Kid's Reviews > Life and Death in Shanghai

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng
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's review
Jul 25, 2011

really liked it
Read in December, 2009

This is a thrift store find. . .if you peruse my list of books (not likely) you might notice a number of stuck-in-prison-for-some-reason memoirs. I'm drawn to the brutality. What's amazing about this book is its umm "insider's" view of the Cultural Revolution. Nein Cheng was a "capitalist roader" - i.e. someone who associated with capitalists or sympathized with capitalism or had any appreciation for aesthetics that might be supported or cultivated in the west. Well - we all have a bit of class hatred in us. . .the Cultural Revolution seemed to unleash the worst extremes of this sentiment. It basically destroyed China for a number of years.

Ms. Cheng describes the absolute abject intellectual poverty (and just plain old poverty) that came hand in hand with the revolt against the remaining strains of capitalism and the rampant cynicism and corruption that accompanied day to day existence. But this is the end of the book - after she was released from prison.

Nien Cheng spent 7 brutal years in a re-education style prison denying any involvement with any crime - even though her interrogators accused her of everything from spying to un-revolutionary thoughts. Ms. Cheng describes her ordeal clearly and without excessive self-pity. Yes - she is at pains to illustrate the bland totalitarian idiocy of most of her oppressors, but at the same time this is mostly about her refusal to cop to their unreasonable accusations. How did she have such clarity in light of her brutal treatment? So many people plead guilty to crimes they did not commit simply to make the struggle disappear. I don't think I could have lasted like she did.

A blurb on the back of this calls her strength a kind of "martial art" - and I love that description. A women saw me reading this in the elevator and was like, "That's a great book."

Yes - it is. . .there are more poetic ones and perhaps stories with more grace and beauty but "Life and Death in Shanghai" is never pretentious, always self-aware and a testament to an incredible warrior. It's a great read and an amazing story. She just died this year!
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