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Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

Life and Death in Shanghai (1986)

by Nien Cheng

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1911710,470 (4.19)33
  1. 11
    Journey of the North Star by Douglas Penick (Publerati)
    Publerati: Both books present vivid details of life in China at different times in the history of the country. Each is well-written and fascinating.
  2. 00
    Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution (Melanie Kroupa Books) by Moying Li (meggyweg)
  3. 00
    The Silent Escape: Three Thousand Days in Romanian Prisons by Lena Constante (meggyweg)
  4. 00
    Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg (meggyweg)
    meggyweg: Being a victim of the Chinese Cultural Revolution isn't that much different from being a victim of Stalin's purges of the 1930s.

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This would have to be the most profound book I have read on what it was like to live in Communist China during the Mao Tze-tung years. This remarkable woman gives an account of her life and experiences, including 6 and a half years spent in a detention centre, where she was subjected to repeated interrogations but her resilience and intelligence refused to be broken. Upon her release she discovers her only daughter has died at the hands of her over-zealous captors. Throughout, the reader never doubts her love and devotion for her beloved China. ( )
  HelenBaker | Dec 5, 2018 |
At one time Cheng's husband used to be a diplomatic officer for the Kuomintang government. Due to the entrance of the Communist army, his appointment soon led him to a career with the British Shell International Petroleum Company. Upon his death, his widow, Nien Cheng, became the assistant to the new general manager. Cheng's bilingual skills were invaluable to the organization and she soon filled in for the general manager. In addition, she had many international friendships and relationships. All these facts were seen as disloyal during the Cultural Revolution. Ultimately, she was accused of being a spy and imprisoned for six and a half years where she was treated to inhumane conditions and sometimes tortured. Despite everything, Cheng was able to use her fast thinking wit to turn Mao teachings against her captures as they tried time and time again to get her to confess to being a spy. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Sep 6, 2016 |
Life and Death in Shanghai is Nien Cheng's memoir of her harrowing and tragic life under Communist rule in China. It's a long book that might have been shortened up by a third to improve focus and readability. Although I've rated it at 4 stars, I cannot recommend it as an enjoyable or easy read. In addition to reading about the author's life, you will receive excellent information about the workings of the Communist Party and the continual shifts of power within the leadership and how this affected the Chinese people in their daily lives.

One issue I had was the author's rather dry reportage style, which I concluded might be a reflection of her stoicism. Although she is the hero of the story, she appears remote and steely. Perhaps these characteristics, combined with her fearlessness, were exactly what allowed her to survive her ordeal. I really can't blame her for allowing herself to feel self pity and to complain about her circumstances from time to time.

Her reactions at first seem naive and unrealistic given she had already lived through many phases of the Revolution under Mao's takeover before she is imprisoned. She knows how the system works, but of course, it rapidly deteriorated especially after the failure of the Great Leap Forward.

The author was privileged before the Revolution, and continued to receive special treatment throughout her time in China. It does appear at times that she feels entitled to better treatment than others around her and this lends an air of arrogance to her story.

Ms. Cheng's painstaking details of her possessions, her imprisonment, her frequent interrogations, struggle meetings and mistreatment by her guards may weary certain readers.

I found as I continued to read the story, my admiration for her intelligence, determination, unwavering declarations of innocence and her cunning grew.

The memoir is slow to wind up after the author's release, subsequent reintegration into society and decision to leave China.

This is a serious, lengthy and sober study of one woman's survival in a murderous and chaotic time and place that seems very alien to Westerners. ( )
  Zumbanista | Apr 18, 2016 |
Excellent book about the injustices of Mao's Cultural Revolution in China. Would have given it 5 stars, but it really was longer than it should have been. The descriptions of prison life and the inquisitions are repetitive and could have been scaled back a bit. Still, an excellent book. ( )
  valorrmac | Aug 19, 2015 |
A great read, well written. Solitary confinement for over 6 years for being accused of being a spy. Poor woman. Would read again ( )
  Tony2704 | Mar 17, 2015 |
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The past is forever with me and I remember it all.
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Plot summary: "During the Cultural Revolution in China, Nien Cheng, who had worked for Shell for many years, was arrested and thrown into jail after being accused of being a spy for the British. At the hands of prison wardens and interrogators she suffered from unfair cruelty and various accusations against her, but she never gave in. At one point during her sentence she had to wear a pair of handcuffs for over three days that infected her wrists. Before the revolution she had led an indulged life with her hard working daughter and circle of friends. After six and a half years she was released, to discover that her daughter had been murdered. It took a long time for her to gain justice, but after she did she left China and flew to America. Since she left she has never returned to Shanghai."
Liza Rosette, Resident Scholar
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The author tells of her solitary confinement and torture as a wealthy Chinese woman during the Cultural Revolution.

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