Of the books that have ever been written about China for a western audience, Cultural Revolution-era autobiographies tend to top best-sellers lists. Persecution and martyrdom, oppression and socialism – unfortunately these plights make for great reading. Most of the books on this list are set during the Sixties, but also span subsequent and previous generations, making them timeless classics about life in China.
1. Wild Swans by Jung Chang
The best-selling classic. Three generations of recorded family history, concluding with Chang’s own experience as a Red Guard before finally escaping China and marrying a western man (who would later become her co-author).
2. Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng
Locked up in prison for over 6 years during the Cultural Revolution, simply for having once worked for a foreign-owned business, Cheng firmly resists confessions and brainwashings until her release, when she is then hit with heartbreaking news about her daughter.
3. Red Azalea by Anchee Min
Sent down to work at a Maoist labor commune as a teenager, Min watches the girls around her either break under, or sell their souls to, Communism. In between rural drudgery, Min discovers forbidden love with another female “comrade”.
4. Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah
5. Prisoner of the State by Premier Zhao Ziyang
The ultimate banned book! A secret journal kept by former Premier Zhao Ziyang, who was kicked out of the Party for trying to stop the Tiananmen “incident”. These are the stomach-churning, behind-the-scenes events of the life of a Communist Party official.
6. The Little Red Guard by Wenguang Huang
7. Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
8. My Chinese Dream – From Red Guard to CEO by Liu Ping
9. My Private China by Alex Kuo
10. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston