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A Family at the Heart of a Century in Chinese History
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A powerful memoir of the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath by pioneering investment banker Lan Yan.

The author opens with a scene in which eight security officers surround her grandfather. “I am crying,” she recounts, “because I am not used to all this yelling, all these staircase stampedes, all this banging on doors.” With this dramatic opening, the author describes the arrest of her grandfather in the early years of the Cultural Revolution. It did him no good to insist on seeing an arrest warrant, because there was none: Under the revolution’s explosion of seething populism, the country was no longer a state ruled by law. Soon Lan Yan and her family were also suspect, tarred by association with a supposed counterrevolutionary who had long been a devoted associate of Mao Zedong. Mao had had disagreements with the Soviet Union a decade earlier over his Hundred Flowers liberalization campaign, which the Soviets feared would open the government to ideological questioning; said one Soviet official, “This is exactly the kind of incitement to bourgeois thinking that we have seen in Hungary!” It didn’t help the author’s case that it was her father who translated the Soviet official’s words into Chinese. After her grandfather was taken away, her father was accused of being a Russian spy. The author, herself interned, graduated from high school but was denied permission to teach, as she had wanted to do: “Their argument was that, since I came from a ‘problematic’ (i.e., counterrevolutionary) family, they believed that I would have to be reeducated, and that in any case I was not fit to educate others.” Allied with Deng Xiaoping, Lan Yan instead emerged as a rising figure in the new era of state capitalism, becoming a partner in a French international law firm that helped open the Chinese market and then heading a bank with a predominantly female leadership, defying the fact that “the world of banking is, just like the legal world, still very misogynistic.”

A thoughtful, astute narrative that helps Western readers understand the rise of the new China from the ashes of terror.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-06-289981-1
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2019


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