One Man's Daring Escape from Mao's Darkest Prison
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An early victim of Mao Zedong’s totalitarian regime is swept up in a time of terror.

“Under Mao Zedong’s dictatorship,” writes Xu, “the Chinese people had no human rights. My history is a good example of this.” So it is. By this account, which seems to have enjoyed only modest success in its Chinese edition, Xu, born in 1933, was a loyal Communist cadre who had “personally experienced the injustice and darkness of the old society.” Two events conspired to put him in the cross hairs: Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalin’s legacy in the Soviet Union and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, both of which furthered Mao’s paranoia and inspired a program of constant purges. Running afoul of truer believers than he, Xu, a so-called class traitor, was sent to a labor camp in 1958, where he was beleaguered with the usual denunciations: “Your heinous crimes have caused great losses to the people!” Amazingly, he managed to escape, if only temporarily, and more than once. The path he charted each time was the most tortuous possible, intended to shake off pursuers. When, in 1972, he succeeded, he traveled from near the Burmese border to his mother’s home in Shanghai, then crossed into Mongolia, where he lived for several years in exile until, after Mao’s death, he thought it safe to return home. Xu’s narrative is of interest as a survivor’s account of the camps in those early years of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, which would precede a time of famine and then the Cultural Revolution. It is of less interest as an adventure yarn, for the narrative is rather flat, without the dramatic pacing of, say, Papillon or Slavomir Rawicz’s genre-defining The Long Walk (1955).

An often harrowing, valuable account for students of daily life in the early years of the period culminating in China’s little-documented civil war of the 1970s.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-374-21262-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2016


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