China Witness is an extraordinary work of oral history that illuminates the diverse ways in which the Chinese perceive and understand their own history.
Xinran, the acclaimed author of The Good Women of China and Sky Burial, traveled across China in 2005 and 2006, seeking out the nation's grandparents and great-grandparents, the men and women who have experienced, firsthand, the vast changes of the modern era. In cities and remote villages, Xinran spoke with members of these generations from all tiers of society, interviewing them for the first and perhaps the last time. Although many of them feared repercussions for speaking freely, they spoke to Xinran with stunning candor about their hopes, fears, and struggles, and about what they have witnessed: from the Long March to land reform, from Mao to marriage, from revolution to Westernization. While the West has commonly viewed the last one hundred years in China through the single narrative lens of Mao's rise and rule, the experience of this same period for the Chinese themselves has been infinitely more complex.
In the same way that Studs Terkel's Working and Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation gave us the essence of very particular times, China Witness gives us the essence of modern China-a portrait more intimate, nuanced, and revelatory than any we have had before
Beijing-born, London-based writer Xinran, traveling across the expanse of the Chinese Republic over the years, sought out those who had witnessed the rise of communism more than half a century ago. The result is this stirring, startlingly honest account of life under Chairman Mao and the current reformers revamping the socialist state. If the reader wants proof of how resilient and tough the Chinese people are, witness the incredible stories related by Lin Xiangbei, a loyal Communist later branded a counterrevolutionary, or Teacher Sun and her husband, former political prisoners, or Mr. Changzheng, a survivor of the infamous Long March. Xinran (The Good Women of China) does not leave out the average people who were the backbone of the republic, such as an acrobat, an oil explorer, a tea-house news singer, all of whom reveal a rich, multifaceted national history that celebrated individualism as well as collective achievement. Along with a series of love letters from comrades on the political front, the author puts a bow on these candid interviews with a final set of astute observations in an especially noteworthy book. Illus., maps. (Feb.)
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February 23, 2009
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