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Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao's Revolution

4.48  ·  Rating details ·  2,382 ratings  ·  320 reviews
The dramatic real life stories of four young people caught up in the mass exodus of Shanghai in the wake of China's 1949 Communist revolution--a heartrending precursor to the struggles faced by emigrants today.

"A true page-turner . . . [Helen] Zia has proven once again that history is something that happens to real people."--New York Times bestselling author Lisa See

NAMED
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Paperback, 544 pages
Published February 18th 2020 by Ballantine Books (first published January 22nd 2019)
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Average rating 4.48  · 
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Chrissie
My head tells me the book is worth four stars, but my gut reaction says it is good, NOT very good. This means I should give it three stars. What is going on?

Please read the GR book description. It is excellent. There is no need to repeat what is written there.

The book presents a large quantity of historical information. What was occurring in China as well as world events are covered over a period from the 1930s to the end of the 1950s. Sino-Chinese wars, Japan’s invasion and occupation of areas
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Anita
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
at the beginning of this year I resolved to Consume Less, Produce More, which is symptomatic I think of my general tendency to Be Very Unhappy That I'm Happy And Do Stupid Things As a Result. Another word for this personality trait is ambitious and another one is greedy. I hoped to write more words and listen to fewer podcasts, practice more violin and read fewer books.

at the end of this summer my parents came to new york before our Annual Family Vacation, and at our first dinner of the whole a
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Anthony
1.1 million Jews exterminated, starved, gassed, etc. in Auschwitz.
300,000 Chinese slaughtered, beheaded, raped, etc. in Nanking.
146,000 Japanese bombed, burned, irradiated etc. in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Though numbers like these conjure images of the horrors of World War II, it is easy to grow numb to the value that each of these statistical points held as human lives.

Last Boat Out of Shanghai is as powerful as an attempt as any to humanize the story of China as it buckled under the weight of
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Woman Reading
4 ☆ real life histories with high drama

Since my summer 2019 visit to China, I've read The Rape of Nanking and The Last Boat Out of Shanghai (LBOS). Both essentially begin in 1937. The former was about Japanese atrocities committed in Nanking (also known as Nanjing) in the winter of 1937-38 while the latter title extends historical coverage beyond Shanghai of the WWII era. Against this harrowing history, LBOS provides stories of survivors.

In 1931, Japan had gained control of Manchuria in nort
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Johanna
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book Last Boat Out of Shanghai tells the story of four people who faced Mao's Revolution in China and about their experiences. These people all lived in Shanghai, although their lifestyles and experiences were very different. This is an important piece of history to cover, because the experiences of people in Shanghai and the rest of China during World War II and Mao's Revolution are often overlooked, especially in the American context. This book offers valuable firsthand accounts about what ...more
Oleksandr Zholud
This is non-fic about people, who lived in Shanghai in the 1930s-40s and witnessed first hand the Japanese occupation, Chinese nationalists and communists. I read is as a part of monthly reading for March 2020 at Non Fiction Book Club group.

The book starts in 1949 with an overview about plight of 1 to 1.5 mln Shanghainese (of 6 mln city), who run from incoming communists. Most of them are rich and middle-class families, not more usual poor refugees, whom we often see in other stories.

The book t
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Lilisa
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lilisa by: Gene
Historically engrossing, Last Boat Out of Shanghai chronicles the lives of four Chinese individuals and how their lives were shaped from an early age through their struggles to adulthood. Moving us from the interior of China and Shanghai to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the U.S., the author traces the footsteps of Benny, Annuo, Ho, and Bing across the years, their hardships, and their resilience in struggling against life’s challenges in a political climate that suppressed freedom and curtailed the abi ...more
Steven Z.
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From 1931 onward, the Chinese people were confronted with continuous Japanese aggression, humiliation, occupation, and inhumanity. In Helen Zia’s new book, LAST BOAT OUT OF SHANGHAI: THE EPIC STORY OF THE CHINESE WHO FLED MAO’S REVOLUTION the author seems to begin here story in 1937 when the Japanese launched their invasion of China, however as she develops her story it is important to realize that the Japanese had their eyes on China as far back as the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5, the Twenty-On ...more
Eileen Sauer
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Background: Sis and I and our cousins on mom's side of the family were born in the US, while our parents grew up during WWII. Mom was born in Shanghai and her father worked for China Merchant Marine. At first they owned a house in Little Tokyo, then lived in row houses in Japanese-controlled compounds, near 76 Jessfield. In December 1948 mom's family took a Merchant Marine ship to Japan. I first started hearing their generation's stories when I was 22, sis was 18, and my cousin was 20. I remembe ...more
Porter Broyles
Feb 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genre-asia
I picked up this book as something extra for a buddy read.

While I majored in Chinese History in college, I had not read too much on the subject over the past 30 years.

This book is not the type of history I typically enjoy. I tend to prefer the meta-history, wherein we learn more about the overarching events that affect a person or place. Focusing on a small group of individuals tends to loose me.

This book did not.

It traces the lives of several young Shanghai youth as they grow in war torn Shang
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William Matthies
The Goodreads summary of this book says it follows the lives of four young people fleeing the 1949 Communist takeover of China. It is that but their story actually begins with the Japanese invasion of China, which predates US involvement in WWII, continuing all the way to very recent times. You may think you know their story, I'll bet you don't.

Helen Zia describes the interesting often sad tales of each of the four individuals in her book, each worthy of a separate book themselves. But more tha
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Mal Warwick
Feb 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
When future historians look back at the most consequential events of the century just past, it seems likely they’ll place four or five episodes at the top of their lists. The Russian and Chinese Revolutions, of course. The thirty-year war that encompassed the two conflicts we now call the First and Second World Wars. And decolonization, beginning with the independence of India. But at the very top of that list is almost certain to be the decades-long upheaval that culminated on October 1, 1949, ...more
Nick
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of all the unjust, unfair, and inhuman ways people devise to make each other miserable, restricting the ebb and flow of international migration is one of the least justifiable and most small-minded. Serious attempts to make people stay in certain geographical areas just because of their ethnic origin has a long and wicked history, but the bureaucracy of it began in earnest during WWI. As the stakes and the levels of human misery rose in WWII, the bureaucracy rose concomitantly to meet that miser ...more
Amy
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-favorites
In history classes in the US, I’ve of course learned about WWII. What I’ve never learned about was US deep influence and involvement with the second Sino-Japanese war and how that relationship continued to influence China’s civil war between the nationalists and communists. I’ve also never learned much about the politics of the civil war itself or about Shanghai’s refugees and the country’s brain drain during that time period. Through 4 individual stories, I’ve also gained insight into the US po ...more
Janilyn Kocher
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Last. Boat Out of Shanghai is an excellent engrossing read. Zia proffers snapshots of four people who escaped from China prior to the onslaught of the Communists. Each story is fascinating and equally gripping. The notes are extensive as well as the bibliography. The author provides a follow up to each person showcased in the book. It's a must read for anyone interested in Chinese or Asian history. Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy. ...more
J. F.
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Book Review: Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao's Revolution by Helen Zia

As a bibliophile, I approached this book as falling under the category "...And Now for Something Different", - and what an incredible read!

Helen Zia deftly weaves a tale of history, drama and exodus in a tumultuous era clouded by the fog of war. Out of the stories of thousands interviewed, people who were actually there - that so-called "Paris of the Orient", the author chooses wisely - fo
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Cee
Jul 07, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
This was the next pick for the book club. The stories were interesting enough. It definitely rounds out a lack of knowledge about the history of that part of the world at that time for me. But, it didnʻt grab me. When I put it down I wasnʻt wondering what happened to the people, instead I remembered to pick it up because I was going to talk about it with other people and needed to hear the rest of it. History isnʻt my favorite subject to read, but this was just a well-written story. At the end, ...more
Grace Nellore
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing. Inspiring. Suddenly I was at the epilogue, and I was and am stunned. Highly recommended. And should I ever be so lucky as to have children of my own, this will be absolute mandatory reading. Highly recommended for all ages.
Camelia Rose
Last Boat Out of Shanghai is a narrative history of four Chinese during the war years, from the Japanese Invasion in 1937, to the full-blown World War II, to the Civil War between CCP and Chinese Nationalist, later to the Korean War, until the McCarthyism in 1950s. This is a history of survivors of war and exiles who start over again in a new country. Well-researched. Characters vividly portrayed.

Helen Zia is is the perfect writer for such a history book about China and America. Bing Woo (吳蓓苓),
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ruyi
Dec 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unfortunately, I think that many people would pass over giving this book a read if they didn't have an interest in Chinese history. I started it because of my interest in learning more about Shanghai's history, and I'm so glad it led me to this book!

Four narratives are presented (though I want to note that in order to write this book the author also performed a decade of research and conducted hundreds of interviews with Chinese from that time), each focusing on a specific individual who had to
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Cav
This was a well-written and interesting read. It was a little different from what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it all the same.
"Last Boat Out of Shanghai" tells the story of the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in 1937, as well as the Communist rebellion, civil war and eventual coup of 1949, through the stories of four of its citizens: Annabel Annuo Liu, Benny Pan, Bing Woo, and Ho Chow.
98830027-570057900598866-4082971627279613952-n
The book has an interesting quote early-on about the city of Shanghai:
"Shanghai was a bastard city: too We
...more
Lydia
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book I’ve read this year! So interesting and suspenseful. And a great book to read during a pandemic as it follows four young people whose lives are put on hold/disrupted/turned upside down by forces out of their control (a big ‘ol war). Good perspective! But mostly just a great read.
Bookie
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Last Boat captivated me from the start with its rich depiction of occupied Shanghai's wartime past witnessed through the impacted lives of 4 real protagonists from childhood. I couldn't wait to find out what happened to each of the vastly different individuals: from Bing, a 6 yo girl abandoned by her impoverished parents...to Benny, the privileged son a a wealthy police chief and traitor for the Japanese. I was so engrossed in their stories that I missed my train stop while reading. I found the ...more
Joan Fung-Tomc
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of my parents and my uncle/aunts. I am so glad that Helen Zia documented the stories of 4-5 Chinese during this period (8 yrs of Japanese occupation & Communist takeover) and their exodus from the Shanghai region. One of these Chinese is her mother. Based on these accounts I was able to piece together the bits and pieces of my parents' stories of their struggles during the 1950's and their coming to the USA to reestablish their lives/family.

Thank you Helen for writing this boo
...more
Hans Vercammen
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"to label all the people of a country or culture as the same is a folly with potentially global consequences. This alone is a valuable lesson of the Shanghai exodus, a simple insight that bears repeating, especially when migrants and refugees everywhere are still often painted in one dismissive stroke." ...more
1953lincolngmail.Com
Having lived in Hong Kong and visited China in the early 1980's, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the stories of the lives of the people in this book. It is hard to imagine all of the horrors that they and their families lived through! A "hard to put down" read for me.
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Katrina Wilk
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
 “… one day such stories may become lessons for historical reflection, not broken paths to be retrod." No need for further comments. ...more
Gage
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: authors-of-color
This book beautifully weaves the stories of four young people growing up in or near Shanghai through the most disruptive periods in China's modern history from the occupation by Japanese forces, through World War II, and the Chinese civil war that saw the communist party rise to power. The narratives it presents are compelling and honest and the author seamlessly addresses such heavy topics as abandonment, violence, discrimination, and perseverance in the face of near constant struggle.

It also g
...more
Hal
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book goes back and fourth with stories about people during the same time period, 1930's, 1940's, living in or near Shanghai and leads up to the Communist Revolution in China. I was hooked on the stories and often wondered how the author was able to put this all together. I found that I didn't want to put the book down for more than a day so I could keep track of all the characters. Very informative with a personal touch. ...more
Just1MoreBook
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2, china, shanghai
I couldn't put it down! ...more
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Helen Zia is the author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, a finalist for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize (Bill Clinton referred to the book in two separate Rose Garden speeches). Zia is the co-author, with Wen Ho Lee, of My Country Versus Me: The First-Hand Account by the Los Alamos Scientist Who Was Falsely Accused of Being a Spy. She is also a former executive ed ...more

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“Even though this book examines a singular period of history, it reveals the manifold differences and conflicts that exist within even a small segment of one city's population. As the stories of "hot" and "cold" war experiences show, to label all the people of a country or culture as the same is a folly with potentially global consequences. This alone is a valuable lesson of the Shanghai exodus, a simple insight that bears repeating, especially when migrants and refugees everywhere are still often painted in one dismissive stroke.” 0 likes
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