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The Lius of Shanghai Hardcover – April 22, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Liu Hongsheng (1888-1956) was a prosperous Shanghai industrialist whose household exemplified the traditional Confucian family's transition into modernity. Cochran discovered a trove of letters that span the 1920s to the 1950s, as family members pursued education, marriage, and business prospects all over China and in Japan and the West. He and his co-author provide historical context and sensitive cultural and psychological interpretations but allow most of the story to come out in the family's sometimes stilted but honest and moving words...[A] fascinating saga.
(Andrew J. Nathan Foreign Affairs 2013-09-01)

The Lius of Shanghai is not a conventional family history. It is the history of one family's communication across continents, wartime divides and ideological boundaries. Liu Hongsheng, the patriarch of the family, kept copies of all correspondence between him, his wife and their 12 children (nine sons and three daughters). This treasure trove of some 2,000 letters, written between the 1920s and the late 1950s, forms the core of the book. The result is an engaging and thoughtful account of one prominent and fabulously rich family through the turmoil of Nationalist China under Chiang Kai-shek, the Sino-Japanese War, the Civil War and the Communist Revolution. It is also a startlingly

ordinary history of private family exchanges, albeit during extraordinary times...Cochran and Hsieh have successfully complicated our picture of the fabled Chinese patriarchal system and have enabled a rare glimpse into the private life of one family.

(Jennifer Altehenger Times Higher Education 2013-06-27)

[An] excellent book...The letters provide a wealth of detail about the family, their wealth, the personal relations between them and the lives of those who studied and lived abroad. It is this wealth of detail that gives the book its richness and authenticity. (Mark O’Neill South China Morning Post 2013-04-14)

The correspondence among the patriarch, Liu Hongsheng, his wife, Ye Suzhen, and their nine sons and three daughters offers a rich tapestry of events tense and fraught in family politics and division… Their lives continue to fascinate through the narratives of this book. (A. Cho Choice 2013-11-01)

Are happy families, as Tolstoy posits, all alike? What if the family in question is a wealthy one from Shanghai, trying to manage 12 sons and daughters through war and troubles from the 1920s to Mao's revolution of the 1950s? To find out, read this dramatic family history. Cochran and Hsieh, both respected historians of modern China, found in the Shanghai archives 2,000 thoughtful, detailed, and intimate letters that Liu family members wrote to one another. The authors provide comments and context as Father (Mr. Liu) first finds love in an arranged marriage, then builds a business dynasty, dispatches sons to America and Britain for education, finds spouses for them, keeps his mistresses from his wife. When the Japanese invasion divides the family, [Father] navigates the politics as one patriotic son collaborates with the Japanese, one joins the Communists, and others become successful capitalists. Throughout, the various family members respect but negotiate with the patriarch...[An] engrossing volume. (Charles Hayford Library Journal (starred review) 2013-04-01)

Chinese history scholars and folks fond of in-depth genealogical studies will find this to be of great interest. (Publishers Weekly 2013-02-18)

Written in a page-turning style, The Lius of Shanghai offers an illuminating view of lives lived in the midst of the turbulence of China's twentieth century. A fascinating and insightful account. (Bryna Goodman, author of Native Place, City, and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities in Shanghai, 1853-1937)

A perceptive and engaging history of a complex and fascinating Chinese family. Cochran and Hsieh provide an intimate portrait of a family and a city in the midst of nation-building, war, and revolution—a portrayal based on a unique collection of correspondence and unlikely to be rivaled soon, if at all. (Joseph W. Esherick, author of Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History)

Sherman Cochran and Andrew Hsieh’s The Lius of Shanghai makes extensive and effective use of a large cache of letters that were exchanged between members of a prominent Chinese business family. It is…tightly focused in one sense yet expansive in another, in this case due to how robustly cosmopolitan Shanghai was in the early 1900s, when many of the letters were written, and the fact that the family’s members left the city to spend time in other parts of China and also in the West. (Jeffrey Wasserstrom Los Angeles Review of Books blog 2013-12-25)

About the Author

Sherman Cochran is Hu Shih Professor of Chinese History at Cornell University.

Andrew Hsieh is Professor of Chinese History at Grinnell College.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 472 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674072596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674072596
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,279,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on October 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is a narrative distillation of over 2000 letters of the Liu family spanning the 30 years in a tumultuous period of history. The letters sketch out the family life of this major industrialist family of China in this period.

In 1907 an arranged marriage joined the Liu and Ye families. 8 sons and 3 daughters resulted from this marriage where the bride and groom first saw each other on their wedding day. Father is surprisingly modern in many of his ideas for his business and sons. He is not averse to educating his daughters in home economics.

The letters show how sons get a first class education in countries Father has selected to meet the needs of the family's business interests. Father finds a locally based guardian from among his business associates and sends the sons to the country to scout out and negotiate an actual application. From the college experience, we follow the Liu family through domestic issues: marriages, illness (both physical and mental) and infidelity. We see the family adapt through the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, the Civil War and the eventual Communist takeover.

While the book is riveting, some stories are even more compelling than others such as the marriages of the Second Son and the First Daughter; how equipment was moved from Shanghai to Chongqing during the war; and the Sixth Son's engineering of Eighth's Son's return to China.

The letters can't tell the whole story, and the time has passed for personal interviews. If we could reach back it would be wonderful to have interviews of each family member. Up until his sixties, Father sounds like a wise patriarch, very much ahead of his time. While the book is not about his business, his success shows that he is extraordinarily skilled in it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Member of a Book Club on July 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
My book club has been on a Chinese novel binge. We've read "Wild Swans", "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress", "Dreams of Joy", "Falling Leaves" "Snow Flower and the Little Seamstress" and "Fortune is a Woman." Some of those were set in the U.S. but all had characters who were from China. On a recent trip to San Francisco I visited Angel Island where a friends' Grandfather passed through that Pacific gateway to the U.S. When I came across this book, "The Lius Shanghai" at a college reunion (one of the writers was talking about it) I picked the book up because I'd already read so much about this time.

The book is taken from letters the family wrote one another in the 1920-1950 period. They were a prosperous Chinese merchant family. Unlike the characters in many of the novels I'd read this family was quite forward looking -both sons and daughters were educated. I thought the story, which is extremely well-written and easy to read, was engaging. I felt like it portrayed a different side to Chinese families, one more focused on the dynamics of a family business and not just recounting the injustices visited upon the characters in the book. Combined with the other novels I've read I feel like I have a better understanding of the Chinese family experience. I recommend it as a good contrast to other books about Chinese families in this pre-revolution time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By nl on May 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very well written book
Must spent a lot of effort in writing this book
Very interesting to read indeed for sure
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent reading. Very factual history of China during the period described.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Hsia on July 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Subjectively, I am very prejudicial since it involves a part of my family especially my two aunts to which many pages were devoted. At least, I got to know more about one side of my family. Objectively, this book is a excellent study of a classic merchant family of Shanghai, their hopes, ambitions, successes and disappointments. Sherm Cochran does a tremendous job in organizing the book into different segments for each parent and siblings during various periods, thus allowing the reader to follow each brother and sister separately while also allowing the reader to see how each sibling interact with each other, as well as with their parents. If one is interested in the social fiber of a Shanghai family in the 20th century, this book is a must!
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