While the West has commonly viewed the last one hundred years in China through the single narrative lens of Mao's rise and rule, the experience for the Chinese themselves has been infinitely more complex. Xinran, a national celebrity and beloved figure in China who hosted a hugely popular radio show in the 1990s, traveled across China in 2005 and 2006 to gather interviews that form the true narrative of the times.
She sought out the nation's grandparents and great-grandparents, the men and women who have experienced change in the modern era firsthand, in cities and remote villages, interviewing them for the first, and perhaps the last, time.
Though many of them continue to harbor a fear of repercussions for speaking freely, they did speak with Xinran with stunning candor about their hopes, fears, and struggles, from the Long March to land reform, from Mao to marriage, from revolution to Westernization.
China Witness gives us the essence of modern China – a portrait intimate, nuanced, and revelatory.
Xinran was born in Beijing in 1958 and moved to London, where she still lives, in 1007. She is the author of The Good Woman of China and Sky Burial.
Xinran was born in Beijing in 1958. She suffered a very difficult childhood during the Cultural Revolution and took the name Xinran later - which means "doing something with pleasure". From 1989 to 1997, she worked as a radio-presenter and journalist, hosting the programme 'Words on the Night Breeze', in which she invited women to call in and share their life stories. Not only did Xinran talk to these women on the radio, she went and met them.
Xinran accumulated material from the thousands of women she interviewed. In 1997, she travelled to the U.K., where she now lives, in London. It was here, for the first time that Xinran was able to write these stories down. In July 2002, they appeared in Britain in the form of a book: The Good Women of China, which has now been published all over the world in more than 30 languages and became an international bestseller.
Sky Burial, her second book, was published in 2004. This is the compelling story of a Chinese woman, Shu Wen, whose husband, only a few months after their marriage in the 1950s, joined the Chinese army and was sent to Tibet for the purpose of unification of the two cultures.
A collection of Xinran's Guardian columns from 2003 to 2005: 'What the Chinese don't Eat' was published in 2006. It covers a vast range of topics from food to sex education, and from the experiences of British mothers who have adopted Chinese daughters, to whether Chinese people do Christmas shopping or have swimming pools.
Acclaimed journalist Xinran Xue retells an inspirational story of perseverance from post-Cultural Revolution China of a mother who lived in a public restroom for 28 years, but still managed to send her two children to the top universities in China with no government assistance.
"Real China is made by Chinese mothers and grandmothers, from each individual family's hard work," says Xinran.