Bitter winds: a memoir of my years in China's Gulag

Front Cover
In the powerful tradition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, Bitter Winds chronicles a brave man's triumph over mindless brutality and unimaginable oppression. On April 27, 1960, Harry Wu, a senior at Beijing's Geology Institute, was arrested by Chinese authorities and, without ever being formally charged or tried, spent the next nineteen years in hellish prison labor camps. Exiled to the bitter desolation of this extensive gulag, he was transformed from a member of China's privileged intellectual elite into a pariah, a faceless cipher denied even the most basic human rights. He was subjected to grinding labor, systematic starvation, and torture, yet he refused to give up his passionate hold on life. From the tough peasants and petty criminals imprisoned with him, like chicken thief Big Mouth Xing, he learned the harsh lessons of survival. Driven by incessant hunger, he became expert at scavenging for edible weeds in the barren camp fields and capturing snakes and frogs in the irrigation ditches. Reduced at one point to a walking skeleton, he took part in elaborate "food imagining" sessions with his squad mates in the barracks at night. In the crucible of the nightmarish Qinghe prison farm, he watched as, night after night, prisoners succumbed to disease and starvation to be buried in unmarked graves outside the camp walls. Throughout this stunning chronicle are moving stories of the prisoners who became Wu's trusted friends. The gentle, lute-playing Ao, unblinking in his insistence on the dignity of humanity, serves as a beacon in the moral abyss of the camps. Handsome and virile Lu, tormented by unfulfilled longing for a woman's touch, is driven to insanity and finallysuicide. Buffeted by the worst horrors of the Chinese communist tragedy, these poignant figures provide a rare, detailed portrait of the depths of human despair. Released from prison in 1979, Harry Wu was eventually allowed to leave China for the United States. But his story does not end there. Determined to expose the truth of the gulag, he returned to China in 1991 with a "60 Minutes" news crew. Posing as a U.S. businessman buying prison goods, he risked his life by smuggling a hidden camera into the camps and capturing on film, for the first time, haunting images of life behind those forbidding walls. Bitter Winds is an invaluable personal record of the persistent, barbaric abuses of human freedom in our time. An inspiring, gripping story of one man's indomitable will to live, it is a testimony to the extraordinary courage of the human spirit.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - William345 - LibraryThing

There's something appealing to me about the bleak and austere. I suppose it is my basically Stoic/Buddhist mindset and its emphasis on daily acknowledgement of life's fleetingness--memento mori--that ... Read full review

BITTER WINDS: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag

User Review  - Kirkus

Nineteen years in Mao's labor camps—as chronicled by Wu (resident scholar at the Hoover Institution) and Wakeman (To the Storm—not reviewed). When the Communist forces took Shanghai in 1948, Wu ... Read full review


Childhoods End
Shifting Winds
Counterrevolutionary Crimes

21 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1994)

Carolyn Wakeman is Associate Professor of Journalism and Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she directs the Asia-Pacific Program at the Graduate School of Journalism.

Bibliographic information