Red Love, set in modern Communist China, traces the story of three best friends—Jianfei, Huifang, and Lishan—as they cross from adolescence to adulthood during the uncertain decade preceding the Cultural Revolution. For each of them, it is a time of self-definition and sexual awakening within a prudish Chinese culture, a culture itself in the midst of political tumult. China’s quickly shifting political winds provide the treacherous ground upon which the three women voice their first tentative and brave expressions of love, in spite of the obstructions erected by family, school, the military, Maoist doctrine, and the whole of Chinese society.
Huifang is desperate to overcome her parents’ blackened Nationalist reputations and falls for a People’s Liberation Army soldier. She carries out a discreet affair despite the possibility of his discharge. Jianfei, a politically astute and rabidly idealistic Maoist, idolizes her childhood sweetheart. She finally fulfills her desires when the two enter college in Shanghai, only to be forced to abandon her lover as affirmation of her own political ideals. Lishan, a bookish painter, wrestles with her own unspeakable yearnings—an overwhelming infatuation with her best friend. In a world lacking a word for sex, let alone homosexual, Lishan defiantly rejects everything except for the passions that compel her. All three dare to pursue their own visions of love, and all three come to learn that a love, persistent in the face of rejection, hate, and violence, brings with it tragedy.