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Biographer donates interviews and other material to Shanghai Library

By Hu Bei Source Global Times Published2014-06-26

Ye Yonglie (pictured below), the 73-year-old Shanghai writer, is well-known for his biographies of major public figures in China.

During his writing career, which has spanned nearly half a century, Ye has interviewed and published biographical essays or books about people like Wang Li (1922-96), a prominent member of the Cultural Revolution Group, which was a governmental organization during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76); Luo Zhanglong (1896-1995), a famous Chinese politician; and Han Suyin (1916-2012), author of books in English and French on modern China.

"However, there is still a large amount of unpublished information about these people in my personal interview archives," Ye told the Global Times. "Those archives have become precious historic documents."

In Ye's residence in Shanghai, a top-floor room that once contained a swimming pool now holds nearly 50 steel cabinets and plastic boxes in which his interviews are archived, along with the original manuscripts of the author's many works, photos and letters from interviewees.

Recently, Ye decided to donate them all to the Shanghai Library as a permanent collection.

The donation is being made in stages, the first of which was completed two months ago.

Ye Yonglie

"The documents filled up 10 tin trunks in a van sent by the Shanghai Library," Ye recalled.

Among those documents were the interviews with Wang Li, Luo Zhanglong and Han Suyin, over 40 letters from Wang to Ye, and also the diary of a security guard who recorded the life in jail of Hu Qiaomu (1919-92), a prominent politician who was imprisoned at the start of the Cultural Revolution.

Ye started publishing poetry in 1951, and put out his first book in 1960. After graduating from the department of chemistry at Peking University in 1963, Ye became a professional science fiction writer. Since the 1980s, Ye began writing biographies and other works of nonfiction. Since then, he has written some 180 books.

The figures that Ye wrote about were mainly related to Chinese political issues and national affairs.

Ye Yonglie interviews the wife of former senior political leader Chen Yun in Beijing. Photos: Courtesy of the author

Ye's Red Trilogy about the life of Mao Zedong and his Deng Xiaoping Changed China have been translated into English, French and Arabic.

His set of biographies on the members of the Gang of Four - Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen - which was first published in 1988, has been issued in multiple authorized editions and is widely pirated in China. In 2009, the People's Daily Press issued Ye's massive, three-volume Rise and Fall of the Gang of Four, which synthesized his four separate biographies into a single narrative work.

"People who are not so familiar with me often mistakenly think there are two authors named Ye Yonglie in China - one a popular science fiction writer and the other a biography writer," Ye joked.

Ye told the Global Times that the initial inspiration to turn to biography and nonfiction writing was the Cultural Revolution.

During that time, Ye and his wife's first house in Shanghai was repeatedly searched and trashed by the Red Guards, and Ye was forced to do physical labor in Shanghai for several years.

"I witnessed the history," Ye said. "The Cultural Revolution was truly an enormous calamity, which was responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the country and the people since the founding of the People's Republic of China."

After the Cultural Revolution, Ye still wanted to know more things about that period and began trying to find people to interview.

"Those dark days have finally passed, but I believe we should always remember the weighty lessons of history," Ye said.

Ye interviewed Wang Li in 1989. "Wang was jailed for 15 years from 1967 to 1982 as an ultra-leftist," Ye said. "But he was a man of spirit and full of confidence when I interviewed him. He called himself a pure Marxist during the interview."

According to Ye, his interview with Wang Li aroused a lot of controversy among the public and many people disagreed with Wang's point of view regarding history.

Ye also interviewed Chen Boda (1904-89) and Guan Feng (1919-2005). Two of them are prominent members of the leadership in China during the Cultural Revolution.

Ye even tracked down Qin Guizhen, one of Jiang Qing's close friends in Shanghai in the 1930s. "Of course, at that time, Jiang still hadn't married Mao," Ye said.

As well as the history of the Cultural Revolution, Ye also recorded the history of astronaut training in China after the founding of the People's Republic of China.


In 1979, with the permission of Qian Xuesen (1911-2009), the Chinese scientist in charge of the aerospace industry in China at the time, Ye entered China's astronaut training base in Beijing and lived with the astronauts for a month. The photos he took with the astronauts (pictured above) were also in Ye's first batch of material donated to the Shanghai Library.

Ye said he believes that the documents he is donating will be very useful for both historians and the wider public. "The Shanghai Library also promised me they will hold a public exhibition of some of the material in the future," Ye said.