An NYRB Classics Original
Set in the early years of Mao’s China, Naked Earth is the story of two earnest young people confronting the grim realities of revolutionary change. Liu Ch’üan and Su Nan meet in the countryside after volunteering to assist in the new land reform program. Eager to build a more just society, they are puzzled and shocked by the brutality, barely disguised corruption, and ruthless careerism they discover, but then quickly silenced by the barrage of propaganda and public criticism that is directed at anyone who appears to doubt a righteous cause. Joined together by the secret of their common dismay, they remain in touch when Liu departs to work on a newspaper in Peking, where Su Nan eventually also moves. Something like love begins to grow between them—but then a new round of purges sweeps through the revolutionary ranks.
One of the greatest and most loved of modern Chinese writers, Eileen Chang illuminates the dark corners of the human existence with a style of disorienting beauty. Naked Earth, unavailable in English for more than fifty years, is a harrowing tale of perverted ideals, damaged souls, deepest loneliness, and terror.
An unrelenting portrait of love and loss in Maoist China, Chang's novel was originally commissioned in the 1950s as anticommunist propaganda by the U.S. Information Service. Shanghai-born Chang (Love in a Fallen City) writes with a survivor's clear-eyed frankness about how Mao's policies punished China's people, leaving no one, even those in positions of power, untouched. The narrative tracks Liu Ch'uen and Su Nan, idealistic students who confront the realities of Chinese Communism when they are deployed to the countryside with the Land Reform Workers Corps. As they discover how its implementation falls short of its original conception, they bond and fall in love. Chang follows Liu to Shanghai when he is promoted, an opportunity to expose the Party's bureaucratic failings, turncoat allegiances, and inhumane toll on urban communities. Chang does not shy away from gritty details, including executions. She writes, "The whole country lay stretched out like an open palm, ready to close around any one person at any minute." Amid such harrowing descriptions, Chang develops a tragic wartime romance that leaves readers with a painfully clear picture of just how deeply Mao's reign scarred her native country.