Title: Shanghai Acrobat
Author: Jingjing Xue
Publisher: Black Inc.
When I heard that readers of Mao’s Last Dancer would enjoy Shanghai Acrobat, I knew I needed to read this book. From the first line: “In the ancient land of China there is a legend that, among all the animals who are born in this world, only humans cry”, I knew I was in for a brilliant read. The detail, anecdotes, pictures, and beautifully descriptive language the author uses made me feel as though I was sitting with him as he told me his stories. Jingjing Xue’s memoir detailing his life in an orphanage to an acrobat’s company and finally Australia, was captivating, gripping, and ultimately a rewarding read.
Although my knowledge about acrobatic tricks, technique, and endurance is limited, I was still able to immerse myself within the novel. Any history buffs would devour this book. The detail about the political tension and turmoil in China from the 1940s until the 1980s was explained in great detail, and the accompanying photos of Xue with notable political figures were fascinating to examine. Xue is able to capture the unease and suspense of living in a communist country, and his account of being jailed for a crime he did not commit had my stomach turning in unease until his release. Xue makes the point that, after a while, he learnt to keep his thoughts to himself and learnt appropriate phrases and stories to parrot back to official figures and friends alike. The tension was detailed so vividly that I could feel the stress and pressure.
The drills, practice, and pain Xue experienced as a young boy—pushed to train all day long in the boiling heat of summer and then the freezing winters—was at times painful to read. The loneliness he felt as he yearned to find his family and then ultimately his determination to become a successful and renowned acrobat was detailed so thoroughly that I barely noticed my sorrow turn to joy for his successes. I was amazed at the vivid detail that Xue is still able to recall about events that occurred over 50 years ago; however, Xue mentions (and also thanks) a fellow pupil at the Shanghai Acrobatics School who kept a journal from all those years ago and kindly leant it to him.
Xue’s memoir follows his rise from poverty to a celebrated performer and ultimately a beloved teacher. This book is well-researched and filled with beautiful descriptions and details. Immerse yourself in Jingjing Xue’s world and follow his rise to success.