Longtime translator for Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong recounts his arduous and ultimately vindicating life’s journey through some of China’s darkest decades.
Landowners from Shanxi province and early communist sympathizers, Ji’s parents escaped the turmoil of the Japanese invasion and civil war by fleeing to New York in 1939 on the urging of Zhou Enlai, who had been a teenaged friend of Ji’s much older brother, Chaoding. While Ji excelled at Horace Mann-Lincoln and earned a scholarship to Harvard, learning perfect English and growing to love his adopted country, Chaoding was working for the Kuomintang’s minister of finance and feeding secrets to Zhou and the communists. The political winds shifted by 1949, when the victorious communists established the People’s Republic of China and the Cold War ensured that Ji was no longer welcome in America. He began his incredible roller-coaster career in China as a Foreign Ministry official and had his biggest moment on the world stage when he served as interpreter for Zhou and Mao during President Nixon’s visit in 1972. Initially an enthusiastic Communist Party member, he first began to have doubts about Mao’s increasingly absurd policies during the purges of the Anti-Rightist Campaign of the 1950s. They increased when Ji saw the mass chaos and starvation caused by the Great Leap Forward in 1958–60, followed by the violent zealotry of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, beginning in 1966. Ji’s Western education and his wife’s Taiwan connections branded him a “capitalist roader,” and he was periodically sent to shovel pig manure in the countryside to atone for this sin. He endured the relentless cycle of purges and rehabilitation with equanimity and grace, serving in diplomatic posts in London and at the UN in New York, eventually fashioning this brave, beautifully written testimony with the editorial assistance of ghostwriter Foster Winans, who reworked the Chinese-language text published in 1999.
A true “fly-on-the-wall” account of the momentous changes in Chinese society and international relations over the last century.