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The relationship between China and the United States is extraordinarily complex, seemingly made up of equal parts hope, racism, & misunderstanding.  The hope is a product of over a century's worth of Protestant missionaries trying to bring the Good Word to an enormous population of potential converts and of millions of Chinese immigrants finding economic opportunity here in the States.  The racism too flows both ways, with each nation's people believing the other's to be barbarians.  The mutual misunderstanding comes from myriad sources, but probably has its greatest impetus in the most fundamental difference between the two cultures, the difference which paradoxically serves as the main attractant and repellent between the two : American openness and Chinese reserve.   In a sense, what each values in the other is what it has least of itself.  The image of the "Ugly American," though partly a caricature,  is also fair to the extent that it's a product of our inability to keep our opinions, ideas, and feelings to ourselves.  Meanwhile, the competing image of the "inscrutable Oriental," though freighted with racist overtones, reflects American inability to understand people who don't "share" as much of themselves as we do.  It's easy to see then that two peoples who are so different would find each other intriguing.  Daughter of China plumbs these themes, both on a personal and a political level, and, though a little uneven, serves as a valuable look at one Chinese woman's confrontation with East and West.

Meihong Xu was raised in the rural village of Lishi.  A devoted Maoist from an early age, even to the point of allowing political suspicions to color her perceptions of her father and a devoted Aunt, she joined the People's Liberation Army in 1981 and was chosen to become one of the "twelve pandas," a dozen young women selected for an elite intelligence unit and sent for special training at the prestigious Institute for International Relations in Nanjing.  Once there however, she became a disciple of an at least mildly  pro-Western officer, known as "the Coffee General" for his Western ways, including a preference for coffee over tea.  He hoped to open an institute which would immerse trainees in American culture and so Meihong was sent in 1988 to the Center for Chinese and American Studies, a joint venture of Johns Hopkins and Nanjing University.  There, in addition to her studies, she was asked by a friend in the Ministry of State Security to keep an eye on Larry Engelmann, an American instructor they suspected of spying.

In accordance with her assignment she cultivated a relationship with Engelmann, but soon found him too naive and trusting too conceivably be an intelligence operative.  Moreover, his innocence, good humor and emotional openness was so appealing to her that she found herself becoming enamored with him.  Engelmann, for his part, lonely, unhappy, and thousands of miles from home, fell in love with her.   But their nascent relationship was abruptly ended when Chinese Intelligence ordered Engelmann out of the country and arrested and interrogated Xu, apparently motivated in large part by the desire of certain elements within the government to use her to get at the Coffee General and other pro-West officials.  Xu ended up being expelled from the PLA and sent back to her village, to work as a peasant.  But she eventually got word to Engelmann in the States and the remainder of the book details their efforts to get her out of China.

Though the story is billed a romance, there's an awkward unreality to the relationship between Xu and Engelmann, who seem at times to be in love with the idea of each other more than with the actual person.  But the political portrait of modern China more than makes up for any weaknesses in the love angle.  Meihong Xu's journey from committed daughter of the revolution to doubt-filled young adult to San Jose, California makes for really compelling reading.  One of the most unfortunate aspects of the American-Chinese relationship, and this I think is mostly a product of latent racism,  is that we in the West do not take seriously the mass murder, repression, and aggression of China's Communist government.  We are all too willing to minimize their crimes, or excuse them altogether, as an unfortunate byproduct of an understandable nationalist reaction to decades of Western imperialism.

It would be better for all concerned, but especially for the people of China, if we in the West understood the reality of life there better.  The best way to develop this understanding is for a dissident literary tradition to emerge, as it did in the Soviet Union.  This has begun to happen with books like this one, the works of Anchee Min (other than the unfortunate Becoming Madame Mao), and other authors like Ha Jin.  Most significantly, Philip Short's great recent biography of Mao goes a long way to revising the largely benign view of him, and the recently released Tiananmen Papers may prove a turning point similar to the publication of Solzhenitsyn's devastating Gulag Archipelago.

The ultimate value of this book then lies not in its love story, which is charming enough though ultimately not terribly compelling (to anyone but the participants); it lies instead in its revelatory portrait of one young woman's experiences in Red China, a nightmare world no less repressive and monstrous than the USSR.  In this regard it is invaluable and I recommend it to anyone who still harbors the belief that Maoist China has been qualitatively different from any of the old Iron Curtain regimes.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOKSITE : Daughter of China
    -Dr. Larry Engelmann (San Jose State University)
    -ESSAY : Light at the End of the Tunnel :  How 130,000 Refugees Found New Homes in America Before Christmas in 1975 (Larry Engelmann)
    -REVIEW : of Daughter of China (Angela Leary, Far Eastern Economic Review)
    -REVIEW : of Daughter of China (RUPALI GHOSH, India Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Daughter of China (Chia Ying Ying, Nanyang Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Tears Before Rain by Larry Engelmann (Andrew X. Pham, MetroActive Books)
    -REVIEW : of THE GODDESS AND THE AMERICAN GIRL The Story of Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills. By Larry Engelmann (Grace Lichtenstein, NY Times Book Review)

CHAIRMAN MAO  (1893-1976):
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: "mao zedong"
    -Mao Zedong (1893-1976)(kirjasto)
    -Who 2: Mao Zedong Profile
    -EXCERPT: MAO ZEDONG (The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. 2000)
    -Quotations from Chairman Mao
    -TIME 100: Leaders & Revolutionaries - Mao Zedong (Jonathan Spence, TIME)
    -ArtiFacts from the Cultural Revolution
    -Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan, March 1927 (Modern History Sourcebook: Mao Zedong (1893-1976))
    -The Party-Red Line: Mao bio and history
    -Mao Zedong--The Great Helmsman (Inside China Today)
    -Maoist Internationalist Movement
    -ESSAY: Beijing Journal; The Tears of the Helmsman and Other Scuttlebutt (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Once Again, Long Live Chairman Mao: A recent return to deifying Mao is less straightforward than it seems (Orville Schell, The Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: The Red Book and the Power Structure of Communist China (Dorian Berger, Harvard University)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: (NY Review of Books)
    -EXCERPT: Chapter One of Mao Zedong by Jonathan D. Spence
    -REVIEW:  Ian Buruma: Divine Killer, NY Review of Books
       Mao: A Life by Philip Short
       Mao Zedong by Jonathan Spence
    -REVIEW: of Mao: A Life by Philip Short & Mao Zedong by Jonathan Spence (Gavin McNett, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Mao A Life. By Philip Short (John F. Burns, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Mao : A Life by Philip Short  The Survivor (Roger Gathman, Intellectual Capital)
    -REVIEW : of Mao : A Life by Phillip Short (Antonia Finnane, The Age)
    -REVIEW: of HUNGRY GHOSTS Mao's Secret Famine. By Jasper Becker (Nicholas Eberstadt, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of HUNGRY GHOSTS Mao's Secret Famine. By Jasper Becker (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF CHAIRMAN MAO The Memoirs of Mao's Personal Physician. By Li Zhisui (Marilyn B. Young, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE SECRET SPEECHES OF CHAIRMAN MAO From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward. Edited by Roderick MacFarquhar, Timothy Cheek and Eugene Wu (Jonathan D. Spence, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE LONG MARCH The Untold Story. By Harrison E. Salisbury (Michel Oksenberg, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Jonathan Mirsky: The Mark of Cain, NY Review of Books
       The Origins of the Cultural Revolution 3: The Coming of the Cataclysm 1961-1966 by Roderick MacFarquhar
       Mao's Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949

MAOIST CHINA:
    -ESSAY: Not Yet a Revolution:  Reviewing China's "New Cold War Documentation" (Chen Jian, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale)
    -ESSAY: Nothing to Celebrate: China's wasted half-century  (Jonathan Mirsky, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of CHINA IN OUR TIME The Epic Saga of the People's Republic From the Communist Victory to Tiananmen Square and Beyond. By Ross Terrill (Nicholas D. Kristof, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE CHINESE CENTURY A Photographic History of the Last Hundred Years. By Jonathan D. Spence and Annping Chin (Anthony C. Yu, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A GENERATION LOST China Under the Cultural Revolution. By Zi-ping Luo (Gayle Feldman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ELDEST SON Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China, 1898-1976. By Han Suyin (Ross Terrill, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of DENG XIAOPING, MY FATHER By Deng Maomao (Merle Goldman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE CLAWS OF THE DRAGON Kang Sheng -- the Evil Genius Behind Mao -- and His Legacy of Terror in People's China. By John Byron and Robert Pack (Merle Goldman, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The New Emperors China in the Era of Mao and Deng By Harrison E. Salisbury (Orville Schell, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE NEW EMPERORS China in the Era of Mao and Deng. By Harrison E. Salisbury (Lucian W. Pye, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A HIGHER KIND OF LOYALTY A Memoir by China's Foremost Journalist. By Liu Binyan (Emily MacFarquhar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of LIFE AND DEATH IN SHANGHAI By Nien Cheng (J. M. Coetzee, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of BORN RED A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution. By Gao Yuan (Timothy Tung, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of PEOPLE OR MONSTERS? And Other Stories and Reportage From China After Mao. By Liu Binyan (Merle Goldman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE CONSPIRACY AND DEATH OF LIN BIAO By Yao Ming-le (Orville Schell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE By Anne F. Thurston (Merle Goldman, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of TO THE STORM The Odyssey of a Revolutionary Chinese Woman. By Yue Daiyun and Carolyn Wakeman (Barbara Probst Solomon, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of SON OF THE REVOLUTION By Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro  (Orville Schell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH The Search for the Truth about China. By Richard Bernstein (Ross Terrill, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CHINA A New History. By John King Fairbank (Jonathan D. Spence, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of AGNES SMEDLEY The Life and Times of an American Radical. By Janice R. MacKinnon and Stephen R. MacKinnon (John Patrick Diggins, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of EDGAR SNOW A Biography. By John Maxwell Hamilton (Seymour Topping, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CHINA HANDS The Adventures and Ordeals of the American Journalists Who Joined Forces With the Great Chinese Revolution. By Peter Rand ( Emily MacFarquhar , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of SHENFAN By William Hinton (Richard Bernstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE: The Chinese and Their Revolution, 1895-1980. By Jonathan D. Spence (John Leonard, NY Times)
 

POST-MAO CHINA:
    -LECTURE: The New Chinese Empire: And What It Means for the United States (Ross Terrill, 5/14/03, Carnegie Foundation)
    -ARCHIVES : "tiananmen" (NY Review of Books)
    -ARTICLE : New Window on Tiananmen Square Crackdown (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY Times)
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of The Tiananmen Papers
    -REVIEW : of The Tiananmen Papers (Jonathan Spence, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Tianamen Papers (John Byron, Washington Post Book World)
    -REVIEW : of The Tiananmen Papers (Charles A. Radin, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of THE SEARCH FOR MODERN CHINA By Jonathan D. Spence (Vera Schwarcz, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of 'WATCH OUT FOR THE FOREIGN GUESTS!'' China Encounters the West. By Orville Schell (Allen S. Whiting, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of MANDATE OF HEAVEN A New Generation of Entrepreneurs, Dissidents, Bohemians, and Technocrats Lays Claim to China's Future. By Orville Schell ( Lucian W. Pye, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE DRAGON AND THE BEAR Inside China & Russia in the Eighties. By Philip Short (Richard Bernstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of COMING ALIVE China After Mao. By Roger Garside (David Lattimore, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CHINESE DEMOCRACY By Andrew J. Nathan (John F. Burns, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of SOWING THE SEEDS OF DEMOCRACY IN CHINA Political Reform in the Deng Xiaoping Era. By Merle Goldman (Jonathan Mirsky, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of SCIENCE AND DISSENT IN POST-MAO CHINA The Politics of Knowledge. By H. Lyman Miller  (Jonathan D. Spence, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Writers in China: How Long Is the Leash? (Mitchel Levitas, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY:  LETTER FROM CHINA - YOUNG WRITERS TEST THE LIMITS (Judith Shapiro and Liang Heng, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: THE RE-EDUCATION OF A 'STINKING INTELLECTUAL'  (Judith Shapiro, NY Times Book Review)

GENERAL:
    -Chinese Culture (about.com)
    -Chinese Culture Net
    -Cold War International History Project (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars)
    -REVIEW: of THINKING LIKE A COMMUNIST State and Legitimacy in the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. By Tony Smith (William G. Hyland, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM Crimes, Terror, Repression. By Stephane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek and Jean-Louis Margolin (Alan Ryan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW:  of  The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century by François Furet & THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM Crimes, Terror, Repression. By Stephane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek and Jean-Louis Margolin ( J. Arch Getty, The Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: The Age of Social Transformation (Peter F. Drucker, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW : of The Coming Collapse of China by Gordon Chang ( Jacob Heilbrunn, Washington Monthly)

Comments:

Added the link here and under Anchee Min's books--Thanks!

- oj

- Jul-09-2003, 16:34

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Hello, I was wondering if you may add the following link to your list of other resources.

http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/viewMedia.php?prmTemplateID=8&prmID=954

The link is a speech transcript of Ross Terrill, who discussed his book on the relationship between the Chinese empire and American foreign policy. The lecture was held at Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. When you have a moment, please let me know if this is at all possible. Thanks, Vivek

- Vivek Nayar

- Jul-09-2003, 15:18

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