Helen Zia take her readers into the heart of the experience of those Chinese who fled Shanghai as the Communist forces advanced on the city in 1949. Readers familiar with the history of the Chinese civil war and the Liberation will not find startling new insights. Rather. Last Boat opens a window into the human and emotional crisis of the Communist takeover. Through the stories of four men and women (all children when we first meet them in 1937), Zia shows both the dizzying range of experiences for those living in Nationalist Shanghai, and also their convergence as each became a refugee from the Communist takeover. These are true stories, based on hundreds of hours of interview, and they almost qualify for a Borgesian Babylonian lottery. One girl was sold by her parents when she was a few years old, adopted by a childless widow, and then abandoned again. Another of Zia’s children grew up among the Chinese elite that collaborated with the Japanese occupation, only to find his family torn apart first by the Nationalist victory and then again by the Communist victory over the Kuomintang. These stories put a human face on the refugee crisis surging from Shanghai as the new era of Communist power prevailed over Nationalist China and the Paris of the East.
Helen Zia, Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Eric Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution (New York: Ballantine Books, 2019). ISBN: 978-0-345-52233-7