Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Of China, Life And Death And Its Many Spring Moons.

The recent launched of the the Beijing Olympics reminded me of a period in my reading interests, some twenty odd years ago, when I was intrigued with events inside the Bamboo Curtain, at a time when China had yet to open itself to the world.

Books like Red Star Over China, written by acclaimed journalist Edgar Snow, and The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave, provided fascinating historical perspectives and insights about China during a period of turmoil and struggle between the late 19th and early 20th century.

But it was the individual but rare accounts of life and struggles amid a nation trying to find its identity - from feudalism under the Manchu Dynasty to China's emergence as a republic and communism under Mao Tse Tung - that left lasting impressions on me.

To this end, two particular books and the stories that they told - Life and Death In Shanghai and Spring Moon - remained vividly in my mind after all these years. My recent re-reading of them did not diminished the impact they had on me when I first read them so many years ago but instead reminded me of the strength of the human spirit during times of adversity and I highly recommend them to readers.

And by the way, after recovering from my recent accident, it does feel good to be able to blog regularly again.

Life & Death In Shanghai by Nien Cheng
An autobiography published in 1987, Nien Cheng's memoir is an exceptionally gripping story of a woman caught in the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution and excesses under Mao Tse Tung's China.

Poignant and haunting, Life and Death in Shanghai is a detailed and courageous account of her imprisonment, incarceration, persecution and torture during the Cultural Revolution of the 6os'. A former adviser for Shell Petroleum China, her refusal to admit to being "an imperialist spy" led to six years of solitary confinement, torture and harsh deprivations in 1966. When finally released in 1973, she found out that her only daughter, Mei Ping, had been beaten to death by the revolutionary Red Guards.

Providing fascinating insights of life in Mao's China, Life and Death in Shanghai is an intimate, honest and addictive literary classic of a woman's determination to survive and the courage, triumphs and ascendancy of the human spirit in times of adversity and tyranny.

Spring Moon By Bette Bao Lord
Nominated for the American Book Award for First Novel when it was published in 1990, Spring Moon is an epic spanning five generations of a Chinese family and is set amidst a background of tumultuous events when China abandons its ancient tradition of an imperialistic monarchy and adopts the philosophies of a socialist order.

Seen through the eyes of Spring Moon, the headstrong daughter of the aristocratic Chang family, the epic provides an intimate glimpse of traditional China and the joys, sorrows and struggles of a great family amid uncertain and often, violent, social and political upheavals of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century China.

Thronged with memorable characters, compelling and exceptionally well-written, Spring Moon is an engrossing read and a spell-binding story of one remarkable woman - a woman ahead of the times - and of a love that is forbidden and a China in tremendous turmoil.


Keli said...

Lovely, heartfelt description of two books revealing insiders' depictions of a mysterious, almost frightening, country.
"Intimate, honest and addictive literary classic" practically forces me to pick up Cheng's book; however, I'm not sure I can handle the torture and loss. But I'm highly tempted - I love addictive reads!
Spring Moon sounds more my style.
You've done an excellent job of reviewing two books that are obviously quite meaningful to you.
Many, many years ago, I read a tome by Pearl S Buck on the Boxer Rebellion, but your suggestions sound more fascinating.
Outstanding reviews!

Felix Noir said...

Sounds like a good read.

My Den said...

Hi Keli,
There are certain books, be it the story, the way it is written or the characters, that stayed in my mind long after I have read them. Life and Death and Spring Moon belongs in this category.

While I have read quite a number of memoirs, Nien Cheng's account is especially poignant as it is actually gut-wrenching and above all else, honest. It is a powerful account of Cheng's courage under persecution and I highly recommend it. And if Spring Moon is more your cup of tea, pick it up. I am very sure you will not regret it.

And how could I have forgotten about Pearl S.Buck! Starting with The Good Earth, I have enjoyed her books well before my fascination with China. Thanks for the reminder.

And a very BIG thank you for acceding to my request and for your kind comments.


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Time and again there has always been some interesting stories attached with China.