(Cover picture from the web site of 博客來)
Embarrassingly, I have been quite ignorant of recent Chinese and Taiwanese history, especially pertaining to the 1900’s. Luckily, someone like Dr. Long had written this book to educate me on the subject.
This book is about the Chinese civil war in the year of 1949 between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party, with the historical background on the Japanese invasion and WWII. Long wrote vividly and objectively on the past, telling stories of first hand accounts in the book from veterans and civilians. I am happy for this book placed more emphasis on the multifaceted perspective of the historical events, rather than focusing on one character and have the narrative revolve around one person.
Due to my lack of knowledge in Chinese history and geography, the book with its eyewitness accounts jumping from one person/location to another can at times be hard to follow. However, it did give a good sense of the zeitgeist of the era. It helped me to realize the horrors of war: teenagers were made to escape with their teachers from the war and separate from their parents, never to see them again. Some of them would climb onto such overcrowded trains that they had to sit on the rooftop, and a train tends to exit a tunnel with less people than when it went in. In one group, 5000 students who tried to escape the war had reached the Vietnam border with less than 300 students left. In prisoners of war camps, any small cut to the body meant certain and painful death, as infection ran rampant in the camp due to malnutrition and lack of medical care. Siblings saw their sisters raped dozens of times and hang themselves in desperation. Parents collapse in despair in a field of corpses upon finding their son/daughter’s mutilated body. In Leningrad, the city was encircled by the Germans for so long that cannibalism occurred and 500,000 civilians starved to death. It saddened me tremendously yet also made me cherish the peace I enjoy all the more.
As the book unfolds gradually with characters of vastly different backgrounds sharing their points of view and stories, a cultural identity and understanding slowly and vaguely emerged. I felt the book gave enough historical background to help me start understand the various sentiments between the different sides of the this civil war.
The civil war was fought in 1949, yet its consequences are ever more present today. This is an important book and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to get a glimpse of living as a Chinese around the year 1949.