The Economist Reviews CHINA WITNESS: VOICES FROM A SILENT GENERATION

Self had an extremely productive day:  she walked the li’l crits (first time all week).  She washed their stinky beds.  She finally got to plant the helleborus “Double Queen” she’d bought from the Mountain View Farmer’s Market in early January.  She even found the time to call Dear Cuz and tell her about a dream she’d had two nights ago:  In self’s dream, the house Dear Cuz is having built in Manila was finally finished, and self was visiting.  There were many other visitors who self could not identify, and self kept calling son on the phone and trying to get him to come over and join her (which he would not).  In the meantime, the Dream Cuz had turned into a demon planter of daffodil bulbs and had dozens of the things in plastic bags, scattered all over her mansion.

After she was done chatting with Cuz, self settled herself on the couch with the latest issue of The Economist.  She’d barely begun reading (always starting from the back, from long habit) when she landed in the Book Review section.  And after reading a few paragraphs, YOWZA!  Self knew she had found the first book of the new year that she can hardly wait to rush out and read!

And, just then, the phone rang.  Caller ID said:  Unknown Caller.  Since this is what it always shows when the caller is a) a solicitor; or b) a relative calling from Manila, self picked up.  And the caller was mother-in-law!  Who hardly ever calls!  And she was trying to get a hold of hubby, who would not be home for another two hours (at least).  And mother-in-law wanted hubby’s office number, and self went to her address book and saw a blank next to the listing for Hubby’s Office.  Then, she looked up the contacts list on her cell phone, and the number for Hubby’s Office had a 650 area code, which self knew was probably his previous office (two years ago).  And then self had to run through her list of “recent calls,” until she finally landed on a number that she thought might be the right one, and by this time she had kept mother-in-law waiting for almost 10 minutes.

So, then!

Back to the Economist book review.  Here is how it begins:

Ever since Jung Chang’s 1991 book, Wild Swans, became an international bestseller, writers about China have understood that it is people’s personal stories that bring to life the difficult history of this country.  China Witness is a new addition to the genre.

The author, Xinran Xue, who uses the name Xinran as a nom de plume, is an old hand.  From 1988 to 1997 she was one of the country’s most popular broadcasters.  In a state-run medium dominated by propaganda, she invited women to pick up the telephone and tell their life stories on air.  A deluge of personal revelation followed, and the programme earned a huge following.  In 1997 Xinran moved to England, where she met and later married Jung Chang’s then literary agent.  He encouraged her to write The Good Women of China, a collection of stories based on those radio confessions, that revealed the raw misery of the lives of many women, especially in the countryside.

In China Witness, which was published in Britain last October and is just coming out in America, Xinran turns to the people she terms the “grandparents” of China.  She is afraid of what will be lost when those who have lived through China’s modern history inevitably grow old and die.  The younger generation knows very little about their elders’ experience, in particular about what they endured and sacrificed in the name of Mao Zedong’s great experiment.  Several of Xinran’s interviewees tell her not just that the young do not know about the past, but they do not particularly want to know.  Politically sensitive issues are rarely discussed.

Self really itching to read this one.

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