Gang of One


Gang of One

Memoirs of a Red Guard

Fan Shen

American Lives Series

298 pages


March 2006


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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.

Author Bio

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.


"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."—ForeWord

"[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."—Booklist

"Teens will strongly identify with Shen's maneuverings around repressive regulations."—Booklist, 2004 Editors' Choice

"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] 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."—Publishers Weekly

"[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."—Jay Nordlinger, National Review

"[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

"Fan Shen is a testimonial to courage, ingenuity, and tenacity. The legacy of America has been enriched by his journey, presence, and susbsequent contributions."—Tom Ostrom, Rochester Post-Bulletin

"A tale of adventure, love, and inspiration."—Janesville Messenger

"The book is very well written and reads like a picaresque novel in which the hero (Shen) faces daunting challenges from a series of rigid Party hacks and an uncaring bureaucracy, and must use his wits and his mastery and manipulation of the rhetoric of Party jargon to survive and move on to the next challenge."—Stanley Rosen, China Journal


2005 Minnesota Book Award, sponsored by the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, the Saint Paul Public Library, and the office of the Mayor of Saint Paul, autobiography/memoir category finalist

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