Shattered Families, Broken Dreams: Little-Known Episodes from the History of the Persecution of Chinese Revolutionaries in Stalin’s Gulag
The title of Sin-Lin’s moving, frightening, sometimes disappointing book is incomplete. Her story is also about the way that Chinese Communists lied to themselves while staying loyal to Stalin and Mao, no matter how badly they were treated. Such loyalties are well known, although we can never be reminded of them enough while Mao’s portrait continues to gaze down on Tiananmen Square. Still, Sin-Lin’s main story is, indeed, the plight of Chinese Communists who, before their Party’s victory in 1949, were sent to Soviet Russia at the height of Stalin’s Great Terror; it has hardly ever been told.
Sin-Lin was born in Moscow in 1937 of Chinese Communist parents whom the Party had sent to the Soviet Union, where they married. She tells what happened to them and many other Chinese, adding at the end 242 case histories of Chinese Communists persecuted in the Soviet Union and China that will be invaluable to scholars. The final entry reads simply: “Yaroslavskii Nikolai Andreevich, Chinese name Yang Jin-feng. B. 1898, place of birth: Mukden, China. Shot 4 December 1937.”
Yang was never rehabilitated, unlike Sin-Lin’s father, Din Ming, who after seven or eight years in the Vorkuta concentration camp and further years in internal exile was allowed to return to China in 1955. Lucky to survive the Gulag, he lost his Communist faith. Sin-Lin’s mother, Lin Na (who had several other names), returned to China when her daughter (one of three she bore in the Soviet Union) was an infant, and remained devoted to the Party; but during the Cultural Revolution, after beatings by Red Guards, she was found hanging in a filthy toilet. Sin-Lin does not explain how her mother died.
There is a third story here: of Sin-Lin herself. Until 1950, when she was permitted to return to China with other Chinese children, she was brought up in the Soviet Union, often with the children of much-married Chinese Party leaders like Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, and Zhu De, of international Communists like Eugene Dennis, chairman of the American Party, of Josip Broz Tito, and of Dolores Ibárruri, who in the Spanish civil war was called La Pasionaria.
There, until the war when they starved, “these children enjoyed a life of luxury…cared for and groomed, fed four times a day, and spent all the holidays in the best sanatoriums and children’s camps of the USSR.” More than one hundred Chinese children were cared for at International House, and Sin-Lin considered some of them her brothers and sisters, and her decade there the happiest time of her life. Well beyond the death of Stalin she remained loyal to his memory and once back in China, at school and university, she was teased and sometimes persecuted for being…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.