :-).

3 thoughts on “Knocking at a Closed Gate…-Sophie

  1. margaretjhaviland

    Sophie, two things: after you read your Eastern European novel, you might want to read Anchee Min’s Red Azelea. While its not the best fiction set during the Cultural Revolution, it is one of the earliest to be published and then translated in the west. Ursula LeGuin wrote a novel called The Telling, in which one of the main characters has grown up during a period not unlike the Cultural Revolution. Like your short story character, to live he has had to denounce what he has loved, with disastrous results. LeGuin is the much better read.

  2. yihengxie

    Thank you for doing ground level collection of stories and details of the Cultural Revolution. It is such a sensitive topic and often times we only learn about it in snippets from our grandparents’ stories. Patching together a memory broken into pieces is of such importance to us and generations to come. Perhaps the best we can get is perspectives – the more, the better.


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