The dramatic real life stories of four young people caught up in the mass exodus of Shanghai in the wake of China’s 1949 Communist revolution—a heartrending precursor to the struggles faced by emigrants today.
“A true page-turner . . . [Helen] Zia has proven once again that history is something that happens to real people.”—New York Times bestselling author Lisa See
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR AND THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR • LONGLISTED FOR THE PEN/JACQUELINE BOGRAD WELD AWARD FOR BIOGRAPHY
Shanghai has historically been China’s jewel, its richest, most modern and westernized city. The bustling metropolis was home to sophisticated intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and a thriving middle class when Mao’s proletarian revolution emerged victorious from the long civil war. Terrified of the horrors the Communists would wreak upon their lives, citizens of Shanghai who could afford to fled in every direction. Seventy years later, members of the last generation to fully recall this massive exodus have revealed their stories to Chinese American journalist Helen Zia, who interviewed hundreds of exiles about their journey through one of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. From these moving accounts, Zia weaves together the stories of four young Shanghai residents who wrestled with the decision to abandon everything for an uncertain life as refugees in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States.
Benny, who as a teenager became the unwilling heir to his father’s dark wartime legacy, must decide either to escape to Hong Kong or navigate the intricacies of a newly Communist China. The resolute Annuo, forced to flee her home with her father, a defeated Nationalist official, becomes an unwelcome exile in Taiwan. The financially strapped Ho fights deportation from the U.S. in order to continue his studies while his family struggles at home. And Bing, given away by her poor parents, faces the prospect of a new life among strangers in America. The lives of these men and women are marvelously portrayed, revealing the dignity and triumph of personal survival.
Herself the daughter of immigrants from China, Zia is uniquely equipped to explain how crises like the Shanghai transition affect children and their families, students and their futures, and, ultimately, the way we see ourselves and those around us. Last Boat Out of Shanghai brings a poignant personal angle to the experiences of refugees then and, by extension, today.
“Zia’s portraits are compassionate and heartbreaking, and they are, ultimately, the universal story of many families who leave their homeland as refugees and find less-than-welcoming circumstances on the other side.”—Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club
In this enthralling, heartfelt narrative, journalist Zia (Asian American Dreams) tells the stories of four people during the 1949 mass exodus from Shanghai following China's Communist takeover. Benny Pan was raised in affluence as the son of the Shanghai Municipal Police inspector; after his father was jailed for collaborating with the Japanese, Benny protected his younger siblings, helping one escape to Hong Kong, and struggled to survive while remaining in Communist China. Academically gifted Ho Chow, a member of China's land-owning gentry, moved to Shanghai in 1937 to escape the imminent war with Japan, then continued his studies in the U.S. while his family contended with postwar hyperinflation at home. Bing Woo, the author's mother, came from an impoverished family who gave her up for adoption; she fled to San Francisco at age 20 with her second adoptive family. Annuo Liu, the daughter of a high-ranking Nationalist official, escaped with her family to Taiwan, joining thousands of other unwelcome exiles. At the heart of the story is Shanghai, China's "most modern, cosmopolitan and populous city" with its enclaves of foreigners, bustling markets, thriving port, and opium dens, coexisting during the war with aerial bombings, martial law, and panicked upper- and middle-class residents seeking refuge wherever they could. Vivid and well-researched, Zia's engrossing work brings this tumultuous period to life.