Monday, September 23, 2013

Letters From the Jade Dragon Box, Gale Sears

This is a Historical Fiction-which is one of my favorite genres of all time! As anyone who has read my blog knows. There's just something about the combination of fact and fiction that makes fact come alive and become memorable in a way that fact alone cannot. It's probably the lack of personal details in fact that makes it more sterile.

This book is told by 15 year old Wen-Shan's voice and perspective. She was born in mainland China, Guilin but was smuggled out at the age of around 5 to live with her great uncle in Hong Kong when things got really bad under Mao Tse-tung's rule.

Like my friend who also reviewed (and recommended this book to me) this book, I feel like my history knowledge is grossly lacking! But I'm not sure exactly whose fault that is. I mean, there's only so much time in a day and you really don't get a real history class until high school. With the government in our country so bent on making sure that the English and Math skills are up, a lot of other subjects suffer. My mom who taught Kindergarten and is now teaching first grade had to cut Science and other activities due to requirements of MORE reading and MORE math. The school district I used to teach for cut most of the trained librarians-media specialists-the year I moved and I recently found out that PE was cut too. What's next? What's the next seemingly less important subject? History has been grossly pushed to the side at the expense of learning lessons we NEED to know. Teachers who are saints and probably magicians as well, have found ways to incorporate meaningful history lessons into other units of study (I know I did my best to do this in my band classes-since I never did manage to make the connection that Mozart lived during the same time as the Revolutionary War even though I KNEW the dates of both.....when I was younger), but still, the fact that time keeps marching forward and history is being created every second, how in the world can all of it possibly be taught? And who can really say what is the most important history to learn? I now think about the excruciating decision authors of Scripture must have had when trying to decide what to write and what to leave out-especially the scripture that was recorded on metal plating instead of paper and had only a finite amount of room.

Anyhow, I knew very little about the oppression of the Chinese citizens under the tyrannical-insanity driven ruler Mao Tse-tung. He was truly crazy. He insisted that 3X's the normal crop of rice be yielded. He ordered citizens to kill all the sparrows because they were pests who ate the grain. Then with a lack of them in the eco system, the following year, the insects destroyed the crops since they no longer had predators to keep the populations in check. He pounded it into their heads that he was doing everything for the people, yet people starved-even when producing enough-because it was sent to other countries to buy machinery. He wanted an ignorant society only able to read the book of his personal sayings. One of his philosophies was "Do unto others what you would not want done to yourself" which is 100% opposite of Confucius who states "Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself." It was Marxism and Socialism and Communism to the T.

Anyhow, Wen-shan and her uncle receive a call on the same day as the announcement of the death of Mao Tse-tung, from someone saying they have something for them, and it turns out that Master Quan, her uncle and grandfather's teacher of art, has been smuggled out of China and with him, he has brought a great treasure he also smuggled, the Jade Dragon Box which contains letters to Wen-shan from her mother, and paintings from her grandfather which were penned and hidden at great dangers to them both. It is through these letters you find out what has been going on. And through the paintings you realize that beauty and perseverance cannot be taken from someone. That bamboo is both very hard, strong, but also bendable and flexible so that it does not break or snap when it faces storms.

The other beautiful thing is the change in relationship between Wen-shan and her uncle. As the story unfolds, they speak very little. Her uncle is a widower whose wife passed away not too long after Wen-shan came to live with him. So he has had much trouble of his own. Through the sharing of these very personal letters and paintings, they begin to open up to each other and soften their hearts to one another. In addition, the paintings seem to soften everyone's hearts. Everyone realizes that these incredible works of art were created amidst much more pain, sorrow and adversity than they in Hong Kong had ever known. If such beauty can exist there, then certainly in much brighter circumstances, we should be able to create beauty here. And not just visible works of art beauty, but beauty in how we treat others and how we view them.

There were small references to the LDS church and its early history in China and Hong Kong. Wen-shan's uncle joined the church not too long after arriving as a refugee in Hong Kong. There are a few interesting historical stories, but they play a minor role in the story.

There are chapter notes at the end of each chapter that denote fact and include further definitions of things mentioned in the chapters. I find this type of notes my favorite more so than footnotes so I feel like I'm getting a recap. They are brief and instructive.

I truly enjoyed this book and if you don't feel like reading this one, I would encourage you to seek out other books to teach you about the Mao Tse-tung rule. The more we educate ourselves, the more we can pass onto our children, since we see them so much more than their history teachers, we can relay the most expansive knowledge of any adult in their life!

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