“My life was no longer mine alone. I felt as if I was connected to a higher power, which would give me never-ending strength to overthrow Chiang Kai-shek’s government in order to create a new China where there was democracy and social equality. I had finally found where I belonged and my purpose in life.”
— Lin Xiangbei, To Survive Is Victory
A man’s fight for a Communist China
Communism and China are intertwined, associated, in many people’s minds, we know they are connected, yet what do we really know about this topic?
To Survive Is Victory is one side of this history of China, the account of “one man’s struggle to forge a new China”, as the subtitle indicates.
It all starts with the author’s family, particularly with Lin Xiangbei’s father, who leaves his three-year-old son aged eighteen to make his own way in the world. The protagonist doesn’t hold it against him, though, as he admires his father and his ever-growing faith in Communism.
Father and son both defend their ideals of ”democracy and social equality” (including in Chiang Kai-shek’s China and afterwards), vigorously fighting to reach their goals. They encounter many memorable people on their path, especially Shibo – these characters’ lives becoming so interwoven that the three of them end up forming a closely-knit family along with Shibo’s daughter, Ninjun. Was Shibo really the superheroine described by the author? Was his father as admirable as he wants us to think? Was his wife as strong and determined as he portrays her?
Although its is paramount to remain vigilant while reading such an autobiographical account, compiled and translated by Lin Xiangbei’s daughter herself, To Survive Is Victory does give us an insight into what it might have been like to believe in Communism in China in the 20th century.
From hope to disillusionment
Divided into two parts, the book follows China’s political regime’s evolution: “Turning China Red” from 1918 to 1949, then ”Dark Night Falling“ from 1950 to 1980. As the second title suggests, everything didn’t go according to plan after the Liberation in 1949. This post-Liberation society is in fact very reminiscent of 1984 – Orwell might have been more of a historian than a novelist!
This account is a tale of disappointed hopes and shattered ideals. Of how governments can transform people’s convictions into dangerous political tools, establishing dictatorial regimes that crush those who don’t watch their steps and keep a low profile.
”The level of violence during this period of Red Guard supremacy was unspeakable.”
— Lin Xiangbei, To Survive Is Victory
Despite the years he spent in labour camps, despite the betrayal of his ideals by those in power, Lin Xiangbei never stopped believing in Communism and serves as a reminder that one should differentiate the system and the individuals, even when they allegedly hold the same value and fight in the same name. The publisher’s summary gives a perfect taste of what this memoir encompasses:
“This is the true account of the life of Lin Xiangbei, during a century of tumultuous changes in China. Lin was born in 1918 in Yunan, a small town in north-east Sichuan Province. In 1938, under the influence of a remarkable figure later known as ‘The Double Gun Woman’, Lin became a committed Communist. He worked tirelessly as an underground agent, believing the ideals of Communism would bring a better, fairer society to the people of China. But in 1957 Lin was accused of being a ‘Rightist’, spent several years in and out of labour camps, and was almost broken by the experience. Then came the decade-long nightmare that was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
And yet, through it all, Lin Xiangbei remains committed to the principles of Communism and is proud of his country today. His account gives us not only a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people in twentieth-century China, but also an insight into the hardship, fear and insecurity of those years – and the comradeship, self-sacrifice and heroism of the people around him.”
Very accessible, this autobiography reads like a novel and is as enriching as a history book. It is of course necessary to keep a critical eye and do some further research in order to grasp better the complexity of Chinese politics, but this book seems a very good option for someone who would like to know more about the rise of Communism in China without knowing where to start.
About the book
Authors: Lin Xiangbei and Lin Ping (compiled and translated)
Publication date: 2019