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The Dragon's Village: An Autobiographical…

The Dragon's Village: An Autobiographical Novel of Revolutionary China (1980)

by Yuan-tsung Chen

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Shanghai, 1949: It was a tumultuous time in Chinese history, when changes wrought by the Communist victory were beginning to sweep the land. 17 year old Guan Ling-Ling, idealistic and headstrong, renounces her middle class privilege to join a revolutionary theater group that will bring reform to the countryside. Ling-ling suddenly finds herself in a world so far from her own experience that she can barely understand the lives she has been sent to change. From the moment she enters Longxiang an unrelenting flood of events engulfs her: plots and counter plots, acts of violence, midnight raids, even glimmers of first love. The book is an autobiography from inside the early land reform and it is in that that it holds the most interest. The stories are amazing and only hint on the massive reforms going on over the even more massive land mass of China at that time. The problem is the writing style. It feels more like an awkward translation than an autobiography and the cultural differences in characters development, pacing, empathy, and dialogue is striking, if not awkward even for the learned reader. The book is a great literary compliment to the Chinese history of the time but would be hard to digest without background in Sino-social history. ( )
  loafhunter13 | Jun 13, 2010 |
Described as "an autobiographical novel of revolutionary China", it tells the story of those heady days 60 years ago, as Ling-ling, the daughter of a well-off family in Shanghai, volunteers to go to the remote northwest of China to help carry out land reform. Nothing in her life up till then has prepared her either for the aching poverty or for the process of overturning centuries of traditional relationships, and the forces of anger and revenge that can be unleashed when you do so.

The work teams feel their way through the reform process, from trying to mobilise the peasants to destroying the power and mystique of the landlords. This may not sound like the most gripping subject, but I found this book fascinating. It's told very much from Ling-ling's perspective at the time, and so her dominant emotions are positive. But it's not a whitewash. Ling-ling, for example, is troubled by the fact that traditional attitudes are hard to change, even when the subject of those attitudes is different (the landlord's widow is ostracised the same way a woman perceived as bringing bad luck used to be). There is also a grim but all too believable account of the way that ends can come to justify means, and how the voice of conscience can be gradually stilled. ( )
1 vote wandering_star | Oct 2, 2009 |
Ling Ling lives a life of privilege in China. She lives with her aunt and uncle, who throw parties for the wealthy and powerful set. All around them, they hear that the good life is coming to an end for people like them, that Communism is sweeping the country, and that things will never be the same.

Ling Ling gets swept up into the excitement. When a friend from school asks if she can hide from the police for the night, she says yes, and suddenly she's questioning her upbringing and beliefs. Her aunt flees to Hong Kong, but her uncle tries to stay put a little longer. Soon he must leave too, and Ling Ling decides to stay and see what will become of this new nation.

She joins a group of land reform workers, whose job is to go out into the country, examine the land deeds of the landlords, and redistribute the land. Landlords will lose their wealth and status, and the peasants will be empowered.

Except that things aren't quite that simple. Reading this book, I have the benefit of hindsight. I could tell how naive Ling Ling is, how little she really knows of farming or of poverty, how little she understands human nature. All too soon, she finds that things are much more complicated than she imagines. There are tragedies along with occasional triumphs. Ling Ling learns more about herself than she imagined, and finds that she is capable of being independent.

I really enjoyed this book. I was anticipating a tragic end, but I was pleased to see that that wasn't the case, at least not completely. I found myself wanting to read more, to see what happens to the villagers Ling Ling meets and befriends. The title calls this an 'autobiographical novel', and I would love to know more about the author. The only notes in my edition say that the author was also a land reform worker, and I really want to know how much of her experiences are reflected in the book. I would recommend this to anyone who could find a copy. I found it very enlightening and a good story besides. ( )
  cmbohn | Aug 19, 2009 |
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As I look back at it now, the cool unconcern of my family and friends - and I do not exclude myself - was astounding.
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Seventeen-year-old Ling-ling joins a revolutionary theater group carrying out reforms in the Chinese countryside in 1949 and amid tumultous events, she grows toward maturity.

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