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Journal of Cold War Studies 3.3 (2001) 124-126

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Book Review

Daughter of China:
A True Story of Love and Betrayal

Meihong Xu and Larry Engelmann, Daughter of China: A True Story of Love and Betrayal. New York: Wiley & Sons, 1999. 349 pp. $24.95.

Daughter of China adds to the growing list of memoirs written by Chinese who have made their way to the West since the 1970s. Meihong Xu and Larry Engelmann tell the story of their romance in the fall of 1988, which led to a dramatic change in fortune for Xu, who at the time was a married woman and an officer in the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The book tells how two individuals with very different backgrounds found each other in Nanjing, China, and how the Chinese authorities handled the romance once it was discovered. Xu and Engelmann met at the Center for American and Chinese Studies in Nanjing, an educational joint venture of Nanjing University and Johns Hopkins University. Engelmann had just embarked on a teaching stint at the center, and Xu was a new student there.

Xu had grown up in rural Jiangsu during Mao's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and learned the harsh realities of life firsthand. Although her parents were members of the local elite (her mother was a village official, and her father was a veterinarian), Xu did not live in luxury. She began working in the fields at the age of ten, tending water buffalo. Early on she realized that the only way for rural people like her to "escape from the drudgery and banality of farm life" (p. 214) was to join the military.

The book portrays her as bright, determined, attractive, resourceful, iconoclastic, and reckless in affairs of the heart. She succeeded in escaping her village in 1981 at the age of seventeen when she enrolled at the Institute for International Relations in Nanjing--a military academy that produces intelligence officers. Upon graduation in 1985 she was assigned to work as a junior aide to the executive officer of the institute, who privately espoused pro-American, reformist views. She quickly became a member of his inner circle. Although she had a successful career, she was not happy because of her disillusionment with the PLA.

Larry Engelmann, a professor of American history at San Jose State University, arrived at the Center for American and Chinese Studies to teach courses on American [End Page 124] history, culture, and society. Although he knew very little about China and the complexity of Chinese culture and politics, he had been persuaded by a friend, the journalist Fox Butterfield, to teach at the Center. Engelmann had been married and divorced, and when he arrived in China he was not a happy man.

These two unhappy individuals were brought together when Xu was asked to keep Engelmann under surveillance. Even before Engelmann arrived in Nanjing, he had been singled out by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) as a suspected agent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Engelmann evidently matched the MSS profile for a CIA agent: He had close ties to the American media; he was carrying declassified CIA documents; and he had visited Vietnam before he went to China and was maintaining communications with high-level officials there after his arrival in Nanjing (p. 162).

Xu's assessment of Engelmann differed from that of the MSS. She quickly dismissed the idea that Engelmann was a CIA agent, and she became romantically involved with him. She tried to manage a delicate and dangerous balance among three contradictory objectives: convincing the MSS that Engelmann was not a CIA agent, warning Engelmann to be careful without revealing she was spying on him, and continuing their romance.

Xu was arrested on 2 December 1988 and charged with "endangering state security" (p. 64). She was incarcerated and interrogated for more than eight weeks. Engelmann also paid a price. A statement bearing Xu's signature and claiming that he had assaulted her was delivered to the Center for American and...