The Secret Listener An Ingenue in Mao's Court

Format: Hardcover
Pub. Date: 2022-01-05
Publisher(s): Oxford University Press
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A personal account of life in the orbit of Mao and Zhao En-Lai and one woman's effort to tell what it was like to be at the center of the storm.

The history of China in the twentieth century is comprised of a long series of shocks: the 1911 revolution, the civil war between the communists and the nationalists, the Japanese invasion, the revolution, the various catastrophic campaigns initiated by Chairman Mao between 1949 and 1976, its great opening to the world under Deng, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Yuan-tsung Chen, who is now 90, lived through most of it, and, at certain points, in close proximity to the seat of communist power. Born in Shanghai in 1929, she came to know Zhou En-Lai-second only to Mao in importance-as a young girl living in Chungking, where Chiang Kai-Shek's government had relocated during the war against Japan. That connection to Zhou proved to be useful, as Zhou intervened on her behalf years later when her husband faced fatal political persecution. After the communists took power, she obtained a job in one of the culture ministries. While there, she frequently engaged with the upper echelon of the party and was a first-hand witness to some of the purges that the regime regularly initiated. Eventually, her immediate superior was denounced in 1957, and she barely escaped being purged herself for exhibiting bourgeois tendencies. With one giant leap, she pulled herself from the gate of a labor camp into the middle of her well-connected husband's "Magic Circle," where the purges had always passed by until Mao's last Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976). During the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s to early 1960s, the party sent droves of city dwellers to the countryside, and mass starvation ensued. During the Cultural Revolution, Chen's husband was purged and sent to live in a rough, poor area-a common fate for many intellectuals-and she voluntarily went with him for she knew he would not be able to survive exile alone. Finally, while the Cultural Revolution was still raging, she and her husband were granted exit visas, on Zhou Enlai's personal order, to move to Hong Kong in 1971.

A first-hand account of what life was like in the period before the revolution and in Mao's China, Yuan-tsung Chen's experience adds some flesh and blood to the historical understanding of China. The Secret Listener gives a unique perspective on the era, and her vantage point provides us with a new perspective on the radical Maoist regime.

Author Biography

Yuan-tsung Chen is a former official under Mao in the 1950s. She is also the author of the novel The Dragon's Village and a winning survivor from Maoism.

Table of Contents

Opening Shot

The First Part: Before the Year of 1949
Chapter 1: My Family and Myself
Chapter 2: My First Beau
Chapter 3: The Broadening of My Horizon
Chapter 4: Stumbling into a Larger World

The Second Part: After the Year of 1949
Chapter 5: In Mao's Beijing
Chapter 6: Outside the Great Wall, By the Blue Danube
Chapter 7: I Felt It Was Me on Trial
Chapter 8: A Purge in Reverse
Chapter 9: A Reverse of the Reverse: The Anti-Rightists Purge

The Third Part: The Great Leap Forward
Chapter 10: A Leap from the Magical Circle into Mao's Great Famine
Chapter 11: A VIP Pig
Chapter 12: From Black Market to Fake Bumper Harvest
Chapter 13: Between the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution

The Fourth Part: The Cultural Revolution
Chapter 14: The Mob Rule
Chapter 15: The Mob Rule Continued
Chapter 16: Intrigues in a Slum House
Chapter 17: Forced into Exile and Fought back


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