Author of ‘Life and Death in Shanghai’ Dies at 94
At a time when China’s Communist leader Mao Zedong was trying to purge political rivals and reassert his authority, Mrs. Cheng, the wealthy widow of an oil company executive, was one of untold numbers of professionals who were evicted from their homes by the Red Guard. She was arrested in August 1966 and falsely accused of being a spy.
Mrs. Cheng endured 6 1/2 years of solitary confinement and torture in prison, refusing to confess or bow to the will of her interrogators. Upon her release, she discovered that her only child was dead, purportedly of suicide, but actually beaten to death by Red Guards.
In simple, exquisite detail, Mrs. Cheng’s 1987 book describes the maddeningly circular reasoning of those caught up in the revolution. Her interrogations were contests of will, with Mrs. Cheng refusing to confess or responding with quotes from Mao’s “Little Red Book.”
Her captors responded with beatings. So tightly handcuffed that she feared losing her hands and confined in a frigid cell too small for her to lie down, Mrs. Cheng lost her teeth, caught pneumonia and had hemorrhages. She defused the misery by laughing at her accusers.