(Review) Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels by Isabel Sun Chao and Claire Chao

Publisher and Publication Date: Plum Brook. 2018.
Genre: Memoir. Historical fiction. Women and literature.
Pages: 308.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: For readers who enjoy a book that’s part memoir and part historical fiction. People who have an interest in Chinese history and culture. Readers of mother and daughter relationships.
Rating: Excellent.

Advertisement from the 1930s. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Amazon link
The Kindle copy is $1.99 today.

Website for the book: Remembering Shanghai.

This book has won over twenty literary awards.

A thirteen page glossary is included.

Illustrations (both photographs and watercolor) are throughout the book, many of them are in color.

Summary:
Claire and Isabel (daughter and mother) traveled to Shanghai, China to visit the original family home in 2008. Afterwards, Claire began to write about the four generations of her mother’s family. Included is historical information about the culture and history during each generation. The main part of the book is Isabel’s life.

My Thoughts:
When the mother first saw the family home after an absence of sixty years, I was awestruck at her humility and ability to remain calm despite an awkwardness of how the home now looks. At one time, the family home was beautiful and elegant. A single family dwelled in it. Now, several people live in apartments, inside the home, that have been selected by the government. People look down on others who have wealth. It is looked upon as low quality in character. This is the society and culture of communist China. This is eye-opening to me. People judge before really knowing the people and their individual lives. And, often people judge because it’s what they’ve been taught.
I have a friend who is from South Korea. She made a comment to me that Americans are lazy. Some are and some are not. Further, some Koreans are probably lazy. This is a character trait and not respective of nation. Anyone who calls my husband lazy should work his job for a day. I dare you. He works for a large city on the sewer cleaning equipment. Ha! Yes, it is a crappy job. I’m being sarcastic. Back to the book!
I love women and literature stories. I love mother and daughter stories. I love stories with the setting in China. This book had a triple appeal for me. I ordered it for my birthday in February. I enjoyed reading every page.
Additional reasons why I love this book:
~Beautiful illustrations. I love art. The art included in the book is visually stunning. Definitely aesthetic quality.
~The interesting stories from the great-grandparents generation.
~Education about Chinese writing, name placement, clothing, and religion.
~The Chinese Cultural Revolution and the consequences on Isabel’s siblings and father.

Both the above photographs were taken in Shanghai. Free images courtesy of Unsplash.

(Review) The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang

 

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Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Books. 1998.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. World War II.
Pages: 290.
Source: Library. E-book copy.
Rating: Recommend, but not for a minor or a person who is sensitive.
Audience: For readers interested in the history of Imperial Japan’s invasion of China.

Amazon

I borrowed this book twice via OverDrive-an app to borrow books from the library. I recommend this app!

 

If you’ve read previous reviews of this book, you’ve read comments like, “a hard read” or “graphic.” This is an understatement. I read at night before bed. This is a tough book to read before bedtime. Many of the chapters are filled with heart-wrenching, macabre, and even fearful stories. The research, interviewing, and writing of this book is a story in itself. A must read chapter in the book is at the tail end: Iris Chang’s painful life and ending. This is one of the most memorable books I’ve read, because of the content and the author. I recommend this book, but with hesitation. Do not feel that you must read a book that will disturb you. I’ve watched many frightening films and read scary books, but have not been as disturbed as this book. Read it, but take your time. Possibly read a chapter or less at one sitting followed by another book that’s a light read.

On December 13, 1937, Nanking, China, the capital city of Nationalist China, fell to Imperial Japan. To use words like atrocities, rampage, and murder is not sufficient.
Iris Chang felt compelled (and thrust herself as on a life mission) to discover the complete history in order to write a book on the Rape of Nanking. She felt many books had been written about the Holocaust during World War II, but the history of the Rape of Nanking had left few writings. She did not want that generation of survivors (and also as a memorial to those who’d died) to die without telling their stories.

This review is not going to be as usual: sharing what I liked and disliked about the book.
To me, this book is hallowed, almost a sacred testament. I feel it would be disrespectful to do otherwise.

Notable aspects in The Rape of Nanking:
•The history and building up of Imperial Japan. Who they were pre 20th century, the political reasonings of Japan, and the movement of Japan against other nations in East Asia.
•Japan and their alliances and relationship with Italy and Germany during World War II.
•Detailed facts and figures.
•A strong point that Japan has tried to ignore or minimize this history.
•The officers in charge of the army who took Nanking. This includes their background and epilogue.
•Answers the question as to how the Japanese soldiers could have been so rabid in their actions.
•Women who were taken/abducted to be used in sexual slavery. These women were from China, but also from other Asian countries.
•Stories are shared by those Chinese who survived.
•Stories of three western civilians who tried to help the Chinese. This includes their life story and epilogue.
•The Nanking War Crimes Trial.
•Epilogue of how the survivors lived after the war.

 

(Review) Song Of Praise for a Flower: One Woman’s Journey through China’s Tumultuous 20th Century by Fengxian Chu, contributor Charlene Chu

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Publisher and Publication Date: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. November 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction, autobiography.
Pages: 488.
Source: Complementary paperback copy from Charlene Chu and Author Marketing Expert. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Excellent.

At this time, the book is free through Amazon Kindle Unlimited: Song of Praise for a Flower. 

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Co-author Charlene Chu, Fengxian’s first cousin, grew up in the United States and wrote the English rendering of Song of Praise for a Flower. A financial analyst well-known for her work on China’s economy and financial sector, she is quoted widely in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg, Business Insider and other media outlets. She holds an MBA and MA in International Relations from Yale University. “Song of Praise for a Flower” is her first book. Charlene splits her time between Washington, DC and Hong Kong.

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Back cover shares the summary of book.

Fengxian Chu is now 92 years old. She was born in the 1920’s and this is the start of the book. She began to write out the story of her life in 1989 and completed it in 1992. The manuscript waited for a reading audience until Charlene Chu, a cousin from America, came to visit Fengxian in hopes of finding historical information about her family. Charlene contributed to the book, making historical corrections or filling in the blank on certain events. The book is equal parts written by Fengxian and Charlene. Fengxian is the voice and topic of the story.

Several reasons led me to give Song of Praise for a Flower an excellent rating.

•A detailed life account of the narrator, in both the logistics of living in China during the 20th century, and her thoughts and feelings.

•A brief history of the Hunan Province, including the geography of the landscape. Later, Guangdong Province is less remarked on by way of a history or geography lesson; instead, it is shown in the daily life of the narrator.

•The society and culture in China is a huge overarching theme in the book. There is a lengthy list of various topics under the heading of society and culture but these are a few: foot binding with women, prejudice between the different provinces in China, communism, family saga, relationships between husbands and wives, relationships between parents and children, family history, education, poverty, gender equality versus feudal, and opium addiction.

•An intriguing aspect of the story is communism. Fengxian Chu has (I think this is the right word) “adapted” to communism. She believes in the Communist Party despite the horrors and abuse of the early years. She feels communism has been good for women. Charlene Chu addresses this issue in brief in the “Afterword” section.

•Over a period of years various reforms took impact in China. The Communist Party pushed agricultural reforms, anti-religious reforms, education reforms, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. All of these are explored in the book.

•Another interesting aspect of the story is the beliefs of luck, good fate or bad fate, good is rewarded and evil is punished.

Song of Praise for a Flower shows the remarkable life of Fengxian Chu. She represents Chinese women during this period who survived (and also died) during the horrors of the Japanese threat of 1930s and World War IIthe war between nationalists and communistscommunism, a changing society and culture, and extreme poverty.

“Now, in the final season of my life, I see that each of us is given only one chance at life. We must take advantage of every opportunity that life presents. For when we do not truly live, life loses its meaning.” Fengxian Chu.

pearl river

Pearl River in China