As a child, I first discovered China in the mid-1970s, when I was a student in elementary school.
As I outgrew picture books, I came across a Japanese translation of “Tao Qi’s Summer Diary” as one of the first children’s books I read.
The book was written as a diary kept by a fictional Chinese girl named Tao Qi in the summer of 1953. It was translated by Takeshiro Kuraishi, a scholar of Chinese literature and language.
It was an intriguing read full of colorful characters, including a mischievous child, an honor student, and a wealthy family.
I was wondering what kind of drink is suanmeitang (sour plum drink) and which “Chairman Mao,” thanked by an old woman, was.
Reading it again, I discovered that the book was set in “young communist China”, just four years after Mao Zedong (1893-1976) declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese Communist Party concluded its bi-decade congress on Oct. 22.
President Xi Jinping, who won his third five-year term as party general secretary, was born in 1953, when Tao Qi wrote the diary, and is among Communist China’s fifth-generation leaders.
After decades of economic growth that have increased the country’s presence, China is now a leading power that rivals the United States.
As Xi concentrates power in his hands and consolidates his “core” status at the party congress, observers speak of the arrival of a new “Mao Zedong era.”
Mao, a national hero as the founding father of communist China, established a dictatorship based on his personality cult amid a power struggle and sowed social and economic confusion by launching the Cultural Revolution.
Like many other intellectuals of the time, Xie Wanying (1900-1999), author of “Tao Qi’s Summer Diary,” was forced to work in a provincial area under Mao’s Down to the Countryside movement. She is known by her pseudonym Xie Bingxin or Bing Xin.
Xie was one of China’s leading female writers and helped lay the foundations of Chinese children’s literature.
She had a connection to Japan. She lived in Tokyo for about five years beginning in 1946, a year after the end of World War II, and was a lecturer at the University of Tokyo.
In the world represented by Xie, I was impressed by how pure-minded Chinese citizens worked hard to help each other and talked about their dreams.
What would Tao Qi think of the current situation in which senior party officials are vying to demonstrate their loyalty to the leader of the nation?
–The Asahi Shimbun, October 23
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that covers a wide range of topics, including culture, the arts, and social trends and developments. Written by veteran writers from Asahi Shimbun, the column offers helpful perspectives and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.