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The Lius of Shanghai

The Lius of Shanghai

Sherman Cochran, Andrew Hsieh

ISBN 9780674072596

Publication date: 04/22/2013

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From the Sino-Japanese War to the Communist Revolution, the onrushing narrative of modern China can drown out the stories of the people who lived it. Yet a remarkable cache of letters from one of China’s most prominent and influential families, the Lius of Shanghai, sheds new light on this tumultuous era. Sherman Cochran and Andrew Hsieh take us inside the Lius’ world to explore how the family laid the foundation for a business dynasty before the war and then confronted the challenges of war, civil unrest, and social upheaval.

Cochran and Hsieh gained access to a rare collection containing a lifetime of letters exchanged by the patriarch, Liu Hongsheng, his wife, Ye Suzhen, and their twelve children. Their correspondence offers a fascinating look at how a powerful family navigated the treacherous politics of the period. They discuss sensitive issues—should the family collaborate with the Japanese occupiers? should it flee after the communist takeover?—as well as intimate domestic matters like marital infidelity. They also describe the agonies of wartime separation, protracted battles for control of the family firm, and the parents’ struggle to maintain authority in the face of swiftly changing values.

Through it all, the distinctive voices of the Lius shine through. Cochran and Hsieh’s engaging prose reveals how each member of the family felt the ties that bound them together. More than simply a portrait of a memorable family, The Lius of Shanghai tells the saga of modern China from the inside out.


  • Liu Hongsheng (1888-1956) was a prosperous Shanghai industrialist whose household exemplified the traditional Confucian family's transition into modernity. Cochran discovered a trove of letters that span the 1920s to the 1950s, as family members pursued education, marriage, and business prospects all over China and in Japan and the West. He and his co-author provide historical context and sensitive cultural and psychological interpretations but allow most of the story to come out in the family's sometimes stilted but honest and moving words...[A] fascinating saga.

    —Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs


  • Sherman Cochran is Hu Shih Professor of Chinese History at Cornell University.
  • Andrew Hsieh is Professor of Chinese History at Grinnell College.

Book Details

  • 472 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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