Sun, Shuyun 1963-
Sun, Shuyun 1963-
Home—London, England; Beijing, China.
Writer and Producer. Creates documentaries for numerous broadcasters, including the BBC.
Zhi Nang Yu Zi Xun: Bao Gang Gu Wen Wei Yuan Hui Ke Ji Lun Cheng Xuan, Shanghai ke xue ji shu chu ban she (Shanghai, China), 1985.
Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud, Flamingo (Pymble, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.
The Long March, HarperPress (London, England), 2006.
Writer and documentary filmmaker Sun Shuyun was born in the China of 1963, and she was raised in a country dominated by Mao Tse-Tung. Because of "Chairman" Mao's teaching and mandates, religion was looked down upon. As Sun describes in an article for the London Guardian, not only did her parents raise her to believe that "Buddhism was the opium of the people," but this was also drilled into her at school. The girl's father was a devoted follower of Mao's Communist party, which helped to further instill the family's atheism. Her grandmother, who lived with the family, was a devout Buddhist; the governmental aspirations of Sun's father, however, mixed with the political climate in Mao's China, "forced [the old woman] to pray in the dark," in secret. This affected young Sun deeply, left her wondering at what she saw as her grandmother's naïveté.
As Sun grew up and was able to travel, she was given a new perspective on her grandmother's stories of Buddhism, in large part due to the fact that she was, as we are told by Age contributor John Schauble, "captivated by the tale of … Xuanzang," a traveling Buddhist monk who ultimately brought to China "the sutras, the founding scripts of Buddhism." Xuanzang's story so enthralled Sun that she, herself, followed his original path in an attempt to understand not only the Buddhism of the monk but also that about which her grandmother was so passionate. She records the story of this dual exploration in Ten Thousand Miles without a Cloud, what Stuart's Podcast reviewer Stuart Beaton called a "beautifully written account of [her] journey."
Once her first book was published and so well received, Sun knew she had another story to tell. Her father's lifelong devotion to Mao and the Communist party, combined with the importance of the history in the memories of the people of China, inspired her to tell the story of the Long March—a 1930s journey undertaken by the Communists of China in an attempt to escape the Nationalist armies and ultimately help to bring Mao Tse-Tung to power. To research The Long March, released in 2006, Sun took the time to interview numerous survivors of the March and get their stories. It was especially important to Sun to answer the claims of recent biographers Jun Chang and Jon Halliday, who paint a part of the story of the March as untrue. Kerry Brown, reviewing The Long March for the Asian Review of Books, noted Sun's "clear advantage" in compiling information due to her fluency in Chinese. Brown found the depth of research and quantity of information gathered "remarkable" and "striking." Victoria James, reviewing the account for Geographical, agreed with Brown's assessment, calling the narrative "intelligent [and] engrossing" in its presentation of marchers' stories.
While many of the reviews for The Long March have been positive, a Publishers Weekly contributor observed the casual reader's possible need for background research prior to reading the book, though the reviewer also found the book's "rewards … worthwhile." At the same time, an Economist critic noted that Sun's tale gives only "isolated glimpses" of the history, much changed by the "fading memories" of those interviewed. The same reviewer did, however, note the "vividly" described passages that made The Long March "enjoyable to read." A Kirkus Reviews contributor agreed with the positive words, noting the personal touch to Sun's narration and stories that helped to make the book a "remarkable text" which had been "splendidly researched and craftily written." In an article for the Spectator, Pankaj Mishra pointed out the lack of "bitterness" in Sun's book, calling it "affecting and insightful" in its attempt to clearly show "China's recent past but also … its equally murky present."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2007, Brendan Driscoll, review of The Long March, p. 17.
Contemporary Review, winter, 2006, review of The Long March.
Economist, April 29, 2006, "The Long and Winding Road; China's Long March," p. 88.
Far Eastern Economic Review, July 1, 2006, Benjamin Robertson, review of The Long March, p. 70.
Geographical, May 2006, Victoria James, "Marching to a Different Tune," p. 80.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2007, review of The Long March.
New Yorker, July 30, 2007, review of The Long March, p. 85.
Publishers Weekly, April 2, 2007, review of The Long March, p. 52.
Spectator, April 8, 2006, Pankaj Mishra, "Spring Forward, Fall Back," p. 47.
Times Literary Supplement, October 10, 2003, "A Monk's Tale," p. 37; June 16, 2006, "Mission State," p. 29.
Age,http://www.theage.com.au/ (August 9, 2003), John Schauble, review of Ten Thousand Miles without a Cloud.
Asian Review of Books,http://www.asianreviewofbooks.com/ (June 23, 2006), Kerry Brown, review of The Long March.
Guardian Online,http://www.guardian.co.uk/ (July 28, 2003), Sun Shuyun, "Party Faithful."
HarperCollins Australia Web site,http://www.harpercollins.com.au/ (January 10, 2008), brief biography of author.
Stuart's Podcast,http://rastousarchives.podomatic.com (September 10, 2006), Stuart Beaton, review of Ten Thousand Miles without a Cloud.