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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
This review is from: Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag (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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it., Dec 13 1995
By A Customer
This review is from: Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag (Paperback)
I love it
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5.0 out of 5 stars One Man¡¯s Response to the Problem if Injustice., Feb. 14 2004
By 
Eric Langager (Beijing, China) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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. The author and his wife traveled back to China with a hidden camera and took pictures of prison camps. I felt that this bit of bravado to be irrelevant and distracting. Perhaps it was an impressive gimmick, but the pictures taken by the camera were unimpressive, at least the ones that were shown in the book. They proved that China has prisons and prisoners. So what? I¡¯m sorry, but with a nation of 1.3 billion people, you are going to have a few prisoners, and you have to have a place to put them. What would we prefer? That they be allowed to walk the streets and create havoc? But my primary irritation with this part of the book is that I feel it took away from what was (or at least should have been) the main point of the book. That is the folly of incriminating a person who is not, and should not be treated like a criminal. There was little that I saw in the treatment Harry Wu received that would have been fundamentally inappropriate if he had indeed been a criminal. There are a couple exceptions. Starving prisoners is never appropriate. But this was different, because the whole country was without food. There is no indication that the Chinese government deliberately denied food to prisoners that was available to other citizens. The other issue is solitary confinement. Putting anyone in a small concrete box is appalling. In a humane society, we give prisoners all the humanity and dignity which they have denied their victims. The only thing that is taken from them is their freedom, because they have shown that they cannot handle it responsibly. I am not opposed to capital punishment if it is humane, and if there is no question as to the guilt of the person who is being executed. What I am saying is that the treatment Harry received was, for the most part, not inhumane for someone who was truly a criminal. But Harry was not a criminal. That is the point. That is the only point.
When I was in college, I worked for a year in the prison system in the State of Oregon. I was impressed throughout this book by how not like those people Harry Wu was. He portrays himself (and I think rightly so) as a person who really was not a criminal and shouldn¡¯t have been treated that way. But he tends to discredit himself by the ¡°hidden camera¡± routine at the end of the book¡ªdisrespecting the laws of his former country and almost lending credibility to his original classification as antisocial.
This is an excellent book. Remember, of course, that it is history. This is not a description of China today. But it is still very useful, because it shows a bit of the connection between the Cultural Revolution and the anti-rightist movement, and because it helps one to understand a few of the factors which led to the tremendous changes which have taken place in China over the past 25 years.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the most engrossing book I've ever read., Oct. 23 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag (Paperback)
Unbelievable memoir, one that stays with you and perhaps changes your perspective on life. Harry Wu brings a voice to those many Chinese who, arrested often without cause, spent and lost their lives in the grossly inhumane conditions of Chinese prison labor camps. The unjustness is beyond vast and continues today. This book should be required reading in college sociology, political science and history classes as it is unequivocally insightful and informative as well as meaningful. I hope that Harry Wu can continue to carry his important message in this newly adopted country that adores him and cherishes his very important work. We are listening, Harry.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Glimpse into Hell, June 24 2001
By 
Steven Fantina (Phillipsburg, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag (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. In another scary correlations, certain segments of American illuminati similarly disdain large families as impractical or burdensome upon women.
America's most admirable heroes are now under heavy fire from much of the elite establishment. Who hasn't heard George Washington denigrated as a slave owner or Abraham Lincoln as a racist who reluctantly freed the slaves? China also mastered the art of rewriting history. Wu discusses how Confucius was condemned as a reprobate because his teachings brilliantly controverted Communists doctrine.
The labor camp conditions he graphically describes are inhuman and heartbreaking. The fact that he even survived such brutality is astounding; his willingness to return to China and document the still thriving barbarism is nothing short of miraculous. Wu deserves much credit for that act of doughty selflessness.
As the Unites States Congress prepares to debate extending China's undeserved Trade Status, "Bitter Winds" should be read by every concerned American, and those issues should be raised with his or her congressman.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Now I Know, May 19 2001
By 
P. Lambert (Ivins, UT United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Fire, Dec 5 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag (Paperback)
I had the pleasure of having coffee with Mr. Harry Wu one evening. Hearing him talk about China over that cup of coffee was a moving experience that I will never forget. His book carries that same fire. The book acquaints one with the Chinese people, their deep suffering, and even brings one to a greater understanding of suffering in anyone. Also, the book is simply written, so it is easy to read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The book is a convincing expose of Communist Chinese cruelty, Oct. 9 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag (Paperback)
Bitter Winds is Harry Wu's convincing story of his 19 years in the Red Chinese gulag, the government's slave labor camp system for political dissidents and common criminals. Committed without trial, charges or definite sentence, Harry survived years of senseless political indoctrination, forced labor, beatings, the brutality of fellow prisoners, cold, and starvation. His only crimes were his status as a member of the pre-revolutionary Chinese middle class and his candid criticism of the Communist Party done at the party's invitation. The difference between the terror suffered by Harry and the Stalinist death camps is that China's concentration camps continue to this day. Why didn't someone do something about the Nazi and Soviet camps? Why does the U.S. State Dept. ignore the Red Chinese murders occurring today? Today's leaders of China are undoubtedly proud of their camp system, patterned after that of their erstwhile ally Jos. Stalin, which was revealed in books like Victor Herman's Coming Out of the Ice and the recent account Man Is Wolf to Man.
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Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag
Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag by Carolyn Wakeman (Paperback - April 3 1995)
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