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Opening Worlds No. 6:
The Tall Woman and Her Short Husband...
This is a love story, set against the background of the Chinese Cultural
Revolution (during the years of its worst excesses when many
thousands of innocent people were persecuted by a paranoid, authoritarian
state). It is interesting to note that the Chinese state in this story seems to
resemble McCarthy's America as exposed in Author Miller's play `The
Crucible' where the witchhunts of the 17C are used as a metaphor for the
witchhunts of a modern day political regime.
The story exposes the petty jealousies of the tailor's wife and people like
her it also exposes how people like her were able to use their position
within `the party' (the Chinese Communist Party) to advance their own
social position. For example, the tailor's wife takes the flat of the tall
woman and her short husband in the ironically named `Unity Mansions'
Unity Mansions and the events therein are a `microcosm' of China as a
whole and through the depiction of events there FengJi Cai paints a
vivid picture of a nation blighted by the `preposterous' excesses
committed in the name of the revolution (such as locking up engineers and
scientists on jumpedup charges of being `counter revolutionaries').
The descriptions within the story are highly effective. Some of the
imagery is culturally specific e.g. `she seemed dried up and scrawny with
a face like a pingpomg ball' (pingpong being a national obsession within
China). The descriptions of the tailor's wife work cumulatively to create a
hugely negative picture the writer uses a range of vocabulary, phrases and
verbs to establish and reinforce this negative image in the minds of his
readers e.g. `ferret', `full of selfimportance', fatter than before', `fat
shoulders heaving' and scurried home'. She is made to appear as a cruel
busybody motivated only by greed and jealousy and totally unable to
comprehend the concept of love. She condemns herself through her own
words: `If I were her I'd get a divorce and remarry..... he won't have any
money.' She also judges others by her own low standards.
FengJi Cai briefly explores how easily the masses are turned into sheep
and then a baying crowd (at the meeting). He then explores their guilt the
next day, which is reminiscent of the guilt felt by the young married
woman in `Train From Rhodesia'. He also exposes how people enjoy the
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before had Unity Mansions been the scene of such excitement.'
Much of the text is heavily ironic: `this brilliant hypothesis' however,
perhaps the greatest irony of all is that the `fiasco' of a meeting that was
held to humiliate Mrs Tall and Mr Short is actually used by the writer to
shame the Chinese state.
Within the text the only name that is mentioned is that of Deng Tuo, an
opponent of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and reviled by the
Chinese authorities.…read more