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Time for Telling Truth is Running Out

Time for Telling Truth is Running Out: Conversations with Zhang Shenfu

Vera Schwarcz
Conversations with Zhang Shenfu
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bntz
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  • Book Info
    Time for Telling Truth is Running Out
    Book Description:

    "Over the five years that we talked [octogenarian Zhang Shenfu] became the underbelly of China's history for me. . . . Zhang was like a broken mirror through which I glimpsed the fragmented reality of China in revolution."-Vera Schwarcz

    Zhang Shenfu, a founder of the Chinese Communist party, participated in all the major political events in China for four decades following the Revolution of 1919. Yet Zhang had become a forgotten figure in China and the West-a victim of Mao's determined efforts to place himself at the center of China's revolution-until Vera Schwarcz began to meet with him in his home on Wang Fu Cang Lane in Beijing. Now Schwarcz brings Zhang to life through her poignant account of five years of conversations with him, a narrative that is interwoven with translations of his writings and testimony of his friends.

    Moving circuitously, Schwarcz reveals fragments of the often contradictory layers of Zhang's character: at once a champion of feminism and an ardent womanizer, a follower of the Bertrand Russell who also admired Confucius, and a philosophically inclined political pragmatist. Schwarcz also meditates on the tension between historical events and personal memory, on the public amnesia enforced by governments and the "forgetfulness" of those who find remembrance too painful. Her book is not only a portrait of a remarkable personality but a corrective to received accounts and to the silences that abound in the official annals of the Chinese revolution.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16088-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE NO WAY IN BY HISTORY’S ROAD
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION THE LAUGHING VOICE OF ZHANG SHENFU
    (pp. 1-19)

    My encounter with Zhang Shenfu began in November 1979. The book about that encounter began in the middle of the night of December 17, 1988. At home, in my study, I finally understood what I had learned from Zhang Shenfu. In the opaque language of the night I wrote: In public, we begin to forget. Alone, or with friends, we begin to remember. Memory, however, cannot be consummated privately. It will not count unless it spills forth into communal life. Memory’s weight cannot be measured; its worth in gold remains unknown, unless it makes its mark upon the present. The...

  5. 1 THE MAKING OF A BOOKISH REBEL
    (pp. 20-53)

    June 10, 1981. The morning sun cuts through the thick dust on Wang Fu Gang Lane. Much new construction is under way in this new age of prosperity and rehabilitation brought on by the death of Mao in 1976. Not only is Zhang Shenfu’s house being rebuilt, so is the whole neighborhood. A tall, new, for-foreigners-only hotel is to be erected across the street from the White Tower Pagoda. Zhang has lived to see China reborn.

    Around the table another, an older world is being called up from the shadows, the world of his boyhood years eighty years before cars,...

  6. 2 LIBERTINE AND LIBERATIONIST
    (pp. 54-93)

    Paris, may 20, 1985. I have trouble moving on with my father’s book. His notes are filled with endless stories about girlfriends, as if all he did was move from one conquest to the next, as if women were flowers in a garden, waiting for him to pick them. In passages that survive from a creative writing class for the elderly in Miami, my father describes his promenades in a park along the river in his hometown of Timisoara, Romania. This story irritates me. It grates even more because it is confirmed by older women in Miami who remember my...

  7. 3 AN ECCENTRIC AND ALMOST FORGOTTEN COMMUNIST
    (pp. 94-123)

    New year’s day, 1921. Zhang Shenfu arrives in Paris from Marseilles. He has every reason to consider himself the most senior Chinese Bolshevik in Europe. He has been a trusted intimate of Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao for more than four years. Throughout 1920 Chen and Li invited the young philosophy instructor to share in their discussions about the founding of a Communist Party in China. Before leaving in November, Zhang had visited Chen Duxiu at his home in Shanghai. Again, as often before, Zhang received the older man’s confidence and political counsel. The Europe-bound philosopher was also entrusted with...

  8. 4 BETWEEN RUSSELL AND CONFUCIUS
    (pp. 124-153)

    December 17, 1979. My third visit to Wang Fu Gang Lane. Zhang Shenfu is drawing me deeper and deeper into the crevices of his philosophical system. I feel lost, unprepared, over my head. In just one month we have strayed far from the political events of his life. Nothing in my training as a historian of modern China has prepared me for this. We have left the May Fourth movement of 1919 behind. We have been over his role in the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. We have already explored his political associations with Zhou Enlai and Liu Qingyang....

  9. 5 IN THE REALM OF RED DUST
    (pp. 154-189)

    August 8, 1989. The events in Tiananmen Square are still vivid in my mind after a spring journey to Beijing—my first trip back to China since the death of Zhang Shenfu three years ago. This spring, China went from hyberbolic elation about the prospect of democracy to deep despair in the wake of the June 4 massacre. Politics—the never-ending siren song of Chinese public life—engulfed young intellectuals, much as it had the long life of Zhang Shenfu, who was enveloped and defeated all at once.

    This year China celebrated the seventieth anniversary of the May Fourth movement....

  10. 6 FINAL REGRETS, FINAL RETORTS
    (pp. 190-217)

    September 18, 1989. I have returned from a conference with other China scholars, where we debated the significance of what happened in Tiananmen Square. Troubling questions about the role of intellectuals in politics emerge in the wake of the Beijing spring and the June 4 crackdown. I am increasingly suspicious of the political ends to which the May Fourth movement of 1919 was put on the eve of its seventieth anniversary in China. Young students and seasoned intellectuals alike used the past to give themselves overly heroic personas in the present. To my mind, the unacknowledged echoes of the Cultural...

  11. POSTSCRIPT TO AN ENIGMATIC LIFE
    (pp. 218-222)

    July 2, 1986. Zhang Shenfu died on June 20. At ninety-three, his lungs refused oxygen from without. The official cause of death: “Pulmonary failure.”

    The news reaches me two weeks later through a letter from his daughter Zhang Yanni. She writes: “At in the afternoon of the 20th, in spite of the doctors’ efforts, my father passed away…. During his last days, high officials from the Ministry of Culture, the Beijing National Library, from the People’s Consultative Conference, and from the Democratic League showed ceaseless concern through calls to the hospital and to the family. Final arrangements for the official...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 223-234)
  13. WORKS BY ZHANG SHENFU
    (pp. 235-248)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 249-256)