Review: JingJing Xue – Shanghai Acrobat

Shanghai Acrobat
JingJing Xue

“Jingjing Xue was born in China in 1947, during a period of civil war. Jingjing, left in an orphanage in Shanghai, was destined to a life of hardship before officials singled him out and enlisted him to train with the Shanghai Acrobatics School. Shanghai Acrobat tells the moving story of Jingjing’s rise from poverty to become an admired performer in China and beyond. Through the turbulent period of the Cultural Revolution, he realised the value of freedom. This is a story of hope and perseverance, of overcoming adversity and of finding a place to belong.”

I listened to this as a talking book after I was disappointed by the last two fiction audiobooks I tried. Unfortunately this one let me feeling a bit cheated. I expect and enjoy memiors that are filled with human nature and the feelings of their writer. This memior fails for me because it is filled with too much dry history and is quite repeditive. Someone who enjoys history will probably get more out of this book than me.

I learnt from this book that in Shanghai it is the custom to give children the same first name twice, so JingJing was originally named Jing. That’s something I’ll now be able to talk to my students about – so it’s not a dead loss!

While I admire JingJing’s devotion to ‘endure’, it didn’t seem like he could or would be evicted from the troop. This created an aura of holier-than-thou around him that didn’t seem to be cracked by the fact that many people he knew didn’t make it out of China. I didn’t get any sense of his humanity, and his relationships came off as quite sterile.

I don’t think this should be compared to Mao’s Last Dancer. While both books might cover the period of the Cultural Revolution of early Communist China, this book is more about history and Last Dancer is about the process of becoming the best. I wouldn’t recommend this book.

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