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China’s Lost Decade

China’s Lost Decade

It’s hard to believe, but just twenty years ago China was on the verge of abandoning the market reforms that have since propelled it to its current position as a world power. Conservatives had used the 1989 Tiananmen massacre to reverse the country’s economic direction. Many felt that China needed to return to a more Soviet-style economic system, with stronger central planning and tighter regulation of people’s personal lives.

But China had a first-among-equals, Deng Xiaoping, who would have none of it. Although already an old man—he would die five years later aged ninety-two—he launched a brilliant guerrilla campaign. Almost surreptitiously, he left the capital in early 1992 for China’s freewheeling south, making speeches that extolled reforms. He declared that China’s biggest threat was from the left, not the right, and is credited with uttering the credo of China’s early reform era: to get rich is glorious. When conservatives blocked official media from carrying his remarks, he used his influence to publish his pro-reform message in regional newspapers. Eventually, the center’s resistance crumbled and Deng put economic reformers in key positions of power, unleashing a twenty-year boom. Political change remained off-limits, but almost anything else went; and it is defensible to say that China was freer and more dynamic than at any point in its modern history.

All of which brings us to today. Economic and political reformers are again on the defensive, with the economy increasingly dominated by pro-state forces that are squeezing private enterprise. The economy is slowing, with housing prices falling, foreign investment down, and consumer sales sluggish. Many economists advocating reforms of Chinese statism have been stifled—censors have banned the press and television from using the word “monopoly” in describing state enterprises. Socially, rising expectations mean people aren’t as easily satisfied with the Deng-era emphasis on achieving prosperity and enlarging personal opportunities; many also want to have more say over how their lives are shaped. But calls for political or social reform are blocked by a sophisticated “stability-maintenance” apparatus that keeps a lid on the tens of thousands of protests that beset the country each year and punishes outspoken critics of the regime.1

* * *

The new group of leaders, which takes over later this year, might have a raft of reforms in mind, but optimists are wary. Ten years ago most China experts proclaimed the incoming team of Party Secretary Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to be laden with reformers; they turned out to be technocratic caretakers.

The difference between the stasis now and then is that China lacks a paramount leader like Deng who can challenge the logjam of competing interests, bureaucracies, and regions. Lacking the legitimacy that would be conferred by democracy or tradition, China’s current rulers must seek consensus, leaving them unable to challenge entrenched interests. Today’s China features Deng’s political repression but without his era’s dynamism—a country still hurtling forward, but its speed slowing and direction unclear.

Stagnant China? This isn’t the story that became accepted over the past decade. No country growing at double-digit rates could be thought of as declining; surely the label better describes sclerotic Europe or the politically paralyzed United States. The past ten years have seen a constant drumbeat of stories about China—either as the world’s next great thing or the next great enemy—but all repeating the mantra that China is changing, as if this were unique among the world’s nations. China fever peaked in 2008, first with Beijing hosting the summer Olympics and, after the global economic crash later that year, with China as the last bastion of global economic growth. Few then described it as beset by structural issues that would seriously hobble its rise.2

And yet this view is now widespread inside China, even at the highest echelons. Top leaders regularly invoke the need for systemic reforms, while Chinese economists say the next decade will be more important than the past three, when reforms were launched and China took off. The topic is also slated to be discussed at the upcoming Party congress, when China’s leadership for the next decade is to be appointed. A recent study by the World Bank and the Chinese government’s Development Research Center declared in uncharacteristically bold language that China risked crisis if it didn’t reform its system, adding that “calls for reform within the country have never been louder.”3

How China got to this point is the subject of three new books focusing on economics and business. All are written by highly qualified observers eager to make sense of China’s growing malaise. They come at it from different angles—one is a leading American essayist and journalist, another a Chinese government insider, and the third works at a Washington think tank—but their conclusions are strikingly similar: China needs more than a few tweaks to regain the dynamism of past years and reach a new level of development. All implicitly or explicitly make clear that most of all, China’s economic challenges are political.

* * *

The most ambitious of the three is James Fallows’s China Airborne. That might seem odd because Fallows focuses on one particular industry, aviation. But he uses it as a window on China’s effort to change its economy, something it must do during its next phase. Aimed at a general audience, it eschews many of the technical arguments found in the other two books, but for most readers it is an excellent one-volume look at the economic and political challenges of the post–China fever era.

One of Fallows’s great strengths is his impartiality and fair-mindedness. He starts out with sensible caveats, which too many—even those of us living in China—forget when speaking of this vast country of 1.3 billion. He says that what struck him most about living in China is how diverse it is, with regions as different from each other as many countries:

Such observations may sound banal—China, land of contrasts!—but I have come to think that really absorbing them is one of the greatest challenges for the outside world in reckoning with China and its rise.

His focus on aviation stems from his passion for flying—an earlier book of his discusses the aviation industry’s mess.4 This leads him to experience firsthand many memorable scenes. In one, he copilots a Cirrus propeller plane from an inland province to the coast. In between is a mountain range but air traffic controllers don’t respond to their requests to change altitude—a good example of the poor training and low standards that still are widespread in many professions. (Eventually, a commercial jet heard the pleas and relayed them to the controllers, who finally responded.)

Chinese aviation is a particularly telling subject. The country’s current five-year economic plan, which started in 2011, has China spending the equivalent of $200 billion on new airports, navigation systems, and planes. The country’s fleet is to increase to 4,500 planes from 2,600—representing half of new passenger plane sales in the world. The need is equally great: China has only 175 airports, compared with one thousand commercial airports in the United States, not to mention four thousand airstrips for enthusiasts and private pilots.

And here we begin to see China’s problems. China has a stunted civil aviation sector, not so much because of its level of development, but because of its authoritarian political system. Airspace is controlled by the military, with small corridors doled out to civilian use. In 2006, the military ordered Shanghai’s Pudong airport to shut down for several hours with no reason given—analogous, he says, to the US Air Force arbitrarily ordering Los Angeles’s LAX closed. The corridors are so narrow that flights pile up, while military restrictions force planes to fly at fuel-wasting low altitudes. This is a leading reason why Chinese domestic flights use twice the fuel per kilometer than the international standard, meaning that China could double its air traffic at no additional environmental cost if it simply adopted international norms. It’s one of the many fascinating facts that Fallows reveals, capturing at once the country’s hobbled civil society but also the opportunity for improvement.

* * *

Fallows also dissects China’s quest to build a passenger jet. The only manufacturer, the Commercial Aircraft Group of China, is in government hands. It has produced two models, mostly based on foreign technology, but neither is commercially usable, owing to their cost and weight. The lay reader may wonder why China can’t pirate a Boeing 737—an older model that is still a workhorse for many airlines. Fallows explains this by showing how much of China’s economic prowess is due to customers being “happy with crappy”—most don’t care that China’s products aren’t first-rate because they’re much cheaper. In the aircraft industry, this is less workable—how many airlines buy cheap but unreliable Russian planes?

China’s production methods are also unsuited to building ultra-complex machines: when assembling an iPad or a running shoe or even a car, if the first batch is defective, the manufacturer can adjust the production line and toss out the lemons. This works for much production in China but, obviously, wouldn’t work with aircraft. That leads Fallows to another memorable quote: “The Chinese can go to the moon long before they build an airliner.” A moon shot is a one-time event and requires brute engineering, while a jetliner is an immensely sophisticated amalgam of hardware and software that has to work flawlessly for decades.

Fallows argues that achieving this level of competence isn’t a given. To explain why, he detours to China’s education and political systems. Like the United States for many years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, today’s China is in a state of “permanent emergency,” in which the security apparatus is constantly cracking down. A string of events have convinced authorities that they are under siege: the 2008 Tibet and 2009 Xinjiang riots, the award of the Nobel Prize to Liu Xiaobo in 2010, last year’s Arab Spring, and now the leadership transition. Although many—probably most—Chinese remain happily ignorant of China’s parallel society of jails and guobao (secret police) agents, they sense it indirectly. Access to foreign websites in China, for example, is painfully slow because of the regime’s filtering software—a far cry from the 1990s, when China was ahead of the United States in cell phone networks, the then-cutting-edge telecommunications infrastructure. Once they are on the Internet, users will find that almost all foreign social media sites are banned.

Not getting onto Facebook might seem trivial, but it is a reminder to many Chinese—especially those educated abroad who might return home—that China is one of a handful of countries (the others are Iran, North Korea, and Syria) that permanently block this site, as well as YouTube and Twitter (most Google sites are accessible but often subject to cyber-harassment, such as slow loading speeds). The upshot, Fallows says, is that entrepreneurs will come to China to make money in such industries, but “this is not the place you’ll want to work if you want to be competing with the best.” And indeed most of China’s Internet platforms—Baidu, Weibo, Youku—are copycats of Western sites that are banned or hobbled in China. They are big and mostly profitable but not innovative.

As for China’s universities, they get high rankings in surveys that apparently don’t value academic freedom.5 But Fallows notes that few in the country who have a choice—not even Politburo members—want their kids educated there; if they can, they send their children abroad, especially to the United States. Meanwhile, a decade after joining the World Trade Organization, the country makes only minimal efforts to protect intellectual property, while the rule of law is often ignored. His conclusion: “A China capable of creating its own Boeing, its own Airbus, would have to be a transformed China from the one we know now.”

That isn’t the government’s view, of course. Along with energy, telecommunications, and defense, aviation is a sector over which the government has announced it will maintain “absolute control.” (It also says the state will maintain “strong influence” over automobiles, machinery, information technology, steel, metals, and chemicals.) In most of these sectors, state-owned firms enjoy monopolistic or oligarchic positions. Private firms, if they exist, face significant discrimination.

* * *

Such state planning has a long history in China, which we are reminded of when reading Justin Yifu Lin’s Demystifying the Chinese Economy. Born and raised in Taiwan, Lin is probably China’s most famous economist. For reasons still unclear, he swam over to China from a nearby island controlled by Taiwan in 1979 and was feted as a patriot. (In Taiwan, where he had been on military service, Lin is still officially a deserter and cannot return without facing arrest.) He became an advocate of market reforms and cofounded a research center at Peking University. He recently retired as the World Bank’s chief economist.

Lin’s book requires a fair amount of patience, not because it is particularly technical but because one has to plod through pages of politically correct mumbo-jumbo to get to the interesting bits. The history section is all but useless; his explanations are so flawed as to be interesting only if one wants to be reminded how official Communist historiography is a sequence of gloss-overs and half-truths. We learn nothing about land reform or Mao’s disastrous decision to emulate the Soviet economic model. Instead, Lin blithely concludes that “copying the Soviet model was a smart and practical option.” Even though the book is based on his lecture notes at Peking University, he pulls more punches than most economists inside China. At least for a foreign reader, the book comes across as painfully circumspect.

But another way of looking at his book is that—even though published by a prestigious academic publishing house—it isn’t meant to be a rigorous study; instead it’s to be read between the lines. And indeed with the help of a bit of Pekingology, it has value. His main point is that China first followed a “Comparative Advantage Denying” strategy but under Deng began to follow a “Comparative Advantage Following” strategy. This is Lin’s code for rejecting and then embracing market economics. It’s only toward the end that Lin gets to his point:

Since 2003 the Chinese government has been using macro controls to cool the economy, but it has not worked. Why? For a simple reason: the government failed to take radical action to tackle the cause, the increasingly inequitable distribution of income in recent years.

That has led to a wealth gap that is among the largest in the world, “with the unemployed and retired left behind.” The result is that “discontentment and grievances have begun to simmer in the community.” Policies over the past decade, he implies, have been of the old “Comparative Advantage Denying” variant; in other words, a turning back of the clock to state control.

After making these refreshingly clear statements, Lin then meekly prescribes a few general fixes without discussing the political implications—essentially begging the question of why these issues have languished for a decade. His main prescription is that state enterprises need to be privatized once they are “viable,” although he doesn’t say if most state enterprises are or when this might happen. He has nothing to say about fostering creativity or innovation.

* * *

Far more vigorous and systematic is Nicholas Lardy’s take on the past four years. Lardy, one of the preeminent economists working on China and a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, has written a fairly technical book aimed at people who really care about the Chinese economy. Like Fallows, Lardy ends up pointing to the country’s political dysfunctionality.

Lardy starts by praising Premier Wen’s team in an opening chapter that will give pause to many China skeptics. He takes aim at foreign criticism of China’s 2008–2009 stimulus package, calling it “early, large, and well designed.” China rolled out a $586 billion stimulus in 2008, months before the Obama administration’s measures were passed into law. He notes approvingly that it was relatively much larger: the US package was $787 billion but for an economy two and a half times larger than China’s. Also, the Chinese plan almost completely focused on infrastructure projects—James Fallows’s airports, for example. By contrast, a third of the US stimulus measures were in the form of tax cuts, which households predictably put toward paying down debt—sensible for individuals but ineffective in stimulating demand. The result is that while the US and the rest of the world plunged into recession, China’s economy chugged along, somewhat slower but avoiding catastrophe.

China was better able to afford its hefty stimulus, he argues, because it had low levels of debt. Households and enterprises hadn’t been sucked into dangerous debt quagmires because China resisted Western advice to introduce fancy derivatives and other poorly understood financial products. Derided as too cautious, China’s mandarins began to look pretty smart—something worth keeping in mind when considering today’s predictions of doom.

Having praised China’s economic policymakers, Lardy proceeds to damn them. He writes that China’s leaders are aware that their policies are unsustainable. In 2007, Premier Wen told parliament that “China’s economic growth is unsteady, imbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” But it was precisely during Wen’s time in office that China’s economy went awry. Lardy points to political reasons: the leadership, he writes, is “focused on maintaining political stability by keeping inflation low and ensuring steady growth of nonagricultural employment.” These aren’t bad goals but instead of achieving them through reforms, Wen and his advisers resorted to sleights of hand.

Shortly after Wen took office in 2002, for example, China began holding down the rates paid on bank deposits, which kept credit cheap for the state-owned enterprises that get most bank loans. In addition, the exchange rate was held artificially low. Although the yuan has appreciated against the dollar in recent years, on a trade-weighted basis it only moved slightly.

From the government’s perspective, these policies funneled cheap capital (not to mention subsidized power and land) to state enterprises, which kept employment up and prices down. They also had the benefit of solidifying the role of state enterprises in a broad array of industries, which made conservative planners happy. The low exchange rate benefited export industries, which are located in China’s wealthy and politically powerful coastal provinces. This allowed China’s factories to hire the surplus labor that flows out of the countryside each year. All of this was designed to tamp down social unrest.

* * *

But as Lardy shows, these policies had many serious costs. Households began to earn an ever-shrinking share of China’s economic output. The low interest rates alone, he estimates, cost Chinese families the equivalent of $100 billion between 2002 and 2008. Unable to earn much by keeping money in the bank, many Chinese put their money in real estate, causing a huge property bubble that has yet to deflate. Other assets, from Yunnanese tea to contemporary art, also exploded in value, rippling across global markets.

Some government measures tried to help households. Over the past decade, China has set up a welfare and health insurance system and abolished many rural taxes that caused local unrest. But he shows that much of this has been eaten up by a “repressive” banking system and is too limited in scope. These measures were politically easy ways to spend money because they did not challenge vested interests.

If policymakers knew these problems were brewing, why didn’t they take course corrections? Lardy is typically succinct:

The emergence of a collective leadership system and the rise of special interest groups is a much more compelling explanation of China’s failure to pursue economic rebalancing policies more aggressively since 2004.

And yet the implication of this statement is bleak: surely no one can wish strongman rule on China. Perhaps, one wonders, the looming crisis may focus minds? These books were written before the current political crisis, when a member of the Politburo was suspended and his wife held on suspicion of murdering a foreign businessman. This Chinese leader, Bo Xilai, symbolized the confluence of statist economics and repressive social politics. In theory, his removal could weaken those forces, allowing the incoming leadership team of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang to push through a Deng-style revolution. It is possible, but it is equally likely that Bo’s removal will force the new leadership to placate leftists. Already, state propagandists have hit back at economists who propose reforms. That many of them are politically liberal is no coincidence.

Fallows’s book provides an example of what could happen in China if it tries to muddle through. Instead of Boeings or Airbuses, China could produce the equivalent of Russian Tupolevs—second-rate airplanes that will only sell among captive customers at home or client states abroad. Is this China’s fate? Taking the long view, Fallows reminds us that we’ve been asking this question for decades:

The contradictory signals from China…make us eager for the choice to emerge, clearly and definitively, to end the suspense that has been building for forty years, since Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit, so we can know whether to regard China as friend or foe.

Wisely, he refuses to predict.


  1. The exact numbers are impossible to ascertain but one estimate, by the Chinese scholar Sun Liping, puts the total number of “mass incidents” at 180,000 in 2010. This does not mean that China has five hundred riots a day, but it does mean that disturbances are widespread and, compared to previous estimates, that the number has increased significantly.
    The country’s stability and security apparatus costs in excess of $100 billion, according to government figures, slightly more than the defense budget.
  2. Two notable exceptions are Gordon G. Chang’s The Coming Collapse of China (Random House, 2001) and Minxin Pei’s China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy (Harvard University Press, 2006).
  3. China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society (World Bank, 2012), p. 65.
  4. Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel (PublicAffairs, 2001).
  5. See, for example, www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2011-2012/top-4....
Ian Johnson is a Beijing-based writer who specializes in civil society, culture, and religion. For thirteen years, Johnson worked at The Wall Street Journal, where he was a page-one feature writer...

Reviewed in This Article

China Airborne
by James Fallows
Pantheon, 268 pp.

Demystifying the Chinese Economy
by Justin Yifu Lin
Cambridge University Press, 311 pp.

Sustaining China’s Economic Growth After the Global Financial Crisis
by Nicholas R. Lardy
Peterson Institute for International Economics, 181 pp.

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This article was first published in the September 27, 2012 issue of the New York Review of Books.

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<p>“China is what it is. We have to be here or nowhere.” Chancellor George Osborne, Britain’s second-highest official, was <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10390326/Osborne-You-cannot-fail-to-be-staggered-by-China.html...

Old Dreams for a New China

Ian Johnson
<p>Ever since China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, first uttered the phrase “China Dream” last year, people in China and abroad have been scrambling to decipher its meaning. Many nations have “dreams”; in Canada, the country’s most prominent...

China: When the Cats Rule

Ian Johnson
<p>In the Northwest corner of Beijing’s old city is a subway and bus workshop. It was built in the early seventies on the site of the Lake of Great Peace, which was filled in as part of a plan to extend the city’s subway system. In the bigger...

The Man Who Got It Right

Ian Buruma
<h3>1.</h3><p>Near the beginning of Simon Leys’ marvelous collection of essays is an odd polemic between the author and the late Christopher Hitchens, fought out in these very pages. Leys takes Hitchens to task for attacking Mother...

Censoring the News Before It Happens

Perry Link
<p>Every day in China, hundreds of messages are sent from government offices to website editors around the country that say things like, “Report on the new provincial budget tomorrow, but do not feature it on the front page, make no...

Faking It in China

Ian Johnson
<p>One of the most striking features about daily life in China is how much of what one encounters has been appropriated from elsewhere. It’s not just the fake iPhones or luxury watches—pirated consumer goods are common in many developing...

Chen Guangcheng in New York

Jerome A. Cohen & Ira Belkin
<p><em>Following are excerpts from a recent conversation among Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist who was recently permitted to leave China and is currently a distinguished visitor at New York University School of Law; Jerome A...

The ‘Breaking of an Honorable Career’

Roderick MacFarquhar
<h3>1.</h3><p>In the 1950s, the late John King Fairbank, the dean of modern China studies at Harvard, used to tell us graduate students a joke about the allegation that a group of red-leaning foreign service officers and academics—...

China’s Sufis: The Shrines Behind the Dunes

Ian Johnson
<p>Lisa Ross’s luminous photographs are not our usual images of Xinjiang. One of China’s most turbulent areas, the huge autonomous region in the country’s northwest was brought under permanent Chinese control only in the mid-twentieth century...

Tibet: The CIA’s Cancelled War

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>For much of the past century, U.S. relations with Tibet have been characterized by kowtowing to the Chinese and hollow good wishes for the Dalai Lama. As early as 1908, William Rockhill, a U.S. diplomat, advised the Thirteenth Dalai Lama...

Will the Chinese Be Supreme?

Ian Johnson
<p>During the turbulent Maoist era from the 1950s to 1970s, China clashed militarily with some of its most important neighbors—India, Vietnam, the Soviet Union—and embarked on disastrous interventions in Indonesia and Africa. But by the 1980s...

Who Killed Pamela in Peking?

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>An ordinary winter evening in the Legation Quarter of Peking, where foreign embassies and consulates were located, January 7, 1937. Cold. The heavy sound of Japanese armored cars, out on patrol down the busy shopping streets that flank the...

Dancing in Empty Beijing

Ian Johnson
<p>The Lunar New Year began last week as it always does, with a new moon. The empty sky seemed to empty Beijing of up to half its residents—authorities estimate that an incredible nine million people left the city, which usually has a...

Blogging the Slow-Motion Revolution

Ian Johnson
<p>Huang Qi is best known in China as the creator of the country’s first human rights website, <a href="http://www.64tianwang.com" target="_blank">Liusi Tianwang</a>, or “June 4 Heavenly Web.” A collection of...

The Old Fears of China’s New Leaders

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>I felt a shudder of déjà vu watching the mounting protests inside China this week of the Communist Party for censoring an editorial in <em>Southern Weekend</em>, a well-known liberal newspaper in the southern city of Guangzhou...

Beijing’s Doomsday Problem

Ian Johnson
<p>Over the past ten days, China has been riveted by accounts of what authorities say are its very own doomsday cult: the church of Almighty God, which has prophesized that the world will end today. Authorities have said the group staged...

The New Chinese Gang of Seven

Ian Johnson
<p>In traditional Chinese religion, a <em>fashi</em>, or ritual master, will recite a set of phrases to turn an ordinary space into a sacred area where the gods can descend to receive prayers and rejuvenate the community. The...

Does This Writer Deserve the Prize?

Perry Link
<p>On October 11 Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, announced that the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2012 will go to the fifty-seven-year-old Chinese writer Guan Moye, better known as Mo Yan, a pen name...

China: Worse Than You Ever Imagined

Ian Johnson
<p>Last summer I took a trip to Xinyang, a rural area of wheat fields and tea plantations in central China’s Henan province. I met a pastor, a former political prisoner, and together we made a day trip to Rooster Mountain, a onetime summer...

Who Was Mao Zedong?

Roderick MacFarquhar
<p>In Kashgar’s largest bazaar a few years ago, I spotted a pencil holder sporting an iconic Cultural Revolution image: Mao Zedong and Marshal Lin Biao smiling together. But Mao’s personally chosen heir apparent had been a nonperson since 1971...

An Honest Writer Survives in China

Ian Johnson
<p>A little over a year ago, I went with the Chinese writer Yu Hua to his hometown of Hangzhou, some one hundred miles southwest of Shanghai, and realized that his bawdy books might not be purely fictional; their characters and situations...

Han Han: ‘Why Aren’t You Grateful?’

Ian Johnson
<p>When looking for Chinese reactions to the anti-Japanese riots that took place in late September, it was probably not much of a surprise that the Western press turned to Han Han, the widely read Shanghai-based blogger. In characteristic form...

Shanghai: The Vigor in the Decay

Ian Johnson
<p>This is a story that sounds familiar, that we think we know or can imagine: old houses torn down for luxury malls, ordinary people poorly compensated, an intimate way of life replaced by highways and high-rises.</p><p>All of...

Beijing’s Dangerous Game

Perry Link
<p>Over the past few days, angry crowds in more than thirty Chinese cities have trashed Japanese stores, overturned Japanese cars, shouted “Down with Japan,” and carried banners that demand Chinese sovereignty over the uninhabited Diaoyu...

Jesus vs. Mao?

Ian Johnson
<p>In the intellectual ferment leading up to the 1989 Tiananmen protests, a much-watched series on Chinese television called <em>River Elegy</em> became closely identified with the hopes of China’s reformers. The six-part series,...

News from the Dalai Lama

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>“I told President Obama the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are missing a part of the brain, the part that contains common sense,” the Dalai Lama said to me during our conversation in London in mid-June.</p><blockquote>...

The New Olympic Arms Race

Ian Johnson
<p>You can follow the Olympics two ways. First, there’s the right way: you pay attention to the athletes and root for great performances. You see them cry and hug each other in joy or look away in disgust at a bad performance. You empathize...

Bo Xilai: The Unanswered Questions

Perry Link
<p>The Chinese Communist Party has always put great emphasis on smooth surfaces, maintaining political “face” through a decorous exterior. Men at the top dye their hair black and every strand must be in place. But sometimes there are cracks in...

Bo Xilai: The Unanswered Questions

Perry Link
<p>The Chinese Communist Party has always put great emphasis on smooth surfaces, maintaining political “face” through a decorous exterior. Men at the top dye their hair black and every strand must be in place. But sometimes there are cracks in...

The People’s Republic of Rumor

Richard Bernstein
<p>A group of people the other day were at the large shopping mall at a place called Shuangjing, just inside Beijing’s Third Ring Road, looking at their cell phones and comparing notes. “Don’t go to Sina Weibo—it’s too famous,” one person...

China’s ‘Fault Lines’

Ian Johnson
<p>Yu Jie is one of China’s most prominent essayists and critics, with more than thirty books to his name. His latest work is a biography of his friend, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, that was <a href="http://www.newcenturymc...

‘Pressure for Change is at the Grassroots

Ian Johnson
<p>The Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in the United States last month following top-level negotiations between U.S. and Chinese officials. Several weeks earlier, Chen had dramatically escaped from house arrest in his village in...

China: Politics as Warfare

Jonathan Mirsky
<p><em>Mao’s Invisible Hand</em> is one of those books that make one feel good about scholarship. It describes inner workings of Chinese Communist society about which few nonexperts know anything—it may even surprise the experts—...

Why the Dalai Lama is Hopeful

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>“I told President Obama the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are missing a part of the brain, the part that contains common sense,” the Dalai Lama said to me during our conversation in London Wednesday.</p><blockquote><...

‘In the Current System, I’d Be Corrupt Too’

Ian Johnson
<p>Bao Tong is one of China’s best-known political dissidents. In the early to mid 1980s, he was director of the Communist Party’s Office of Political Reform and the policy secretary for Zhao Ziyang, the party’s former general secretary. Just...

A Chinese Murder Mystery?

Ian Johnson
<p>Roughly every decade, China’s political system cracks, its veil is rent, and its inner workings are laid bare. 2012, the Year of the Dragon, is turning out to be one of those periods when the country’s high priests can’t quite carry out...

Finding Zen and Book Contracts in Beijing

Ian Johnson
<p>It’s a Sunday afternoon and Beijing’s biggest bookstore is preparing for a major event: the launch of a new book by a bestselling American author, who will be on hand for the occasion. Six-foot banners on the sidewalk out front announce the...

London: The Triumph of the Chinese Censors

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>When I arrived at the London Book Fair on Monday, April 16, I saw a huge sign outside showing a cute Chinese boy holding an open book with the words underneath him: “China: Market Focus.” The special guest of this year’s fair was the...

On Fang Lizhi (1936–2012)

Perry Link
<p>Fang Lizhi, a distinguished professor of astrophysics,{vertical_image} luminary in the struggle for human rights in contemporary China, and frequent contributor to <em>The New York Review</em>, died suddenly on the morning of...

Debacle in Beijing

Ian Johnson
<p>The story of a blind Chinese lawyer’s flight to the US Embassy in Beijing is likely to ignite accusations and recriminations until the US presidential election in November. But what few will acknowledge is a harsher truth: that for all our...

Beijing Dilemma: Is Chen Guangcheng the Next Fang Lizhi?

Perry Link
<p>The Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng, blind since childhood, self-taught in the law, defender of women’s rights to resist forced abortion, thorn in the side of local despots in his home district of Linyi in Shandong province, veteran of a...

Bringing Censors to the Book Fair

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>When I arrived at the London Book Fair on Monday, I saw a huge sign outside showing a cute Chinese boy holding an open book with the words underneath him: “China: Market Focus.” The special guest of this year’s fair was the Chinese...

‘Worse Than the Cultural Revolution’

Ian Johnson
<p>Tian Qing may be China’s leading cultural heritage expert. A scholar of Buddhist musicology and the Chinese zither, or <em>guqin</em>, the sixty-four-year-old now heads the Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center...

A Master in the Shadows

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>How should one assess the best ways to survive in a revolution? What exactly is the tipping point between obedience and outright sycophancy? When does one try to hold on to the values that gave meaning to one’s upbringing, and when is it...

China’s Death-Row Reality Show

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Until it was taken off the air last December, one of the most popular television programs in China’s Henan province, which has a population of 100 million, was “Interviews Before Execution.” The presenter was Ding Yu, a pretty young woman,...

China’s Falling Star

Ian Johnson
<p>In China, the year is traditionally divided into periods based on the moon’s orbit around the earth and the sun’s path across the sky. This lunisolar calendar is laden with myths and celebrated by rituals that allowed Chinese to mark time...

Learning How to Argue

Ian Johnson
<p>One of China’s most outspoken public intellectuals, Ran Yunfei was detained last year after calls went out for China to emulate the “Jasmine Revolution” protests sweeping North Africa. He was held without trial for six months until last...

The Chinese Are Coming!

Richard Bernstein
<p>The day after the Russian parliamentary elections in early December, the Chinese publication <em>Global Times</em>, an English-language newspaper and website managed by <em>People’s Daily</em>, the official organ of...

He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny

Simon Leys
<blockquote>Better than the assent of the crowd: The dissent of one brave man!<br />—Sima Qian (145–90 BC)<br /><em>Records of the Grand Historian</em></blockquote><blockquote>Truth will set you free.<br...

Is Democracy Chinese?

Ian Johnson
<p>Chang Ping is one of China’s best-known commentators on contemporary affairs. Chang, whose real name is Zhang Ping, first established himself in the late 1990s in Guangzhou, where his hard-hitting stories exposed scandals and championed...

Notes from a Chinese Cave: Qigong’s Quiet Return

Ian Johnson
<blockquote><p><em>Lift up your head <br /> Calm your eyes<br /> Look far away, as far as you can<br /> Look beyond the walls<br /> What do you see?</em></p></blockquote><p>The Jinhua...

The New York Review of Books China Archive

<p>Welcome to the New York Review of Books China Archive, a collaborative project of ChinaFile.org and <em>The New York Review of Books. </em>In the archive you will find a compilation of full-length essays and book reviews on...

Banned in China

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In late December, a foreign correspondent in Beijing emailed me to say that a four-page article on China I’d written for a special New Year’s edition of <em>Newsweek</em> had been carefully torn from each of the 731 copies of...

China Gets Religion!

Ian Johnson
<p>This autumn, China has been marking the one hundredth anniversary of the collapse of its last imperial dynasty, the Qing, with a series of grand celebrations. The government has released an epic film showing how the revolution of 1911...

Do China’s Village Protests Help the Regime?

Ian Johnson
<p>Over the past two weeks, the Western press has focused on a striking story out of China: a riveting series of protests in Wukan, a fishing village in the country’s prosperous south. The story is depressingly familiar: Corrupt cadres sell...

The Real Deng

Fang Lizhi
<p>When a scientific experiment uncovers a new phenomenon, a scientist is pleased. When an experiment fails to reveal something that the scientist originally expected, that, too, counts as a result worth analyzing. A sense of the “...

My ‘Confession’

Fang Lizhi
<p>From reading Henry Kissinger’s new book <em>On China</em>,<sup id="fnr-1"><a href="#fn-1">1</a></sup> I have learned that Mr. Kissinger met with Deng Xiaoping at least eleven times—...

Making It Big in China

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Jianying Zha describes China as “way too big a cow for anyone to tackle in full.” Therefore, Ms. Zha says, she omits “the rural life, the small-town stories, the migrants working in huge manufacturing plants…continued poverty in parts of...

Are China’s Rulers Getting Religion?

Ian Johnson
<p>With worsening inflation, a slowing economy, and growing concerns about possible social unrest, China’s leaders have a lot on their plates these days. And yet when the Communist Party met at its annual plenum earlier this week, the issue...

From Tenderness to Savagery in Seconds

Ian Buruma
<p>Much nonsense has been written about the Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking. We know this much: in December 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army, after taking the Chinese Nationalist capital of Nanjing, went on a six-week...

China’s Tibetan Theme Park

Richard Bernstein
<p>In the international press, China’s tensions with Tibet are often traced to the Chinese invasion of 1950 and Tibet’s failed uprising of 1959. But for the Chinese themselves, the story goes back much further—at least to the reign of Kangxi,...

China’s ‘Liberation’ of Tibet: Rules of the Game

Robert Barnett
<p>Much of the talk about Vice President Joe Biden’s four-day visit to China last week centered on the man who hosted him: Xi Jinping, expected to become the country’s next president in 2012. Biden’s office has said that the principal purposes...

‘I’m Not Interested in Them; I Wish They Weren’t Interested in Me’

Ian Johnson
<p>Amid the recent crackdown on dissidents by the Chinese government, the case of Liao Yiwu, the well-known poet and chronicler of contemporary China, is particularly interesting. For years, Liao’s work, which draws on extensive interviews...

Murdoch’s Chinese Adventure

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>During a Parliamentary hearing last week in London, the Murdochs, father and son, riveted television audiences with their combination of wide-eyed, hand-on-heart innocence (James), and long silences and “Yups” and “Nopes” (Rupert). After...

China’s Political Prisoners: True Confessions?

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s ankle-deep heap of porcelain sunflower seeds bewitched recent visitors to London’s Tate Modern. But in early April Ai’s strong criticisms of the regime led to his disappearance somewhere in Beijing. On June 22...

The High Price of the New Beijing

Ian Johnson
<p>One recent weekend, I went for a walk through the alleys around the Qianmen shopping district, once Beijing’s commercial heart and still home to nationally known traditional shops. One of its chief side streets, Dazhalan, had been turned...

The Past and the Future

Fang Lizhi
<p>Concerning the Past:</p><ol><li>I have maintained that China should move forward with the reform of society. In many speeches before 1988, I openly expressed my advocacy of reform in China.</li><li>I...

Kissinger and China

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>It is hard to fit Henry Kissinger’s latest book, <em>On China</em>, into any conventional frame or genre. Partly that is because the somewhat self-deprecatory title conceals what is, in fact, an ambitious goal: to make sense of...

China’s Glorious New Past

Ian Johnson
<p>I first went to Datong in 1984 and was immediately taken by this gritty city in China’s northern Shanxi Province. Along with half a dozen classmates from Peking University, I traveled eight hours on an overnight train, arriving in a place...

Will There Be a ‘Duel of Dalai Lamas’?

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>On March 10 the Fourteenth Dalai Lama made front-page news throughout the world by saying,</p><blockquote>As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to...

Quality of Life: India vs. China

Amartya Sen
The steadily rising rate of economic growth in India has recently been around 8 percent per year (it is expected to be 9 percent this year), and there is much speculation about whether and when India may catch up with and surpass China’s over 10...

Recharging Chinese Art

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Retirement was not usually a concept of pressing concern to Chinese emperors. Succession and survival were normally quite enough to keep them occupied, and death—when it came—was often unexpected and frequently brutal. But Emperor Qianlong...

China Misunderstood: Did We Contribute to Ai Weiwei’s Arrest?

Ian Johnson
<p>Like many artists, Ai Weiwei enjoys provoking. It isn’t just his finger-to-the-Chinese-government images that he has become known for but also how he does it: his obsessive-compulsive documentation of himself in photos, blogs, tweets, and...

On the Sacred Mountain

Pico Iyer
<p>A powerful, unexpected scene suddenly surfaces near the beginning of Colin Thubron’s characteristically beautiful, though uncharacteristically haunted, new book of travel. As he walks through the mountains of Nepal, toward the holy peak of...

How China Fears the Middle East Revolutions

Perry Link
<p>Chinese authorities have done what they can to stop news—and worse, from their point of view, any influence—of Tunisian and Egyptian people-power from spreading to China. They have been worrying especially about what social media like...

The Secret Politburo Meeting Behind China’s New Democracy Crackdown

Perry Link
<p>In an NYRblog post on February 17 (<a href="http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/feb/17/middle-east-revolutions-view-china/" target="_blank">“Middle East Revolutions: The View from China”</a>), I...

Middle East Revolutions: The View from China

Perry Link
<p>Chinese authorities have done what they can to block news of Egyptian people-power from spreading to China. Reports about Egypt in China’s state-run media have been brief and vacuous. On February 6, at the height of the protests, the <em...

The Worst Man-Made Catastrophe, Ever

Roderick MacFarquhar
<p>When the first waves of Chinese graduate students arrived on American campuses in the early 1980s, they were excited at entering an unfettered learning environment. After the recent ravages of the Cultural Revolution, political science...

China: From Famine to Oslo

Perry Link
Each year around the “sensitive” anniversary of the Beijing massacre of June 4, 1989, Ding Zilin, a seventy-four-year-old retired professor of philosophy, is accompanied by a group of plainclothes police whenever she leaves her apartment to go buy...

Finding the Facts About Mao’s Victims

Ian Johnson
<p>Yang Jisheng is an editor of <em>Annals of the Yellow Emperor</em>, one of the few reform-oriented political magazines in China. Before that, the seventy-year-old native of Hubei province was a national correspondent with the...

At the Nobel Ceremony: Liu Xiaobo’s Empty Chair

Perry Link
<p>On December 10, I attended the award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, for the Nobel Peace Prize, which the government of China had a few days earlier declared to be a “farce.” The recipient was a friend of mine, the Chinese scholar and essayist...

Unveiling Hidden China

Christian Caryl
<p>Napoleon famously described China as a sleeping giant that would shake the world when it finally awoke. Well, now the giant is up and about, and the rest of us can’t help but notice. 2010, indeed, could well end up being remembered as the...

A Hero of Our Time

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>On October 8, Liu Xiaobo became the first Chinese to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and one of only three winners ever to receive it while in prison. The Oslo committee had already received a warning from Beijing not to give Liu the prize...

How Reds Smashed Reds

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>July and August 1966, the first months of the ten-year Cultural Revolution, were the summer of what Andrew Walder, a sociologist at Stanford, calls “The Maoist Shrug.” Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong’s wife, told high school Red Guards, “We do not...

A Very Superior ‘Chinaman’

Richard Bernstein
<p>Charlie Chan, the fictitious Chinese-American detective from Hawaii, makes his first appearance in the movie <em>Charlie Chan in Egypt</em> (1935) looking out the window of an airplane while flying over the Pyramids and the...

Rumblings of Reform in Beijing?

Ian Johnson
<p>Over the past six weeks, China’s thin class of the politically aware has been gripped by a faint hope that maybe, against all odds, some sort of political opening might be in the cards this year. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010...

‘A Turning Point in the Long Struggle’: Chinese Citizens Defend Liu Xiaobo

Perry Link
<p>It would be hard to overstate how much the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to <a href="http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/oct/11/jailed-for-words-nobel-laureate-liu-xiaobo/" target="_blank">Liu Xiaobo</...

A Hero of the China Underground

Howard W. French
<p class="dropcap">As a poet and chronicler of other people’s lives, Liao Yiwu is a singular figure among the generation of Chinese intellectuals who emerged after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Unlike the leaders of Beijing’...

The Question of Pearl Buck

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>The announcement by the Swedish Academy in November 1938 that Pearl Buck had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature was met with sarcasm and even derision by many writers and critics. They were not impressed that this was the third...

Jailed for Words: Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>On October 8, Liu Xiaobo became the first Chinese to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and one of only three winners ever to receive it while in prison. The Oslo committee had already received a warning from Beijing not to give Liu the prize...

Beijing’s Bluster, America’s Quiet: The Disturbing Case of Xue Feng

Richard Bernstein
<p>Quiet diplomacy, as it’s called, has served for years as the principle guiding U.S. relations with China: the theory is that it is far better to engage the Chinese government quietly, behind the scenes, rather than through more robust...

The Party: Impenetrable, All Powerful

Ian Johnson
<p>In the next few weeks, an event will take place in Beijing on a par with anything dreamed up by a conspiracy theorist. A group of roughly three hundred men and women will meet at an undisclosed time and location to set policies for a sixth...

Booming China, Migrant Misery

Richard Bernstein
<p>At the beginning of September, a Beijing criminal court announced a decision that called attention to the difficult and sometimes tragic circumstances of millions of migrant workers in China who have left their countryside homes to work for...

Waiting for WikiLeaks: Beijing’s Seven Secrets

Perry Link
<p>While people in the U.S. and elsewhere have been reacting to the release by WikiLeaks of classified U.S. documents on the Afghan War, Chinese bloggers have been discussing the event in parallel with another in their own country. On July 21...

The Message from the Glaciers

Orville Schell
<p>It was not so long ago that the parts of the globe covered permanently with ice and snow, the Arctic, Antarctic, and Greater Himalayas (“the abode of the snows” in Sanskrit), were viewed as distant, frigid climes of little consequence. Only...

Talking About Tibet: An Open Dialogue Between Chinese Citizens and the Dalai Lama

Perry Link
<p>Following is an English translation of an Internet dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Chinese citizens that took place on May 21. The exchange was organized by Wang Lixiong, a Chinese intellectual known for his writing on Tibet and for...

Brutalized in China

Jonathan Mirsky
<blockquote>She wonders if this is what people call falling in love, the desire to be with someone for every minute of the rest of her life so strong that sometimes she is frightened of herself.</blockquote><p>“She” is Granny Lin,...

The Triumph of Madame Chiang

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Charlie Soong, born in 1866, was a new kind of figure in Chinese history, an independent-minded youngster with an openness to the world who came to Boston from Hainan Island at the age of twelve to work in a store. At fourteen he stowed...

Locked Out: Beijing’s Border Abuse Exposed

Perry Link
<p>On February 12, Chinese human rights campaigner Feng Zhenghu was allowed to return to Shanghai after a 92-day stay in diplomatic limbo at the Tokyo Narita airport. Having left China last April to visit family in Japan, Feng, who is a...

What Beijing Fears Most

Perry Link
<p>On December 29, four days after being sentenced to eleven years in prison for “subversion of state power,” the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo filed an appeal to a higher court. For many familiar with the Chinese regime, the decision seemed...

The Trial of Liu Xiaobo: A Citizens’ Manifesto and a Chinese Crackdown

Perry Link
<p>One year ago, the Chinese literary critic and political commentator Liu Xiaobo was taken away from his home in Beijing by the Chinese police, who held him without charge for six months, then placed him under formal arrest for six more...

Copenhagen: China’s Oppressive Climate

Perry Link
<p>As the UN’s Climate Change Conference opens in Copenhagen this week, much attention will focus on China and the United States, who are, by a wide margin, the world’s two leading emitters of greenhouse gases. The success of the conference...

Specters of a Chinese Master

Jonathan D. Spence
<h4>1.</h4><p>Luo Ping, who lived from 1733 to 1799, was perfectly placed by time and circumstance to view the shifts in fortune that were so prominent in China at that period. He grew up in Yangzhou, a prosperous city on the Grand...

China: The Fragile Superpower

Christian Caryl
<p>Some China watchers believe that China’s dramatically rising prosperity will inevitably make the country more open and democratic. President Barack Obama’s <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-obama-china18-...

The Empire of Sister Ping

Richard Bernstein
<p>The headquarters of what was once the global people-smuggling operation of Cheng Chui Ping, aka Sister Ping, who is serving thirty-five years at a federal prison for women in Danbury, Connecticut, is now the Yung Sun seafood restaurant at...

China’s Boom: The Dark Side in Photos

Orville Schell
<p>I have seen some woeful scenes of industrial apocalypse and pollution in my travels throughout China, but there are very few images that remain vividly in my mind. This is why the photographs of Lu Guang are so important. A fearless...

The Enigma of Chiang Kai-shek

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Back in 1975, when he died in Taiwan at the age of eighty-seven, it was easy to see Chiang Kai-shek as a failure, as a piece of Chinese flotsam left awkwardly drifting in the wake of Mao Zedong’s revolutionary victories. Now it is not easy...

Obama’s Bad Bargain with Beijing

Perry Link
<p>As the echoes of China’s spectacular <a href="http://blogs.nybooks.com/post/206201760/china-at-60-who-owns-the-guns" target="_blank">military parade</a> on October 1 were subsiding, officials in the Obama...

China at 60: Who Owns the Guns

Perry Link
<p>The most striking feature of China’s October 1 celebration of sixty years of Communist rule was the spectacular and tightly choreographed <a href="http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-10/01/content_12146977.htm" target="...

China’s Dictators at Work: The Secret Story

Jonathan Mirsky
<p><em>Prisoner of the State</em> is the secretly recorded memoir of Zhao Ziyang, once holder of China’s two highest Party and state positions and the architect of the economic reforms that have brought the country to the edge of...

The Mystery of Zhou Enlai

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>{vertical_photo_right}</p><p>Through the ups and downs of the unpredictable Chinese Revolution, Zhou Enlai’s reputation has seemed to stand untarnished. The reasons for this are in part old-fashioned ones: in a world of violent...

‘A Hell on Earth’

Pico Iyer
<p>“The situation inside Tibet is almost like a military occupation,” I heard the Dalai Lama tell an interviewer last November, when I spent a week traveling with him across Japan. “Everywhere. Everywhere, fear, terror. I cannot remain...

The Death and Life of a Great Chinese City

Richard Bernstein
<p>Judging from the evidence of Michael Meyer’s portrait of life in a narrow backstreet of Beijing as China prepared for the Olympic Games, old Beijing has been vanishing for a very long time. “Peking you simply would not be able to recognize...

The China We Don’t Know

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In the late 1990s, Chinese peasants in the village of Da Fo, many of whom between 1959 and 1961 had survived the twentieth century’s greatest famine, felt free enough to install shrines to Guangong, the traditional war god of resistance to...

China’s Charter 08

Liu Xiaobo & Perry Link
<p><em>The document below, signed by more than two thousand Chinese citizens, was conceived and written in conscious admiration of the founding of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, where, in January 1977, more than two hundred Czech and...

An Asian Star Is Born

Christian Caryl
<p>Ian Buruma’s life would itself make a nice subject for a novel. His father was Dutch; his mother was British, from a family that emigrated from Germany in the nineteenth century; as an undergraduate in the Netherlands he focused on Chinese...

China: Humiliation & the Olympics

Orville Schell
<h3>The Incident</h3><p>On a snowy winter day in 1991, Lu Gang, a slightly built Chinese scholar who had recently received his Ph.D. in plasma physics, walked into a seminar room at the University of Iowa’s Van Allen Hall, raised a...

The Passions of Joseph Needham

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>It is now a little over four hundred years since a scattering of Westerners first began to try to learn the Chinese language. Across that long span, the number of scholars studying Chinese has grown, but their responses to the challenges of...

Why Didn’t Science Rise in China?

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>In response to:</p><p><em><a href="../../node/491">The Passions of Joseph Needham</a></em> from the August 14, 2008 issue</p><p><em>To the Editors</em>:</p><p...

How He Sees It Now

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>It is open season on the Dalai Lama and not just for Beijing, for whom he is “a monk in wolf’s clothing,” or for Rupert Murdoch, who dismissed him as a “very old political monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes.” During his trip to London in...

Casting a Lifeline

Francine Prose
<p>Sixty pages or so into Ma Jian’s novel <em>Beijing Coma</em>, the hero, Dai Wei, is troubled by the memory of a harrowing anatomy lecture that he attended as a university student. Taught by “a celebrated cardiovascular...

Sentimental Education in Shanghai

Pankaj Mishra
<h3>1.</h3><p>In April 1924 Rabindranath Tagore arrived in Shanghai for a lecture tour of China. Soon after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, Tagore had become an international literary celebrity, lecturing to...

Thunder from Tibet

Robert Barnett
<h3>1.</h3><p>Every so often, between the time a book leaves its publisher and the time it reaches its readers, events occur that change the ways it can be read. Such is the case with Pico Iyer’s account of the fourteenth Dalai...

Twelve Suggestions for Dealing with the Tibetan Situation, by Some Chinese Intellectuals

Wang Lixiong
<ol><li><p>At present the one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation. This is extremely detrimental to the long-term goal...

He Would Have Changed China

Perry Link
<p>In trying to make sense of their country’s turbulent modern history, Chinese intellectuals sometimes resort to counterfactual speculation. How might things have been different if one or another accidental event had happened differently? For...

He Won’t Give In

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>On June 4, 1989, having heard that the Tiananmen demonstrations had been lethally crushed, Kang Zhengguo, a professor of literature at a university in Shaanxi province, pinned a piece of paper to his chest displaying the words “AIM YOUR...

The Quiet Heroes of Tibet

Pankaj Mishra
<p>Earlier this year, shortly before boarding the new Chinese train from Beijing to Lhasa, I met Woeser, a Tibetan poet and essayist (she uses only one name). Unusual among Tibetans in China, who tend to avoid talking to foreigners, she spoke...

‘Ravished by Oranges’

Simon Leys
<p>How can we be informed? Chesterton famously observed that when we read in today’s newspapers that one window-cleaner fell to his death, our general understanding of window-cleaning is distorted; the information that 35,000 window-cleaners...

The Amazing Wanderer

Christian Caryl
<h3>1.</h3><p>I could tell you a lot of potentially useful things about Colin Thubron’s latest travel memoir—for example, that he’s a gifted linguist, a dogged reporter, and an elegant writer. For a start, though, perhaps it’s...

China’s Area of Darkness

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>The very first anonymous star on the CIA’s wall of honor at Langley, Virginia (the agency rarely identifies its dead heroes), refers to Douglas MacKiernan, the agency’s man in Urumqi, the capital of what is now called the Xinjiang Uyghur...

The Dream of Catholic China

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>From the later sixteenth century until the end of the seventeenth, the Jesuit educational system was the most rigorous and effective in Europe. As one senior Jesuit wrote proudly in 1647, each Jesuit college was a “Trojan horse filled with...

Mission to Mao

Roderick MacFarquhar
<p>“This was the week that changed the world” was Richard Nixon’s summing up at the end of his trip to China in February 1972.<sup id="fnr1"><a href="#fn1">1</a></sup> The hyperbole was justified,...

Chinese Shadows

Perry Link
<p>In 1920 a young Chinese poet named Guo Moruo published a poem called “The Sky Dog,” which begins:</p><blockquote><p><em>Ya, I am a sky dog!<br />I have swallowed the moon,<br />I have swallowed the sun...

Court Favorite

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>At seven feet six inches tall and about three hundred pounds, Yao Ming, the basketball superstar who plays for the Houston Rockets, is, for many Americans, the most famous living Chinese. In 2002 he was the number-one overall pick in the...

China’s Great Terror

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Long before August 1966, when immense chanting crowds of young Chinese Red Guards began to mass before Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square, alerting those in the wider world to the onset of the Cultural Revolution, senior figures in the...

Why They Hate Japan

Ian Buruma
<h3>1.</h3><p>Those who think that the Japanese are a little odd will have been confirmed in their prejudice by the behavior of Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro during his June visit to the United States. The social highlight was a...

‘June Fourth’ Seventeen Years Later: How I Kept a Promise

Pu Zhiqiang
<p>The weekend of June 3, 2006, was the seventeenth anniversary of the Beijing massacre and also the first time I ever received a summons. It happened, as the police put it, “according to law.” Twice within twenty-four hours Deputy Chief Sun...

China: The Shame of the Villages

Jonathan Mirsky
<h3>1.</h3><p>Published fifteen years ago, <em>Chinese Village, Socialist State</em>, as I wrote at the time, not only contained a more telling account of Chinese rural life than any other I had read; it also produced a...

Liu Binyan (1925-2005)

Perry Link
<p>Liu Binyan, the distinguished Chinese journalist and writer who died of cancer on December 5, 2005, in exile in New Jersey, at the age of eighty, was an inveterate defender of the poor and the oppressed, a man with a powerful analytic mind...

Portrait of a Monster

Jonathan D. Spence
<h4>1.</h4><p>It is close to seventy years since Edgar Snow, an ambitious, radical, and eager young American journalist, received word from contacts in the Chinese Communist Party that he would be welcome in the Communists’...

China: The Uses of Fear

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Instilling deadly fear throughout the population was one of Mao Zedong’s lasting contributions to China since the late Twenties. In the case of Dai Qing, one of China’s sharpest critics before 1989, fear seems to explain the sad...

Chinese Shadows

Ian Buruma
<p>There are many reasons for getting tattooed. But a sense of belonging—to a group, a faith, or a person—is key. As a mark of identification a tattoo is more lasting than a passport. This is not always voluntary. In Japan, criminals used to...

China: Wiping Out the Truth

Perry Link
Somehow poison got into the food at a snack shop in Nanjing, China, on September 14, 2002, and more than four hundred people fell ill. After forty-one of them died, the official Xinhua News Agency posted a notice warning of contaminated food in...

Passage to China

Amartya Sen
<h4>1.</h4><p>The intellectual links between China and India, stretching over two thousand years, have had far-reaching effects on the history of both countries, yet they are hardly remembered today. What little notice they get...

Taiwan on the Edge

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>The events in Taiwan since March 19, the day before the presidential election, can be seen as a Taiwanese version of the long wrangle between Al Gore and George W. Bush more than three years ago. No matter how the election is resolved,...

The Party Isn’t Over

Jonathan Mirsky
<h3>1.</h3><p>Early in the years following China’s post-Mao reforms, a Chinese sociologist told Princeton’s Perry Link, “We’re like a big fish that has been pulled from the water and is flopping wildly to find its way back in. In...

Chiang’s Monster

Jonathan D. Spence
<h4>1.</h4><p>During the late 1930s and World War II, it was common to call Dai Li “China’s Himmler,” as if Chiang Kai-shek’s secret police and intelligence chief during that period performed functions similar to the head of the...

The Hong Kong Gesture

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>On September 5, in an astonishing victory for liberty in Hong Kong and an equally unexpected defeat for Beijing and its hand-picked chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, the Hong Kong government withdrew a proposed new law against subversion and...

On Leaving a Chinese Prison

Jiang Qisheng
“What I did, what landed me in prison, was really quite simple—I just said in public what my fellow citizens were saying in all those other nooks.” —<em>Jiang Qisheng<em>

A Little Leap Forward

Nicholas D. Kristof
<p>The Communist dynasty is collapsing in China, and in retrospect one of the first signs was a Chinese-language computer virus that began spreading when I was a reporter in Beijing in the early 1990s. The virus would pop up on your screen and...

AsiaWorld

Ian Buruma
To stand somewhere in the center of an East Asian metropolis, Seoul, say, or Guangzhou, is to face an odd cultural conundrum. Little of what you see, apart from the writing on billboards, can be described as traditionally Asian. There are the faux-...

How the Chinese Spread SARS

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Communist China’s long obsession with secrecy is one cause of the present SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis. This passion for secrets—protected by lies—can involve events more than forty years ago, and it is heightened by a...

China’s Psychiatric Terror

Jonathan Mirsky
<h3>1.</h3><p>At its triennial congress in Yokohama last September, the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) overwhelmingly voted to send a delegation to China to investigate charges that dissidents were being imprisoned and...

China’s New Rulers: What They Want

Andrew J. Nathan & Bruce Gilley
<p><em>Following are the members of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, whose election is expected in November 2002, listed by their rank according to protocol, with their main Party and future state positions. Ages...

Taking Rights Seriously in Beijing

Ronald Dworkin
<p>Last May I was invited to China for two weeks, first to take part in a two-day conference at the law school of Tsinghua University in Beijing, and then to give several public lectures there and in other cities. The Tsinghua conference was...

China’s New Rulers: The Path to Power

Andrew J. Nathan & Bruce Gilley
<p><em>Following are the members of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, whose election is expected in November 2002, listed by their rank according to protocol, with their main Party and future state positions. Ages...

There Were Worse Places

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In the mid-1980s I made occasional trips to Harbin in Manchuria to report on the Orthodox White Russians who lived there, the remnant of a community that had fled from the new Soviet Union after the revolution. There were once so many of...

China: The Anaconda in the Chandelier

Perry Link
<p>In China’s Mao years you could be detained and persecuted for talking with your neighbor about your cat. The Chinese word for “cat” (<em>mao</em>, high level tone) is a near homonym for the name of the Great Leader (<em>...

Inside the Whale

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Ian Buruma is a powerful storyteller and much of his story about Chinese rebels is very sad. This sadness persists throughout his long journey, starting in the United States, where he met most of the well-known dissident Chinese exiles, and...

China’s Assault on the Environment

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In 1956 Chairman Mao wrote the poem “Swimming,” about a dam to be built across the Yangtze River. This is its second stanza:</p><blockquote><em>A magnificent project is formed. The Bridge, it flies! Spanning<br />...

On the Road

Pico Iyer
<p>Books that “follow in the steps of” a well-known traveler are more and more ubiquitous these days, but many of them are slightly suspect. Following in the footsteps of some distinguished predecessor can look a little like a gesture of...

Un-Chinese Activities

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In the first week of November 1728, China’s Emperor Yongzheng (who reigned between 1723 and 1735) ruled over something like 200 million people and the vast territory that Beijing today claims as the People’s Republic. He had plenty on his...

Writers in a Cold Wind

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Early in 1979 the Chinese officials in charge of culture declared that the Maoist ban on nineteen traditional classics and sixteen foreign works, including <em>Anna Karenina</em>, was lifted. On the day the books became...

Tibet Disenchanted

Ian Buruma
The first time I visited Tibet, in the fall of 1982, scars of the Maoist years were still plain to see: Buddhist wall paintings in temples and monasteries were scratched out or daubed with revolutionary slogans. Now that new winds are blowing, these...

‘Taiwan Stands Up’

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Politics in Taiwan is a deadly business, sometimes literally. Chen Shui-bian’s first public act, on the morning of his inauguration as president on May 20, was to carry his wife in his arms to their waiting car. In 1985 she had been run...

Found Horizon

Ian Buruma
Traveling recently by bus from Shigatse to Lhasa, squeezed in between a heavily made-up bar hostess from Sichuan who was vomiting her breakfast out the window and a minor Tibetan official in a shiny brown suit who asked me about Manchester United...

China’s Dirty Clean-Up

Sophia Woodman
<p>Every year, millions of China’s poorest and most vulnerable people are arrested on the streets of the nation’s cities merely because the way they look or speak identifies them clearly as “outsiders,” not native to the city in question, or...

A Lamas’ Who’s Who

Jonathan Mirsky
<blockquote><em>A one-l lama, he’s a priest.</em><br /> <em>A two-l llama, he’s a beast.</em><br /> <em>And I will bet a silk pajama,</em><br /> <em>There isn’t any three-l lllama...

East Is West

Ian Buruma
<p>Chang-rae Lee has an extraordinary talent for describing violence. Here is his account of the gang rape and murder of a Korean sex slave (“comfort woman”) in a Japanese army camp during World War II:</p><blockquote>I ran up the...

Divine Killer

Ian Buruma
<blockquote>“If there was anything Mao wouldn’t want to see, it was tears. Mao said on one occasion, ‘I can’t bear to see poor people cry. When I see their tears, I can’t hold back my own.’<br /> “Another thing which upset Mao was...

China in Cyberspace

Ian Buruma
It is not widely known that the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan are now at war. The battles are not being fought on land, however, or at sea, or even, strictly speaking, in the air; they take place in cyberspace, where nobody so far has ever...

Misfortune in Shanghai

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Connoisseurs of traditional Peking opera would have enjoyed the recent meeting in Shanghai sponsored by <em>Fortune</em> to consider “China: The Next 50 Years.” The audience of approximately three hundred CEOs of US and other...

Room at the Top

Pico Iyer
<p>The last time I was in the Himalayas, I met a young, highly Westernized Tibetan who, misled perhaps by my Indian features (born in England, I’ve never lived in the subcontinent), started talking to me about the strange ways of the exotic...

The Jiang Zemin Mystery

Orville Schell
Since the Chinese Communist Party leaders will not allow themselves to be criticized in the press or on television, critics have had to find other means to express their political grievances. Historically speaking, one of the most telling ways to...

The Dalai Lama on Succession and on the CIA

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>This year is the fortieth anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet into Indian exile. He is sixty-five and some day even god-kings must die. But in the eyes of Tibetans he is also the fourteenth incarnation of the first Dalai Lama...

Message from Shangri-La

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>On October 6, 1939, on the outskirts of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, Hugh Richardson, who is now ninety-three and the West’s foremost living Tibetanist, saw the arrival in the city of the five-year-old boy who in early 1940 would be...

Talking with Mao: An Exchange

Henry Kissinger & Jonathan D. Spence
<h5>In response to:</h5><p><a href="http://www.chinafile.com/kissinger-emperor"><em>Kissinger &amp; the Emperor</em></a> from the March 4, 1999 issue</p><p><em>To the Editors...

Kissinger & the Emperor

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>From the moment when they first began to keep historical records, the Chinese showed a fascination with the complexities of diplomacy, with the give-and-take of interstate negotiation, the balancing of force and bluff, the variable powers...

Sex and Democracy in Taiwan

Ian Buruma
<p>Fairly or not, sex scandals in politics have acquired a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon ring. The French boast of taking a more sophisticated view of the private lives of public men—that is to say, those lives are shielded from public scrutiny...

Democratic Vistas?

Jonathan Mirsky
In August 1980 Deng Xiaoping laid down the Communist Party’s view of democracy. It continues to cripple China and is used both inside the country and by its apologists abroad to avoid the issue of repression. Deng said: Democracy without socialist...

Goodfellas in Shanghai

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Just over two thousand years ago, China’s first great historian, Sima Qian, decided to include a chapter on assassins in his long history of his newly united homeland. He chose five men as representative examples of those who had tried to...

Talking with Wei Jingsheng

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Speaking to a small group in London this January, nearly two months after he was expelled from China, the Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng told his somewhat startled listeners, “The earliest human rights movement in the world was the ‘People...

The Mark of Cain

Jonathan Mirsky
<h3>1.</h3><p>In Hong Kong’s China Club, fashionable people have lunch beneath pictures of Mao Zedong after a drink in the Long March Bar. Most of the members are refugees from Mao or the children of refugees. In Russia, or Germany...

Lost Horizons

Pico Iyer
<p>Tibet has always cast a dangerously strong spell upon visitors from abroad. When the first major European expedition marched on Lhasa in 1904, led by Colonel Younghusband at the behest of his old friend Lord Curzon, it ended up slaughtering...

Betrayal

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>It is unusual in British political life for a high official to leave his position and immediately reveal in his own words or through an intermediary what in his opinion really happened while he was in office. Furthermore, unless he has been...

Selling Out Hong Kong

Ian Buruma
And so it finally came to pass, at midnight, June 30, 1997, in the brand-new Hong Kong convention center, resembling, local people say, a giant cockroach: the red flag of the People’s Republic of China, snapping in the breeze of wind machines, went...

Peking’s Choice

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>The recent sentence to six years in prison of one of Tibet’s supreme monks shows Peking’s determination to dominate all events in the region and bring to an end a period of intense confusion within the Chinese Communist Party. For a brief...

Holding Out in Hong Kong

Ian Buruma
Flicking through the April issue of the Hong Kong Tatler, a glossy high life magazine modeled after the London Tatler, I was reminded of a story I once heard about the Rothschild house in Paris. When Victor Rothschild visited the Avenue de Marigny...

Peking, Hong Kong, & the US

Jonathan Mirsky
No recent book has blown a bigger hole in the proposition that the US must follow a policy of “positive engagement” with China than The Coming Conflict with China. It is a mark of the wound they inflicted on Peking that the authors, ex-reporters in...

What Confucius Said

Jonathan D. Spence
<h4>1.</h4><p>The first Western-language version of Confucius’ sayings—later known as the Analects—was published in Paris in 1687, in Latin, under the title <em>Confucius Sinarum Philosophus</em>, with a brief...

Demolition Man

Roderick MacFarquhar
<p>Deng Xiaoping was eulogized by his colleagues as the “chief architect” of China’s reform program and its opening to the outside world.<sup id="fnr1"><a href="#fn1">1</a></sup> This was misleading...

China: The Defining Moment

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>The evolution of the People’s Republic of China since its founding in 1949 has been tumultuous and bloody, and marked by the suffering of millions. It has been anything but peaceful. Yet it is precisely the prospect of “peaceful evolution...

The Risks of Witness

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>With this, the third book that Harry Wu has published about China’s forced-labor prison camp system, we can see that he has been moving on a discernible trajectory, one that has taken him from the world of reality to the world of appearance...

The Hope for China

Fang Lizhi & Perry Link
<h4>1.</h4><p>“Some people,” declared Mao Zedong in 1959, “say that we have become isolated from the masses.”<sup id="fnr1"><a href="#fn1">1</a></sup> By “some people” Mao meant Peng...

How China Lost Taiwan

Jonathan Mirsky
<h3>1.</h3><p>For foreign correspondents who had been present in Peking’s Tiananmen Square in June 1989, the events of the night of March 17, 1996, in the plaza in front of the Taipei city hall, showed more clearly than any other...

One More Art

Simon Leys
<h4>1.</h4><p>The discovery of a new major art should have more momentous implications for mankind than the exploration of an unknown continent or the sighting of a new planet.<sup id="r1"><a href="#fn1...

River of Fire

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In her introduction to a collection of Karl Marx’s newspaper dispatches on China, Dona Torr conceived a charming fantasy in which Marx speculates that</p><blockquote>When our European reactionaries have to take refuge in Asia...

Is There Enough Chinese Food?

Vaclav Smil
<h3 align="center">1.</h3><p>Many Americans think they know something about Chinese food. But very few know anything about food in China, about the ways in which it is grown, stored, distributed, eaten, and wasted, about...

The Beginning of the End

Ian Buruma
<p>Failed rebellions are often like failed marriages: former partners and their friends blame the other side for what went wrong; old tensions are magnified; the past is rewritten; feuding camps are formed. This pretty much sums up the...

In China’s Gulag

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Near the end of <em>The Gulag Archipelago</em>, Solzhenitsyn includes a chapter he calls “The Muses in Gulag.” Most of the chapter describes the absurdity and uselessness of the Communist Party’s Cultural and Educational Section...

Jumping Into the Sea

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>“Be sure to prevent any contact between the barbarians and the population,” the Emperor Qianlong ordered in 1793. This is one of the many pointed epigraphs in <em>China Wakes</em>, and it shows what Chinese rulers knew for...

The Underground War for Shanghai

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>During the night of November 21–22, 1928 a steamer moored at the docks in the Chinese section of Shanghai, and a group of harbor coolies, flanked by a squad of thirty armed guards, began to unload chests onto the dock. Alerted by a tip some...

Unmasking the Monster

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In 755 the Tang dynasty poet Tu Fu wrote about the corruptions of court life:</p><blockquote>In the central halls there are fair goddesses; An air of perfume moves with each charming figure. They clothe their guests with warm...

The Bottom of the Well

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Do Chinese women, as the Communist Party has held for decades, “hold up half the sky?” Or, like the frog at the bottom of a well in a famous Daoist legend, do they see only a little blue patch? Why is it that tens of millions of them are...

Remembrance of Ming’s Past

Jonathan D. Spence
To many readers in the past, The Plum in the Golden Vase has seemed an inchoate mass of a story. Even if it was clearly “about” a wealthy urban merchant Hsi-men Ch’ing, his six consorts, and numerous other sexual companions, it was also full of...

The Prodigal Sons

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>What do Xi Yang, Wei Jingsheng, and Wang Juntao have in common? Yes, they are all “counter-revolutionary elements, subversives, splittists, black hands”—whatever Peking cares to call them—and all three are familiar with the Party’s prison...

The Old Man’s New China

Perry Link
<p>The Communist Party of China has regularly warned Western observers like Merle Goldman not to interfere in China’s internal affairs. China, it says, has its own culturally distinctive ideas on topics like freedom, democracy, and human...

The Battle for Hong Kong

Jonathan Mirsky
<h4>1.</h4><p><em>Hong Kong</em>—The first weekend of the Year of the Dog, February 11–13, was not a good one for those of us who live in Hong Kong. The annual fireworks display, sponsored by the Bank of China (in...

Where the East Begins

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Between 1965 and 1977, Donald Lach published the first two volumes of his <em>Asia in the Making of Europe</em>, an illuminating and erudite survey of the various ways that Asia has affected scholarship, literature, and the...

The Chinese Miracle?

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Over the last few months the news and reportage about China have become almost incomprehensibly divided between two points of view. According to one set of reports, China is now confirmed as an economic “colossus,” shaking off all the...

Unjust Desserts

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Can there be any justice in today’s China? It is the deepest question that the film director Zhang Yimou has asked so far. His best-known earlier films, sexually supercharged, suffused with violence or the threat of it, always found some...

The Party’s Secrets

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Not long after Mao Zedong died in 1976, one of the editors of the Party’s <em>People’s Daily</em> said. “Lies in newspapers are like rat droppings in clear soup: disgusting and obvious.” That may have been true of the Party’s...

Deng’s Last Campaign

Roderick MacFarquhar
<p>China had its own form of grueling political campaign this year, which ended when the Fourteenth Congress of the Communist Party (CCP) took place in October. There, too, the issue was “change” and the main concern the economy. But in China...

Squaring the Chinese Circle

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>“China,” according to Lucien Pye, “is a civilization pretending to be a state.”<sup id="fnr1"><a href="#fn1">1</a></sup> This is an elegant formulation of an idea which eventually occurs to most...

The Other China

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>On the same late fall day in 1991, two stories about China appeared in the Western press. One announced that thirty-five drug dealers had just been executed in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, probably by a single police bullet...

Blazing Passions

Geoffrey O’Brien
<p>In a coincidence of programming in New York City a selection of the commercially most successful Hong Kong movies of the 1980s ran at the same time as a retrospective of work (some of it only marginally released in its country of origin) by...

Literature of the Wounded

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In <em>Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic</em>, Bette Bao Lord’s memoir of her three years in Peking as the American ambassador’s wife, she recalled that “all Chinese were in pain, and taking their pulse, reading their temperature,...

John King Fairbank (1907–1991)

Roderick MacFarquhar
<p>John Fairbank, who died on September 14 at the age of eighty-four, read virtually all serious Western works on China. Reviewing them, principally for <em>The New York Review</em> in the last several years, was for him one way of...

The Anatomy of Collapse

Roderick MacFarquhar
<p>In Moscow, 1991, as in Beijing in 1989, eight hard liners made a last-ditch stand to preserve communism. Yet in both cases, the Communist party was left on the sidelines and no appeal was made for support in the name of Communist doctrine...

China on the Verge

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>During the play-off matches for the intercollegiate East China soccer title in the early 1920s, passions ran high. The president of Shanghai’s prestigious Communications University was no less a soccer fan than anyone else, but he was also...

The Myth of Mao’s China

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In <em>China Misperceived</em> Steven Mosher strikes back at the profession, clan, or family of China watchers that cast him out. The official reasons have never been made public, although his university, Stanford, hinted at...

Brutality in China

Merle Goldman
<p>At the same time that President Bush is speaking up against Saddam Hussein’s human rights atrocities, he is appeasing China’s octogenarian leaders on the very same issue. In order to persuade China to cooperate in the United Nations actions...

Lost Horizons

Jonathan Mirsky
Except for the Chinese Communists, who call him names like “the wolf in monk’s robes,” or “the criminal Dalai,” virtually everyone speaks well of the Dalai Lama. The latest incarnation is the Fourteenth in a line that began in 1351 and exists...

History on the Wing

John K. Fairbank
<p><em>Golden Inches</em> is a charming memoir of an American couple who built up the YMCA in Chengtu and Chungking. Their careers on America’s farthest Western cultural frontier in Szechwan province give us a sense of the day-to-...

The Art of Interpreting Nonexistent Inscriptions Written in Invisible Ink on a Blank Page

Simon Leys
<h3>1.</h3><p>In any debate, you really know that you have won when you find your opponents beginning to appropriate your ideas, in the sincere belief that they themselves just invented them. This situation can afford a subtle...

The Chinese Amnesia

Fang Lizhi
<p><em>The following was written while Fang Lizhi was staying in the American Embassy in Beijing, before his release last June</em>.</p><p>In November 1989, during the fifth month of my refuge inside the American...

From the Ming to Deng Xiaoping

John K. Fairbank
<p>When I began teaching Chinese history at Harvard in 1936 my first students turned out to be the brightest I would ever have—Theodore White as an undergraduate and Mary Clabaugh as a Ph.D. candidate. Mary Clabaugh was a Vassar graduate from...

In A Cruel Country

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In her disturbing memoir of three and half years in Beijing, Bette Bao Lord, the author of the novel <em>Spring Moon</em> and wife of Winston Lord, the American ambassador until just before the Beijing killings, retells a...

The Last Days of Hong Kong

Ian Buruma
May 1983: It was exactly seven months after Mrs. Thatcher stumbled and fell on the steps of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing that I arrived in Hong Kong to take up a job. The prime ministerial fall; which preceded a fierce quarrel with Deng...

The Empire Strikes Back

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>“President Bush still regards you as his friend, a friend forever,” Brent Scowcroft told Deng Xiaoping in Beijing on December 10, six months and seven days after Deng ordered the People’s Liberation Army into Tiananmen Square. In Washington...

Keeping the Faith

Fang Lizhi
I am proud and deeply moved to have this opportunity to speak with you here today; but at the same time, I am also filled with a sense of sorrow and shame. I am moved because you have chosen to honor me with the 1989 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights...

Vengeance in China

Merle Goldman
<p>While China’s leaders try to assure the outside world and themselves that “everything is back to normal,” the national problems that existed before the June 4 crackdown have become much worse. China’s students and intellectuals were already...

Stories from the Ice Age

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Since the Tiananmen Square killings it has become fashionable within the Chinese leadership to refer to dissident intellectuals as “scum.” That was Mao’s view, too. In 1942, the chairman, his armies besieged by both Chiang Kai-shek and the...

China Witness, 1989

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>In response to: <a href="http://www.chinafile.com/node/186"><em>China’s Spring</em></a> from the June 29, 1989 issue</p><p><em>To the Editors:</em></p><p>The absolute...

After the Massacres

Simon Leys
<p>A historian of contemporary China who is considering the events of three years ago, of ten years ago, of twenty years ago, must feel dizzy: each time, it is the same story, the plot is identical—one needs only to change the names of a few...

Why China’s Rulers Fear Democracy

John K. Fairbank
<p>To try to understand is not to condone or forgive. Quite the contrary. In this bicentennial year when a euphoria for democratic rights seemed to be sweeping the world, why was it stopped in Tiananmen Square? Why do China’s rulers attack...

The End of the Chinese Revolution

Roderick MacFarquhar
<p>When Deng Xiaoping suppressed the Beijing Spring last month, he thought he was putting down a new Cultural Revolution. Pirated notes from a Party meeting in late April quoted him as telling his colleagues:</p><blockquote><p...

The Curse of the Man Who Could See the Little Fish at the Bottom of the Ocean

Simon Leys
Since the Beijing massacres, the question has already been put bluntly to me several times: “Why were most of our pundits so constantly wrong on the subject of China? What enabled you and a tiny minority of critics to see things as they really were...

Letters from the Other China

Fang Lizhi
During the student demonstrations that swept China toward the end of 1986, the brilliant astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, who was then vice-president of the University of Science and Technology, emerged, through his speeches to student groups, as the...

China’s Spring

Orville Schell
<p>To stand, in early May, atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace, which guards the entrance to the Forbidden City, and look across the vast crowd of people jammed into Tiananmen Square was to have a historically new sense of what Mao called “the...

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Just before the recent demonstrations in Beijing and other cities, which shook the Party to its foundations, a rumor ran through the capital: Mao Zedong’s body, embalmed and mounted in the ugly Memorial Hall which disfigures Tiananmen...

The Chinese Intellectuals and the Revolt

Perry Link
<p>The Beijing revolt of 1989 has caught the world’s attention, but the malaise that led to the emergency is broader and deeper than any of its conspicuous slogans can suggest. For foreigners like myself who live in Beijing, it was already...

Mao and Snow

John K. Fairbank & Jonathan Mirsky
<h3>In response to:</h3><p><a title="&quot;Message from Mao,&quot; New York Review of Books, February 16, 1989" href="/node/595"><em>Message from Mao</em></a> from the February 16...

Message from Mao

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>In Kansas City, Missouri, the family of Edgar Snow, whose <em>Red Star Over China</em> was to introduce Mao Zedong to the world, employed a black washerwoman, Crazy Mary, who hated one of her Chinese competitors. To enrage the...

China’s Despair and China’s Hope

Fang Lizhi
Nineteen eighty-nine is the Year of the Snake in China. It is not clear whether this snake will bring any great temptations. But this much is predictable: the year will stimulate Chinese into deeper reflection upon the past and a more incisive look...

The Price China Has Paid: An Interview with Liu Binyan

Nathan Gardels
<p>Liu Binyan is a sixty-two-year-old writer and journalist who is regarded as the preeminent intellectual advocating reform in China today. During the mid-1950s and again throughout the post-Mao period, he has strongly criticized Communist...

Roots of Revolution

John K. Fairbank
<p>The books by Frank Ching and Zhang Xianliang are vastly different in content, aim, and style, as opposite as yang and yin. Yet each casts light on the Cultural Revolution. Considered together, they may even begin to explain it.</p>...

Passing the Baton in Beijing

Roderick MacFarquhar
Succession has become an omnipresent problem not only in China but throughout Asia. Long-lasting regimes under aging rulers are entering their twilight zone in North Korea, Burma, and Indonesia, and face a period of weakness and uncertainty, for the...

China on My Mind

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Almost forty years have passed since John King Fairbank’s first book, <em>The United States and China</em>, was published in 1948. A careful blending of Chinese institutional history with diplomatic history, the book proved...

Surviving the Hurricane

Judith Shapiro
<p>At a time when the new freedoms of the post-Mao years are in jeopardy, many issues of intense concern to Chinese can freely be discussed only abroad. Of these, among the most important is the Cultural Revolution, about which Nien Cheng has...

Turbulent Empire

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Among the great and enduring questions in the study of Chinese history are these: In an agricultural country of such extraordinary size how was the land farmed and what were the patterns of ownership and tenancy? How was the rural revenue...

The End of the Long March

Roderick MacFarquhar
<p>In Peking last September, China’s supreme leader, Deng Xiaoping, pensioned off the surviving generals of the Long March. Fifty years after their epic exploit, these old soldiers finally agreed to fade away. Deng must hope that the legend...

Our Mission in China

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>This is the bicentennial year for contacts between the United States and China, since it was in 1784 that the merchant ship <em>Empress of China</em> sailed to Canton from New York. It was an auspicious beginning, at least for...

China: Mulberries and Famine

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Near the beginning of the Chinese “Classic of Historical Documents” (the <em>Shujing</em>), where the doings of early mythic rulers are being described, there is a brief passage that stands out among the others for its precision...

China: How Much Dissent?

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>In the year 278 BC an aristocrat and poet named Qu Yuan took his own life by throwing himself into the waters of the Milo River. Qu Yuan had once been the powerful adviser to the ruler of the Chu kingdom, specializing in legal affairs and...

Take Back Your Ming

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Until very recently the great expanse of the Ming dynasty, which ruled in China from 1368 to 1644, was largely uncharted in Western historiography. The dynasty was seen either as having come at the end of a great tradition that had been...

Forever Jade

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>A central crisis in modern Chinese letters has been caused by the need to take account of Western forms. Some writers adjusted eagerly to Western literature out of a sincere admiration for Western culture; some grudgingly, out of a total...

Why Confucius Counts

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>One would be hard pressed, surveying any of the political cultures in human history, to find a parallel for the continuity, longevity, and vitality of Confucianism. This moral and ethical system was given initial shape in the fifth and...

The Chinese Dream Machine

Jonathan D. Spence
<p>Simple-looking questions make good starting points for books; for simple questions are usually very hard to answer, and if the author is skillful enough he elaborates the simple question until it is overlaid with hovering qualifications,...

Chinese Shadows: Bureaucracy, Happiness, History

Simon Leys
In the sixth century BC, at the time the Tso Chuan refers to, China’s social hierarchy had only ten degrees. We have progressed since then: the Maoist bureaucracy today has thirty hierarchical classes, each with specific privileges and prerogatives...

Chinese Shadows

Simon Leys
In handbooks on Chinese traditional painting, an advice commonly given to the artist who wishes to learn to paint trees is to sketch them in winter, for then, without the seductive yet confused and blurry effect of their leafy masses, through their...

Sitting on Top of the World

Harold L. Kahn
<p>Remoteness is often a condition of status and an attitude cultivated by parties to inequality. Chinese peasants, for more than twenty centuries subjects not citizens of the realm, were being literal when they said, “Heaven is high and the...

Traveling Light

Martin Bernal
<p>With the exception of Joseph Kraft’s short work, all the books on China mentioned here have been padded. Barbara Tuchman includes a fascinating historical essay. Galbraith has animadversions on San Francisco, Paris, TWA, and many other...

Rules of the Game

John Gittings
<p>On September 18, 1931, a very small bomb caused a very minor explosion on the South Manchurian Railway just north of Mukden, a railway controlled by the Japanese and crucial to their economic domination of Manchuria. The explosion was...

Up Against the Wall at Tsinghua U.

Ross Terrill
<p>Some Chinese refer to their lives before and after the Cultural Revolution as if that storm of the Sixties were a religious conversion. Like John Bunyan writing with enthusiastic horror of his unregenerate days, the cadre or craftsman today...

A Shameful Tale

John Gittings
<p>On the contents page of the latest issue of <em>Foreign Affairs</em><sup id="fnr1"><a href="#fn1">1</a></sup> the new shape of American diplomacy is writ large and in italics. In this...

Who’s Who in China

Martin Bernal
<p>Written Chinese is extremely difficult. Before the revolutions of the twentieth century, the literary language was a barrier protecting the Confucian elite. Anyone who could jump over that barrier by passing the official examinations...

Bringing Up the Red Guards

John Gittings
veryone who has studied the Chinese Cultural Revolution has his own favorite quotation from the Red Guard press. Those who want to make fun of it can always pick one of Mrs. Mao’s ridiculous pronouncements (“P’an T’ien-shou is a counterrevolutionary...

Peanuts and the Good Soldier

John Gittings
<p>In 1927, the province of Shantung was under the control of the warlord Chang Tsung-chang, a ferocious ex-coolie with a taste for white mercenaries and white women. His forces included a Russian brigade with four armored trains; he himself...

How Mao Won

Martin Bernal
<h5>In response to:</h5><p><a href="/node/1532"><em>Was Chinese Communism Inevitable?</em></a> from the December 3, 1970 issue</p><p><em>To the Editors:</em></p><p...

Was Chinese Communism Inevitable?

Martin Bernal
<p>It is likely that, even now, many people in America and Britain still hold to the simple formula that people are good and communism is evil. And, just as good cannot support evil, people cannot support communism. Therefore any political...

Mao and the Writers

Martin Bernal
<p>By the 1930s the intolerable quality of life and the inefficiency, corruption, and conservatism of the Kuomintang had driven nearly every serious creative writer in China to the Left. Most turned toward some form of Marxism, which not only...

Report from the China Sea

Jonathan Mirsky
<p>Since the Communist victory in 1949 there has been very little contact between Americans and Chinese. Although a tiny community of aging Americans continues to live in Peking, no American, except for Edgar Snow, has traveled widely in the...

Still Mysterious

John K. Fairbank
<p>Within mainland China today the ratio of Westerners to Chinese is probably no greater than it was in Marco Polo’s time seven hundred years ago. Sino-foreign contact is so minimal that it almost meets the old Taoist stay-at-home ideal, “to...

A Mao for All Seasons

Martin Bernal
<p>{vertical_photo_right}</p><p>A psychologist and an expert on the Far East, Mr. Lifton believes that the most fruitful way to look at Mao Tse-tung and the Cultural Revolution is to combine the investigation of psychological...

Pekinology

Martin Bernal
<p>Mr. Pye is disarming and sensible in his description of his method. From the start he makes it clear that <em>The Spirit of Chinese Politics</em> is an “interpretive and largely speculative essay.” He refuses to cite specific...

The Great Wall

John K. Fairbank
<p>China is so distant, big, and complex that each Marco Polo nowadays tells a different tale. The authors of the three books under review—a cool Swedish journalist, a passionate Chinese true-believer, and a philosophical Frenchman—give very...

Puritanism Chinese-Style

Martin Bernal
<p>Specialists in the USSR and East Europe have both helped and hindered modern Chinese studies. Many scholars such as Benjamin Schwartz came to the serious interpretation of Chinese Communism from Slavic studies. On the other hand, less...

Chinese Checkers

Martin Bernal
<h5>In Response to:</h5><p><a href="/node/1574"><em>Contradictions</em></a> from the July 7, 1966 issue</p><p><em>To the Editors:</em></p><p>Martin Bernal in his...

Contradictions

Martin Bernal
<p>Professor Schurmann is not modest. Near the beginning of his book he writes: “translations from Chinese, Russian and Japanese are my own, and hundreds of articles had to be read in the original Chinese with precision and at the same time...

How to Deal with the Chinese Revolution

John K. Fairbank
<p>The Vietnam debate reflects our intellectual unpreparedness. Crisis has arisen on the farthest frontier of public knowledge, and viewpoints diverge widely because we all lack background information. “Vietnam” was not even a label on our...

Down There on a Visit

Martin Bernal
<p>In many ways this is the book that everybody interested in China has been waiting for, a book describing what it feels like to be a peasant living through the Chinese Revolution. In the summer of 1962 Jan Myrdal, the thirty-year-old son of...

Mao’s China

Martin Bernal
<p>To most Westerners China is not a part of the known world and Mao is not a figure of our time. The ignorant believe he is the leader of a host of martians whose sole occupation is plotting the destruction of civilization and the enslavement...

The Popularity of Chinese Patriotism

Martin Bernal
<p>Fundamentally China is a sellers’ market. The first half of this century, when there was a glut of books, seems to have been the exception. Since 1949 a veil has once more been drawn over the center of the mysterious east, and the situation...