Jennifer’s Photo Stories (20)曾錚的圖片故事（20）
These two photos were taken by a professional photographer hired to our school to shoot portrait photos for the so-called “三好學生”, which can be literally translated as “Three Good Student”, meaning students who excel at academics, sports, and moral integrity. And the photos were to be displayed and “worshiped” by all the students for an entire year, until next year, when a new batch of “Three Good Students” were selected and honored. For a high school student, that was the highest form of honor.
Initially I had been too serious; and the photographer asked me to smile or laugh. When I did laugh, he said I laughed too much. So in the end, they chose the serious-looking one to display. Many years later, I heard that a certain student would always have his lunch underneath the display board to admire the photos, but mainly to admire mine.
For a 15 year old me, to earn the “Three Good Student” title had somehow become THE most important thing in my life, as the whole system made it so. To excel at academics had never been a big deal, as I always scored very high in all sorts of exams. To excel at sports was a little bit harder, as I was not a born physically strong person. On the contrary, I had always been very weak with poor health. In order to become a “Three Good Student”, I really worked myself very, very hard. But I did succeed after a lot of hard working and physical exercises.
And lastly, to excel at moral integrity actually meant to be obedient to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), to the teachers; and to score high in politics exams by answering all the questions with “correct” answers. For example, you must say that it is the CCP that has led the Chinese people to the victory of “the War of Resistance Against Japan” even if it is not true. And after the crackdown of Falun Gong, you must answer that Falun Gong is an evil cult even if it is not; so far and so forth.
Now looking back at that time, I can clearly see how I dropped into the trap the CCP had set for me and other innocent children. They had set up a system, a set of standards not only for us to follow, but also for us to “willingly” adapt ourselves to, in order to excel in the society. In the end, we lose our personalities; we become part of the party machine; and we think and behave collectively and exactly in a way that the party designed for us.
And the “Three Good Student” selection has been part of the whole thing. I guess that was why I looked so unhappy in many of my high-school photos. Even if I didn’t know what I know now, there had been a part of me trying very hard to escape and avoid the pollution and manipulation. But there had also been a part of me that tried very hard to please, to get along with, and to “fit in” the society. And that was also the reason why we end up seeing these two photos of mine with such different expressions.