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Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
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A-Out of Maos ShadowPhilip P. Pan, the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Beijing between 2001 and 2007, offers an eye-opening look at the battle for China’s soul—and the everyday people trying to wrest control of its future and secure true freedom.

The Topic: Lin Zhao, a Mao Zedong supporter, abetted the violent land-reform movement. Later imprisoned for criticizing the Communist Party, she wrote poetry in her own blood and entreated a friend to "tell people in the future about all this suffering" before being executed in 1968. Lin’s story marks the starting point of Pan’s exploration of the struggle for the soul of China—a fight between everyday denizens pushing for political change and a government that lives beneath the shadow of its totalitarian, socialist past, cracks down on dissent, and has created an "authoritarian capitalism" potentially deadlier than what Mao envisioned. Through their stories—a blind activist fighting against forced abortions; a surgeon exposing the government’s cover-up of SARS; the filmmaker trying to publish his documentary about Lin Zhao—Pan reveals a China emerging slowly, and painfully, from Mao’s shadow.
Simon & Schuster. 368 pages. $28. ISBN: 1416537058

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Pan’s book is a dark, sober, but highly important look at the struggle against repression in China. … His interviewees are often simple people, but their stories are complex." Lori Valigra

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It is Mr. Pan’s achievement in Out of Mao’s Shadow that he makes the dark side of China’s glittering economic growth palpably real to the reader by showing the fallout of these changes on the lives of individual citizens, just as he shows the potent effect that a few brave individuals—speaking up on behalf of civil liberties, freedom of the press and government accountability—can have on the party’s conduct of day-to-day business." Michiko Kakutani

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Pan’s stories about key players in China show how far the country has come in recent years because of the efforts of many brave people. … This is a privileged inside look at China’s populace with the secrecy veil lifted, showing how their struggles for personal freedom are slowly building a more tolerant and open democracy." Verna Noel Jones

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Chinese people, Pan writes, are accomplices in their country’s forgetting. … Though Pan has assembled stories of mostly heroic individuals, he seems to be saying there are not enough of them, and they will keep losing." Bruce Ramsey

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"This is not a big-theme book about the ‘true’ China but a concrete, closely observed encounter with particular people, places and events. … Pan seems to have been all over each incident, watching before, during and after it happened, getting long interviews with participants who initially did not want to talk, copying quotes from secret documents, hiding notes from a trial in his socks." Andrew J. Nathan

Critical Summary

"What freedom the Chinese people now enjoy has come only because individuals have demanded and fought for it, and because the party has retreated in the face of such pressure," Pan writes. The dream of a completely free society, however, has not yet accompanied a free market—despite the growing efforts of everyday men and women fighting the system. Through detailed and illuminating interviews with artists, journalists, entrepreneurs, and peasants, Pan reveals a country filled with local government corruption, human rights violations, and collusion between the Party and the private sector. While Pan’s exposé on China left a few critics feeling hopeless, most took away a more optimistic message about China’s future. In either event, they agreed that Out of Mao’s Shadow achieves "the immediacy of first-rate reportage and the emotional depth of field of a novel" (New York Times).