Stories of courage and resilience emerge from decades of oppression.
On May 25, 1949, the People’s Liberation Army marched into Shanghai, completing Mao’s victorious takeover of China. Coinciding with the 70th anniversary of that revolution, Chinese-American journalist Zia (Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, 2000, etc.), former executive editor of Ms. magazine, vividly chronicles the lives of several individuals caught in the violent “tsunami of revolution” in China’s “biggest, most glamorous, and most notorious city,” the port where throngs of Chinese rushed to escape. In early May 1949, the World War II transport ship General Gordon was the last boat out of Shanghai, culminating an exodus that sent millions of Chinese to seek refuge throughout the world. In a narrative gleaned from more than 100 interviews, Zia focuses on four exiles whose stories represent “the voices, viewpoints, and character of the Shanghai diaspora.” Benny Pan, who grew up in a sheltered enclave and was educated in private schools, had little knowledge of his father’s political and financial machinations as an inspector with the British-controlled Shanghai Municipal Police. Ho Chow’s family were landowning gentry who lived off rent from their tenant farmers. Bing Woo (the author’s mother), given away by her poverty-stricken birth family, was adopted by one woman only to be passed on to another family. Annuo Liu was the daughter of an ardent Nationalist whose politics put the family in dire jeopardy. Zia begins her history in 1937, with the Japanese occupation of China that lasted until the end of World War II. While Benny’s father collaborated with the Japanese and their puppet government, others suffered from martial law, strict censorship, and severe rationing of critical resources. After the war, the arrival of American soldiers and the ousting of Japanese soldiers and civilians augured stability, but a civil war between Nationalists and Communists led to more privations, an atmosphere of suspicion, and virulent repression. With captivating detail, the author reconstructs the tense “panic to flee” that engulfed the nation.
An absorbing history of a refugee crisis that mirrors current events.