Synopses & Reviews
With clear vision this intimate memoir draws us into the intersections of everyday life and Communist power from the first days of "Liberation" in 1949 through the Tiananmen Square protests and after. The son of a professional family, Kang Zhengguo is a free spirit, drawn to literature. In Mao's China, these innocuous circumstances expose him at the age of twenty to a fierce struggle session, expulsion from university, and a four-year term of hard labor in Xian's Number Two Brickyard. So begins his long stay in the prison-camp system, a story of hardship and poignance, of warmth and humor in the face of cruelty. He finally escapes the Chinese gulag by forfeiting his identity: at age twenty-eight he is adopted by an aging bachelor in a peasant village, which enables him to start a new life. Rehabilitated after Mao's death, Kang finds himself still subject to the recurring nightmare of party authority.
"The author of this absorbing memoir was a misfit in the most misfit-intolerant place on earth. Coming of age during the Cultural Revolution, Kang kept secret diaries, disdained the political sloganeering at his university and was sent away for requesting the suspect novel Doctor Zhivago crimes that landed him a three-year prison term and resettlement in a peasant commune where the work was almost as backbreaking as in the camps. His story is a lively, intricate account of communism's panoptic police state, suffocating bureaucracy (residency permits and ration cards made moving, working and eating impossibly complex) and rabid witch hunts for imaginary class villains, all of which only exacerbated traditional obsessions with obtaining food, housing and a spouse. But official denunciations of Kang's bad attitude weren't entirely wrong. 'I treasured laziness,' he writes. 'I admired the work habits of carnivorous animals like lions... free to loll around all day once they had finished capturing their prey.' Such profoundly unproletarian sentiments put him at odds not only with the Party but with his despairing parents and disgruntled villagers who felt he was shirking in the fields. Kang's rugged individualism takes his story beyond the usual narrative of persecution and hardship, making it an incisive, personal critique of a deeply conformist society. Photos. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"On June 4, 1989, having heard that the Tiananmen demonstrations had been lethally crushed, Kang Zhengguo, a professor of literature at a university in Shaanxi province, pinned a piece of paper to his chest displaying the words 'AIM YOUR GUNS HERE.' Then he joined with his students who were marching to protest the killings that had taken place in Beijing the night before. This open defiance of the Party...was typical of Kang. 'I am incapable of saying what people want to hear,' he writes in his unique and sensitively written account of what it was like to grow up in Communist China..." Jonathan Mirsky, The New York Review of Books
(read the entire New York Review of Books review
A revealing memoir of human resilience in the face of nightmarish power.
About the Author
Kang Zhengguo is senior lector of Chinese at Yale University. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.Susan Wilf teaches at George School in Pennsylvania and was awarded a PEN Translation Fund Grant for Confessions.