ambleside curriculum, Book reviews, HEO

Life and Death in Shanghai

I was reading Chronicles of Wasted Time, Vol. 1, that Heather let me borrow, when I decided to read Nien Cheng’s Book, Life and Death in Shanghai. I got this book on Paperbackswap last year, because I saw it at the HEO list, and shelved it. But these days, after having enjoyed some biography very much, I thought about reading it, and I am glad I did. Nien Cheng’s book is at the HEO (Ambleside High School Years), recommended list, as it was Maria Von Trapp’s Book as well. I am back to Chronicles of Wasted Time, which is more difficult than Cheng’s, since it has multiple references to writers, people of his era, and thus it is very dependent of his cultural and historical environment. Muggeridge’s book is about his growing up in a socialist family and neighborhood in England. He tells us first hand about the myths and misconceptions of those who defended socialism and communism in his country, who knew the theory, in contrast with Nien Cheng who suffered the implementation of that theory in her own flesh. Later on in Malcom Muggeridge’s book, Heather told me, I will read about him and his wife going to Russia, as communist supporters they were at the time, and how and why their views about life changed. How interesting to me to read the rest of the book after having read about communism in China as well.

Today, we have an advantage to relate socialism and communism to the countries that have had governments based on those so appealing to our minds and hearts ideals. We cannot be so naive as to think that those countries that endure torture and devastation, did so because they did not succeed in implementing those ideals correctly, because that is what China thought about Russia, what the radicals thought about the more moderate or liberal communist leaders in China, igniting a deeper set back in their already in a stage of moral, intellectual, and material ruins land, and what any Western nation thinks about socialism before it has gone from paper to reality, in their own land. While all these ideas originate at the bosom of freedom and some kind of government where the people are still entitled to live their life as they see fit, they seem wonderful, once they affect the allegedly rich class, we see it gets out of control, nothing stops at the neighbor’s door, it keeps sweeping with violence, and hurting even some of the so called “masses” who believed in those principles at the inception.

We say over and over that if we do not know about the past, we will make the same mistakes in the future. We cannot afford to be ignorant or not to care about politics. Because politics is history, and history is politics. How are our children going to know about history then? My husband, while teaching high schoolers, told me in that group of 8 or so, none knew what the URSS was. When I was a teen myself, I am not sure I knew much about history either. Our comfortable America, with Google, Youtube, and Internet, and commodities galore, faces a great challenge to real knowledge, which is not a mere summation of facts. We need to know what facts are relevant, which ones to look for. Knowledge for that matter, is still greatly in the books, so take up and read!

Life and Death in Shanghai is the author recollection of her years in Shanghai, and her incarceration and development of the communist party, from the early years, to the peek of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, to the years after his death and with Den Xiaoping. I had vaguely heard the names of those two men, and I know we “studied” or learned something about communism, Marx, and China… but I was totally illiterate. If you truly want to know history, and, what is best, if you desire to read worthy books, go to the HEO or AO lists, and make your pick. I can say that if any (young or old), manages to read a fraction of what it is shown on this list, your life and learning will be nurtured and greatly enriched.

Since my girls are young to share on these readings, and I have my lovely mother in law with me, I pass her these books, and we can comment. I believe she has been bitten already by the AO bug! At a library sale, she asked me for mysteries or thrillers, I got her some, she read Absolute Fear between the Von Trapp book, and Nien Cheng’s book, and she did not get the same feeling of satisfaction and enrichment you obtain from living books.

I am what I am. I read what I read. I cannot say that something that is not good for me can be good for others, because I am no postmodern or relativist. I hold on to the principle that there are worthy books, and others that violate what is true, beautiful, and noble. What I try not to do it is to judge YOU or anyone, or to tell you that what you read is rubbish, unless you ask for my opinion. I have read trash, now I do not, but I also thought at one time in my life I was done with bad books (even if they were highly acclaimed by people of good reputation), and I again read secretly titles I do not want to talk about. Not because I am an adult do I think I have the license to read something it will make me uncomfortable to share with my children once they reach a maturity level for the content.

My personal choosing books is not perfect nor a formula good for all. But my criteria is absolute, because it is derived from christian principles who clearly state right from wrong. It is not only what the books contain or talk about, but how they do it. One does not have to commit a sin to know it is a sin. One has not to read about something to understand the nature of it, or to read explicitly about something. There are ways of referring to things that follow within order and decorum, others ways are indulgent and decadent.

These two books are a wonderful example. The first one is full of violence and torture, but it is a true recollection done with care and integrity. The second one has allusions to sex and immorality, yet those references stay in line with the honest purpose of the book.

This year is presenting itself as full of valuable readings. My friends recommendations, Ambleside mentorship, and serendipity, are taking me on a wonderful and joyous path.


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