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China Witness is a remarkable work of oral history that lets us see the cultural upheavals of the past century through the eyes of the Chinese who lived through them.
Xinran, acclaimed author of The Good Women of China, traveled across China seeking out the nation’s grandparents and great-grandparents, the men and women who experienced firsthand the tremendous changes of the modern era. Although many of them feared repercussions, they spoke with stunning candor about their hopes, fears, and struggles, and about what they witnessed: from the Long March to land reform, from Mao to marriage, from revolution to Westernization. In the same way that Studs Terkel’s Working and Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation gave us the essence of very particular times, China Witness gives us the essence of modern China—a portrait more intimate, nuanced, and revelatory than any we have had before.
“Xinran’s interactions are extraordinary. . . . [She] uses a wide range of stories—of public-works projects and persecutions, romance and reeducation—to show how China’s masses clung to scraps of individuality amid the deadening conformity of the communist system.” —New York Times Book Review
"As Xinran crisscrosses the vast country, she proves herself to be a tenacious conduit for gently urging remarkable histories onto the page and even on film, recording the memories and lives of her elderly Chinese witnesses." —The San Francisco Chronicle
“Extraordinary in-depth interviews with a dozen unlikely survivors of the cultural revolution (the Policeman, the Acrobat, the Lantern Maker). This brilliant work of oral history—by a sort of Chinese Studs Terkel—gives a completely riveting glimpse of everyday life behind Mao’s bamboo curtain and subtly reflects on the politics of memory and what may be yet to come.” —The Guardian, Best Books of 2008
“Xinran doesn’t treat her subjects like something from a 1945 newsreel, the dutiful witnesses of history’s march. She pokes them and flatters them; she gets excited by their stories and on occasion cries along with them. . . . We see the red lines that many Chinese still draw for themselves in public discourse, or even privately, the boundaries they dare not cross even today. No other style of storytelling could have exhibited them with more clarity or greater rawness.” —The Times (London)
“Invaluable social history that textbooks don’t reveal.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A stirring, startlingly honest account of life under Chairman Mao and the current reformers revamping the socialist state. . . . Proof of how resilient and tough the Chinese people are. . . . Xinran does not leave out the average people who were the backbone of the republic . . . all of whom reveal a rich, multi-faceted national history that celebrated individualism as well as collective achievement. . . . The author puts a bow on these candid interviews with a final set of astute observations in an especially noteworthy book.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)