Lijian: Portrait of a Wumao

Jia Lijian was born and raised near the city of Ruijin, a city known as the “Red Capital” for its important role in the beginnings of Chinese Communism.

From an early age, Lijian learned to love China. Raised by his grandparents, he’d sit in rapt attention, his knuckles to his chin, his eyes widening as his grandfather told him patriotic stories. His grandfather, after all, had fought in The War to Resist America and Assist Korea.

His grandfather, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Sun Yat-sen, would sit across from Lijian, in the jaundiced light of their living room, smoking cigarette after cigarette, sipping baijiu and regaling the child. His grandfather, the raconteur, at his most animated when telling war stories.

Leaning forward, speaking with the force of a fortune-teller, the old man’s bushy white eyebrows would lift, his voice would crack, and his thin silver caterpillar of a mustache would tremble as he told tearful, harrowing stories. Stories of living in caves, eating tree bark and snow, and trudging, on frostbitten feet, through the icy muck of night. Stories of crossing the Yalu River to launch mortars at US soldiers. Stories of killing and gutting imperialists with his bare hands! All for the love of Mother China!

In addition to telling his patriotic stories, Lijian’s grandfather instilled in him the habit of morning reading. Every morning, Lijian would wake to the rooster’s crow at dawn. Then he’d push himself out of bed, and rise to his feet, pick up his grandfather’s tattered copy of Mao’s “Little Red Book,” the pages slanted with age, and he’d read aloud, 10, 20 pages at a time, reciting the words loud enough to be heard, but not so loud as to wake up his grandparents sleeping in the adjacent room of their courtyard house.

In primary school, middle school, high school Lijian devoted all his time to his studies, studying, for up to 17 hours per day. His favorite subjects being Marxism and Mao Zedong’s writings and speeches.

By the end of high school, although he diligently studied for the college entrance examination, his scores were inadequate to gain admission into a truly elite university, such as Peking University or Fudan. However, he did well enough to attend a 2nd tier university located in the suburbs of Shanghai.

While his desire was to study Political Science or Chinese History, upon entering the college, he was assigned to be an English major. An English major? Everything about that bothered him. He hated English. After all, it was a barbarian language. The language of the colonialists, the imperialists, the enemy nations he’d grown up despising, like the UK and USA. Those horrible countries full of dirty, smelly, stupid people.

However, since he was a proud member of the Communist Youth League, he wouldn’t be making any waves. He wouldn’t be risking his good standing by questioning the college’s decision or entering the lengthy process of requesting his major be changed.

The more he pondered it, the more he realized that it shouldn’t be a surprise. He’d always aced his required English classes. All throughout his schooling, he’d found it an incredibly easy language to master. In comparison to Chinese, it was child’s play. Only 26 letters. Ha! Chinese has over 10,000 characters! To him, the imperialists’ language was much like the imperialists themselves, much like every Western nation he could think of, backward and inferior to China in every single way.

He’d also been a huge fan of Wang Yi, long admiring the handsome, distinguished man’s poise and character, and he’d listened in awe to Comrade Wang’s perfect English. Lijian started thinking, imagining himself in a role like that, in the foreign ministry. He could be on the world stage, speaking at the UN, speaking to the world on behalf of Mother China.

Maybe English wasn’t so bad after all. Perhaps he could work at CGTV, The Global Times, or China Daily. There were many possibilities, so he threw himself into his studies, and began his attack on the evil, inferior language!

A piece of trash