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SUMMER READING; A PRISONER OF THE THOUGHT POLICE

J. M. Cotzee reviews Nien Cheng's Novel "LIFE AND DEATH IN SHANGHAI," which peeks into the legacy of incarceration in the China of communist Chairman Mao.

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ONE night in August of 1966 the home of Mrs. Nien Cheng in Shanghai was broken into by some 40 young people wearing Red Guard armbands. Mrs. Cheng barred their way and asked for their search warrant. ''The Constitution is abolished,'' they replied. ''We recognize only the teachings of our Great Leader Chairman Mao.'' They then proceeded to vandalize the house, breaking furniture and porcelain, slashing paintings, burning books. Mrs. Cheng tried to save the more irreplaceable of her possessions by pleading that they were part of the great Chinese cultural heritage. ''Shut up!'' she was told. ''They are the useless toys of the feudal emperors and the modern capitalist class and have no significance to us, the proletarian class.'' The destruction went on. Read more...