One man’s protracted struggle for intellectual freedom and simple dignity from the beginning of Mao’s regime to the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
Kang, who now teaches Chinese language and literature at Yale, was born just before the end of World War II and recalls the arrival of victorious Communist troops in his home city of Xi’an. Because the new regime classified his grandfather as a landlord, the family’s fortunes began a slow but certain decline. A curious youth, Kang read books in his grandfather’s library and even, without permission, traded and sold some to acquire new ones. He went off to the local university, where he quickly got into trouble. He was doing the unthinkable: thinking and reading and writing. He was soon expelled and condemned to working in a local brickyard with other undesirables. Shortly after he ordered a copy of Doctor Zhivago from Moscow, he was arrested and banished to the countryside, where he was first imprisoned, then placed in a rural labor camp. In 1971, he was sent to live in obscurity in a peasant village; there, he married a local woman, had children and appeared to have vanished into an almost medieval life. When he again began to study and to learn English, his wife was at first flabbergasted by his intellectual interests. The post-Mao thaw enabled him to clear his record and to return to the university after a 15-year absence, but the authorities considered his master’s thesis politically incorrect and denied him his degree. In 1994, he was able to leave China with his family and begin a new life teaching in the United States. A return visit in 2000 occasioned another arrest, from which he barely escaped.
A haunting, frightening and ultimately inspiring story, told in sturdy, unadorned prose.