A thorough and moving biography of a comparatively obscure Chinese dissenter by the author of Enemies of the People (1987), a study of Mao's Cultural Revolution. Thurston cobbles together the life of Ni Yuxian mainly through interviews she conducted with the dissident before his death in 1988. Born in 1945 in the Shanghai countryside, Ni was the son of a man accused of ``rightist'' activity early on during the Communist rule. Denied a chance at college prep school because of his father's taint, Ni developed a fiercely critical intellect and a fearless stance toward Party injustice. As a child, he rebelled against the Party Secretary in his school; as a young soldier, he wrote a scathing 30-page letter to Mao criticizing his Great Leap Forward policies that caused 20-30 million deaths between 1959 and 1961. Convinced that Maoism was tyranny, Ni was emboldened by the Cultural Revolution, encouraging fellow students at the Shanghai Maritime Academy to question Maoist doctrine. His resistance earned him an apparently false rape charge from the authorities and six months in a jailhouse, graphically depicted here, after arrest by a propaganda team. In 1985, Ni was lionized in a newspaper article by radical Chinese journalist Liu Binyan. Notorious and marked by Communist officials, Ni was granted political exile and came to N.Y.C., where he helped organize exiled Chinese dissidents, an experience marred by accusations of financial improprieties. A vivid account flawed only by occasional leaden diatribes against Communism and by ``docudrama'' techniques such as invented dialogue. Still, a powerful study.
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