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ESTABLISHING A NATION

Translated by Denis Mair

Jianguo Wang was born on September 1, 1949. At the time of his birth hismother had a difficult delivery. The doctor came into the waiting room andsaid, "Mr. Wang, as the patient's husband, you'll need to sign this paper:doyou want the child to live or the grown-up to live?" First of all thefathercorrected her: "The times are changing. You should call me Comrade insteadofMister. Or call me the child's father." A nurse said, "Alright, we cancallyou Comrade. There's no knowing if the child will survive, so we don'tknowif you're a father yet. Signing this will tell us whether to preserve thewoman or the child."

The father said, "I want them both," so they cut the mother open fromnavelto mons veneris, pulled out the baby, and sewed her up again. Longafterwardher belly still bore a large, glossy scar.

The father went home alone that evening. The parade on Chang'an Avenue wasstill underway; large numbers of people held torches or candles as theymilled past Tiananmen, calling out slogans. The pavement was chewed up byheavy artillery treads.

The father thought, "Well then, I'll call him Jianguo [Establish-Nation]."

When Jianguo was seven he went to school. On the first day when theteachercalled roll, two students named Wang Jianguo stood up. There was anotherJianguo too, but his surname was Li, so he didn't stand up. The counselingoffice shuffled things so students named Jianguo with the same surnamewouldn't be in the same section. As for Jianguo Wang and Jianguo Li, theystayed in their original section.

On school assembly days, the principal and counselor were careful whensingling students out for awards to specify the year and section of aparticular Jianguo Zhang, Jianguo Li, Jianguo Zhao, Jianguo Sun, JianguoLiuor Jianguo Wang.

Teachers at school often discussed a student named Jianguo Chiang. Oneteacher suggested to the boy's parents that his name should be changed.Theparents were furious and said, "Can't someone in the Chiang family havethename Jianguo?" The teacher felt that the Chiang boy's parents didn't graspthe crux of the problem.

When Jianguo Wang was in fourth grade, his teacher assigned a compositionon the topic "Growing Up under the Red Flag." Jianguo Wang wrote over fourhundred words. The teacher liked what he wrote, so he read it to theclass.In the fifth grade there was another composition topic: "Growing under theRed Flag." Jianguo Wang wrote over a thousand words. The teacher likedwhathe wrote, so he read it to the class and recommended it to the BeijingSchoolBureau. It was included in a book of student writings.

During the examination for middle school, when the composition topic waspassed out, Jianguo Wang opened his test booklet and saw the topic:"GrowingUp under the Five-Starred Red Flag." He remembered his teacher's advice:start with easy questions, then do questions that need thought, and leavethehard ones for last. So he started right away with the composition. He usedthe space in the booklet and filled half a worksheet.

Jianguo Wang tested into a good middle school, where he was made classmonitor. In seventh grade he entered the Communist Youth League and servedassecretary of his class League Chapter, and then as secretary of the schoolLeague Committee. By tenth grade the secretary of the school's PartyCommittee had already called him aside, telling him to write an earlyapplication for Party membership. The counselor's office wrote a report,recommending special training with prospects for test waivers and study inthe Soviet Union. But in 1966 the Cultural Revolution began. That year allthe boys named Jianguo were 17 years old.

Before long Jianguo Wang went to work in the countryside. Eventually hewasrotated back to Beijing, and he found a job at a construction company,bracing reinforcing rods. On April 5 of 1976, Wang Jianguo wrote a poemlikemany others did, and posted it at Tiananmen.

(In 1976 the death of Zhou Enlai prompted mass demonstrations against MaoTse-tung's wife Jiang Qing. These demonstrations were cruelly suppressed.)

That same year the construction company was assigned to the Mao Tse-tungMausoleum, and Wang Jianguo went on bracing reinforcing rods. On the topstory of the superstructure Wang Jianguo braced rods for four hours, untilhis bladder felt full. Solving the problem on the spot was acceptedpracticefor builders; this was sensible in view of the long climb down and up. Oldworkers had a saying: "Piss and crap make it solid." Jianguo Wang askedtheforeman, and the foreman said, "The higher-ups have talked about this. Youcan do it, but don't be as obvious as before. "

Jianguo Wang found a place and looked all around at Tiananmen Square. Inthe distance were five-starred red flags, snapping in the wind. Good oldChairman Mao was even farther, in the portrait over Tiananmen Gate. To theleft was the Great Hall of the People; on the right were the Museum ofChinese History and the Chinese Revolutionary Museum. Nearby was theMonumentto People's Heroes. The Mausoleum was higher than the Monument, so hecouldsee the real top of the Monument.

Jianguo Wang took care of his problem, and gave a slight shake. At thatheight there was a wind, and his eyes were watering.

      — Ah Cheng