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Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag [Paperback]

Harry Wu , Carolyn Wakeman
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 3 1995
A searing eyewitness account of what life was like in the prison camps of China during the 1960s and 1970s--through the rise of the Cultural Revolution and the Red Brigade, the death of Mao to the struggles of post-Maoist China. The author exposes the Chinese practice of exporting forced labor goods illegally into the U.S. Due to his appearance on ``Sixty Minutes'' and a cover story in Newsweek, Harry Wu was invited to speak before Congress resulting in a continuing investigation regarding his findings.

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From Amazon

In April 1960, Chinese Communist authorities arrested Harry Wu, the son of a well-to-do Shanghai banker. He was cast into a prison camp and, though never formally charged or tried, he spent the next nineteen years in a hellish netherworld of grinding labor, systematic starvation, and torture. Bitter Winds is the powerful story of Harry Wu's imprisonment and survival, of extraordinary acts of courage, and of unforgettable heroism.

From Publishers Weekly

In this eloquent memoir, Wu recalls his 19 years in Chinese labor camps. Though a middle-class college student, he was initially a patriotic Communist, but he soon ran afoul of the thought police. Hoping to flee the country in 1959, he was denounced as an "enemy of the revolution." The book, written with Wakeman, coauthor of To the Storm: The Odyssey of a Revolutionary Chinese Woman , focuses primarily on Wu's first decade as a prisoner struggling against starvation, seeing others succumb and learning a brutal survival ethic from fellow inmates. It is an intimate story of bravery and tragedy, including details about hallucinations, torture and the loss of comrades. The Cultural Revolution led to Wu's transfer to a mine, where he stayed for 10 years. There, he began to carve out a life, marrying a woman who later betrayed him. Six years after his release in 1979, he left for the U.S., where he is now a resident scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. An epilogue briefly describes Wu's continuing heroism: in 1991, he returned to China and surreptitiously filmed labor camps for the TV program 60 Minutes.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Shanghai in 1948, the final year of Nationalist rule, was a city of extremes. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harry Wu could have taught Kafka a thing or two. July 18 1995
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
"Bitter Winds" is at once fascinating and horrifying.I knew that China was (and still is) a scary placeto be on the wrong side of the government, but nothing can bring it home like a first-hand account. Harry Wu spent 19 years of his life in prison camps and forced labor camps all over China for crimes no more serious than speaking his mind too openly on a few occasions. He was forced to endure the most humiliating treatment imaginable under terrible conditions including near starvation during China's famines, where the prisoners had it even worse than the normal citizens. If you worry about the thought police, read this book and it will put your worries in perspective -- though certainly not to rest. Now that Wu is again incarcerated in China, where he was trying to gather more information on the forced labor system currently in operation, this book is that much more timely.
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Format:Hardcover
To start with, Harry Wu is a very good storyteller. This is a good story before it is anything else. I make a point of saying that, because there are several other things I liked about the book which probably would not have been as effective if the book had not been, before anything else, a good story.
Similar to "Son of the Revolution," this book begins with the anti-rightist movement. Harry Wu was imprisoned in 1960, and not released until 1979, so he almost completely missed the Cultural Revolution. There is mention of that period in this book, of course, but not the level of discussion that you find in other books which focus more specifically on the ten year period (1966-1976) that caused so much pain for the people of China. The connection between the anti-rightist campaign and the Cultural Revolution is a sensitive issue, but it does need to be explored, because it opens our minds to the possibility that the ¡°trouble¡± began before 1966. In other words, there were significant factors prior to the Cultural Revolution which set the stage for it.
That out of the way, we can focus on what this book is about¡ªthe prison life of someone who never should have been in prison. That is the center around which every other part of the story revolves. So how good a job does this book do of sticking to that subject? For the most part, I give it high marks. I think this book does a very good job of pointing out the flaw in a system which incriminated citizens who were in no way a threat to society. Unfortunately, the book goes off on a tangent toward the end, and there seems to be more discussion about the prison system in China as a general topic for discussion.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Glimpse into Hell June 24 2001
Format:Paperback
Syndicated pundit Don Feder once referred to modern day China as "the reincarnation of the Third Reich with lo mien noodles." Harry Wu's autobiographical tome of the hellish conditions inside Chinese labor camps lends substantial credence to that caustic description. As tragic as the nightmare he endured is, the situation in modern China has in many ways has deteriorated even further. Harry Wu is one of many children; such a family would never be allowed under the current one-child policy. Actually, it is easy to see why a depraved and violent population controlling policy has been instituted. As the Wus demonstrate, the family is the hardest institution to destroy, and with large and strong families the norm, China's insensate government would be hampered in its drive for domination over all aspects of life.
More than a few of the horrors he documents have a frightening familiarity. Anyone familiar with the opinion-controlling practices currently at place Ivy League colleges will see an eerie counterpart to China's universities in the late 1950. Harry Wu writes of "the official encouragement of divergent opinions" as the nation transformed over to socialism. Like the modern diversity fad, the semantics did not match the policy. "Divergent opinions" yielded blind devotion to the Communist state, just as diversity training demands the surrender of individuality in favor of group labels and a collective mentality. Hostility to religion has become chic among the U.S. hoi polloi which also corresponds to China's ferociously enforced atheism. As a boy Harry Wu attended a Catholic School, but with little warning the nuns and priests were forcefully expelled from China.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Now I Know May 19 2001
Format:Paperback
I've been very aware of the Holocaust and all its horrors and injustices. I have seen movies, read articles, read books; all the information is there. But the Cultural Revolution? I only knew that it happened in China - I wasn't even sure what years it occured. I had no concept of its irrational and unjust practices. No idea of the horrible lengths of time people were incarcerated, no idea of the revolting conditions and unspeakable starvation. Harry Wu is right. He did need to write this and inform us. I kept thinking back to my own life during the years he was describing. 1960-61-62? graduating from college, getting married and having my first child. Did I have my head in the sand or did we not have the coverage of events that we have today? I didn't know (or maybe wasn't interested) in events on the other side of the world - except to urge my children to clean their plates because children in China were starving. I had no idea! Harry Wu writes candidly, clearly and courageously. This is a book that I will not forget and will urge friends to read. I travel to China in June for 3 weeks. All the people I will see who are my age (62) experienced some form of repression, indignity, involvement - the list goes on. How I admire them and honor them for their perserverance. Thank you, Harry Wu!
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