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Gang of OneGang of One

Memoirs of a Red Guard

Fan Shen

Narrated by Kirk O. Winkler

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Nebraska Press

In 1966 twelve-year-old Fan Shen, a newly minted Red Guard, plunged happily into China’s Cultural Revolution. Disillusion soon followed, then turned to disgust and fear when Shen discovered that his compatriots had tortured and murdered a doctor whose house he’d helped raid and whose beautiful daughter he secretly adored. A story of coming of age in the midst of monumental historical upheaval, Shen’s Gang of One is more than a memoir of one young man’s harrowing experience during a time of terror. It is also, in spite of circumstances of remarkable grimness and injustice, an unlikely picaresque tale of adventure full of courage, cunning, wit, tenacity, resourcefulness, and sheer luck—the story of how Shen managed to scheme his way through a hugely oppressive system and emerge triumphant.

Gang of One recounts how Shen escaped, again and again, from his appointed fate, as when he somehow found himself a doctor at sixteen and even, miraculously, saved a few lives. In such volatile times, however, good luck could quickly turn to misfortune: a transfer to the East Wind Aircraft Factory got him out of the countryside and into another terrible trap, where many people were driven to suicide; his secret self-education took him from the factory to college, where friendship with an American teacher earned him the wrath of the secret police. Following a path strewn with perils and pitfalls, twists and surprises worthy of Dickens, Shen’s story is ultimately an exuberant human comedy unlike any other.

Hailing from the People’s Republic of China, Fan Shen is a professor at Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota. He has published three translated books and numerous articles in both Chinese and English.


“While the general outlines of this account of growing up in Communist China will be familiar to readers of recent Chinese memoir, the details can still shock and astound. Shen, age 12 at the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, recounts being complicit in arduous Red Guard activities that directly or indirectly led to several gruesome deaths of political "enemies"â"and later falling in love with and marrying the daughter of a man brutally tortured and killed by one of his fellow Red Guards. Shen (who now lives in Minnesota) also offers a snapshot of the political wiles needed to rebel against the fate one was assigned by the party: in order to both leave the abominable and oppressive conditions and to avoid persecution, Shen learned to feign political ardor, fabricate spy stories to confound the watchful authorities, pull strings with highly placed friends and falsify health tests. Though he might seem to overly relish these clever maneuvers, Shen's portrait of the social and political climate in China is unambiguous: power rested in the hands of a few and professed loyalty to party ideologies made it unsafe to trust anyone; the only way to win was to use the party's rules to one's own ends. The memoir's title is significant (the Gang of Four were those responsible for the Cultural Revolution), as it spells out the need for self-absolution for his painful past as a Red Guard and expresses the utter loneliness forced on anyone trying to live for himself under a regime that could not care less. ”

Publishers Weekly

“This compulsively readable memoir in Tobias Wolff's American Lives series opens with a massive book burning. The author, then an adolescent caught up in the surging reforms of Mao's Cultural Revolution, now an English professor at a U.S. college, avidly participates. The ironies proliferate from there, as Shen comes of age amid spasmodic reversals of fortune: his parents are branded antirevolutionaries despite lifelong party loyalty; his own unfortunate penmanship error (a slip of the brush modifies "Long Live Chairman Mao!" to a damning "No Live Chairman Mao!") lands him in a remote peasant village for re-education. Shen's disillusionment with Maoism eventually deepens to a "thick and odious sludge of hatred" as he is tossed from one detested job assignment to another. The cycle of despair followed by Artful Dodger maneuverings makes for a somewhat repetitive story line, but Shen's wry, anecdotal storytelling style spurs one on, as does the desire to see him through to his eventual triumph—a passport and a seat aboard a 747 winging its way to San Francisco. ”


“A tale of adventure, love, and inspiration.”

Janesville Messenger

“A compulsively readable memoir.... Shen's wry, anecdotal storytelling style spurs one on, as does the desire to see him through to his eventual triumph.”


“A masterpiece ... a book that should be read 1,000 years from now. It is startling, gripping, and wise. An altogether extraordinary book about an extraordinary life-and yet, a life that speaks for the experience of an entire nation, in its worst period.”

National Review Online's 2004 Gift Guide

“A book of stunning power.... This book is full of death, and worse, as mass sadism took hold of an entire country (the world's biggest). But it is also full of humanity, and, at times, funny as hell.... There is even, shockingly, a love story toward the end of the book. It is as shocking and beautiful as that in "1984." Hypnotically rendered, Gang of One is a high literary achievement, documenting an even greater achievement ... the life of this awe-inspiring man, Fan Shen.”

National Review

“Anyone wishing to be the architect of his or her own fortune would do well to study this amazing memoir, a testament to the human spirit.”


“A compulsively readable memoir.... Shen's wry, anecdotal storytelling style spurs one on, as does the desire to see him through to his eventual triumph.”


“Fan Shen is a testimonial to courage, ingenuity, and tenacity. The legacy of America has been enriched by his journey, presence, and susbsequent contributions.”

Rochester Post-Bulletin

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks