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The Cowshed

If a Chinese citizen has read one book on the Cultural Revolution, it is likely to be Ji Xianlin's The Cowshed, a candid account of his year of imprisonment on the campus of Peking University, and his later disillusionment with the cult of Mao worship. As the campus spirals into a political frenzy, Ji, a college professor, is persecuted by lecturers and students from his own department. His home is raided, his most treasured possessions destroyed, and he endures hours of humiliation at brutal "struggle sessions." He is eventually imprisoned in the "cowshed," a makeshift prison for intellectuals labeled as class enemies. Prominent intellectuals rarely spoke openly about the Cultural Revolution, so when Ji's memoir was published in 1998, it quickly became a bestseller. Ji's eyewitness account of this harrowing experience is full of sharp irony, empathy, and remarkable insights.
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A seminal document of the Cultural Revolution in China, Ji Xianlin's dissident memoir, Memories of the Cowshed, has been considered essential reading for any Chinese citizen interested in the revolution since its first publication in 1998. Now, this monumental account is easily accessible to a Western audience in Chenxing Jiang's original English translation.

About the Author

Ji Xianlin (1911-2009) was born in the impoverished flatlands of Shandong province weeks before the Qing government was overthrown, and educated in Germany in the 1930s. After the Second World War, he returned to China to cofound the Department of Eastern Languages at Peking University. A distinguished scholar of Sanskrit and Pali, Ji was best known as an influential essayist and public intellectual. The former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao paid visits to the author during Ji's final years, and made it known that he considered Ji a mentor. Chenxin Jiang was born in Singapore and grew up in Hong Kong. Forthcoming translations include a novel by Xiao Bai for HarperCollins and one by Zsuzsanna Gahse for Dalkey Archive Press. She received the 2011 Susan Sontag Prize for Translation, as well as a PEN Translation Grant for her work on Ji Xianlin. Chenxin also translates from Italian and German. She studied comparative literature and creative writing at Princeton University. Zha Jianying is a journalist and nonfiction writer. She is the author of two books in English, China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers are Transforming a Culture and Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China. She has published work in a variety of publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Dushu. She divides her time between Beijing and New York City.


"A searing first-person account of becoming the target of Red Guard fury. The most important Cultural Revolution document published in China in the 1990s, this harrowing, stylishly written book's English-language edition benefits from Chenxin Jiang's deft translation and Zha Jianying's superb introduction." --Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Financial Times "At the center of Ji's account, ably translated by Chenxin Jiang, is the 'cowshed' of the title...[Ji's] description of this institution, really a kind of mini concentration camp, is unforgettable." --Richard Bernstein, The New York Times Book Review "Offers a rare and harrowing description of life as a prisoner of the Red Guards...[with] a compelling introduction." --Jane Perlez, The New York Times Sinosphere blog "Cowshed deserves to be near the top of anyone's list of literary memoirs of China under Maoist rule." --Philip F. Williams, World Literature Today "China doesn't make it easy for its people to openly discuss sensitive issues. Some were surprised, then, when a professor at one of the country's most prestigious universities published this memoir in 1998 of his abuse during the decade-long, deadly social upheaval known as the Cultural Revolution. This book is a short, clear read, and now it's in English." --Cara Anna, Associated Press "A bestseller in China, this memoir calls attention to the tremendous injustices wrought in that anarchic time. . . . [Ji's] pages seethe with grievance and reckoning. . . . [A] meaningful document of a time too little chronicled and now all but forgotten by younger Chinese people." --Kirkus Reviews "Ji, as a world-renowned expert on Buddhism, Sanskrit, and comparative religions, brings a perspective to this hellish time that is marvelously informed, ironic, and revealing. Western readers get far more than simply an opportunity to be immersed in the sordid details of Red Guard torture. This book raises questions about religiosity, dictatorship, and trauma that will impact far beyond the China studies world. Chenxin Jiang's translation and notes elucidate with skill, and empathy, the difficult details of the text. . . . Here lies the opportunity of genuine testimony, as glimpsed so dramatically in the works of Primo Levi, Jean Am ry, and Dori Laub." --Vera Schwarcz, Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, Wesleyan University "The most detailed account of Mao-era violence ever published inside China, now available in English translation." --Perry Link, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages, University of California, Riverside "To a remarkable extent, The Cowshed achieved Ji's goal of directing public attention to the brutality of the Cultural Revolution. And in light of current events such as artist Ai Weiwei's house arrest and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo's imprisonment, Ji Xianlin's eyewitness story of surviving 'reform through labor' is an especially timely read."--Jiang Chenxin

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