Noted Chinese novelist Pu Ning recounts in the first person the harrowing trials of Han Wei-tien, arrested in 1951 on charges that he spied for Chiang Kai-shek. At first Han merely seems to be going mad in prison. He begins digging in the floor of his cell with his bare hands and over a few years carves out a cavelike dwelling and takes up residence underground. After two years, near dead and with a case of sudden blindness, he is transferred to a hospital and then sent to Shanghai's Tilan Bridge Jail, the largest in Asia. His description of the strict rules there (``No tàte-Ö-tàtes and no gestures of any sort'') and the overcrowded conditions are chilling. Collective shootings take place regularly, leaving the prison courtyard awash in blood. As part of a ``Labor Correction Team'' assigned to construct a road between China and Tibet, Han Wei-tien sees many deaths and watches as other prisoners disintegrate emotionally. At one point he muses about how the opening words of the Internationale, ``Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!'' apply to his group. He also discusses the strategies taken with regard to clothing and food. This flood of information is related in a formal language that keeps readers removed from the events, but humanity breaks through when Han meets a Tibetan woman named Yelusa and falls in love. An important social document, though not consistently successful as a piece of literature.
Read full book review >