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Publisher's Summary

Through the sweeping cultural and historical transformations of China, entrepreneur Lan Yan traces her family’s history through early 20th century to present day.

The history of the Yan family is inseparable from the history of China over the last century. One of the most influential businesswomen of China today, Lan Yan grew up in the company of the country's powerful elite, including Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, and other top leaders. Her grandfather, Yan Baohang, originally a nationalist and close to Chiang Kai-shek and his wife, Soong May-ling, later joined the communists and worked as a secret agent for Zhou Enlai during World War II. Lan's parents were diplomats, and her father, Yan Mingfu, was Mao's personal Russian translator.

In spite of their elevated status, the Yan's family life was turned upside-down by the Cultural Revolution. One night in 1967, in front of a terrified 10-year-old Lan, Red Guards burst into the family home and arrested her grandfather. Days later, her father was arrested, accused of spying for the Soviet Union. Her mother, Wu Keliang, was branded a counter-revolutionary and forced to go with her daughter to a re-education camp for more than seven years, where Lan came of age as a high school student.

In recounting her family history, Lan Yan brings to life a century of Chinese history from the last emperor to present day, including the Cultural Revolution which tore her childhood apart. The little girl who was crushed by the Cultural Revolution has become one of the most active businesswomen in her country.

In telling her and her family's story, she serves up an intimate account of the history of contemporary China.

Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2020 Lan Yan (P)2020 HarperAudio

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Exceptional job of tracing the experience of the Cultural Revolution.

One of my favorite books I’ve listen to on Audible. The story was so well told with a true expression of her feelings as a result of the events in her life during the Cultural Revolution. Never was there any political agenda, only the story as it unfolded from her perspective. Lan is 2 years younger than my wife who grew up in Shanghai. As the oldest child in the family, she was sent to the countryside for 7 years where she nearly died. My father-in-law, who passed away 10 years ago today, was also a victim of the Red Guard, although never imprisoned he did loose his management job. Yet, he and she remain positive about communism and even Mao. It’s a phenomenon to me, but I better understand it after reading Yan’s book. The narrator was exceptional. Probably the best I’ve ever listened to on Audible. She had me in tears at the end of the book.

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An Incredible Saga of Yan’s Family

The House of Yan” is an excellent book that illuminates the history of modern China through one family’s three-generation saga. As Ms. Yan’s contemporary fellow with a similar family background, her book not only evoked a chain of recollections of my own family’s tribulations, but also stirred up a host of painful memories that have been deeply buried within me for decades. I applaud Ms. Yan for her courage and determination in facing the ghost of one of China’s darkest histories in recent past. The unimaginable horror and suffering her family experienced during the ten-year Cultural Revolution was shared by hundreds of thousands of Chinese families. This painful, tragic tribulation of our common past should never be forgotten. It should be told and retold to younger generations so they can appreciate more of today’s peace and prosperity and to ensure history will never repeat itself. Unfortunately, in today’s China, it is still taboo to tell stories of the Cultural Revolution. It is still a forbidden topic to be written into school textbooks. It is still a past that everyone knows but no one speaks of and is mentioned nowhere. This is a “no-effort effort” as if time could make the past disappear and erase the un-erasable dark stain on our nation’s history. There are a number of moments in the book that were especially poignant for me. One is about Yan’s eldest cousin 大胖子, who’s story reflects the fanatical, crazy passion of the youth in that particular time. The Red Guards turned their fervid devotion to the great helmsman Mao, into a total annihilation and destruction of all human ties, traditions, virtues and establishments. “革命无罪, 造反有理。Revolution is innocent, rebellion is justified.” In the end, many of these young Red Guards destroyed their own lives by destroying others. My privileged childhood was abruptly taken away from me at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution when my father was named and criticized on the front page of state-run newspaper, People’s Daily. Overnight, my best childhood buddies stopped talking to me; the uncles and aunts who were usually super friendly to me in our government compound turned their backs to me like I was a virus carrier; but what hurt me more than anything else was the exclusion: I could not join the Red Guard, could not join others to go to Tiananmen Square to be reviewed by the great Leader Mao, could not participate in the revolution and could not demonstrate my loyalty to Mao. In that conformist time, being totally excluded from all revolutionary activities was a terrible curse to a young child, a scar of humiliation deeply stigmatized in my psyche. Reading Yan’s book made me wonder if maybe I should be thankful for being excluded from joining the Red Guard. Otherwise, like 大胖子, I may perhaps be tormented with guilt for the rest of my life if I acted in the fashion of that time by hurting innocent people. Another point in the book that made me contemplate and seek answers was our parents’ unwavering faith to Mao and to the Communist Party. My parents, like Yan’s grandparents and parents, were revolutionary intellectuals, who were known to use their pen rather than gun to fight the Japanese and the KMT Nationalists. They devoted their entire lives to that which they believed would bring Chinese people a better life. They believed that socialism was the only way to save China. But again and again, their dreams were shattered by the constant ruthless class struggles, by Mao’s arbitrary hand that could turn the wind to storm and change sunshine to dark clouds. Yet, each time they seemed to be able to brush away their questions and doubts, each time they returned to their posts with the same passion, oblivious to their years-long suffering from solitary confinement. The ugliest and most diabolical thing of the revolutionary mass movement and class struggle was that it completely distorted human nature. It obliterated the human conscience and turned men to animals, yet, each time our parents seemed to be able to move beyond the hatred and revenge, and forgive those who betrayed their trust and friendships. If not God (my parents are atheists), what made them so humane? So ready to forgive, so noble and so entirely intact as human beings despite the unspeakable inhumane misery they had endured? I spent long years searching for answers and seeking to understand, but I could not and still cannot find a satisfactory answer. I simply cannot comprehend the beliefs they held until the last minute of their lives. It seems to me like merely an illusion, an ideal that once seemed so lofty in their youth but has been repeatedly smashed by the merciless reality. But I suppose they had no choice. They couldn’t betray the course they had convicted for and devoted their lives to build. In another sense, a lot of their prime was wasted by class struggles. They had no time to feel regret and feel sorry for themselves. They had to make up for it by working extra hard. In the end, all they wanted was for their lifetime contributions to be worthy of their country and people. I truly admire them. To me, they are saints beyond any doubt.