Review published on February 21, 2018.
In 1933, Xu Hongci was born in Shanghai China. He lived a fairly normal life, and the standard Chinese educational system worked well for him as he grew up. Like many, he joined a university and was an acknowledged pupil. However, he fell in with the political movement that preceded Chairman Mao’s influence. Xu Hongci eventually fell foul of these governing factions in all innocence, and after a rather traumatic public episode, he was imprisoned. The first quarter of the book explains all this.
This then is a stunning account of how one man, among many others, suffered at the hands of his countrymen in various prisons, mines and workhouses. He was further sentenced to twenty years on trumped up charges of subversion after serving his original six-year sentence. He escaped four times in all, and this book tells us why he felt it necessary to do so.
Xu Hongci died in 2008. He had painstakingly hand-written his memoirs together with very basic drawings of structures, but failed to see it published. It eventually saw the light of day when after the fall of Chairman Mao and his Cultural Revolutionary disease, a minor publisher had it printed. These publishers were eventually imprisoned. A Swedish/Chinese writer named Erling Hoh, who resides in Sweden, was able to obtain the original manuscript, he translated it, and eventually we have got the book I have read, No Wall Too High.
I found this book truly enlightening; how, in China, just a few years back, a person could not trust one’s own family not to betray you to the authorities. Every person you met was suspect, these self-same people wanted to be known to the authorities as being helpful and good citizens under the Communist regime, but basically in fear of their own lives. The book explains this so well. It also explains why Communism does not work, cannot work.
I found the names of people, places, areas etc. a little disconcerting at first, but one finally gets used to it. The rather grand political titles get a bit tedious as well, but the single most worrying example of Chinese discipline is the self-criticism that one has to endure in public. Great big halls are filled with people where the victim is heckled and abused by these fellow Chinese whilst little understanding their reasons for doing so. The abusers often lie, cheat, confuse, agree with others who are totally wrong. This seems to happen often throughout the book. Compared to our own democratic world, we are poles apart from the Chinese.
An extremely good book once one gets to grips with it. A very acceptable translation to the modern reader, that tells the story brutally honestly and without any undue and unnecessary padding. I would suggest it is very educational for the student of Asian politics.
Reg Seward 5/3
No Wall Too High by Xu Hongci
Rider 9781846044984 pbk Feb 2018
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