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China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation Hardcover – 2 Oct 2008


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus; 2008 First Edition edition (2 Oct. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701180390
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701180393
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 4 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 981,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

No other style of storytelling could have exhibited... with more clarity or greater rawness
-- CHINA WITNESS

This extraordinary book tells the story of 20th-century China through the voices of ordinary people -- The Gloss

`incredibly moving and ambitious collection... There is a great deal of light in this powerful book'
-- Independent

`spellbinding'
-- Publishing News

her latest offering is a more comprehensive volume, encompassing personal memoirs from both men and women... -- IMAGE Magazine

Review

No other style of storytelling could have exhibited... with more clarity or greater rawness

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By danvaio on 31 Jan. 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is an absorbing book but it doesn't have the same impact as Xinran's earlier The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices.
Xinran travels to China to interview a cross-section of elderly Chinese citizens who have all lived through the tumultuous Mao years since the Japanese invasion in 1937. As she puts it, this generation may not know how to use a computer but does know "civil war, political madness and queuing for food." Her goal is to recognize, celebrate and record their courage.
The interviews are filled with suffering and stoic resilience: people dispatched to Xinjiang to build a new city out of the desert, the old man fighting government bulldozers to preserve the tea culture of a poor city in Anhui province, a perky old medicine seller in Guizhou, a man who has been handcrafting lanterns in Nanjing for sixty years, a poor shoe repairer in Zhengzhou who has scrimped and saved all her life to send her son and daughter to China's best universities.
Sympathetic and sensitive, Xinran asks these people about their experiences, how they lived and loved, how they survived, how they dealt with the storms of politics, how they looked after their children...
It is an absorbing, melancholy book... and a little uneven. Sometimes the execution seems a little flat: the long discussion between Xinran and a journalist about tiger stoves for example. The interview with the gymnast woman or the oil prospecting couple do not always make for very lively reading.
Through the book flows a strong current of nostalgia for the old China that is disappearing. Like many of her interviewees, Xinran has mixed feelings about the West.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By catholic reader on 31 Mar. 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is an infuriating book. I haven't read any of Xinran's previous books. While the book 'grew on me', some of it was dire. The author has an infuriating habit of injecting many of her own views and barely relevant experiences into her interviews. The people she interviews are invaraiably interesting, but she directs them along some obscure tracks, and in some of the best parts (that gains the book three stars) where she seems to be about to expose, or explain, or have her subjects explain some important isuses - like why there is the enduring loyalty for MAO, the Party and the Revolution, despite what he, they, it, inflcited upon the people of China, and many of her subjects - she then abruptly changes track - some trivia, or even some love letters, that do nothing to help explain the real questions. She seems to get tantalising close to some really interesting points or revalations then deflects her subjects off to something minor. A facinating glimpse, obscured by (to me) an annoying style and a too ready willingness to give her views, and inject trivia rather than develop the great potential in the views of her subjects
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Charlie on 16 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback
This would have been a good book but for the author's tiresome insistence of placing herself and her thoughts before the stories of the individuals she interviews. Xinran, we really don't want to know! The interviewees were all preselected by Chinese students before the author deigned to fly across and interview them and only then at a fairly superficial level. She skirts around issues by claiming to be 'respectful' and it all feels slightly artificial. I forced myself to finish the book if only to respect the stories of those who have suffered so much. An absolutely massive lost opportunity to capture real stories of real people of an era rapidly being lost from Chinese collective memory.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By haggis on 23 July 2013
Format: Paperback
This is the first time I have read any of Xinran's books and I was looking forward with anticipation to learn more about the ordinary Chinese person's view of the history of their country. In many ways I was disappointed, probably because the people who were eventually interviewed seemed to have a very insular view of what happened or were unable (unwilling?) to speak about the major incidents of the mid-20th century. In the same way that I was shocked to find that people still leave flowers on Franco's grave, I found it hard to understand how Mao's many crimes against his own people still seem to be overlooked or put down to 'mistakes' by other cadres. Perhaps we in the West have had greater access to books such as 'White Swans' and the recent biography of Mao to be in a better position to look at the impact of the communist regime in China. (It was also interesting to note Xinran's own admission that she always felt that she had to defend her country and its people whenever there was any criticism of its regimes and actions.)

This is not a book that I would recommend to someone who hasn't already had some involvement with Chinese history. However, notwithstanding the perils that go with all personal reminiscences it has some very interesting passages.
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Format: Paperback
Xinran is a gentle, non-pushy reporter, but her politeness gets the old folks to open up more than they would for their families. She is trying to record what the revolutionary generation really thinks, and what they are proud of. Mostly they are poor people, who've faced enormous hardships and abuses, while making more or less heroic sacrifices for others. My favorite is the shoe repair woman who put both her daughter and son through top ranked universities, after being barred from university herself by inherited guilt due to bogus records concerning her class background.

These people are China's version of the wartime "greatest generation." Mostly they are, as Xinran says, "silent." They feel their sacrifices and involvements in mistakes of the past have rendered them irrelevant to their grandchildren. But they are the foundation of modern China, and Xinran wants to thank them.

--author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
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