An "American-Spy" Father and His Daughter in Communist China

The Hopes of Two Generations

Yuci Tan

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ISBN: 978-1-57733-207-7, 272 pp., 6x9, paperback, $17.95

Born in Beijing, China in 1955, Yuci Tan and her "American-spy" father lived through very difficult times together during the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966 and lasted for ten years.

Her Chinese father - raised in Hong Kong and educated in a Christian school - worked as editor and English translator for China's International News Agency. During the Cultural Revolution, her father was incarcerated as a disloyal traitor - a spy for the Americans (untrue!) - and the authorities ordered her to cut off all relationship with him.

In this provocative and vividly descriptive narrative, Yuci Tan details the many facets of 1970s Chinese society and the hardships endured by common people under the Communist regime. All the while, her father, under intense political pressure and scrutiny, somehow managed to single-handedly raise and educate her, as only a totally committed and loving father could.

Despite these hardships, Yuci Tan consulted her inner world for guidance and stood up to the authorities in support of her father. Although the government forced her to be re-educated through hard labor, she took a unique look at things. She learned to value every present moment to minimize her suffering.

More than an insider's history of Mao's regime, An "American-Spy" Father is a moving and memorable expose, featuring the colorful lives of many forgotten people. Yuci Tan offers therapeutic insights along the way, and used these experiences to pursue her dream of ultimately becoming a doctor - and fulfilling the dreams of two generations. At heart, her personal story is a daughter's loving appreciation for an unforgettably kind and wise father.


"With vivid detail, Yuci Tan reveals the story of her childhood, her father's persecution under China's Cultural Revolution, and their struggle to survive. An amazing and eye-opening story!" S.B.

"A posthumous discovery leads Dr. Tan to a deeper understanding of her father. Her account is powerful for its honesty and love." K.B.

"More than just a deeply moving memoir, this is a book of how one can get lost without losing themselves in the process. A great read. Yuci Tan is a wonderful example of compassion, forgiveness and love. I love this book!" K.E.C.

"Strength from adversity. An eye-opening look behind the Great Wall during the Cultural Revolution." J.M.

"Raised by her loving father in the face of a hateful stepmother and sustained by him and her own closest friend through the nightmares of the Cultural Revolution, Yuci Tan suffers and overcomes seemingly endless adversity, including her own bitterness, to become an exemplary daughter, mother, psychotherapist, storyteller, and purveyor of wisdom. Inspiring." M.B.

Table of Contents

Dear Father
A Word of Thanks

1 The Daycare Center
2 Lovely Sundays
3 Holidays & My Father’s Graceful Stories
4 My Father’s Rules of Conduct and Setting of Limits
5 The Art of Chinese Gardening and Tombs
6 Boarding School
7 Communist Education
8 The Cultural Revolution
9 Destroy the "Four Olds" & Establish the "Four News"
10 The Violence Begins
11 The Red Guard and the Great Link-up
12 Intense Violence and Suicide Spread Beyond the Schools and Beijing
13 Returning to School and the Cultural Revolution Pushes Forward
14 The Broken Safety Net
15 Middle School
16 Uneducable Child and Locked Up Father
17 High School
18 Re-education through Labor in the Countryside
19 My Father’s Passing Away

Dear Father
Glossary of Chinese Terms
About the Author


For as long as I can remember, my father never discussed his rules of conduct with me. He might have believed that example is better than decree. However, living with him day in and day out, I understood clearly the rules he lived by. He took pleasure in helping others, strove to be a warm, caring and loving person, treated his parents with filial respect, and repaid a drop of water with a fountain.

When I was a child we had a rationing system; people needed money and coupons to buy almost everything. There were Bu-piao, Rou-piao, You-piao, Liang-piao, Tang-piao, and Gongye-quan (cloth coupons, meat coupons, cooking oil coupons, grain coupons, sugar coupons and sundry coupons) and many, many more. Only those people with Hukou (resident registrations) could get them and they were distributed according to the recipient’s age. For example, each adult received cloth coupons for eighteen feet of cloth per year. This would allow them to buy either eighteen feet of cloth or three pieces of clothing. The younger the person, the fewer coupons he received.

Everyone needed to use his coupons carefully, especially the Bu-piao. Most people in the cities had only two sets of clothes. There was a saying, “New clothing for the first child, used clothing for the second child, and patched clothing for the third.” The fewer children in a family, the harder it was to manage. My father and I only had coupons for a little over twenty feet of cloth. Since jeans were made of thicker material, and gir's jeans were not available, my father bought me boy's jeans.

I only had two pretty outfits. One was a satin winter coat. Before I entered elementary school, I received it as a gift from my mother. It was a coat of lovely satin, a light pink background graced with white flowers. Holding it, imagining wearing it, I was very pleased. Unfortunately, it did not even last the winter season; in two months it fell apart.

Dad saw that I was not willing to part with it, "Yuci forget it. Your grandmother saved it from the 1930s. What do you expect?"

The second outfit was my first dress, made of my aunt in-law's used skirt. I was very delighted and had my picture taken in it right away.

At bedtime, my aunt instructed, "Yuci, it's time to take it off."

"Aunt, the zipper doesn't work." I did not want to take it off and made a story.

She, of course, pushed the zipper down, and my dress fell on the wooden floor. I could say nothing and slowly removed my feet from the dress one by one.

Dad, I have always felt thankful to my aunt, and whenever I go back to China, I bring her clothing from the U.S., although the last time she told me, "Don’t bring clothes next time, bring chocolate."

It was a pale Sunday morning. The variably shaped clouds, like stained glass floated in the eastern sky. We went to the Gongzhufen Department Store, and stood in front of the children’s clothing counter looking at shirts. All the goods were piled on shelves behind the counter so the customers could not touch them. We noticed that a lady was crying softly at the corner of the counter as well.

"Something wrong?" My father approached her and his touch was as gentle as his eyes and heart. "May I help you?"

She paused and wiped her eyes, "I don’t have enough Bu-piao to purchase even one piece of clothing for my daughter's birthday."

"Don’t worry. How many feet of coupons do you have? I’ll help you pay the rest." He comforted her without the least hesitation. I could not forget the scene of the lady saying thanks with tears in her eyes.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2008

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