Tayler and Yang’s love story emerges surprise best-seller
INTERNET EDITIONS OF UNIQUE BIOGRAPHY ARE CIRCULATING WIDELY
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.
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
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.