I was given this book by [livejournal.com profile] nimstar a couple of years ago but only finally got around to reading it when it was one of the few books that was unpacked in the house before moving. I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I'm not a big fan of autobiographies, and I'm not really very interested in modern China, but nonetheless I found myself reading this quite quickly.

The book followed the path of one family, whose parents joined the Communists in the 30s and saw the revolution take shape, and the fate of their daughter, and her siblings after they died. It was quite interesting to see the Cultural Revolution from the perspective of one person. It was also interesting to see the changing state of politics. Clearly Gao blamed Mao for nearly all of the problems with Communist China. He had been made into her idol while growing up and he was to blame for all the problems.

The politics within this book were interesting, there was a great sense of the fear or the terror that was caused by the Cultural Revolution and it was interesting to see how people survived for those ten years. Gao herself, despite being the daughter of two communists, seemed to have little political beliefs herself. She never talked about what she believed, beyond what they had been told Mao wanted from them. It was an interesting insight into the indoctrination of school children.

Gao's only goal seemed to be to study well and get into university, to please her mother. It was sad to see that she couldn't get on with her family and had few lasting relationships. She seemed to only be happy towards the end once China had opened up and she was getting to a more comfortable "western" life style. It seemed that besides from the human rights abuses her next biggest concern was always physical comfort and there was a great deal of descriptions of unpleasant smells and pain, and bug bites. (I started to wonder a little if perhaps her siblings were right and she did have bourgeois pretensions). In the end it seemed a little sad that she was leaving China and just wasn't able to see any hope or change. Her arrest which came after the end of the Cultural Revolution when things were supposed to be opening was quite shocking.

I did enjoy this book. It reminded me a lot of the film Xiu Xiu the Sent Down Girl, which is by far the most dramatic and saddest portrayal of Communist China that I've seen. While not an area I ever want to study fully it's good to go and read about occasionally.


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