Foxspirit by Zhimei Zhang
Winner of The QSPELL Prize for Non-Fiction in 1993
Zhimei Zhang’s compelling story begins in the turbulent years of pre-war China. With rich detail she paints an unforgettable portrait of her grandparent’s family, wealthy landowners from the walled town of Jinxiang in the east-coast province of Zhejiang – the intricacies of family life and social customs; the betrothal of her parents " while the pair were still slumbering in the womb"; and the decline of her family’s good fortune. The Japanese occupation of northeast China and the puppet kingdom of Pu Yi is the backdrop for Zhimei Zhang’s early childhood in Beijing. With humor and pathos she describes the uneasy period of nationalist rule following the defeat of the Japanese in 1945 and which ended with Mao’s Eighth Route Army marching into the capital on January 31, 1949. At this time, her Japanese educated father loses his job, never to work again. Because she had learned English at a Catholic missionary school, Zhimei Zhang, only 16 years old, was assigned to live in East Berlin (“still a city of rubble”) in 1951 as part of a trade delegation. She recounts in very human terms coming to grips and surviving various political campaigns over the years; how she attempted to keep her political reputation in order; her ‘revolutionary’ marriage; being ideologically ‘re-educated’ in the countryside; divorce Chinese style; and the effects of the Cultural Revolution on her family, friends, and herself. Her love affair with a foreign teacher is a prelude to her eventual arrival in Canada in 1985.
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