Chen Yuan-tsung (Writer)

(1932- ) novelist

Chen Yuan-tsung was born in Shanghai, China, was raised in a wealthy household, and received a Western-style education at a missionary school. During the Sino-Japanese War, she lived in Chongqing but returned to Shanghai, where she lived in 1949, the year of the Communist takeover. Chen stayed in China because of her idealistic belief in the revolutionary cause.

In 1950, at age 18, she acquired her first job at the Film Bureau of Beijing, but this did not last long. The Communist Party leadership began to “send down” young people from cities to the countryside to participate in the so-called agrarian revolution. In 1951, Chen left Beijing for Gansu province in northwestern China to join this revolution and manually work the land. She became a young revolutionary, known as a cadre. She worked at land reform and endured extreme hardships, such as starvation, during Mao Zedong’s failed industrial and agrarian initiative known as the Great Leap Forward. She wrote and read as much as possible during this time but suffered during the Cultural Revolution when the oppressive regime persecuted writers, artists, and intellectuals as counter-revolutionaries.

Chen immigrated to the United States in 1972 with her husband, Jack Chen, an artist and writer, and their son and later taught at Cornell. She determined to publish her story from writings she had hidden during her cadre years, which was the tale of millions of young people who came of age in Communist China. She fictionalized her life in her only work—the 1980 novel, The Dragon’s Village. The novel follows Guan Ling-ling, a young woman from a wealthy family who becomes swept up in the revolutionary fervor of pre-Communist China and joins the Red Guards. She encounters both corrupt officials and cadres, but she finds kindness among comrades and endures the same hardships that Chen herself did. Chen lives with her husband in El Cerrito, California.

Works about Chen Yuan-tsung

Grunfeld, A. Tom. “The Dragon’s Village: An Autobiographical Novel of Revolutionary China.” In Focus (Spring 1993).

Stone, Judy. “A Talk with the Author/An Author’s Ordeal.” New York Times Book Review, May 4, 1980.

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