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Naked Earth

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  216 ratings  ·  31 reviews
After leaving the Mainland for Hong Kong in 1952, Eileen Chang was commissioned by the United States Information Service to write two books, one of which was her magnificent novel Naked Earth. Far from being a simplistic exercise in anti-Communist propaganda (two previous novels Chang wrote were pro-Communist), Naked Earth is a powerfully moving, Balzacian tale that follow ...more
Paperback, 312 pages
Published June 16th 2015 by NYRB Classics (first published October 1954)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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Mar 23, 2018 added it
The writing in Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City is poetic, symbolic, mysterious. There is much to like in this later novel, Naked Earth. It is, first, a good story, with many searing, memorable vignettes. And there are a handful of wonderfully shaped characters, including Ko Shan, described as a "tubercular nymphomaniac," whom I found especially endearing.

But something has changed. The War that billowed outside the Fallen City is over. Now it is Korea, seemingly. Or, maybe the battleground
At the beginning, I thought this might be an easygoing novel of pastoral life in China. But this is Mao's China, so it turned nasty real quick, what with all the torturing of landlords and then the bizarro world red scare, where you are kidnapped and imprisoned for not being a Communist. I didn't know much about Mao's takeover of China, and this book, along with subsequent Wikipedia meanderings was a good introduction to the perversity of his misguided revolution.

It's a really sad book, but tha
J.M. Hushour
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Naked Earth" suffers only from two flaws, one good, the other iffy. The good flaw is that the several denouements, the several endings that keep coming at you are infuriating. They made me mad. They made me want to toss the novel down and go saw away at a bunion or hemorrhoid (not recommended!). This is a good thing because, like any good story, it proves you wrong. That's one of the great powers of storytelling and Chang uses it to such incredible effect that you'll keep reading a few paragrap ...more
James Murphy
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I tried to not like this novel. I didn't even want to read it. But I did read it, and I did like it. A lot. I'd started Naked Earth once before, probably a couple of years ago. But I'd lost interest right away when I read in the "Introduction" by Perry Link that the novel had been one of Chang's novels commissioned with a grant from the United States Information Service and intended to describe the mercilessly oppressive face of Mao's China. Link goes on to write that Chang is too good a writer ...more
Jul 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eileen Chang was born in 1920 and died in 1995. In this particular novel, she writes about life in China during the years between 1949-53, a time of transitions and reforms within the country and of war in Korea.

Most good novels can be read on a number of levels and from different perspectives, often not mutually exclusive. This work is no exception. It conveys a vivid picture of life within a totalitarian state, the overt and subtle pressure to conform and to serve the state above all else. It
Breslin White
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Although not a simple work of propaganda, it is definitely still propaganda, just complex. Commissioned by the U.S. government, and written by a Chinese woman, the love story is not so touching that it redresses the black and white depictions in the first 100 pages. I believe the book isn't bad, but it is unreliable.
tortoise dreams
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Young lovers navigate the beginning of Mao's revolution in China.

Book Review: Naked Earth is beautifully and superbly written. Every page has some small brilliancy, a turn of phrase, a description realer than reality, a moment of wisdom, a piercing insight into human nature, psychology, behavior. Eileen Chang is a virtuoso and her work is a graduate seminar in writing. But there is some small something missing here, not quite there, lurking at the shadowy fringes. I know from the book's history

The book is good, but loses its way in the last few chapters. The author knew where the story was going, but I think she wasn't sure how to get there. Still a good read though.
For some reason I keep opening books by Eileen Chang and expecting a happy ending. Don’t do that unless you want your heart broken.

The tone and writing style of Naked Earth is very similar to Half a Lifelong Romance. Whereas Half a Lifelong Romance is more of a family saga and a story of young love, Naked Earth is a story of young love and a totalitarian state. The two are interdependent though and Chang weaves them together in order to examine the brutality of the Chinese cultural revolution.

Mish Middelmann
Dec 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I was surprised to find that this 1956 book by a respected Chinese author was sponsored by the US "Information Service" - and doubly surprised in the light of the fact that I bought it from a prominent display in a large Shanghai bookstore this year. It certainly doesn't leave Mao's Land Reform movement smelling of roses, but on the other hand it doesn't read as simple propaganda. Yet if China is so full of thought control, I wouldn't have thought it would be available in China at all.

It seems t
Nikolai Lipnicky
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
The setting of this book is very different from her collection 'Love in a Fallen City' but it doesn't mean it is lacking but looking into new territory of Chinese culture. It feels like the Chinese version of George Orwell's novels but more raw and vicious.
I loved the majority of the book but it went downhill at the last 30-40 pages. Part of the reason is probably the fatigue you get for reading non-stop and lose focus. Some can relate to that.
It is a dark novel but at times you laugh at parts
Daniel Polansky
Ooooh! A masterful, sprawling epic somehow condensed into about 300 pages, Chang's depiction of an idealist Commissar (that's not quite the right term but here we go) trying to survive Land Reform, the 3 anti campaign and then the Korean war manages to be vast in scope and also beautiful line to line.Stylistically, Chang's particular genius lies in her depiction of erotic romance (I think gun to my head I might have enjoyed Love in a Fallen City, which deals with this subject primarily, slightly ...more
Jun 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: socialism
Very, very good, for the most part. The last 5 chapters, however, were a bit of a letdown. Chang created some interesting characters, and then allowed them to fade away. Liu was a bit of a cipher compared to characters like Ko Shan and Su Nan. I would have rather the story conclude with him working to figure out what happened to Su Nan, or avenge her, or whatever. The war scenes and POW storyline seemed to be part of an entirely different book (which would have been interesting as well, had they ...more
Jesse Field
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Chang's more famous works like "The Golden Cangue" and "Love in a Fallen City" and "Lust, Caution" don't prepare the reader for the mastery of language she uses to illustrate life for ambitious young minds in China during the early Mao years. To prepare for her talents, it were best to read George Orwell. Carefully. Thanks to City Weekend Beijing for giving me a chance to publish a review (the book is not readily available in China, but that's just another reason we call it a country of contradi ...more
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
(3.5 stars.)
While one could argue that the general storyline in Naked Earth flirts with cliché and predictability, there's no denying the stark power in its specifics. At the halfway point meet up of my book club, I predicted Chang’s book would end in tears and I wasn’t far off. If Naked Earth isn’t a home run example of poetic literature, it’s still an eye-opening history lesson and cautionary tale of leftist overreach that we’re still seeing the effects of 60+ years on in present day China.
Maggie Ensminger
Jul 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Takes place in China. Mao's China is in transition. Young students volunteer to go the countryside to indoctrinate farmers about the governments plans for land reform. It's during this process that two young students fall in love. The government is in complete control of everyday life. They meet again in Shanghai where life is hectic and closed to any freedoms, and are watched and informed on. Insightful and tragic.
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
To me, Naked Earth is an example of realist literature. She brought the reality through fine details of what war was/is really like for those who have never experienced being in such a situation. The premise and style that depicted the daily culture and life is a familiar theme found in other Chinese/Japanese literature, which can feel cumbersome, at times. This book is great to read and to discuss with others on its parallels and relations to current societal times.
Jul 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Absolutely beautiful and poetic writing in service of a heartbreakingly tragic story. The love story between two idealistic young students in Mao’s China quickly becomes a tale of sorrow, torture, and fear. It’s a gorgeous book in many respects. Chang’s detailed descriptions of people and landscapes feels deeply personal, but witnessing the violent abuse of power and the abject surrender of human decency over 500 pages proves hard going.
Oct 15, 2015 marked it as to-read
At p 25, worth reading, written by former China citizen and writer, for the U.S. gov't in the 50's, good to help understand China in the early days of the revolutionary gov't and various "leaps", and the language of survival. Reissued, and still important. Retuning to library, will re-request another time.
Tom Wascoe
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
A story that gives insight into China during the late 1940's and early 1950's. The story of one man and the impact the "new" society has on his life.
Sep 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Very dry, not recommended. Too factual about life in China! Not a great time for China.
Nick Scandy
Jun 13, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm into Chang's Naked Earth for its historical significance and relevance in deciphering the warning signs of authoritarianism in the present. The narrative arc leaves a bit to be desired, though.
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was a recommendation from Jenn. I really enjoyed it once I got into it. Not knowing a lot about Chinese history, this book definitely helped to paint a picture of the times for me.
Feb 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Definitely not as good as Love in a Fallen City...
Hannah Swanwick
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
argh, this one is really really so so so good and real
Jul 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Well written examination of a few people dealing with the madness of Mao's China in the '50s, but the characters never quite came alive for me.
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
To me it read as non-fiction when it is fiction (even if the background/environment/sentiment was written by the author thru lived experience in China in the 1950s). The writing was too dry and matter of fact that I found myself detached from the characters and a bit from the writing. As a huge non-fiction fan I like dry material, and my heart can still be effected by mass suffrage or repression. But when reading fiction the writing needs to be more emotive and descriptive in ways that isn't "Lu ...more
Chet Taranowski
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
A pretty depressing read; but still, exceptionally well written. This is a book about the misery of living in China around the time of the Korean war. The author suggests it was a pretty repressive era. The author was funded by the US state department to write the book, so I am sure there is some US propaganda here. Nevertheless, the tyranny and paranoia which citizens were exposed to does have a true ring to it. What a miserable existence it must have been.
Chris Browning
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
well written and compellingly plotted, but it’s just so blatant in its anti-communist/anti-Maoist propagandist tendencies, that it’s hard for me to enjoy it seriously as a work of literature
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Eileen Chang is the English name for Chinese author 張愛玲, who was born to a prominent family in Shanghai (one of her great-grandfathers was Li Hongzhang) in 1920.

She went to a prestigious girls' school in Shanghai, where she changed her name from Chang Ying to Chang Ai-ling to match her English name, Eileen. Afterwards, she attended the University of Hong Kong, but had to go back to Shanghai when H

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