Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Short Review: Fang Lizhi’s long awaited memoir will satiate the curiosity of those who followed his story. Riveting and intellectually challenging, it’s sometimes bogged down by extraneous detail.
These book reviews are usually rather easy to write, but I struggled with this one. The Most Wanted Man in China: My Journey from Scientist to Enemy of the State has been almost as difficult to summarize as it was to read.
That’s not because this book was uninteresting or in any way lacking– it’s because there’s so much to cover. Starting with the basics, author Fang Lizhi’s title is no hyperbole. He was, quite literally, the “most wanted man in China.” Along with his wife, he was labeled a dissident, which culminated in their 13-month hideout in the American embassy.
This memoir was written during his stint in the embassy, while the United States and China engaged in a lengthy negotiation over his fate. Fang Lizhi begins his book by disclosing that there are Chinese police officers patrolling outside his window as he writes, hoping to catch him unawares. The official charge? Carrying out counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.
The Most Wanted Man in China starts at the end, providing the main facts for those who are perhaps not well acquainted with his story. While forwards or introductions are oftentimes overlooked, this one demands to be read.
The rest of the book is a sprawling history of Fang Lizhi’s life, from early childhood to the safe house. Fang Lizhi’s story is an extraordinary one through which to study Chinese political history, as he deeply understands the relationship of activism and academia, and the intricacies of reeducation through labor. The Most Wanted Man in China is lengthy and cumbersome, the product of a man whose brain holds much more information than the average person. This hinders its readability, making it feel more like a history or physics textbook at times.
Yes, physics. It’s honestly not so unexpected once one remembers that Fang Lizhi was not merely an activist, but also an intellectual. He bounced around from cosmology to theoretical astrophysics (because that’s what normal folk do), and the book does too. Descriptions of his publications and academic work make this book even more cumbersome, but contribute to making this book authentically Fang Lizhi.
I gave The Most Wanted Man in China 3.5 out of 5 stars because it’s an incredible read for scholars of Chinese history or international activism and human rights movements. Unfortunately, an otherwise riveting story was bogged down at time by extraneous commentary.
Disclaimer: I received this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.