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Reviewed by:
  • Daughter of Good Fortune: A Twentieth-Century Chinese Peasant Memoir by Shehong Chen
  • Guo Chao (bio)
Shehong Chen. Daughter of Good Fortune: A Twentieth-Century Chinese Peasant Memoir. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015. xii, 348 pp. Paperback $30.00. isbn 978-0-295-99492-5.

Daughter of Good Fortune is an autobiography dictated by Chen Huiqin (referred to as "Mother"), a rural woman who has lived in the Jiading area all her life, recorded and edited by Shehong Chen (referred to as her birth name Shezhen), Mother's firstborn, who is now a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Born in 1931, Mother witnessed a majority of the substantial social changes in rural China since the late 1930s, and relates the events in a microcosmic pattern, that is, the detailed daily life of a rural dweller in southeastern China.

Ostensibly, the book is a collection of the life stories of Mother; however, the underlying and advanced intention of the book, as Shehong Chen declares in the preface and Delia Davin reiterates in the introduction, is to outline the progress of societal transformation that rural China underwent in the continual waves of reformations after the 1930s, specifically the establishment of Communist China in 1949, the Land Reform and Collectivization Campaign in the 1950s, the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, the Economic Reform in the 1980s, and the ongoing transformations dramatically occurring in the new millennium, not officially recorded by a professional historian but personally experienced by a rural woman (Chen, p. x; Davin, p. 3).

As an endeavor in oral history, the book bestows on us an enormous amount of primary material. The narrator, Mother, recollects all kinds of stories, major and minor, in sixteen chronological sections. Section 1, as well as the first half of section 2, is a detailed portrait of the usual routines of life in the rural section of Jiading County and a brief introduction of her family, both extended and nuclear, as they maintain a peaceful life before the successive Anti-Fascist War and Civil War broke out in 1937. After the establishment of Communist China, she witnesses a series of the CCP's (Chinese Communist Party) societal campaigns, such as the Quelling of Counterrevolutionaries (e.g., the Ji Brothers in Wangjialong, her hamlet), the Land Reform in 1950, and the new law on matrimony—initially mentioned in the middle of section 2 and elaborated on in section 3—a law which was also validated in the same year and led to fundamental changes in what constituted rural China. [End Page 30]

She touches on the trials of the Mutual Aid teams introduced in the spring of 1952, and, later, the Collectivization of 1953 (the policy of Unified Purchasing and Marketing included) in the fourth section. The later effects of radical communization in 1958—disastrous decisions by the Party Central Committee as they affected rural livelihood—are covered in section 5 and the first half of section 6. In the latter half of section 6 and the entirety of section 7, her narrative covers the Cultural Revolution from 1966, which was, as the section is titled, "Years of Ordeal." She still retains memories of the whole family's bitterness from that fanatical time. In 1968, her partner, Chen Xianxi (once referred to as Chen Xianmin in the third section), cadre of the CCP since Liberation, had been baselessly accused by the rebel chief and sent to a so-called study course (xuexiban), a kind of surveillance in essence, and transferred to a pig farm in the following spring of 1969. Following Chen Xianxi's rehabilitation, as late as in the summer of 1970, life took a turn for the better. Two of Mother's children, Shezhen and Shebao, entered universities—Shezhen was accepted into a university from a sewing factory as one of the "worker-peasant-soldier students" in 1974, and Shebao was admitted after the restoration of the university entrance examination in 1978, as is covered in section 8.

The Reform Era (not limited to economic reform) initiated by Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s terminated the Mao Era, and is discussed in section 9 and thereafter. Mother had...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 30-37
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-14
Open Access
No
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