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Life and Death in Shanghai Paperback – May 3, 1988

4.6 out of 5 stars 347 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This gripping account of a woman caught up in the maelstrom of China's Cultural Revolution begins quietly. In 1966, only the merest rumblings of political upheaval disturbed the gracious life of the author, widow of the manager of Shell Petroleum in China. As the rumblings fast became a cataclysm, Cheng found herself a target of the revolution: Red Guards looted her home, literally grinding underfoot her antique porcelain and jade treasures; and she was summarily imprisoned, falsely accused of espionage. Despite harsh privationeven tortureshe refused to confess and was kept in solitary confinement for over six years, suffering deteriorating health and mounting anxiety about the fate of her only child, Meiping. When the political climate softened, and she was released, Cheng learned that her fears were justified: Meiping had been beaten to death when she refused to denounce her mother. The candor and intimacy of this affecting memoir make it addictive reading. Its intelligence, passion and insight assure its place among the distinguished voices of our age proclaiming the ascendancy of the human spirit over tyranny. Cheng is now a U.S. resident. BOMC main selection; author tour.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Cheng's widely acclaimed book recounts in compelling specifics her persecution and imprisonment at the hands of Mao Zedong's "Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976). Inquisitors accused her of being a "spy" and "imperialist," but during the harrowing years of solitary confinement she never gave in, never confessed a lie. We read this, not so much for historical analysis, but, like the literature of the Gulag in Russia, for an example of a humane spirit telling terrible truths honestly, without bitterness or cynicism. Highly recommended. BOMC main selection. Charles W. Hayford, History Dept., Northwestern Univ., Evanston, Ill.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 547 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Reprint Edition edition (May 3, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014010870X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140108705
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (347 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,028,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I never thought that I could love a true account of tragedy, suffering, and grave injustice, but I have to admit that I love "Life and Death in Shanghai". I don't mean that I read this book for entertainment or recommend it to everybody. Like some of the works of Solzhenitsyn or Elie Weisel, the subject of Nien Cheng's book is real, painful, and sometimes very difficult to read. Yet I find myself constantly rereading "Life and Death in Shanghai" and it is one of the few books I refuse to part with. How can this be?
Nien Cheng writes of personal loss, suffering, and injustice with unusually lucid and mature prose. She is impressive as story teller, an historian, but most of all as a writer. One of the most effective qualities of Nien Cheng's writing is the remarkable restraint she employs when describing unfair and frankly inhumane actions perpetrated against her and her family. She describes her arrest, captivity, and daily efforts to challenge her tormentors with cool objectivity.
One of the most impressive parts of the book is the account of how Nien Cheng studied Chairman Mao's collected works in prison. Despite the fact that Mao's policies had personally harmed her and were tearing China apart, she studied his works in earnest and evaluated them objectively. She concluded that Mao was a brilliant guerrilla warfare strategist but that he was only capable of destruction, not creativity.
Nien Cheng enhances her personal narrative by describing relevant Chinese historical events. As a result, the reader acquires a sense of context and is better able to understand why certain things happen to her. For example, Nien Cheng is repeatedly persecuted for her alleged support of Liu Xiaoqi.
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Format: Paperback
There is now an almost overwhelming amount of personal accounts of life during Mao's Cultural Revolution. The tales of atrocities and abuses are many, but this is a particularly extraordinary memoir, in my opinion the best of the lot.
Nien Cheng suffered enormously, and her book recounts her persecution in amazing detail. She had more than 6 years to recall every degrading and unjust incident, and it is remarkably all here. Yet it is never for a moment boring or tedious. She writes beautifully and appreciatively of the tasty snack her cook gave her the day she went to be screamed at by an auditorium full of Red Guards. It is this extraordinary attention to simple goodness and the author's triumphant but humble survival that sets this book apart.
Someone said to me, "oh, I could never buy that book. I couldn't stand the pain." My friend was mistaken. Nien Cheng's book is about pain, but not defeat. To be sure, it is about the hellish consequences of a society gone mad, but her own clear conscience reigns supreme.
It is a quite beautiful story of the triumph of the human spirit. Outstanding.
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By A Customer on February 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
After I arrived in the US in 1994, a friend lent me a copy of "Life and Death in Shanghai". I cried many times while reading it. It brought back my miserable childhood and the humiliation and suffering I and my family had experienced in China. It was then that the idea was born to share my story about how a little class enemy became a world citizen and my book "Flying High out of a Tibetan Valley" came into being. Thank you, Nien Cheng.
I grew up in an isolated Tibetan town in western Sichuan Province. At the age of 12, I witnessed a "struggle meeting" in which my parents were denounced as enemies of the state and repeatedly beaten. Soon both my parents were jailed and I had to live on my own. During high school and in the countryside as an Educated Youth, I was often chastised and shunned, not only for my family background, but also for my unusual ambition to become a writer and translator and to fly high out of a Tibetan valley as a world citizen.
Nien Cheng suffered unthinkable persecution as an adult during the ten years of madness, while I suffered oppression as a child. So I wrote of the Cultural Revolution from a child's point of view. Nien Cheng came from Shanghai, the biggest city in China, while I came from an isolated Tibetan valley. As you read such personnal stories you will get a better understanding of what Chinese children and adults went through during Mao's Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Thanks to Nien Cheng, Americans can know what Life and Death under a dictatorship is like.
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Format: Paperback
In 1986, when I first read this novel, I was 16. I was mesmerized by it. TIME Magazine had printed an excerpt of the novel and after reading the excerpt, I bought the book. Today, in 2000, it's been almost 14 years later and I can still remember the content of this powerful novel. I think it is amazingly well written, very detailed, historically correct and extremely moving. The insights you gain about life during the Cultural Revolution give you a light into that dark age of chaos and pain. Today, when I watch movies, read books or hear about other people's stories, I still find myself reflecting back to Nien Cheng's novel. Nien Cheng is extremely courageous and is built of the fiber of the "old" Chinese ways. There is a lot of sadness on her tale as well about how a nation tried to denounce itself and forget about its past. This book is a MUST READ if you have any ounce of interest in Chinese people, their history or their culture. It's also a MUST READ if you are a Chinese for it'd allow you an insight into yourself and your land of origin, China. Be prepared to realize that after you've read this book, you're going to be a different person.
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