Notes from a Small Island
Sanya, Hainan, China
This article is going to start by talking about one set of Hainan pioneers and then segue seamlessly into talking about a different set of Hainan pioneers. See if you can spot the join.
OK, so what’s Hainan’s second most famous export after Hainan Chicken Rice?
No, no points if you said ‘sunburn’.
The answer is… the 100+ women of the Special Company of the 2nd Independent Division of the Chinese Red Army.
That’s right. During the years 1966-76, these feisty Hainan locals, known to posterity as The Red Detachment of Women, were pretty much the only show in town. Their story, made first into a novel, then a ballet, then a film, then a Beijing opera, then a film remake, was one of only eight model performances allowed in China during the decade. That means they were bigger than Big S and Little S put together.
The book/ballet/opera depicts the liberation of peasant girl Wu Qinghua from the clutches of an evil landlord and her recruitment in the 1930s to the Red Detachment of Women on the banks of the Wanquan River, Hainan, where they practice marksmanship and grenade throwing. It reaches its climax when the landlord burns Hong Changqing, the party commissar, under a banyan tree and the women of the Red Detachment burst in to take their revenge.
According to Wikipedia, most of the surviving members of the real Red Detachment of Women still live in Qionghai, on Hainan’s East coast. There were 84 survivors in 1994, 23 in 2001, 14 in 2008. I hope that number has not got any smaller since.
So, anyway, where was I? Oh, yes… surfing.
Blimey, if they’re not at it again. In the 1930s, the women of Hainan were at the cutting edge of things, in the vanguard of the proletariat. And now they’re at the pioneering end of things all over again.
In a country with more than 1.3 billion people, it is amazing that there are only about 20 hard-core surfers here in Hainan. According to Julieta at Surfing Hainan, just four of those 20 are girls, and only two are Chinese girls. Two out of 1.3 billion. That’s what I call pioneering.
You’ll find pictures on Julieta’s blog of the few women who make up the vanguard of the surfetariat here in Hainan.
And here’s a video of the Red Detachment of Women.