Swimming to Freedom: My Escape from China and the Cultural Revolution

Abrams. Apr. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781419751509. $26. MEMOIR
During China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–76), thousands of “freedom swimmers” escaped to Hong Kong. They came mostly from Guangdong Province, and Wong was one of them. Earlier, when the author was a young boy, his family lived in Hong Kong. After Mao’s revolution in 1949, Wong’s patriotic father moved the family to mainland China. There they experienced the tumultuous years of Mao’s reign, culminating in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Wong’s high school education was cut short by the violence between various Red Guard factions and by the government’s decision to send young people to the countryside to learn from peasants. This convinced Wong to escape China. He worked with others who planned to do the same, and succeeded on his third attempt, in 1973. After escaping to Hong Kong, he immigrated to the U.S., and later graduated from Harvard medical school and became an anesthesiologist.
VERDICT A touching and fascinating memoir that is essential for anyone interested in life during the Cultural Revolution or the experiences of the freedom swimmers. For a political assessment of the Cultural Revolution, readers should consider The World Turned Upside Down, by Yang Jisheng.
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