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IN SEARCH MY HOMELAND Hardcover – October 20, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Gao was only 19-years-old when he wrote “On Beauty,” a critical essay about the subjectivity of aesthetics, which was published in a journal in 1957 and hotly contested. Several years later, this “inopportune treatise” leads to Gao, a teacher in a small rural school in the town of Lanzhou, being labeled a “Rightist” and shipped off to a labor camp in the Gobi Desert. There he faces unimaginable hardships as he is forced to dig ditches, till fields, and endure brutal sandstorms while being given barely enough food to survive. Ever the daring intellectual, Gao continues to write, despite the fact that he risks serious repercussions if his work is discovered. He also finds solace in the impressive ancient art in the Mogao Caves. Though what Dorsett and Pollard have gracefully translated is only the second part of Gao’s three-part memoir, it is broad in scope and gives readers a vivid account of Gao’s suffering and endurance. Powerful reading for those curious about what “reeducation through labor” really entailed. --Kristine Huntley

About the Author

Er Tai Gao was born in 1935 in Jiangsu Province, China. A writer, painter, art critic, and scholar best known for his contributions to aesthetics, he has been on the faculty of the Dunhuang Cultural Relics Research Institute and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Philosophy, and a professor at Lanzhou University, Sichuan Normal University, Nankai University, and Nanjing University.

In 1957, after the publication of his article "On Beauty" and other essays, he was labeled a rightist and sent to a labor camp. In 1966, he was again sentenced to hard labor until 1972. He was exonerated in 1978, and in 1986 was recognized by the National Science Council as a "State Expert with Distinguished Contributions." He was again imprisoned in 1989, for anti-revolutionary writings. After his release, he fled China with his wife and now lives in exile in Las Vegas, Nevada.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (October 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060881267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060881269
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,144,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Loyd Eskildson HALL OF FAME on December 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In 1957, 22-year-old Er Gao argued in an essay ("On Beauty") that the nature of what is beautiful is both subjective and individual. However, the Party believed beauty is objective and collective. In 1956, Mao's 'Hundred Flowers Campaign' had encouraged commentary and critiques by Chinese intellectuals and artists, and Gao took the encouragements at face value. As a result, in February 1957 published his essay on the topic in a nationally distributed magazine. The essay prompted national debate and he was sent to a labor camp in China's harsh western desert for 're-education.' (Because there's no certainty how long "remolding" those thoughts can take, the length of detention for Gao and others was at the whim of the government and the party.) There, about 90% of his fellow prisoners died due to the combination of cold, malnutrition, heavy labor, lack of hope.

The work was basically meaningless - digging ditches across the desert to drain the salt from the land. The ditches were about 16' wide at top, 1' at the bottom, and 7'-16' deep, spaced roughly every one-third of a mile. The day began with breakfast under starlight; workers were lucky to receive water at noon. After a day of digging, workers returned for a moonlit dinner and small group sessions of informing on each other. When Gao returned to the camp area years later, Gao found the desert had mostly filled them back in.

Gao was one of the lucky ones, possibly because there was a need for painters at the time, and was released in 1962. Gao then found work with an institute studying the extensive Buddhist artwork in the nearby Dunhuang Magao Caves; in his private time, Gao used his freedom of thought to ponder the meaning of his work and existence.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a simple but powerful account of life as a condemned "counterrevolutionary" in communist China. It is most definitely not intended as any kind of competition for Solzhenitsyn.

I found the honesty and simplicity of the writing deeply moving; there is a certain clarity of thought as well as dignity and modesty that is absent from many literary works by Chinese eminent authors, including Mo Yan and Gao Xingjian. The first of them simply refuses to say the whole truth and the latter wants to be half Western and half Eastern. Both often sound cynical, which probably is not intentional. Among the very few other Chinese writers known in the West, Yiyun Li is, in my opinion, a very good Chinese author that is not afraid of the truth; she excels at the short story genre.

Er Tai Gao, however, in addition to being a good writer is also a sensitive artist. He has his unique voice. His descriptions of the Mogao caves are unforgettable, and the idea of using poetry throughout the book was a great tool in "softening" the immense hardship of life. The "theatrical" aspect, so prevalent in Chinese culture, is completely absent.

I enjoyed the book very much and, although this is not "a Solzhenitsyn" or a "Nobel Prize material", there is something to be said about a personal memoir of a victim, that is coherent, deeply moving, and well written.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the most deeply inspiring, pain and thought provoking book I have read in many a year. The critic on Amazon compared it to the well celebrated work by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, calling it "The Chinese Gulag".

Well, I beg to differ. To me, the difference between this book and The Gulag lies deeply in the perspective of narration. While The Gulag is a powerful documentary, serving as encyclopedia of Stalin's Great Purge era, Mr. Gao's In Search of My Homeland has a much more introverted perspective. A continuous flow of self reflections in a beautifully creative mind sets the tone of this book, even though the author's encounter was among the cruelest in human history.

The amazing point is, whether as a 19 year old boy fresh from college majoring in Art Histroy, or a 75 year old professor who's served a third of his life in political jail, Gao Er Tai never gave up his pure idealism, his innate trust in Beauty, and his stubborn belief in individuality. Somehow, through all those years of harsh persecution, through all those pain and desperation, he emerges with a curious and open mind, with a beautiful and tender soul.

This realization brought tears to my eyes first, then I felt a part of myself touched and awakened from within.
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I heard great things about this book so my expectations were maybe too high.
Good descriptions on the life in a labor camp, but nothing beyond this. Difficult to follow the flow from chapter to chapter making it a difficult read.
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