Tayler and Yang’s love story emerges sur­prise best-seller

IN­TER­NET EDI­TIONS OF UNIQUE BI­OG­RA­PHY ARE CIR­CU­LAT­ING WIDELY

Gulf News - - Theworld - BY MICHAEL SHERI­DAN

Lon­don It is the tale of a life­long love be­tween Gla­dys Tayler, the first grad­u­ate in Chi­nese from Ox­ford, and Yang Xianyi, whose wealthy fam­ily sent him to study there in the 1930s.

The two re­turned to China and stayed on as ad­mir­ers of the revo­lu­tion af­ter most for­eign­ers left in 1949, the year the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic was founded.

Un­der­ground copies and in­ter­net edi­tions of a bi­og­ra­phy of Yang Xianyi, pub­lished in Chi­nese in Hong Kong, are cir­cu­lat­ing widely among young read­ers in Bei­jing and Shang­hai.

The two, who were im­pris­oned dur­ing the cul­tural revo­lu­tion and late in life bravely spoke out against the 1989 Tianan­men Square mas­sacre, paid a high price for their com­mit­ment. Be­cause of their de­fi­ance, the bi­og­ra­phy is of­fi­cially banned in China and web cen­sors are try­ing to delete sec­tions of it from the in­ter­net.

Gla­dys died in 1999 but 93-year-old Yang is still alive in Bei­jing. In a tele­phone in­ter­view last week he said his wife had re­gret­ted al­most noth­ing.

Crit­ics and com­men­ta­tors on the book, by the fe­male au­thor Lei Yin, sin­gle out the theme of Gla­dys’s love for China, de­spite a se­quence of per­sonal dis­as­ters that would have daunted its most ar­dent ad­mirer. “It shows how despotic rule can de­stroy a cou­ple’s in­no­cence,” says one reader on­line.

At first the Yangs oc­cu­pied a po­si­tion as priv­i­leged in­tel­lec­tu­als un­der Mao Tse-tung, while land­lords were mur­dered by the thou­sand and dis­si­dents went be­fore the new regime’s fir­ing squads.

So de­voted was Gla­dys to the cause that she is said to have sold her fam­ily jew­els to help to buy a MiG fighter to fly against the Amer­i­cans and Bri­tish in the Korean war.

They worked for the of­fi­cial For­eign Lan­guages Press, trans­lat­ing works that ranged from pro­pa­ganda tracts to epics of Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture. Gla­dys proudly pro­duced the English ver­sion of Keep the Red Flag Fly­ing, a novel on so­cial­ist re­al­ist lines that most in­tel­lec­tu­als to­day pre­fer to for­get.

But her trans­la­tion of the sto­ries of Lu Xun, one of the most pop­u­lar writ­ers of the 20th cen­tury, was ac­claimed as an im­por­tant achieve­ment.

The Yangs worked to­gether on Ming dy­nasty sto­ries and on the sprawl­ing 18th-cen­tury clas­sic known as A Dream of Red Man­sions.

Com­par­a­tive com­fort

Her let­ters, which have been col­lected by Pro­fes­sor Bill Jen­ner of the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies in Lon­don, give a unique pic­ture of life in China at the time.

Liv­ing in com­par­a­tive com­fort in the cap­i­tal, the Yangs had two daugh­ters and a son. They be­came loyal spokes­men for the new China, for which the com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment promised so much. But priv­i­lege came with risk and prom­ises were be­trayed.

Yang was sus­pected of “right­ist” ten­den­cies in the 1950s. He nar­rowly es­caped the fate of thou­sands of other naive in­tel­lec­tu­als, who ex­pressed a va­ri­ety of opin­ions af­ter tak­ing Mao at his word when the chair­man of­fered to “let a hun­dred flow­ers bloom”.

In 1968 the mass vi­o­lence of Mao’s cul­tural revo­lu­tion con­sumed them both and Yang was jailed without any trial or sen­tence.

Gla­dys, who never re­nounced her Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship, was thrown into soli­tary con­fine­ment by the Red Guards and was forced to pay for scraps of food. The guards even kept news of her mother’s death from her.

In 1971 her plight was raised in the House of Com­mons by John Gorst, the Con­ser­va­tive MP, and the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment did its best to in­ter­vene with the Chi­nese on her be­half.

One year later they were both re­leased and re­sumed their work, al­though life was never to be the same again. Gla­dys had ig­nored her par­ents’ ad­vice by mar­ry­ing Yang. A pho­to­graph from the pe­riod shows her be­fore their de­par­ture for China, glow­ing with youth­ful ar­dour.

The re­al­ity of liv­ing in rev­o­lu­tion­ary China and rais­ing chil­dren there was bleak. The Yangs’ son, Yeh, found his half-English, halfChi­nese iden­tity a bur­den. At school he was baited, be­cause pro­pa­ganda linked white faces with colo­nial­ism. Like many youngsters, dur­ing the cul­tural revo­lu­tion he iden­ti­fied with the Red Guards — as an act of re­bel­lion against his par­ents.

Al­though a bril­liant young man, Yeh’s con­flicts even­tu­ally drove him to leave China for Bri­tain, where he com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1979 by set­ting fire to his aunt’s house in Lon­don.

In her re­main­ing years, al­co­hol be­came a con­so­la­tion for Gla­dys and the hor­rors of 1989 com­pleted her dis­il­lu­sion­ment, al­though she never lost faith in the ideals that had brought her to China. — The TimesNews­pa­pers

Lim­ited 2008

The good old days

Tayler and Yang in a file photo. The cou­ple paid a high price for their com­mit­ment to each other. (In­set) The bi­og­ra­phy.

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