Missionaries rescued the Gu family from poverty and starvation and Chang-sheng grew up as a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. At the mission school, Chang-sheng endured hunger, back-breaking work, and humiliation in order to get the precious education he needed for medical school. The Communist Revolution dashed his dreams. The government of the People's Republic dictated that Chang-sheng's new career would be that of historian of Christianity in China. Under Mao Ze-dong, Chang-sheng survived beatings, "re-education" sessions, imprisonment and hard labor. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, he chose freedom in the United States in order to speak out for human rights.
Many books have been written about life in China under Communism. Awaken: the Memoirs of a Chinese Historian spans almost the entire 20th century, giving Western audiences a unique perspective on eight decades of religious and secular life in China before the birth of the People's Republic as well as during the Communist regime. Gu Chang-sheng's memoir parallels his youth under the authoritarianism of Christian missionaries with adulthood under the Chinese Communists. He renounced the dogma of the Seventh Day Adventist Church but never joined the Communist Party. His independence meant imprisonment and forced labor at worst; it was a balancing act at best. No matter what his circumstances, Gu Chang-sheng lived true to his motto, "Seek truth from facts" and continues to do so today.