Nien Cheng’s “Life and Death in Shanghai” — a timeless book about tyranny

Nien ChengOne of the important books I read that helped me prepare for the journey from Left to Right was Nien Cheng’s Life and Death in Shanghai. In 1966, at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution, Cheng, the widow of a Shanghai-based Shell executive, was arrested as a foreign spy. The charge was bogus. The real issue was that this bright, feisty woman refused to yield to the Cultural Revolution’s fanatic thought police.

Cheng spent six-and-a-half years in prison, constantly fighting against the mind control that would have seen her confess to crimes she had never committed. While she was in prison, her only child was murdered and her youth and health destroyed. When she was released from prison, she lived in miserable conditions, spied on by her neighbors, until she was able to leave China in 1980.

If you haven’t read the book, you must. Because it is a beautifully written first-person narrative, it is a compelling way to understand what happens when a state sets out to control how its people think. I certainly credit the book with creating in me the fear of tyranny that culminated with my breaking away from an increasingly dictatorial Democrat party.

I mention the book now because you can buy a Kindle copy for only $1.99. If you have some sort of device with the Kindle app, I urge you to read this book if you haven’t already done so.