Half of Man Is Woman
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Half of Man Is Woman

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  75 ratings  ·  18 reviews
Poet Zhang Yonglin is sentenced to a labor camp he ironically describes as a haven amidst the hysteria of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. After he marries a woman he had seen eight years earlier, the story becomes, on one level, an analogy between his temporary sexual impotence and the postion of intellectuals. A year later he is ready to abandon his wife and escape from...more
Paperback, 285 pages
Published September 1st 1988 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1985)
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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
(This is a true story. So if you don't like true stories then stop reading or, if you like them but prefer to read the originals and not mere reviews, then simply skip this one.)

Once upon a time, in China, during the time after Mao, people are arrested, jailed and placed in labour camps for all sorts of reasons, most of them unfathomable that many of them, outraged at the senselessness of it all, took their own lives. People get arrested for talking, for not talking, for singing, reading books,...more
Sometimes it's best when you come to an author or a novel with no expectations, no preconceived notions. So it was with me and Hsien-Liang Chang (also spelled Zhang Xianliang.) Never heard of him. I found the book in my local cafe's swap rack.
I was debating between three and four stars but went with 4 as I realized the novel had seeped into my unconscious mind, affecting me more than I'd thought. I'm certain last night's nightmare had everything to do with reading this book before bed... The boo...more
The story is semi autobiographical of Zhang, a ‘rightist’ poet who has been sent to a labor camp and ‘hatted’. It is also a story of China during the Cultural Revolution. Zhang meets Huang and falls in love with the image of her naked and bathing herself in the canes. Zhang has never had a relationship. She was jailed for promiscuity. The author lets us see China through their relationship. Zhang is like a emasculated man, his impotency would represent the impotency of the people. The novel is a...more
Jesse Field
Zhang, Xianliang. Half of Man Is Woman. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1988.

Casablanca in the Gulag

Zhang Yonglin is a Chinese Rick -- they probably would have fought on the same side during the Spanish Revolution in 1936, if Zhang had been there. But Zhang wasn't -- he was probably only born around then. By the time he had grown up, this sort of meritocratic freedom fighting was under attack in the Anti-Rightist Campaign. Zhang had been condemned, politically, socially and every other way, and s...more
Stan Murai
An autobiographical novel set in the labor camps of the 1970s examines how behavior was repressed by the puritanical policies of the Communist Party. It is a sexually intimate work that gives an account of the emasculation and impotence of the intellectual class during China's tumultuous political history. The translation by Martha Avery is readable and appealing,but it loses some of the flavor of the original. I have actually read this work in Chinese and found the down-to-earth vernacular spe...more
Half of Man is Woman by Zhang Xiannliang was a bit of a disappointment for me. It was similar in many ways to the recently read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in that it describes the life of a Communist political prisoner. Except this prison is in China rather than Russia.

Similarities do not end merely at subject matter. Both writers were themselves political prisoners, so the books are authentic in theme. Both writers express similar feelings of how to survive these years in the syste...more
Mar 30, 2008 Louis rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes Kundera
Upon re-reading I changed my rating of this book from 4 stars to 5. I devoured this on the Shinkansen between Okayama and Fukuoka, after first reading it sometime towards the end of university. It says something about the human condition and the nature of relationships, which is both uniquely Chinese in its setting, and universal in its portrayal of relationships. Rarely have I read a book that shows how the concepts of freedom, sexuality and identity are interwoven. The only others that come to...more
Ce roman de Xianliang Zhang explique très bien ce qu'était la Chine durant la seconde moitié du XXe siècle. Malheureusement, plusieurs Chinois ont souffert durant la fameuse révolution culturelle, souvent pour aucune raison véritable.

L'auteur utilise son personnage principal pour illustrer ce qui lui est arrivé durant cette sombre période de son pays. Il a subi 20 ans de rééducation pour finir comme simple ouvrier agricole. Il raconte aussi l'histoire du mariage voué à l'échec à cause de l'inco...more
Feb 27, 2008 Angelar rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history nerds or people addicted to gulags
This autobiographical piece of gulag literature from China describes the thinly-veiled author's/protagonist's struggle to live a normal human life under the oppressive political weight of a culture driven by endless "rectification" movements. The pacing was bogged down by philosophical musings a few times, but overall I still found this book interesting, especially in comparison (or maybe conjunction) with others I've read about life in China during or following the Cultural Revolution.
Jerome K
I shouldn't have been reading books like this at 15 but I did. And I'm thankful for it. Zhang Xianliang is not really trendy these days but his account of life behind the bamboo curtain during China's cultural revolution, as an intellectual working in a rehabilitation camp out in the sticks, is gentle, but still disturbing. And the impotence that he talks about, which he suffered from, was a metaphor for stifled imagination. It's a novel unlike any other.
I can see why this novel caused such a ruckus in China, not only does it blatantly expose the inner workings of the labour camps but it also protrays love in a way which wasn't done in chinese lit. Yet it perserves tradiitonal Chinese writing styles, like inserting songs in the text.

Unfortunately what stops me from giving this five stars is the weak translation.
It is hard to know how much is fiction and how much autobiographical, but it is about the Cultural Revolution, of which the author is a survivor. Throughout his hardships the protagonist is questioning what it means to be human and how to maintain his own humanity.
This one is another one from the "Would-be-Nobel list". I think it probably makes a lot more sense to someone from China than it did to me. The historical aspects were interesting, but the cultural gap was so huge that I really couldn't relate to the characters.
All members of my book club agreed to give up on this one after the first section. It read like a translation, and there was nothing about the characters or the plot to keep me hooked.
Chas Bayfield
I read this so long ago that I don't remember the story. Something about a forbidden romance in Mao's China. Beautiful and poetic.
Sarah Sammis
Again, low stars because of a lack of memory on my part. I think I liked it when I read it but it hasn't stuck with me.
The first half of the book is a bit slow, but all in all I liked it
Nov 12, 2011 crm marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
translated by Martha Avery
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