The Secret Listener: An Ingenue in Mao's Court

Yuan-Tsung Chen.. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (312p) ISBN 978-0-19-757334-1
Chen's illuminating account of life in the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party during Chairman Mao Zedong's rule is inspired by her distress over recent crackdowns on protestors in Hong Kong (where Chen now lives) and efforts by the Chinese government to whitewash the violence of the Cultural Revolution. Born to prosperous parents in Wuhan in 1929, Chen dreamed of becoming an author. After the communist takeover in 1949, she took a job as a clerical assistant in the Central Film Bureau in Beijing, where she met culture czar Zhou Yang and other members of Mao's inner circle. Chen sheds light on how Yang's debates with literary critic Hu Feng set off "the first full-fledged campaign of criticism and denunciation of a writer since the Communists had come to power," and recounts the poverty and starvation she encountered when she was sent to villages in Gansu province as part of Mao's land reform initiatives. During the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, Chen and her husband, Jack, a British national, were expelled from their home and placed in a Beijing slum. Eventually, Zhou Yang helped the couple obtain exit visas to Hong Kong. Detailed discussions of Chinese literature and censorship slow the narrative, but Chen's insider perspective intrigues. Chinese history buffs will want to take a look. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 10/12/2021
Release date: 01/01/2022
Genre: Nonfiction
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