Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China

Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China

Language: English

Pages: 480

ISBN: 0393332004

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“A mesmerizing read.... A literary work of high distinction.” ―William Grimes, New York Times

This “gripping and poignant memoir” (New York Times Book Review) draws us into the intersections of everyday life and Communist power from the first days of “Liberation” in 1949 through the post-Mao era. The son of a professional family, Kang Zhengguo is a free spirit, drawn to literature. In Mao’s China, these innocuous circumstances expose him at age twenty to a fierce struggle session, expulsion from university, and a four-year term of hard labor. So begins his long stay in the prison-camp system. He finally escapes the Chinese gulag by forfeiting his identity: at age twenty-eight he is adopted by an aging bachelor in a peasant village, which enables him to start a new life.

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almost like an honorary member of the family. Li Baoyu had “loafed and stuffed his face,” doing more housework than fieldwork, occasionally taking the landlord’s children to a neighboring village to see an opera, or running errands for the women of the house. The family had tolerated his cantankerousness and had even let him get away with talking back to the head cook. He had faithfully backed his master up in quarrels with others but never seemed eager to lay a hand on anyone. “Baoyu only

I RECALLED THE early days of my friendship with Xiao Xian and Zhang Yi, back in the late 1980s, when I was teaching at Jiaotong University. As new graduates of the university they had been retained as cadres there, one as a dean of employment for graduating seniors, the other as a political instructor. In my college days more than twenty years earlier such people would have been members of the campus thought police and would have had nothing in common with me. But in the heady days of the

to mail any more reactionary printed materials. This humiliating red tape took until six o’clock in the evening, when Section Chief Liu finally announced my release from “supervised residence.” I returned to Mother’s apartment in outrage, my interest in visiting completely destroyed. I had proceeded on the naive assumption that China was more democratic these days but had found myself beating my head against a brick wall. China was still a police state, and I was still doomed to writing

charges of violating the antidating rule. With my nosy, narrow-minded classmates buzzing behind my back, I felt both awkward and powerless. The political instructor got wind of the situation before long. Jumping to conclusions, he called me to his office. “I’ve never seen you do any good deeds, like Lei Feng, and you always seem to be the first to disobey the party,” he said. “You smoke in the dorm, and you’re dating a girl on campus. You arrived here with a history of serious ideological

I encouraged him to sit down. Before launching into his tale of woe, he fished out a depleted pack of Peony brand cigarettes and handed them around cordially. “These are left over from my daughter’s wedding,” he told us. “She and my new son-in-law just came back from Kunming, and he brought them to me in the cow pens. The guards took away my whole carton during their search, but luckily I had one more pack stashed away.” He took out his lighter and lit our cigarettes. Not daring to inhale

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