Here, what may well as be the ""Big Chill"" of the Cultural Revolution generation as, 20 years after that upheaval, a group of old college friends gets together to sort out conflicts, heal long-festering wounds and attempt fresh starts. What they all fear is that the days of persecution may return. Sun Yue is secretary of the local Communist Party chapter and a Chinese literature teacher at the university; her ex-husband, Zhao Zhenhuan, is a newspaper reporter; and He Jingfu is the one who courted Sun Yue in student days, was branded a ""rightist"" and has spent 20 years on the road in rural China, doing menial labor. In the late 70's, Jingfu (now a rather dashing figure) tums up at the university and again proclaims his love to Sun Yue, who was herself singled out for attack during the Cultural Revolution--a circumstance seized on by Zhao Zhenhuan to divorce her and marry his lover. Sun Yue holds back from Jingfu, however, afraid that the bitter past cannot be lived down. During the ""rehabilitations,"" intellectuals lost careers, heard their diaries read aloud and their personal lives excoriated, were forced to ""eat their lunch next to a dung heap in order to instill proletarian feelings."" But Jingfu witnessed that impact of the Cultural Revolution on the peasants. He saw families tom apart; he recalls his own family's starvation, an uncle's suicide. At the same time, Jingfu admits that the Revolution created a social mobility that allowed poor villagers like himself, Sun Yue and Zhao to join the educated classes. And when his book is pulled from the presses for an excess of humanism and individualist zeal, Sun Yue rallies to his side. The novel is also a sobering examination of the liberalized climate of contemporary China that has been much touted by the Western press. As one character reflects, ""Material needs have gradually invaded my soul."" All in all, a graceful, politically balanced, probing book.