"Over the five years that we talked [octogenarian Zhang Shenfu] became the underbelly of China's history for me. . . . Zhang was like a broken mirror through which I glimpsed the fragmented reality of China in revolution."—Vera Schwarcz
Zhang Shenfu, a founder of the Chinese Communist party, participated in all the major political events in China for four decades following the Revolution of 1919. Yet Zhang had become a forgotten figure in China and the West—a victim of Mao's determined efforts to place himself at the center of China's revolution—until Vera Schwarcz began to meet with him in his home on Wang Fu Cang Lane in Beijing. Now Schwarcz brings Zhang to life through her poignant account of five years of conversations with him, a narrative that is interwoven with translations of his writings and testimony of his friends.
Moving circuitously, Schwarcz reveals fragments of the often contradictory layers of Zhang's character: at once a champion of feminism and an ardent womanizer, a follower of the Bertrand Russell who also admired Confucius, and a philosophically inclined political pragmatist. Schwarcz also meditates on the tension between historical events and personal memory, on the public amnesia enforced by governments and the "forgetfulness" of those who find remembrance too painful. Her book is not only a portrait of a remarkable personality but a corrective to received accounts and to the silences that abound in the official annals of the Chinese revolution.