Pamela Tan (Tan Pingmei) left Australia in 1950 as a young Overseas Chinese woman patriotically attracted to the possibilities of the new China created by the success of the communist revolution. She stayed for nearly 30 years, experiencing a roller ...
coaster ride through a period of initial promise followed by a series of disasters to the country, disasters that inevitably affected her personally. Finally, by now disillusioned with her life in China notwithstanding several years of the countrys recovery from Maoist excesses, she returned to Australia to start a new life in 1979, and was joined by her Chinese family the next year. As a student, occasional consultant on China for government and private bodies, and writer, she gradually completed her intellectual and spiritual movement away from the socialist ideals that had long sustained her in China to the quite different philosophy of Buddhism. In this honest and informative memoir, Pamela explores her experience, beliefs, confusion and fear in China, while also providing insight into her young life in Melbourne that contributed to her quest, and her post-China journey once back in Australia. The China experience is the core of her story. While this book is a personal memoir focusing on Pamela Tans life in China, it inevitably charts the trajectory of the Peoples Republic itself. We see an optimistic Pamela in the first half of the 1950s, a period of peace and construction that generated similar feelings in wide swathes of society. Things started to go wrong with the anti-rightist campaign in 1957, the campaign when several of Pamelas friends were labelled 'rightists', and, for the first time she felt fear. This was soon followed in 1958-60 by the ruinous Great Leap Forward, a half-baked economic strategy that resulted in a massive famine costing perhaps 30 million peasant lives, and also resulting in drastic reductions of rations in the cities. Yet Pamela, like most urban residents and arguably even most peasants, continued to have faith in Mao and the party. The Cultural Revolution, with its chaos and violence, was a further shock, but like most of her colleagues Pamela continued to believe, at least in Mao. Each further strange development, notably the death of Lin Biao, Mao's personally chosen successor, while fleeing China, together with charges that Lin had planned to assassinate Mao, further strained faith in the leader and system. Doubts were growing in the population generally, but for Pamela and many others it was only the events of 1976 -- the ousting of Deng Xiaoping and his moderate policies, the resurgence of radical echoes of the Cultural Revolution, and the failure to honour properly Premier Zhou Enlai following his death, that pushed loss of faith to the breaking point. Still she assessed Mao as 'a great man', but one who 'had exceeded the limit'. Pamela Tan's engrossing story puts a human face on the tortuous history of Mao's China. The very fact that her story is 'ordinary' provides great testimony to the power of Maos regime in creating a narrative that could, to a large degree, be sustained even as one disaster after another engulfed the Chinese people. There is much to learn from the parallel stories of an individual we can empathise with, and a system that truly 'exceeded the limit'. Foreword by Professor Frederick C Teiwes, one of the world's leading authorities on Chinese elite politics.
Number of pages: 304
Date of publication: 01/09/2008
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