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  • Lijing Cobb

Tipping scale

My kids are 11 (almost), 9, and 7. Till they graduate high school and move away from home, I have them for another 7, 9, and 11 years at home. Considering how the past 7, 9, and 11 years blew by, and days seem to be getting shorter and shorter, I can only imagine how fast the said amount of years will transpire.


I’m poised between the expired years and the years to come. Moving forward the scale will tip towards past. The future is shrinking.


This morning when I was walking my two younger children down my driveway (thank goodness for my driveway), watching their small bodies covered by the umbrellas against the rain, knowing that the bodies are growing bigger by the day, the minds absorbing more of the outside world with each step they take, and the wings taking shape on their tender shoulders. Both of my kids vie for a hug and a kiss before boarding their bus. On some days I’m angry with them and refuse it. Some day in the future I’ll regret such decisions. As time marches forward stoically, emotions of the moment, particularly the negatives ones, become so insignificant. Miniscule. Why would we ever trade a child’s kiss for a moment of self-righteousness?


I’m deep into a biography on Chairman Mao’s fourth and final wife, Jiang Qing. Reading the story of her life, the accumulations of insults and injuries in her younger years, never forgotten, to be wielded in her theatrical hands as guns and cannons against all her real and imaginary enemies in her later years when she had access to supreme power in China, playing dice with the lives of millions of innocent people, all because a few of them had been unfriendly and unfair to her in her youth. What a colossal pity that one could have so single-mindedly used whatever at her disposal to settle her personal scores. What an abysmal joke that history should have witnessed a whole nation on stage, under the spell of a pair of megalomaniacs, carrying out the sorry plot of a despicable play.


What is power? The venerated chairman Mao, the one I grew up singing songs about and reciting poems of, despised women as equals and used them as his play things well into his dying years. His four wives bore him many children, but only 4 of them played a role in his life. He did not love any of them. In 1966, at the age of 73 and facing his own mortality and weakening grip over China, he gave permission for his estranged wife, 20 years his junior, to raise havoc in China, literally persecuting millions of people to death over the next 10 hellish years. When Mao’s health declined further, Jiang dreamed of becoming the next empress of China, and studied biographies of former strong females in Chinese politics, many of whom sacrificed their own children as pawns in the game of power. To this devil of a woman, anything and everything was personal. “You ask her about the theater, she tells you about her illnesses…. You ask about the concept of ‘continuing the revolution’ and she speaks of how badly this or that person has treated her” (Terrill, 277).


To these people who played with the lives of others, power was just a means to an end: to satisfy their insatiable ego. It is a bottomless pit that feeds on human sacrifices. Taken out of the context of Chinese politics, a stage over which Mao ruled officially for 27 years, these two people were simply two miserable human beings who found no domestic happiness. Their sordid behaviors were simply an outward manifestation of the ugliness that festered inside.


When the supreme leaders lived and led the country like that, what were the chances that the citizens turned out to be decent, fair, caring, and loving human beings?


My father was 19 when the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s last crusade, started. He was 29 when Mao’s death brought an official end to this nightmare. For 10 long years, the golden years of my father’s generation, these people lived in darkness, chaos, and terror. Once emerged out of the darkness, how were they supposed to shoulder the responsibilities of family, community, society, and country like normal human beings?

My children and I live in peaceful (locally and for the moment) times and enjoy a lot of freedom and privileges. All the complaints we have are complaints of the rich (my car, dishwasher, freezer, cooking range…broke down). If we can appreciate the freedom we enjoy, we might be able to put a lot of things into perspective.


As the scale tips from the future to the past, let there be as little regret as possible. What is it that truly matters in this life?


To be good. To find peace. To share love.


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