Publisher: Union Square Press (An Imprint of Sterling Publishing Co. Inc)
ISBN: 13:978-1-4027-5697-9:10: 1-4027-5697-6
Anyone who enjoys reading history, particularly that of modern China, should read Yuan-Tsung Chen’s Return To The Middle Kingdom: One Family, Three Revolutionaries, and the Birth of Modern China.
Chen was born in Shanghai, China, raised in a middle-class family and was educated mainly in American missionary schools. She worked most of the time in Beijing’s Film Publishing House as an editor and translator before migrating to the USA in 1972. Yuan-Tsung met her husband Jack in the early 1950s and married him in 1958.
Return To The Middle Kingdom: One Family, Three Revolutionaries, and the Birth of Modern China is a family saga focusing on three generations of her late husband Jack Chen’s family that are dexterously interwoven with the history of modern China.
The account begins with Jack’s grandfather, Ah Chen, who, although was a poor uneducated and illiterate peasant, was known to the family as a revolutionary soldier who participated in the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864. After the defeat of the Taiping Rebellion, Ah Chen emigrated in the 1870s Trinidad. It was here where the other two members of our narrative, Eugene Chen, eldest son of Ah Chen and Jack Chen, husband of Yuan-Tsung were born.
As the narrative unfolds we learn how Eugene worked closely with Sun Yatsen, who led the 1911 Revolution overthrowing China’s last dynasty. We also discover how he played a very important role in creating the People’s Republic of China. As for Yuan-Tsung’s husband Jack, he was a journalist and artist and was instrumental in portraying and explaining the Chinese Marxist revolution to the outside world. In fact, as the author recounts, Jack countered Chiang-Kaishek’s propaganda in the world media and aided Mao Zedong and his principal associate, Zhou Enlai (Prime Minister between 1949-1976) to defeat Chiang-Kaishek.
It is fascinating to read some of the accomplishments of these three members of the Chen family. For example, Eugene was a successful lawyer in Trinidad and when he returned to China he became its first foreign minister and played a decisive role in repossessing land from the colonial powers- land that was ceded to Britain after the Opium War of the early 1840s. As mentioned in the introduction, “the two strips of land Eugene reclaimed were a great symbol of liberation for people, not only in colonized China but elsewhere in colonized Asia.”
As for Jack, he likewise returned to China and led quite an interesting and daunting life during the time of the Cultural Revolution where he was constantly interrogated and watched by the Red Guards under the direction of Mao Zedong. Jack worked as an expert in the Foreign Languages Bureau in English language matters, and became a prime target in the bureau for a multitude of reasons. It should be noted that Jack spoke little Chinese and was dependent on his wife Yuan-Tsung to often assist him in his plans to fight back.
The true value of this book is in its historical detail, although at times, I did feel that the author over-wrote and got carried away. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Chen has done a tidy bit of research that enabled her to effectively piece together a most exceptional family saga. She has done a impressive job of chronicling the struggles of all three members of the Chen family, their fears and desires as they endured their ordeals.
Scenes come alive as Chen describes how China suffered under foreign domination as well as the Cultural Revolution and demonstrating how it affected members of her family. In addition, due to the personal witnessing and experiences by members of the Chen family of many of the important events that transpired in China during the different eras in its history, historians may be able to garner some new tidbits concerning the birth of modern China.
An added very helpful feature that is included at the beginning of the book is a list and brief description of the many characters mentioned in the saga. Also included is a timeline of events from 1830 to 1995, the year Jack Chen died.
To read Norm's interesting interview with Yuan-Tsung Chen CLICK HERE
The above review was contributed by: The Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com, Norm Goldman, B.A. LL.L, Retired Title Attorney: Norm is also a travel writer and together with his artist wife, Lily, the couple meld Norm's words with Lily's art. To check out their travel site click on Sketchandtravel.comClick here to view Norm’s Reviews & Interviews.
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