Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Life and death in Shanghai

The history books in my high school and college both dedicated a mere 1-2 paragraphs to the Cultural Revolution in China during the 1960s. I was not a History major in college, so I just read the general world history text that skimmed a lot of major world events. It is unfortunate because I really had no idea what the Cultural Revolution was, what it did to China or its people until I read this book. Nien Cheng recounts her life during the Cultural Revolution in her autobiography Life and Death in Shanghai.

Nien Cheng's husband worked for the Shell Corporation in China. His job was to ensure that Shell followed Chinese laws. Nien's husband unexpectedly passed away and Nien assumed her husband's job. She was very good at ensuring compliance with Chinese law, a stressful and difficult job. She loved China and she fully supported her communist government. But very quickly things changed.

Nien worked for a foreign government. She and her husband had travelled the world. They owned very beautiful things and lived in a nice home. As the Cultural Revolution kicked into gear, Nien became a target. Because of her economic standing and employment she was interrogated multiple times and pressed to confess her capitalist sins. Revolutionaries came and destroyed her home. Her daughter was forced to participate in revolutionary activities. And finally, Nien was jailed - locked in a solitary cell for years. She was brought out routinely to be interrogated and asked to confess.

Despite experiencing so much, Nien never confessed wrong doing. Eventually Nien was freed and assigned to live in an apartment not far from her previous home. She finds herself in a changed China. While things appear to have improved on the surface, she senses the same political rumblings. Always looking over her shoulder Nien wonders if her neighbors spy on her in exchange for favors. Very carefully, Nien leaves China and comes to the U.S. - heartbroken and sad for the country and people she so loved but hopeful for freedom.

I read this book cover to cover. I was impressed with Nien's integrity and endurance. Some passages were very long and I wondered how she could survive through so much tragedy. How could anyone? And yet she did. This is an important story. It's one of hope and survival. It's about the truth of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. It's a must read.

Book Rating: 5 stars

The books I select for review are books which I personally select from my local library. I do not receive any reimbursement from authors or publishers or free books. I do provide links to Amazon as a convenience to the readers of this blog. I do earn a small referral pittance which is not even enough to buy a soda.

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