Ever since Ni Yuxian was made into an overnight sensation by Liu Binyan's now famous essay "A Second Kind of Loyalty," he has been something of a controversial figure within both his own country and the expatriate Chinese community. Few people know what to make of this man, seen by some as a "courageous spokesman for ... democratic longings," by others as "abrasive, unfaithful, opportunistic and arrogant." Thurston presents his story in a book that ultimately combines poor biography with great history. The various interpretations of Ni's life are never fully realized and the many sides of his complex character remain unlinked, leaving the reader confused about Ni's motives. As a history, however, Thurston's book is a fascinating weave of Ni's enigmatic life with the much broader picture of China's contemporary democracy movement. For this reason alone it is worth reading.
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