DURING THE Chinese Cultural Revolution, Zhamei Zhang was attacked as an "international woman hooligan," denounced for having loose morals, and suspected of being a spy. She submitted to innumerable "criticism meetings," was held in detention, brutally beaten, and separated from her husband and children
Perhaps the most damaging accusation against her was that she was a "fox spirit," a woman out of legend who seduces men in order to entrap them. In adopting the term for the title of Foxspirit: A Woman in Mao's China (Vehicule, 234 pages, $15.95 paper), Zhang interprets its true essence as that of a rebel at heart, committed to remaining true to herself.
Zhang is a remarkable woman with a remarkable story to tell. Its thrust, as promised in the subtitle, concerns the terrors and absurdities of life in Maos China, but its snapshots of customs and attitudes in pre-revolutionary China are alone worth the price of the book. Zhang's mother, an incipient feminist with "liberated feet" (she unbound the binding cloths intended to cripple them), was a mahjong addict from a landowning family This legacy, coupled with having a father employed by the Japanese in the Pu Yi years, was the foundation for Zhang's "bad family background."
Educated in an English convent school in Beijing, Zhang -- at the age of 16 -- was already working as part of a trade delegation to East Germany in 195 1. Her account of the twists of career and fate that eventually brought her to Canada in 1985 (the story includes a sizzling exchange of love letters with a Canadian) is told with unflinching candour, tart wit, and keen psychological insight.