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Reviews 135© 1994 by University ofHawai'i Press He Liyi, with Claire Anne Chik. Mr. China's Son: A Villager's Life. Boulder, San Francisco, and Oxford: Westview Press, 1993. xvi, 271 pp. Hardcover $55, Paperback $16.95. Mr. China's Son is a delightful autobiography of He Liyi, a villager living in Yunnan province in Southwest China. The book is a special treat in that it was written by Mr. He in English and therefore has lost none of its freshness through translation. With simplicity, modesty, and a wonderful sense of humor, He Liyi invites the reader to become an insider to Chinese society, making us feel like a member of his family. Through his own perceptions and fhose of Airee women who figure most prominenfiy in his life, he shares his experience and thoughts, particularly his understanding of the importance of human relationships. We observe him develop and nurture close family relationships, create social relationships that help him survive, and navigate his way around political power and rivalry . We are touched by the wisdom he and the other main characters of the book display, a wisdom Aiat has noAiing to do wiAi formal education. Moreover, through the seemingly never-ending miseries encountered in He Liyi's life, Mr. China's Son allows us to follow the history of China and gain insight into the effect of Chinese government and politics on remote Yunnan. The book is not an academic work, nor is it the only book of an individual's tribulations in contemporary Chinese society published in English; there are other accounts, such as Heng Liang's Son ofthe Revolution (1983) or Red Flower of China (1992) by Zhai Zhenhua. Mr. China's Son, however, stands out by the degree to which the author shares his innermost thoughts and feelings, by the language he uses to express these, and by the insights he provides into daily life. In order best to convey a sense ofwhat the book is like, this review makes ample use of direct quotes. After graduating from college in Kunming in 1953, He Liyi's hopes to become an English teacher are foiled by the political vicissitudes in China. Branded as a "poisonous weed" in the Anti-rightist campaign of 1957 for being the son of a Nationalist police officer and for having studied English, he continues to bear the consequences of this label Airough the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution. Liyi spends most ofhis life in rural areas ofYunnan struggling to make a living. Exiled to a labor camp, he herds buffaloes, works as a barber, joins a railroad construction team and a government dam construction project, and ekes out a living as a farmer with a sideline in stealing night soil and crafting furniture. Only after 1979, at the age of forty-nine, is he able to realize his dream ofbecoming an English teacher. 136 China Review International: Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 1994 He Liyi is a member of the Bai ethnic minority. The Bai, who number about 1.6 million, live in Yunnan province and speak a language which belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family. While Mr. China's Son describes some Bai cultural traditions and gives the reader pointers to what it means to be Bai, the book is not primarily about ethnic identity, cultural traditions, or the relationship between the Bai people and Aie Han Chinese. During this period of China's history, many Han Chinese suffered in ways similar to fhose experienced by He Liyi. In fact, Liyi's story is testimony to the degree to which the Bai have become part of the larger Chinese society. Liyi's preoccupation—almost to the point of obsession —with personal relationships shows personal connections to be just as crucial for survival among the Bai as Aiey are among the Han Chinese and to warrant dedicating an enormous amount of time and energy to cultivating relationships that are useful. Though most of the book deals with post- 1949 China, Liyi's life spans a period that covers both Nationalist and Communist political rule. His early memories suggest that in spite of a differing political agenda before and after 1949...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 135-141
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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