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The Rice Sprout Song Reprint Edition

5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520210882
ISBN-10: 0520210883
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Published in 1955 and 1967, respectively, Rice offers a glimpse of rural life in China during the early years of the People's Republic, while Rouge follows the life of a woman locked in a dismal marriage that ultimately drives her insane. Though set in China and featuring native characters, Chang's books nonetheless are for all readers.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Eileen Chang is a vital force, transforming the desolation of the everday into strong prose that, though stark, achieves the splendor, the permanence, of art. Splendour and desolation: the words are Chang's drawn from her work and descriptive of her experience. . . . A haunting tale. "The Rice Sprout Song reads less as an indictment of a specific regime than as a study of the effects of political power on ordinary people."--"Boston Book Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 182 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (May 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520210883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520210882
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #986,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Charlie Dickinson on August 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Old Master who collected Chinese wisdom in Tao Te Ching some 2,500 years ago wrote pithily:
"The sage never has a mind of his own;
He considers the minds of the common people to be his mind."
Today, he would not change a word for the sage: the sheng-jen in Beijing. True, modern China, a colossus of 1.2 billion people, is fronted by Shanghai and other booming, skyscrapered, fiber-opticked, globally connected metropolises. But beyond the urban fronts, reality is 900 million peasants--75% of the total population--living a rural, feudal life with Marxist trappings. What gives the Beijing mandarin insomnia is not rhetorical exchanges with America like we saw earlier in 2001. No, it's much more the primal fear bad weather and bad crops might visit hunger upon the 900 million--if the peasants go hungry, the government goes down and chaos surely follows. Chaos, for the Chinese mind, being anathema (off the Tao, hindering wu-wei).
The Rice-Sprout Song by Eileen Chang (1920-95), first published in 1955, deftly evokes rural Chinese life in the early days of the Maoist Revolution. Though well known to Chinese readers everywhere, Chang's work has only recently been in print again for English readers. In 1998, three years after her death, the University of California reissued this novel and a companion work, The Rouge of the North.
Chang, a giant in Chinese literature, wrote and lived a self-proclaimed aesthetic of desolation, especially after immigrating to the United States in the mid-Fifties. A Garbo-esque recluse, Chang was found dead in a barren Hollywood, California, studio apartment. Her will asked that her body be "cremated instantly, the ashes scattered in any desolate spot, over a fairly wide area, if on land.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
Rice Sprout Song is possibly the best work of literature I have ever read. It was first recommended to me as descriptive of the collectivization era shortly after the 1949 Revolution in China, a classic tale between the state and the individual. It is a spellbinding, troubling work, and is almost impossible to believe that it was Eileen Chang's first work in English. The language she uses is sparse, beautiful and conveys greatest impact after the last page is read, and the cover closed. It is more than an interesting story about conflict between the state and the individual. It is an unsettling story of physical starvation and the death of hope and love.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Peking Duck on August 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
A few days before I left China, a friend handed me two books by Eileen Chang, an author who for a long time had been on my list but who I never actually got around to reading. I read one of them, The Rice-Sprout Song, on my flight home from China nearly a month ago, and a day hasn't gone by that I haven't thought about it at least once. Although it came out in 1955 and there's no need for yet another review, I had to put down a few thoughts.

The Rice-Sprout Song is set in China's countryside during the early days of Mao's tyranny, when "land reform" promised the rural poor great hope that would soon lead to the horrors of collectivization, famine and death on a scale that was until then unimaginable. It's a desolate book about a terrible subject we all know about but have, in all likelihood, never truly experienced, hunger. Its metaphor for hunger is the watery gruel the poor eat for every meal as they slowly starve.

That this was Chang's first English novel is extraordinary, it is so perfectly crafted, its characters so real and the language assured and perfect. The book has two heroes, a "model worker" in the village, Gold Root, and his wife Moon Scent. After many pages of bleakness, we detect the first hints of joy in Gold Root's longing for Moon Scent, who has gone to work in Shanghai as a maid. He misses her so intensely he travels to Shanghai, his first time out of the countryside, to spend a few days with her, a sad event marked by Gold Root's sense of isolation and awkwardness, his crushing poverty contrasted by "bejeweled ladies going to parties in their shiny silk gowns and high-heeled gold shoes."

Chang tells how a cadre from the city is sent down to their village to live exactly as the peasants do and learn from them, and soon he, too, is starving.
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Eileen Chang is wonderful writer who deftly weaves enough background into her stories to let you see the customs. beliefs, and living conditions of the people she depicts. I came to her work via a short story, "Red Rose, White Rose," that dealt with urban China of the mid-50s. "Rice-Sprout Song" refers to dance and chant people did to celebrate the "liberation" of the Communist regime. Chang shows how alleged cultural advances and land reapportionment did as much harm as good. She is sly. She simply says what happens and lets you supply the politics or the opinion about whether something is beneficial or defeating. The translation is a bit stodgy, and it is wise to go with the stories being told until they culminate in an event that involves all of the characters. "Rice=Sprout" song was an enlightening read, as it acquainted me with a time, place, and tradition of which I was unaware. The story of peasant life in a re-forming China also held interest.
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