Woman from Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 August, 2010, 12:00am

Woman from Shanghai
by Xianhui Yang
Anchor Books HK$128

Woman from Shanghai is documentary literature, a genre Chinese writers created in the 1980s to disguise reportage that might otherwise land them in trouble. The style of fact-based writing with fictional elements is used effectively to remember the thousands of so-called rightists sent from 1957 to 1961 for 're-education' at Jiabiangou labour camp in Gansu province. Most died of starvation. Xianhui Yang, who first heard of the place in 1965, interviewed nearly 100 former Jiabiangou rightists, turning their wrenching accounts into short stories such as the title tale, Woman from Shanghai. Second among 13 pieces, it is an account of deprivation and depravation among labourers who dropped dead from hunger. The wife of one victim is kept from seeing her husband's body because his friends have eaten his flesh. Another wrenching tale is The Love Story of Li Xiangnan, about a decades-long affair foiled by politics: because Li's father served in the Nationalist government, his son was declared a rightist, shocking news for his own mother, whom he loves but distrusts because she spies for the police. While unappetising, this book should be read.