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Women now had a voice in the selection of their mates, and, in one case, a bride who was marrying for love confided to Yan that she was too happy to sob; she had to rub hot pepper on her handkerchief in order to summon the tears that guests expected when a bride leaves home—the misery that would give face to her parents.But nobody seemed to know how to make the most of that freedom.And, unlike others who glimpsed the potential of the Internet in China, she didn’t speak fluent English. She’d grown up on a farm, and her voice trembled before crowds.She was five feet three, with narrow shoulders, and when she talked about her business I got the feeling that she was talking about herself.A few days later, she was on a tractor that plunged into a ditch, and the accident crushed her right leg and battered her face.When she got out of the hospital, wearing a hip cast, she discovered that a rural school was no place for a student who was unable to walk. Instead, Gong’s mother moved into her dorm room and hoisted her daughter around campus on her back.China had few bars or churches, and no co-ed softball, so pockets of society were left to improvise.Factory towns organized “friend-making clubs” for assembly-line workers; Beijing traffic radio, 103.9, set aside a half hour on Sundays for taxi-drivers to advertise themselves.
“There was one especially tall building, the laboratory,” Jiang said.(“If anyone ever liked me, I have yet to hear about it.”) She spent her childhood at the foot of a mountain in the village of Waduangang, in Hunan, the home province of Chairman Mao. During the Cultural Revolution, they were paired because they had been branded as “well-off peasants,” one of the Five Black Categories.When Gong was sixteen, her test scores got her into the top local high school, a transformative moment for a farming family.Romance became political in 1919, when Chinese students mounted demonstrations for democracy, science, and an end to arranged marriage, on behalf of what they called “the freedom of love.” It was “a code word for individual autonomy,” Haiyan Lee, a literature professor at Stanford, writes in “Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950.” Mao outlawed arranged marriages and concubines, and enshrined a woman’s right to divorce, but he left no room for desire.Dating that did not lead to the altar was “hooliganism,” he said, and under his system sexual privacy was nonexistent; local Party cadres kept track of household condom distribution.