Early June

Everyone was talking about the bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade. Yun and her classmates had seen angry commentators dominating the news every day since the event had occurred, a month before, in May 1999.


‘It was a deliberate and barbaric attack,’ most of the news reporters concluded, disregarding US President Bill Clinton and his defence secretary’s remarks that the NATO plane ‘bombed the wrong target because of an outdated map.’


‘It was a lie,’ declared some of the teachers in her secondary school. ‘The US was afraid that we would help Milosevic develop defences against their missiles.’ They often discussed what patriotism meant and how young people should be angry with their imperialist enemies. The terms teachers used, such as ‘imperialist’, sounded outdated and foreign to her. But like everyone else, she saw bodies covered with white cloths in the news clips shown in classrooms, and she made donations to those who had lost family members.


That was in Shanghai, the city of Yun’s birth, a place which she would later make a great effort to leave behind. Yun’s father was a Confucian scholar, but his work was no longer at the centre of their culture. He told Yun that the Confucian li, or decorum, had been considered degenerate during the Cultural Revolution. And now it was hard to simply bring things back. He had also said that the tedious debate about the embassy attack was just a trick played by the Chinese government and everybody had been fooled.


But at that time, Yun didn’t really care about politics. She had just turned fifteen and was one of only ten girls who got into the advanced science class at her boarding school, after several rounds of brutal exams. They had the best teachers in the district and competed in international maths and physics Olympiads. What was happening in a faraway, unsettled place in Eastern Europe wasn’t her main concern.

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