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Gaomi District, Shandong Province, China – 1985

'Take me back'

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(Photo: Rover4)

Shandong Province, China.

With a friendly, but also a bit mocking smile the ghost of my grandmother looks at me. I sit on my knees before her burial mound. I make three low bows with my head flat to the earth, and I smell the fresh fragrance of the grass and the yellow flowers which stay on her grave.
“What do you see, my grandson?” asks grandmother, holding a brass mirror up to me. “Well, do you see a tame rabbit, or not?” She laughs merrily, chuckling musically. When I look in the brass mirror, I see indeed two red eyes, like tame rabbits have: clever and cunning. Eyes, just like I see too often around me in the city: shrewd, sanctimonious, and greedy.

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(Photo: Rita Willaert)

Red sorghum.

“My grandson, come back to where you belong,” grandmother pleads. Her eyes look hopefully at me. How beautiful she is, even more beautiful and younger than I had imagined. “But first you must have a good wash in the river. You have to soak there for three days. Your urban body odor is unbearable.” I know it, I am as weak-willed, as sanctimonious, as self-satisfied as all the other people in the city where I live.
Then I see also the ghosts of my father and grandfather. They look at me sadly and longingly. “Take me back,” I sob out. “Take me back, Northeast Gaomi!” Northeast Gaomi, region of heroes and bandits, of the blood-red, proud, more than man-sized sorghum, of endless sorghum fields, vast as the sea, with that bittersweet fragrance, floating through the red evening sky. “Take me back!”


The book Red Sorghum (1986) from the Chinese writer Mo Yan tells the story of the bitter fight against the Japanese occupiers in a remote peasant region. The struggle between the Quomindang, the communists and the local gangs of bandits is no less violent.

Go to next page: The garlic rebellion - Shandong Province, China – 1986
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