China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation
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This hugely important and ground-breaking book — an unprecedented oral history — gives voice to a silent generation and tells the secret history of 20th century China.
In 1912, five thousand years of feudal rule ended in China. Warlords, Western businessmen, soldiers, missionaries and Japanese all ruled China, exploited and fought one another and the Chinese. In 1949, Mao Zedong came to power.
China Witness is both a journey through time and through the author’s own country, and a memorial to an extraordinary generation of men and women who have survived war, invasion, revolution, famine and modernization — to tell the story of their times. It is an extraordinary personal testimony from a normally silent generation who, in their lifetimes have seen China transformed from a largely peasant, agricultural country of more than 1.3 billion people into a modern state. These are ordinary people — a herb woman at a market, retired teachers, a legendary “bandit” woman, Red Guards, oil pioneers, an acrobat, a naval general, a shoe mender, a lantern maker, taxi drivers, and others — from west to east, across the vast country, now in their seventies, eighties and nineties, and whose memories will soon die with them.
Here, for the first time many of them speak out about their lives and private thoughts about what they witnessed. Together their intimate stories are perhaps the only accurate record of modern Chinese history.
sergeant at seventeen. He is the Henan police history's voice recorder and has an amazing memory; he remembers most cases since 1948. But he quit the police in the 1980s, aged fifty-eight, because he couldn't bear the ignorance and corruption that surrounded him. He lives in a two-room flat with his sick wife, whom he cares for with the help of two daughters. On 6 September, we arrived in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, a central province. At the last census, Henan had 97 million people,
something, and then look out for opportunities to do something better. XINRAN: And have you said that to her? JINGGUAN [looking at me as if I'm a bit strange]: Me, talk to her? She would just tell me I was completely wrong! All they study nowadays is moonshine. XINRAN: What do they think your life has been like? [He gives a look as if to say: There's no point in asking that.] Do they know what your job is about? JINGGUAN: They think the uniform is impressive, but they don't think we're as
contained conflicting information on the size of the Construction Corps and its origins. After the peaceful liberation of Xinjiang, a large army of 100,000 stationed in Xinjiang and led by General Wang Zhen, and nearly 100,000 members of the Guomindang Insurrection Army under Tao Zhiyue, all found themselves faced with a lack of food supplies. Consequently, opening up the land for cultivation became the main task of these units. China's leaders determined that the PLA First Corps and
and Dance Troupe. He fell ill and ended up on my ward. He liked me a lot, and he took me to visit his two sisters, who had also been sent to work in Xinjiang. But I really couldn't get used to his reserved style of courtship, and I didn't much care for the way he kept combing his hair all the time – it was very unmanly. I didn't dare to make up my mind on my own, so I asked my friends in the hospital, but most of them didn't approve. They said that he couldn't stop fussing with his hair and
we'll just talk, without "singing". And please look only at me, not at other people. Is that all right? WU: I'll do as you say. XINRAN: Have you always lived here? WU: I'm Linhuan-born and -bred. XINRAN: So what year were you born? WU: I'm seventy-five years old. I'm a little deaf, but I'll tell you no lies, even though I'm seventy-five. I'm not like some people, playing up their age to cheat their way to a pension, playing up their youth to get a young wife. XINRAN: Don't worry about your