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Nien Cheng, 1915-2009

Nien Cheng, whose searing account of the Cultural Revolution -- “Life and Death in Shanghai” -- remains a landmark in the literature of resistance and an invaluable inside account of the horrors of that murderous period in Chinese history, died earlier today in Washington. She was 94.

The widow of a former Kuomintang diplomat who remained in China after the Communist Revolution, she was arrested, imprisoned and tortured during the Cultural Revolution. When Nien was released six and a half years later, she searched for her daughter and only child, Meiping, only to find that she had been murdered by the Red Guards for refusing to denounce her mother. "Life and Death in Shanghai," published in the mid-1980s to wide acclaim, became a bestseller. “The keenness of her thought and expression is such that it constitutes some form of martial art," the New York Times wrote in a review.

She later settled in Washington, where she lived what she called the evening of her life. A woman of rare loveliness, with a delicate beauty and immense generosity, she enriched the lives of others with her sharp wit, unflinching directness and beguilingly philosophical view of life. And death. She carried on, living alone with great vigor and spirit, full of interest in life and politics, ever watchful of tyranny, almost defiantly managing her own life until very recently, when her health rapidly deteriorated.

She sometimes spoke of the necessity of having "a task" in life. She had hers and did not fail at it: Defying her captors, bearing witness, and then living the unbearable with a dignity that seemed touched with grace.

By Charles Krauthammer  | November 2, 2009; 5:22 PM ET
Categories:  Krauthammer  | Tags:  Charles Krauthammer  
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There is hope for you Charles, good column.

Posted by: jameschirico | November 2, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

As someone who has been critical of your column in the past, this is where we realize our values are not so different and that this is one country.

Posted by: vijayaku | November 2, 2009 7:30 PM | Report abuse

I am very surprised that Krauthammer actually recognizes another race than white having feelings and intelligence. Now, if he translates the same grief about innocents dying and murder by Government to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or maimed because of our invasion. If he goes back into history and applies the same symphathy to Native Americans. If he expresses concern about the inevitably huge civilian casualties that would result if his goof ball solution to Afghanistan were implemented, then, and only then would I consider this article anything but hog wash by seriously anti social freak.

Posted by: WilliamJW | November 2, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Dr Krauthammer. We in America do not know how lucky we are.

Posted by: vanwahlgren | November 2, 2009 8:23 PM | Report abuse

Amen, she was truly special.

(Note to WilliamJW and others, as a DC native I ask you please not to make this about anything other than the late Nien Cheng).

Posted by: geotherm21 | November 2, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

A wonderful article! Good and kind words for a lovely lady. A life well lived in challenging times. Thank you!

Posted by: 2009frank | November 2, 2009 10:10 PM | Report abuse

You know, Charles, I've followed you for forty years and I no longer give a damn. Why in hell are you still sticking with WaPo? I truly think they've become BIZARRE. They asked a question about why most Americans trusted the military above all else, but then sabotaged the damn site when we tried to answer. I went on another site about The Debt and was bombarded by the grossest pile I've ever read anywhere. Don't know how you do it, Krauthammer. If WaPo is being constantly hacked, they should warn us. I'll forget the whole thing and go back to the WSJ. But, I'm pretty pissed I did not have the opportunity of thanking our Military guys. WaPo, I won't forget.

Posted by: nanda1 | November 2, 2009 10:56 PM | Report abuse

What a beautiful tribute to this lady. Nobody writes better than Dr. Krauthammer.

Posted by: playfair109 | November 2, 2009 11:14 PM | Report abuse

In my previous comment I must've seemed crude. Definitely. But, I did not realize you were speaking of Nien Cheng. Her book was one of 2 I managed to save from a fire after the Northridge quake. 15 years and 3,000 miles later, her book and story stayed with me. But recently, I became inexplicably ill and had to be moved. I think the book is gone now. But her story never will be. Are there people of such courage any more? I don't think I want an answer to that question.

Posted by: nanda1 | November 2, 2009 11:54 PM | Report abuse

How did Krauthammer manage to get through this without a diatribe insisting Madame Cheng's death was somehow the fault of President Obama?

Posted by: orange3 | November 3, 2009 6:38 AM | Report abuse

It should be noted that Obama's White House official Anita Dunn said the creator of the cultural Revolution as one of the people she most admires. i.e. Mao Tse Tung.
When she said she was joking, she lied.

Posted by: scvaughan | November 3, 2009 6:55 AM | Report abuse

Forgot to add, that mass murderer Mao Tse Tung has always been admired by many liberals. Along with fellow dictator Fidel Castro, and more recently Chavez. If you're a left wing repressive dictator, you can count on the support of liberals.

Posted by: scvaughan | November 3, 2009 6:58 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Krauthammer, I have long thought that you are one of the most thoughtful and insightful commentators on current events in America today. Beyond the political, you have written several columns on more personal subjects that have solidified my view of your simple, but notable, decency. This is one.
I haven't read Ms. Cheng - but will do so immediately. We could use more like Ms. Cheng in the world. Thank you.

Posted by: NRK57 | November 3, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Maybe Mao admirers Bloom and Dunn in the Obama Administration should have read up on Mrs. Cheng and her compatriots. What strange times we live in, where our government leaders quote Mao to school children and seem ignorant of history.

Posted by: MIMI13 | November 3, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I find it rare that I agree with Krauthammer but this is an outstanding column. Nien Cheng was an extraordinary woman and "Life and Death in Shanghai" is a marvelous book. Very few people could have withstood what was thrown at her and lived much less returned to a full life.

Posted by: ElectricBill | November 3, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

It's always hopeful to see Mr. Krauthammer write such a conscious piece about this great lady and we all hope this is a permanent change in his journalism. Any parent would be proud of this change.

Posted by: timeforhonesty | November 3, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Krauthammer, as always it is a pleasure to read your articles. I visit the Post specifically to read your work.

People reveal much about themselves by what they write. Nien Cheng did. Your column here does. And those patronizing and bigoted anonymous commenters who chose to respond to your tribute to this international hero by attacking or demeaning you also reveal themselves for what they are.

Thank you for your work.

Posted by: walter9 | November 3, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse

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