Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957 during the rule of communist leader Mao
Zedong. She was chosen to become a leader of the Little Red Guards, a group of
elementary school children who supported and believed in Mao's ideas. Like every
child of her generation, Min was taught to write "Long Live Chairman Mao!"
before she was taught to write her own name. She believed in Mao and Communism.
At the age of 17, she was sent to a labor camp near East China Sea, where she
discovered the truth of Mao's calling. She endured mental and physical
hardships, which included a severe spinal cord injury.
She worked for three years before talent scouts spotted her toiling in a cotton field. Madame Mao, preparing to take over China, was looking for a leading actress for a propaganda film. Min was selected for having the ideal "proletarian" look. Mao died before the film was complete, and Madame Mao, blamed for the disaster of the revolution, was sentenced to death. Min was labeled a political outcast by association. She was disgraced, punished, and forced to perform menial tasks in order to reform herself. In 1984, with the help of actress Joan Chen, Min left China for America. She spoke no English when she arrived in Chicago, but within six months had taught herself the language in part by watching "Sesame Street" and "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" on American television.
Her writing has been praised for its raw, sharp language and historical
accuracy. Her bestselling memoir, Red Azalea (1994), the story of her
childhood in communist China, has been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank.
Min credits English with giving her a means to express herself, arming her with
the voice and vocabulary to write about growing up during China's Cultural
Revolution. "There was no way for me to describe those experiences or talk about
those feelings in Chinese," she has said of a language too burdened by Maoist
rhetoric. Today she writes candidly about events she was once encouraged to
bury. The New York Times has called her "a wild, passionate and fearless
Since the completion of her memoir, Min has written five subsequent works of historical fiction: Katherine, Becoming Madame Mao, Wild Ginger, Empress Orchid and The Last Empress. The books attempt to re-record histories that have been falsely written. "If my own history is recorded falsely, how about other people?" she asks. Both critics and writers have praised her work, calling it "historical fiction of the first order."
Her latest novel, Pearl of China, published in the UK and USA in March 2010, tells the story of Pearl Buck, one of the twentieth centurys greatest writers (winner of both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize), from the perspective of the people she loved and of the land she called home.
In addition to being an author, Min is also a known painter, photographer, and a musician.
This biography was last updated on 01/07/2010.
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Anchee Min talks about Pearl of China
Pearl of China is the story of Pearl S. Buck. Why did you decide to
tell Pearl's story?
Pearl Buck and I have a long history together, and in some sense that story is at the heart of my novel. As a teen back in China in 1972 during the Cultural Revolution, I was asked to denounce Pearl Buck as an "American cultural imperialist." Though I wasn't given a chance to read The Good Earth, I dutifully went ahead and made the denunciation. Years later, when I was living in America and on a book tour for my memoir Red Azalea, a fan thrust a copy of Buck's most famous novel into my hands as a gift. I read the book on a plane and burst into tears. I cried because I realized how beautifully Buck had told the story of the Chinese peasant, in a way that few others, even Chinese, had ever done. And I cried because I was only then realizing this, and that I was only one of a generation that had been indoctrinated to think poorly of Buck.
I wrote the novel to show where Pearl's great sensitivity and insight into the Chinese and Chinese culture came from. And also to show how the relationship between Pearl Buck ...
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