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Red Azalea: Life and Love in China [Paperback]

Anchee Min
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Oct 1996
When Anchee Min left China in 1984 her knowledge of English was minimal. She tried to write this autobiography in her own tongue, but found it impossible. Only with the emotional freedom granted by a new language could she find her means of expression. This powerful and candid memoir immortalises her coming of age in the Red Guard, the harbouring of illicit love amidst a regime bent on human alienation and her recruitment from rural hard labour into Madame Mao's burgeoning movie industry.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New edition (24 Oct 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0575400102
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575400108
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 909,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Historically remarkable ... intensely moving and erotic' Sunday Times 'This is not just another book on the Cultural Revolution ... This is a riveting account told in language that is distinctly Min's yet accessible to any heart' Amy Tan 'Mysterious and moving ... brave and uplifting' Independent on Sunday 'The book sings. It is a small masterpiece ... no one has written more honestly and poignantly than Min about the desert of solitude and human alienation at the centre of the Chinese Communist revolution' Vogue --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. As a child, she became a model member of the Red Guard. At seventeen she was sent to work on a communal farm, from which she was plucked by Madame Mao's associates to become a star of the Chinese propaganda film industry. After the death of Mao in 1976, Anchee Min was disgraced. She left China for the US in 1984; she now lives in California.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars mixed up feelings in mixed up times 8 Mar 2003
Set during the confusion of the Cultural Revolution in communist China; Red Azalea is the true story of the author's rise through the echelons of the Red Guard and Chinese society. Her story is one of deprivation, love and the dichotomy between feelings and duty in a politically charged environment of fear and paranoia difficult to perceive from the contemporary western experience.
Min's story begins in 1957 when she was born into the death throw years of Mao's 'Great Leap Forward'. The eldest of four children, Min learned the meaning of duty raising her brother and two sisters whilst her parents worked continually in a struggle to survive. This dedication to duty came to fruition when in her early years at school Min was made leader of the 'little red guard' and so began her love hate relationship with the communist party. Her journey takes her to the Red Fire Farm where she is assigned to life as a peasant. It is here that she enters a world of betrayal and awakening sexuality, which are the key themes of the book. Condemned to a enforced world of single sexed sterility, she witnesses a friends spiral into insanity and suicide, following her 'capture' in the act of love with a man. From this point Min struggles to juxtapose her sexual feelings with the demands of the party and it is these feelings that start to dismantle her political beliefs.
She finds solace in the arms of Yan, the Party secretary and commander of her work company and so begins a furtive lesbian relationship under the constant watch of Comrade Lu, who seeks Yan's position of power. The affair ends in tragedy and sacrifice when Min is awarded a chance to compete for the role of Red Azalea, a communist party film being produced in Shanghai.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
If you have read Wild Swans and enjoyed it, this is another must for you. It is a powerful personal account of how the Chinese repressed sexuality, and the desperate measures people went to to express their feelings. It is beautifully written, erotic but also an important historical testimony that should be heard. Throughout the author's courage and integrity shine through. Fascinating.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb characters and absorbing subject 24 Nov 2002
This is an enjoyable and unique true story of a girl's childhood, inprisonment on a farm commune and acting career. The passeges on Min's relationships both romantic and platonic are moving and never feel overly sentimental and her description of life in communist China is revealing without needing to go into facts and figures. What brings the book most to life is the illustrations of the people she has met (especially on the farm)- Min's descriptions of them are so life like we can see them as if we were there.
The only bad thing about this book is the slower pace of the second half- making it inadvertantly less exciting than what has come before. All in all a very rewarding read which is easy to get through and very touching.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wilder than Wild Swans 23 Feb 2010
Format:Mass Market Paperback
If Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is too thick (or too earnest) for you - pick up a copy of Red Azalea. It is another Mao-era autobiography, but here the pill is sugared with eroticism. For example the tragedy of feminine Little Green's rebellion.

It also sounds like Anchee Min is worked more brutally than Jung Chang. Her family does not have the same connections. But both women describe the secrecy and guile necessary to retain dignity under the totalitarian regime, and both ultimately escape to the West.

This book does not have the same sweep as Wild Swans but it better describes the hardships of the collective farms, and the complex characters and interrelationships of the women with whom she worked. By reading both books a clearer picture of Maoist China emerges. Ultimately though I'd reread this book for sheer pleasure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at its best. 26 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is history at its best. The true story as seen and lived through - and one that is so rarely acknowledged!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed this book very much despite finding it very different to the author's previous books. This one is autobiographical for starters and is much more rough and ready (and hence, for me, more shocking) than the other books. It reflects the lives of every day people under communism and Mao more than the historical accounts of the Chinese court and emperors found in the other books. A good read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Red Azalea 24 Jun 2009
A very thought provoking read and gives a full insight to how communisium was in China and how it effected relationships as families and as an individual. I fully recommend it!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 3 May 2003
For a start the book's jacket told me all that would happen, it just took a very long time to get there. Min is very fond of metaphors! Her metaphorical descriptions just were too many and too frequent for me. I know from the book jacket that she is going to have an affair with her commander at the farm she had been assigned to, Min built up and built up her feelings in the run up to the affair so much, that I had lost interest by the time it happened. There is a very interesting in-sight into the life of a peasant in Communist China, but it gets lost in the descriptive ramble.
I would have to say there are better books about this time in China, such as Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah, but if you go for this book, I suggest you don't read the synopsis first! It is one of the few books, that I was relieved to reach the end of.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
found this a bit slow
Published 2 months ago by maureenshirley
2.0 out of 5 stars Confused composition
I'm not sure I've just finished reading the same book as the other critics. I have read this author's other books, which were wonderfully descriptive, but this? Read more
Published 2 months ago by M. Paton
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this
I read Red Azalea in a weekend, in between bike rides and runs in the Andes. I could feel my heart breaking as the words swept by. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Hannah
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating insight into a period of Chinese history
Gives a good picture of life under Mao. It kept me turning the pages to find out what happened to the heroine
Published 6 months ago by C. Duxbury
5.0 out of 5 stars Red azalea
Good book have read several books on china now each is different and just as good .enjoyed this one will read more of this type of book
Published 8 months ago by nadine li
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical relevant and sensitively sensual
A very personal look into the time of the cultural revolution and a touching love story. Written in a very readable and thought provoking style.
Published 12 months ago by Evan Mitchell
4.0 out of 5 stars Really good read
I loved this book and read it daily, found it absorbing.

Reflected my understanding of life under Chairman Mao and his wife
Published 13 months ago by Derick Shaw
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought it would be better.
Thought this book would be a lot better. Felt it lacked depth and did not cover enough of what China was like at this time.
Published 13 months ago by Ms. Wilma Stewart
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into life under Mao
I recently read an article about Anchee and her latest book. I'm always amazed and fascinated to read about life during the cultural revolution being of similar age to Anchee.. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Carol Hampton
4.0 out of 5 stars Insight into communist China
A close look at the life and hardships of a young girl growing into womanhood in China during the eighties. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Patricia Bourne
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