(Review) The Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of The Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution by Helen Zia

Publisher and Publication Date: Ballantine Books. 2019.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography. China history.
Pages: 496.
Format: Kindle e-book edition.
Source: Library.
Audience: Readers who enjoy reading Chinese history. Readers who enjoy reading biographies.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link

Barnes and Noble link

Helen Zia’s Goodreads author page


The time period for this book is the late 1930s to 1960.
Last Boat Out of Shanghai focuses on four people. These people were children during the 1930s, and they came to adulthood in the 1940s and 1950s. They were originally from Shanghai or had moved there as children.
Their stories represent so many Chinese who left China or even stayed during the period of time Chairman Mao Zedong ruled as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party.
Japan invaded China beginning in 1931. Conflict between the two began in 1937. Meanwhile, the Nationalists and the Communists fought for control.
It is unknown how many people left China during the period of the Communist Revolution or War of Liberation. They went to America, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and India.
The four people examined are Benny Pan, Ho Chow, Annuo Liu, and Bing.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a few books that are biographies of Chinese women. This is the first book I’ve read that includes men.
The recent books I’ve read from this subject: The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang, Remembering Shanghai by Isabel Sun Chao and Clarie Chao, and Song of Praise for a Flower by Fengxian Chu with Charlene Chu. The last two books are mother and daughter writing teams.
I recommend all four books (including Last Boat Out of Shanghai). Each of them tell a story but from a different angle or viewpoint. They all four have different goals. They are all people who lived during the political change and wars of the mid twentieth century. The Rape of Nanking is a deeply emotional book. It is heavy. It causes anguish. Read it for the knowledge of this horrible history. Be prepared to cry.
The Last Boat Out of Shanghai has given the broadest brushstroke of the country of China during this period. The history that is included is the dual political groups fighting for control. The Japanese invaders. World War II. The people who emigrated from China to a new country. How these people assimilated into American society. The problems that occurred in staying in America. The problems of finding a job. The building of a life in a new country and with a family of their own.

Why is the Last Boat Out of Shanghai an important work?
1. The four people whose lives are depicted are from different backgrounds that include politics, religion, economic class, and education. I am glad they are not all the same type of person from the same type of belief and structure.
2. Helen Zia includes a lengthy note section and information about her research. One bit of information that shows a bright light on the whole of the story is revealed at the end.
3. I am glad Zia included the McCarthy hunt for communists during the 1950s. This is an important historical fact to include because of these people who had come from a communist country and were living in America. These new people suffered because of where they came from and where they fled from. Because they were from China, they were immediately put under the microscope and mistrusted. On the other hand, millions of Chinese came to America and have become Chinese Americans. They serve in the military. They serve in every area of American society. They contribute to the backbone of American society.
4. Last Boat Out of Shanghai shows the hard work and perseverance of living in America as a new citizen or not yet citizen. They often had fear about doing the right thing or not knowing what the right thing to do was. They struggled with isolation from family and friends they’d left behind. They struggled to find friends who were Chinese. They struggled to find a spouse who was Chinese. They were bigoted. They were cast out of jobs because of their race and culture. Their stories tell me what it was like to be them. And, because of their stories I have greater empathy.
5. Last Boat Out of Shanghai is not a romantic and adventurous tale of four people. It is the gripping and powerful life stories of brave individuals. Zia has remarkably painted their stories and it is palpable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.