If anyone needs a reminder of the inscrutability and mercilessness of the Stalin and Mao regimes, these books can help. Hu Feng was a distinguished Marxist literary critic whom Mao made a prime target of a major campaign to intimidate independent thinkers in the early years of the Chinese communist regime. Hu spent 24 years in various forms of imprisonment. For much of the time, he was accompanied by his wife, Mei Zhi—an unusual privilege probably attributable to Hu’s age and fragile health. In her memoir, she recounts their experiences. Hu was constantly pressured to “reform his worldview” to match the new political campaigns Mao launched. As the couple’s situation became more and more hopeless, Hu stopped insisting on his innocence and lost his sanity. He outlived Mao but passed away a few years after his release from prison, at the age of 82.
Sin-Lin tells the Tolstoyan tale of her struggle to understand her parents, who continued to love each other despite their forced separation, remarriage to other spouses, and political estrangement. They were young Chinese revolutionaries studying in Moscow when Sin-Lin was born. She grew up in a Communist Party boarding school in the Soviet Union and traveled to her parents’ homeland for the first time only as a teenager, several years after her mother had gone back but before her father, who spent years in Stalin’s gulag before returning to China. The way the Chinese regime abused both of her parents after they came back showed the party’s insecurity about anyone whose loyalties might be divided, even though it was the party that had sent her parents to the Soviet Union to study in the first place. The book includes documents that Sin-Lin gathered much later from Soviet archives about a few of the many Chinese revolutionaries who disappeared into Stalin’s gulag as a result of paranoid power struggles within the communist movement.