Voices from a Silent Generation
This magnificent and groundbreaking work of oral history gives voice to a forgotten generation and reveals the secret history of 20th-century China.
China Witness is the personal testimony of a generation whose stories have not yet been told. Here the grandparents and great-grandparents of today sum up in their own words – for the first and perhaps the last time – the vast changes that have overtaken China’s people over a century. The book is at once a journey by the author through time and place, and a memorial to those who have lived through war and civil war, persecution, invasion, revolution, famine, modernization, Westernization – and have survived into the 21st century. We meet everyday heroes, now in their seventies, eighties and nineties, from across this vast country – a herb woman at a market, retired teachers, a legendary ‘double-gun woman’, Red Guards, oil pioneers, an acrobat, a US-born general, a shoe-mender, a lantern maker, taxi drivers, and more.
Xinran travelled from west to east, between the Yellow River and the Yangtze, from the cities to the remote countryside of her homeland. She met and talked with a reticent generation, amongst whom the idea of collective guilt is deeply rooted, and freedom of speech can be a dangerous and unfamiliar concept. They spoke to her about their lives, their private hopes, fears and struggles, about what they witnessed and what they felt – about everything from the Long March to oil pipelines, from land reform to folk medicine, from Mao to marriage.Together their stories paint an unprecedented, intimate portrait of this vast and powerful country and its people. In such a rapidly changing world its aim, as Xinran says, is ‘to help our future understand our past’.
“Right here 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”
“Incredibly moving and ambitious collection... There is a great deal of light in this powerful book”
“Another excellent book...ambitious”
“These stories are often heart-rending, but are recounted in a very self-effacing way by the subjects themselves... [The book] is deeply engaging and focuses almost exclusively on issues and experiences rarely discussed in China or elsewhere. It takes people to places they would not otherwise have been able to go: into the minds of previously silent witnesses... a stunning insight into its [China's] people”
“If you loved Jung Chang's Wild Swans you'll love this book”
“This extraordinary book tells the story of 20th-century China through the voices of ordinary people... The lives of these everyday heroes make gripping reading”
The Gloss (Ireland)
“An engaging and affecting book”
Boyd Tonkin, The Independent