Time for Telling Truth is Running Out


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Conversations with Zhang Shenfu

Vera Schwarcz

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"Over the five years that we talked [octogenarian Zhang Shenfu] became the underbelly of China's history for me. . . . Zhang was like a broken mirror through which I glimpsed the fragmented reality of China in revolution."—Vera Schwarcz
Zhang Shenfu, a founder of the Chinese Communist party, participated in all the major political events in China for four decades following the Revolution of 1919. Yet Zhang had become a forgotten figure in China and the West—a victim of Mao's determined efforts to place himself at the center of China's revolution—until Vera Schwarcz began to meet with him in his home on Wang Fu Cang Lane in Beijing. Now Schwarcz brings Zhang to life through her poignant account of five years of conversations with him, a narrative that is interwoven with translations of his writings and testimony of his friends.
Moving circuitously, Schwarcz reveals fragments of the often contradictory layers of Zhang's character: at once a champion of feminism and an ardent womanizer, a follower of the Bertrand Russell who also admired Confucius, and a philosophically inclined political pragmatist. Schwarcz also meditates on the tension between historical events and personal memory, on the public amnesia enforced by governments and the "forgetfulness" of those who find remembrance too painful. Her book is not only a portrait of a remarkable personality but a corrective to received accounts and to the silences that abound in the official annals of the Chinese revolution.

"This is a subtle, elegiac, and elegant book, that circles around and through Zhang Shenfu's life as he circled around and through his country's revolutionary history. Vera Schwarcz has done the hardest things here: she has stalked an elusive voice from the past and caught it, just so."—Jonathan Spence

"Zhang Shenfu was part of so many of the events that shaped post-May Fourth China that his story is bound to be of enormous interest to students of twentieth-century China. The portrait of Zhang that emerges from Schwarcz's description of sensitive, nuanced, and evocative."—John Israel

"An unconventional biography of one of the last surviving founders of the Chinese communist party and the man who introduced Zhou Enlai into the movement. . . . Zhang . . . has interesting things to say about sex, freedom and socialism. The book is particularly valuable as a record of the periodic anti-intellectual reigns of terror in China and how one politically active academician reacted to them."—Publishers Weekly

"[An] ultimately moving book. . . . Schwarcz helps us understand the courage China's cruel history has demanded of its most sensitive and articulate men and women—and the strength of ideas that, like China itself, endure."—Arnold R. Isaacs, New York Times Book Review

"Ably interpreted."—T. H. Barrett, Times Literary Supplement

"For challenging theory and new data on complex cultural questions, Schwacz's beautifully written, profound study is rich scholarly fare."—Edward Friedman, The Journal of Asian Studies

"This is a very moving and beautifully written book. Vera Schwarcz has managed to do something which other academic writers on Chinese intellectuals have failed to do: make her subject come alive. By using a style of writing which combines diary, interviews, analysis and very personal musing, she has managed to recreate the flavour of Chinese intellectual life over the past eight decades. . . . Two special aspects of this book make it very rewarding to read. One is the wonderful photographs of Zhang at various stages of his life; his unflinching, bold gaze never changes, though his costume evolves from traditional xiaoye to Communist intellectual. The second is Schwarcz's willingness to involve herself in the book, and to make of what might have been an impersonal, objective biography a personal odyssey of understanding."—Diana Lary, Pacific Affairs

"A collage of conversations forming a portrait that ranges far wider and deeper than the usual biography. . . . This work is made special by the tension between Schwarcz's interest in Zhang Shenfu as a source for history and as a person."—Hans van de Ven, China Quarterly

ISBN: 9780300050097
Publication Date: March 25, 1992
256 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
12 b/w illus.
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