Unbound: A True Story of War, Love, and Survival

Dean King
Image (partial) / Artist (unknown)

Delegates of the Sixth Chinese Communist Party Congress in 1928 declared that it was of the “greatest importance to absorb... peasant women into... the revolutionary movement.”

Unbound: A True Story of War, Love, and Survival

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Price: $25.99
Author: Dean King
Length: 399 pages
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-03
Excerpted from Chapter 1: “A Flowering” (footnotes excluded) (courtesy Little, Brown & Company, March 2010).

In the globally and even cosmically tumultuous year of 1910, little could have seemed less significant than the birth of a peasant girl in the far reaches of southeastern China. That year, the Great Fire wiped out a vast swath of northwestern U.S. woodlands, the flooding Seine swamped the Paris Métro, and the earth passed through the tail of Halley’s comet. Mexico erupted in revolution, Japan annexed Korea, and Egypt’s first native prime minister was assassinated. So disturbing was the changing world that the Vatican demanded that its new priests renounce Modernism.

But the most stunning and epochal convulsion of all was unfolding in China, the world’s oldest continuous civilization, where the Qing dynasty had entered its death throes. Two thousand years of dynastic rule in Asia’s largest and most populous nation were crashing onto the shores of the twentieth century, launching what was to be four decades of upheaval and civil war and, on the tide of world wars, reshaping the global order.

Only months prior to the fall of the last Chinese dynasty, the peasant girl was born in the obscure village of Yeping to the Wei family. In traditional China, the birth of a boy was called jieguo, “the bearing of fruit,” and was considered a boon to the family. The birth of a girl was called kaihua, “a flowering” — though visually pleasing, ultimately unrewarding because only her eventual in-laws would prosper from her labor and offspring.

The little girl had entered a world of rigid gender and birthorder politics, a realm of oppressive spirits, ancestral ghosts, and Daoist, Confucian, Buddhist, and cultural traditions that would weigh on her like the blanket of bamboo smoke that hovered over a village house. She could quite possibly live her life within a one mile radius. Befitting her status as a daughter in traditional China, the little Wei girl in Yeping was given no name. But she was lucky in two regards: First, some peasants too poor to feed their families drowned newborn daughters in their night soil buckets. Though destitute, this girl’s parents had let her live. Second, her family could not afford to bind her feet to produce the “three-inch lilies” that would make her an attractive bride but would also require crushing the bones at the end of her feet, bending her toes under to her heels, and securing them with strips of cloth. She did not have the luxury of being permanently deformed and housebound. She was needed in the fields.

Yeping would eventually find itself at the hub of Chinese Communism, but for now the sleepy village in southern Jiangxi province was a mountainous backwater so remote that no roads reached it from the north. Camphor trees here had growth rings of more than five hundred years, and change came slowly to the village. The isolated inhabitants — about forty families in all — spoke with a thick southern accent, frequently interjecting “ha,” “sa,” and “bo” to emphasize their points, while also using expressions dating back to ancient Chinese.

The local dialect differed greatly not only from the predominant Mandarin but also from that of villages only a few miles away. In rural Jiangxi, an archipelago of remote homesteads and villages each steeped in the past and its own superstitions, the women worshipped the white-robed female bodhisattva Guan Yin, who brought them sons and saved them from both deadly fires and drowning. In each village, humble roadside stone shrines to the villagers’ own bearded earth deity brought protection from drought and famine. Villagers, mostly tenant farmers, lived in mud-brick huts with dirt and pebble floors that turned liquid during spring’s subtropical rainfalls. Most of these huts had only two rooms: a kitchen and a bedroom, where the whole family slept.

Abundant rice — two or even three crops per year — was a blessing of the region and so central to life that in both Mandarin (the principal Chinese dialect) and Cantonese (the language of Guangdong), the term meaning “to eat,” chi fan, literally means “to eat cooked rice.” But the Wei family tasted little of its harvest. All of their rice crop went to the landlord. Instead, they ate the same small fibrous sweet potatoes that they fed to their pigs. The family cooked in large metal woks on a wood-burning mudbrick stove. They ate yam congee or pumpkin soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, at a wooden table with a drawer for bowls and chopsticks and benches on either side. Stacks of pumpkins occupied one corner of the kitchen, where ducks and chickens roamed, fouling the floor and necessitating constant sweeping.

Outside, the yard was thick with animal and human odors. Near the outhouse — a collection of boards around a hole with brick foot pads on either side — sat the pigsty with a breeding pair, whose sucklings were sold to the local butcher. The waste of both humans and beasts was collected in pits only a little farther away, to be held for use as fertilizer for the crops.

Around Yeping, crops grew year-round, but for the peasant farmers fall was the busiest time. After bringing in the rice, they harvested yams, which they peeled, cubed, and dried on rooftops or in communal courtyards. Pumpkins, some of which had been culled in summer while green and tasting like zucchini, also were harvested now, orange and sweet. After long workdays, villagers sat in bamboo chairs around the courtyard, where laundry dried on poles and naked children and rawboned dogs (a selection of the latter to end up on a spit come winter) produced a din among the prodigious flies. Children from the same clan ran in a pack, calling one another “brother” and “sister.”

Although the baby girl born to the Wei family in 1910 had her share of good luck, it only went so far. Six months after her birth, her mother died. Hundreds of miles to the north, in the great capital city of Beijing, as the Qing dynasty teetered, old and new powers clashed over the fate of the nation. At their height, the Qing, from Manchuria, had reshaped China, suppressing warlords, pushing into Tibet, and taking Taiwan from the Dutch. But their rule had been in a steady decline as China was rocked by the Opium Wars (1839–1842 and 1856–1860) and the loss of Hong Kong to Britain, by the bloody civil war known as the Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864), and by the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), which had cost it Taiwan. With the abdication of the last

emperor, a mere child, in 1912, the dynasty finally collapsed.

Sun Yatsen, a reformer and unifier later considered the father of modern China, emerged as the provisional president of the newly founded Republic of China. A visionary, Sun asserted that the country belonged to all its historic peoples, including the Hui (Chinese Sunni Muslims of Turkic descent), Man (Manchus), Meng (Mongols), and Zang (Tibetans), not just the predominant Han. His enlightened reign was all too brief, however. In 1912, a former Qing military commander pushed Sun aside, taking the presidency and declaring himself emperor, dealing democracy a mortal blow. When he died in 1916, China again plunged into chaos.

That same year , the girl in Yeping, now six, was sold by her father as a tongyangxi, or child bride, to a family in another village. This was not an uncommon practice. The husband-to-be might be much older or younger, perhaps an infant himself, in which case she was expected to raise him while serving in his parents’ household. Often the acquiring family had no son at all for the girl to marry, in which case she simply became a servant.

As the girl had grown older, though not that much larger, the villagers had begun to call her “Shorty.” When Shorty was told that she should prepare to depart for her new home, she surreptitiously collected stones and hid them in the bedroom. When two men came to get her the next day, she attacked them with her stockpile. After she had hurled all her rocks at them, she grabbed a sickle and swung it at them. One of them tugged the weapon out of her small hands and hoisted her over his shoulder like a sack of rice. But Shorty was not finished. Furiously pounding the man’s backside, she clenched one of his ears in her teeth. The man dropped her, and the two men bolted without the girl they called a “pint-sized demon.”

Shorty’s respite was brief. Her family summoned an older cousin to come for her. In rural China, where children might just as easily eat or sleep in the homes of their aunts and uncles as in their own, cousins were like siblings, and she was fond of this one. He successfully coaxed her into letting him take her to her new home, and as unceremoniously as that, Shorty’s childhood was over.

Henceforth, she spent her days fetching water, chopping wood, doing laundry, and cooking. The tongyangxi was expected to make pig fodder and to collect the night soil and pig waste for the fertilizer pit. When Shorty made mistakes, her in-laws chastised or beat her and sometimes refused to feed her. Like millions of peasant girls across China, she did little but work. She was paid in welts and bruises across her small body and in near-ceaseless scorn.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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