Voices Carry: Behind Bars and Backstage during China's Revolution and Reform

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Overview

Voices Carry is the moving autobiography of the late Ying Ruocheng, beloved Chinese stage and screen actor, theatre director, translator, and high-ranking politician as vice minister of culture from 1986–1990. One of twentieth-century China's most prominent citizens, Ying was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution and devised unique strategies for survival, including playing pranks on guards and keeping a clandestine notebook. Ying's memoir opens with his prison years, and then flashes back to his boyhood growing up in a prince's palace as a member of a progressive Manchu Catholic intellectual family. He also details his experiences as a university student during the heady days when the People's Republic was being founded, followed by his subsequent experiences on stage, in film, and in politics.

A founding member of the Beijing People's Art Theatre, Ying Ruocheng helped open its doors to Sino-American exchange when he brought Arthur Miller to China to stage Death of a Salesman in 1983, playing the role of Willy Loman in his own translation of the play. Simultaneously a "spy" for his own government and a cultural ambassador for countless foreigners and fellow countrymen, Ying lived out his life as a bridge between China and the West, gaining a singular perspective on matters related to culture and politics.

While suffering from cirrhosis of the liver during the final decade of his life, Ying Ruocheng reflected on his experiences, collaborating with coauthor Claire Conceison to tell his story. Together, they take the reader on an exhilarating journey from Manchu wrestling matches to missionary schools, from behind prison bars to behind the scenes at ground-breaking stage performances, and from public moments of international recognition to private moments of intimacy and despair.

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Editorial Reviews

Theatre Journal
Ying’s vitality, ingenuity, humor, and creativity as an artist and a larger-than-life character are in full display, making the book a great joy to read. . . . Conceison should also be commended for skillfully and fluidly weaving Ying’s life together in the chapters and for corroborating, supplementing, or occasionally correcting Ying’s memories with historical records and/or recounts from family members in her introduction, epilogue, and thirty-five pages of endnotes. . . . Her serious scholarship is augmented by skillful writing and organization.
Asian Theatre Journal
A truly excellent book. It is full of information and insight into the life of a wonderfully generous and learned human being, a most unusual Chinese and man of the theatre, a man who understood the theatre both of his own country and of the West, and who had highly practical and valuable experience in both. As for the author whose job was to transmit this character to a readership, her knowledge and feeling for her subject is exemplary, as is her ability to write that kind of English that conveys his character and views sympathetically and truthfully. This is not only a lively read but also a convincing one.
China Review International
A must-read for anyone interested in the performing arts. Furthermore, [celebrated Chinese actor Ying Ruocheng's] life touched on fascinating aspects of Chinese history and society seldom discussed. What happened to the Manchus after the 1911 revolution? What was it like being a Catholic in those years? How did (and perhaps does) the government collect information on foreigners? How does it treat its political prisoners? How are personnel decisions made? This book is one man’s attempt to make sense of cataclysmic events.
Tdr: The Drama Review.
For readers unfamiliar with the history of the performing arts in China, Voices Carry provides a window into modern Chinese theatre through the life story of a man integral to its development. For specialists in Chinese drama, Ying’s behind-the-scenes perspective and Conceison’s detailed annotations shed new light on landmark plays like Lao She’s Teahouse (1957). Every reader will have the pleasure of discovering Ying through his own depiction of the key events in his remarkable life. Conceison writes fondly of her time spent with Ying: 'Each of these conversations over the course of a decade was indeed like having a fireside chat with a best friend' (xvii). While I never had the good fortune of meeting Ying Ruocheng in person, Voices Carry enables me to feel that I, too, have enjoyed such a chat.
China Quarterly
An autobiography of a key figure in post-1949 China is a welcome addition to enrich our understanding of how theatre came to be a vital institution in modern Chinese life. Readers looking for such insights will be intrigued by this idiosyncratic autobiographical account, not least because it sheds new light on Ying Ruocheng’s dual role as government informant and cultural ambassador in East-West relations.
From the Publisher
PRAISE FROM READERS OF THE CHINESE EDITION
Voices Carry is the best book I have read of late. In fact, I read it all at once without sleep or rest. Ying Ruocheng's spirited accomplishments while in prison took my breath away. I have read quite a few works describing life in prison. I have to say that Ying Ruocheng's touched me most deeply. One cannot be idle at any time; being idle is the most unbearable thing. I feel this is true. Optimistic people will fare better in life. Bu Cai

PRAISE FROM READERS OF THE CHINESE EDITION
I lost track of time and spent half the night reading in order to finish. I feel that Mr. Ying's mind is very sharp; he is quick-witted and wise to the ways of the world. Additionally, he hasn't lost his innocence and frank disposition, and that is hard to come by. "Rita"

PRAISE FROM READERS OF THE CHINESE EDITION
When I got to the passage where Ying is in prison and steals a carrot, I laughed out loud. If you're eating a stolen carrot, you can't possibly share it among eight people. Creating joy when in the midst of hardship, and on a regular basis, this is a man who has so much passion for life! Ju Ran

Ralph Samuelson
Ying Ruocheng was an extraordinary individual, a man of integrity and creativity whose story must be more widely known. Through this brilliant collaborative telling with Claire Conceison, we understand how he inspired so many and we learn how the arts can impact world events.
Jonathan Spence
This autobiography of Ying Ruocheng offers us a rare treat: a completely new vantage point from which to view twentieth-century China. Ying was a Manchu and a Catholic, an actor and a translator, a political prisoner and a vice minister of culture, as well as being a man of subtlety and wit. Claire Conceison has done us a real service in making this unusual life available to the general reader.
July 2009 CHOICE
This 'collaborative autobiography' reveals Ying as a complex and contradictory figure: Catholic and communist, artist and informant, actor and politician. Although Ying's insights from within the Cultural Revolution are fascinating, of equal value are both his view of the US and the echoes of the history of modern China as filtered through his personal history—not to mention his wit and warmth. This book will prove of interest far beyond theater and Asian studies. Highly recommended.
Arthur Miller
Ying Ruocheng is, of course, a star in China. . . . [He] is not only a translator and actor but of necessity a kind of diplomat. . . . He has been my rock, a man of double consciousness, Eastern and Western, literary and show business.
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture - Ross Terrill
A gem, not to be missed by any student of Chinese culture or politics. . . . The passages on prison are among the most detailed and vivid we have in the literature. And throughout the volume there is a refreshing bluntness. . . . Voices Carry has been a major project for Conceison, a labor of love, persistence, and understanding. She has gone to great lengths to offer context in endnotes for readers who may need them. It is hard to think of any US-PRC literary collaboration more complex and valuable than this one, or to think of a personal cultural bridge between the PRC and the West as active and influential as Ying . . . it is quite clear Ying had his faults, but I found the book totally engaging.
Winter 2010 Project Muse
Conceison has meticulously researched and skillfully co-written a multivocal volume on a great theatre artist of 20th-century China. Voices Carry offers a scholarly account of Ying's life that vividly captures the spontaneous joy of his personality….Ying's prioritization aptly reflects artistic development in 20th-century China….Every reader will have the pleasure of discovering Ying through his own depiction of the key events in his remarkable life.
Jonathan D. Spence
This autobiography of Ying Ruocheng offers us a rare treat: a completely new vantage point from which to view twentieth-century China. Ying was a Manchu and a Catholic, an actor and a translator, a political prisoner and a vice minister of culture, as well as being a man of subtlety and wit. Claire Conceison has done us a real service in making this unusual life available to the general reader.
CHOICE
This 'collaborative autobiography' reveals Ying as a complex and contradictory figure: Catholic and communist, artist and informant, actor and politician. Although Ying's insights from within the Cultural Revolution are fascinating, of equal value are both his view of the US and the echoes of the history of modern China as filtered through his personal history—not to mention his wit and warmth. This book will prove of interest far beyond theater and Asian studies. Highly recommended.
Rita
Praise from a reader of the Chinese edition:

I lost track of time and spent half the night reading in order to finish. I feel that Mr. Ying's mind is very sharp; he is quick-witted and wise to the ways of the world. Additionally, he hasn't lost his innocence and frank disposition, and that is hard to come by.

Bu Cai
Praise from a reader of the Chinese edition:

Voices Carry is the best book I have read of late. In fact, I read it all at once without sleep or rest. Ying Ruocheng's spirited accomplishments while in prison took my breath away. I have read quite a few works describing life in prison. I have to say that Ying Ruocheng's touched me most deeply. One cannot be idle at any time; being idle is the most unbearable thing. I feel this is true. Optimistic people will fare better in life.

Ju Ran
Praise from a reader of the Chinese edition:

When I got to the passage where Ying is in prison and steals a carrot, I laughed out loud. If you're eating a stolen carrot, you can't possibly share it among eight people. Creating joy when in the midst of hardship, and on a regular basis, this is a man who has so much passion for life!

TDR: The Drama Review.
For readers unfamiliar with the history of the performing arts in China, Voices Carry provides a window into modern Chinese theatre through the life story of a man integral to its development. For specialists in Chinese drama, Ying’s behind-the-scenes perspective and Conceison’s detailed annotations shed new light on landmark plays like Lao She’s Teahouse (1957). Every reader will have the pleasure of discovering Ying through his own depiction of the key events in his remarkable life. Conceison writes fondly of her time spent with Ying: “Each of these conversations over the course of a decade was indeed like having a fireside chat with a best friend” (xvii). While I never had the good fortune of meeting Ying Ruocheng in person, Voices Carry enables me to feel that I, too, have enjoyed such a chat
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture
A gem, not to be missed by any student of Chinese culture or politics. . . . The passages on prison are among the most detailed and vivid we have in the literature. And throughout the volume there is a refreshing bluntness. . . . Voices Carry has been a major project for Conceison, a labor of love, persistence, and understanding. She has gone to great lengths to offer context in endnotes for readers who may need them. It is hard to think of any US-PRC literary collaboration more complex and valuable than this one, or to think of a personal cultural bridge between the PRC and the West as active and influential as Ying . . . it is quite clear Ying had his faults, but I found the book totally engaging.
— Ross Terrill
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780742555556
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/17/2008
  • Series: Asian Voices Series
  • Pages: 286
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Claire Conceison collaborated with Ying Ruocheng on his autobiography until his death in 2003, and has since completed the project for him. She is professor of theater studies at Duke University and an active translator and director. Visit the author's website at: http://voicescarrybook.wordpress.com/
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Table of Contents

Introduction
Part I: The Adventures of Prison Life
Chapter 1: My First Year Behind Bars
Chapter 2: The Prison at Jixian
Part II: Family History and Early Education
Chapter 3: The Ying Legacy
Chapter 4: A Princely Childhood
Part III: Professional Life in Arts and Politics
Chapter 5: My Stage Career
Chapter 6: Cultural Diplomacy
Epilogue
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 14, 2011

    wat

    64 dollars wat

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2009

    A great read

    Conceison's self-termed "collaborative autobiograohy" of Ying Ruocheng is a must read for anyone interested in theatre history, film history, biographies, Chinese history, twentieth century politics, Dengist reforms... (and the list goes on). Aside from being a painstakingly researched and beautifully composed narrative, Conceison's book is especially wonderful for its intimate yet humble look at the incredible life and achievements of Ying.

    As an avid reader and scholar, I find that nothing is more exciting than to find a book written by an author as passionate as Conceison is about her chosen subject. I picked up the book before the holidays, casually cracked it open on a flight to Asia, and found that I had devoured it cover-to-cover on my flight. If you have any plans to visit China in the near future, or are simply interested in the complex and fascinating twists and turns of post-Qing Dynasty China--this book is for you. Fingers crossed that Conceison will be invited for public book talks in the near future!

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  • Posted March 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting and Exciting Read for Anyone!

    This book is an incredibly interesting non-fiction that reads like a narrative. Professor Conceison does a fantastic job of presenting Ying Ruocheng's voice while weaving in her own extensive research and knowledge, on theater's role in China's political and cultural history during Ying's lifetime, in both the introduction and end-notes. The collaborative autobiography was easy and exciting to read, informative, and left me wanting to learn more about this very special man and the legacy he leaves us.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting and exciting read for anyone!

    This book is an incredibly interesting non-fiction that reads like a narrative. Professor Conceison does a fantastic job of presenting Ying Ruocheng's voice while weaving in her own extensive research and knowledge, on theater's role in China's political and cultural history during Ying's lifetime, in both the introduction and end-notes. The collaborative autobiography was easy and exciting to read, informative, and left me wanting to learn more about this very special man and the legacy he leaves us.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 19, 2009

    An incredibly engaging insight into the intrigues of China's cultural history

    This book was a stunning collaboration between Ying Ruo Chung and Dr. Claire Conceision. Right from the beginning I felt as though I was part of some inside secret life of a Chinese citizen. Dr. Conceison did an excellent job of capturing Ying's dynamic, witty, and often mischevious character in such a way that I felt as though I was sitting in the room with Ying having a one-on-one conversation.

    In terms of the historical content, I have read many other biographies and autobiographies of Chinese citizens, including "Wild Swans" and others. I felt that YRC's story was truly unique in that it touched on matters that were not always politically correct (Ying's 'spying' on foreign friends on behalf of the PRC), and it also didn't paint China in a very dark light. Oftentimes many books about China and the Cultural Revolution create a very black and white picture of who is 'good' and who is 'bad.' Ying & Claire's collaboration showed that oftentimes in periods of upheaval there are many, many shades of grey. I felt that at times there could have been more historical background on some of the events mentioned by YRC or Dr. Conceison. I personally was able to know what the movements were based on my own previous knowledge of Chinese history, but for someone new to the subject, they may be a little confused.

    Overall, a truly incredible read and an amazing story. I thoroughly enjoyed it and commend Dr. Conceison on remaining true to the late Ying Ruo Cheng's wishes for the book. The manner in which the story was told, starting with Ying's time in prison, and then jumping forward and backward through history in order to be able to tell a complete story was, I felt, very representative of the way an oral history is told. When conversing and telling stories, our logic never flows in straight lines, but rather the mention of one memories causes the recollection of another memory in a completey different circumstance. I am not sure if that was the intent of the authors, but I really thought it was unique in terms of the multitude of biographies I have read. I hope to see more from Dr. Conceison in the future. My only regret is that Ying Ruo Cheng isn't alive to hear his story told--that an the fact that I regret I never had the chance to meet him. Though as a result of this book, I do feel that I know him, and that he and I are old friends.

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  • Posted March 19, 2009

    Engaging, Touching and Inspiring

    A great book! A wonderful way to experience history through the remarkable life of an intellectual and artistic Chinese man and his family. Ying Ruocheng contributes so much to China and the world as history plays out in his native country. This is one "autobiography" that reads like a novel. The double meaning of Voices Carry is so clever, as well. One can only imagine the trepedation with which Chinese have dared to balance experience with the danger of living under changing regimes. Ying's message permeates and lingers long after you read his story. Conceison manages to support (without interrupting) Ying's voice with historical notes that do not intrude. The Ying legacy is worth the read. Hope they make it a movie!

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