CHINESE LIVES: An Oral History of Contemporary China by Zhang Xinxin & Sang Ye

CHINESE LIVES: An Oral History of Contemporary China

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Money stinks, but I sure want to make some"" says a fourth-grade dropout from the Chinese school system. The words could serve as a subtitle for this ingeniously conceived work, perhaps the best account yet of personal crisis and change in oscillating modern China. Studs Terkel perfunctorily introduces this second collaboration by the authors (Chinese Profiles). The monologues that follow were gathered in nationwide interviews in 1984 and first published in Chinese periodicals. Virtually all are fascinating. Even the uninspired chapter headings and weak introductions can't erase the dazzling flow of words that convey a confused but vitalized nation. By granting their subjects anonymity before probing into sensitive areas--sex, capitalism, political corruption--the authors elicit remarkable candor from often unwilling speakers and goad natural boasters (especially fast and bold Chinese youth) into strikingly telling claims. ""People who didn't give us enough didn't get invited"" to her wedding, snaps one social-climbing Chinese bride. A Manjing teenager ""waiting-for-job"" waxes defiantly poetic about his place in a reforming economic system: ""I often think I'm a fly in a glass bottle, with light but no future."" Democratic change, quotidian struggle, and cultural revolution nightmares are sometimes redundant themes here, but these sympathetic translations of natural Chinese ebullience make personalities live, history breathe, and hardship felt on every page. Oral history has found a perfect subject in this intimate and indispensable book. China has never seemed so close.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1987
Publisher: Pantheon