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No Wall Too High

One Man's Daring Escape from Mao's Darkest Prison
Narrated by: David Shih
Length: 11 hrs and 32 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (7 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Mao Zedong's labor reform camps were notoriously brutal; modeled after the Soviet gulag, their inmates were subject to backbreaking labor, malnutrition, and vindictive wardens. They were thought to be impossible to escape - but one man did.

Xu Hongci, a young medical student, was a loyal member of the Communist Party until he fell victim to Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957. After posting a criticism of the party, he spent the next 14 years in the labor camps. Despite horrific conditions and terrible odds, Hongci was determined to escape, failing three times before he succeeded in 1972.

Originally published in Hong Kong, Hongci's remarkable memoir recounts his life from childhood through his prison break. After discovering the book in a Hong Kong library, the journalist Erling Hoh tracked down the original manuscript and compiled this abridged translation of Hongci's memoir, which includes background on this turbulent period and an epilogue following Hongci up to his death in 2008. Almost nobody was able to escape from Mao's labor camps, but No Wall Too High tells the true story of someone who did.

©2008 Sukh Oyunbileg, Oyunbileg Anjir, Oyunbileg Buyant, and Oyunbileg Esenya; translation and condensation copyright 2017 by Erling Hoh (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"To understand the deepest source of China's rise, read Xu Hongci's astonishing epic, a tale of ingenuity, bravery, and, most importantly, unshakable determination." (Evan Osnos, National Book Award-winning author of Age of Ambition)

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Cannot Recommend This Enough!

Despite my knowledge of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, I had to admit that I did not have a good view of these horrific events or of the Laogai (Chinese gulags). I picked this audiobook up because I wanted to learn more about these topics from someone who experienced this firsthand. I was FAR from disappointed.

David Shih's narration was stellar and gives an excellent voice to the words of the author, Xu Hongci. The tone with which he speaks conveys perfectly Hongci's reactions of perplexity and disbelief as he was slammed with one absurd charge after another during his self-criticisms and struggle sessions.

As for the story itself: it is nothing short of a story of survival and struggle. Based on my knowledge of the communes and collectives, I went into this knowing that the experience must have been terrible. I came out of this feeling that "terrible" is woefully inadequate, and a more fitting description would be something along the lines of "profoundly nightmarish." This man was stripped of almost everything and everyone he held near and dear to him, and the constant humiliations, degradation, and outright betrayals would be more than enough to shatter most men and women in his situation. This is a story about survival, yes, but also of perseverance as he managed to stay true to himself and his beliefs.

For those who might be interested in the historical aspect of this book, each part has a preface that informs the reader about what was going on throughout China at large. For example, during the years of the Great Leap Forward, the author takes a step back and reviews what it was, how long it went on for, and how it impacted China. Hongci's experience, as jaw-dropping as it is, serves as a microcosm to what others experienced under Mao's tyranny.