EXPIRED: 11/02/09 – Nien Cheng, 94, endured 6 1/2 years of solitary confinement and torture in a Chinese Red Guard prison for a crime she hadn’t committed. She was so tightly handcuffed that she feared her hands falling off; her cell was too small to lie down in; she lost her teeth, caught pneumonia and had hemorrhages.
And though she made it out of that hellish prison and hellish time alive, her daughter, Meiping Cheng, didn’t.
In 1966, during Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution, Nien Cheng became a target of attack by Red Guards due to her management of a foreign firm in Shanghai, Shell. Maoist revolutionaries used this fact to claim that Cheng was a British spy in order to strike at the Communist Party moderates for allowing the firm to operate in China.
Arrested and brought to the “No. 1 Detention House” for political prisoners, Cheng was beaten and interrogated for almost 7 agonizing years. Cheng refused to confess to crimes she hadn’t committed, instead responding with quotes from Mao’s “Little Red Book” or literally laughing in the faces of her torturers.
When she was finally released in 1973, she learned that her only child, Meiping, a prominent Shanghai film actress, was dead. At first told it was suicide, she soon learned that, in fact, Meiping had been beaten to death by Red Guards after refusing to denounce her mother.
Eventually finding sanctuary in the United States, Nien Cheng wrote a memoir entitled “Life and Death in Shanghai” which quickly rose to the top of the bestseller list.
“There were many Chinese who fought back and many who suffered much more. Some of them have never recovered,” Cheng said. “But my privilege has been to write about it, and that’s only been possible because I could leave.”
In the end an American citizen, Cheng died at the age of 94.