Forever Jade

Forever Jade

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 rejection of China’s own “feudal” past; some out of a deeply ambiguous attitude, in which admiration for the West blended with the desire to preserve what was culturally valuable and historically charged in the Chinese tradition.

In no case was adaptation easy. Bombarded, within the few years between 1895 and 1910, by a range of works that included Rousseau, Byron and Goethe, Gogol, Ibsen, Zola and Dickens, Wilde, Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard and Dumas, Huxley, Spencer and John Stuart Mill (to name only a few of the more popular ones) Chinese intellectuals struggled to create valid and accessible literary forms while they reassessed their own heritage. In traditional poetry, the rules of meter, tone, and rhyme were rigorous and tied to the structures of classical Chinese; in the novel and the drama, though there was more openness to the cadences of everyday speech, there were conventions of plot, characterization, and dialogue that precluded a variety of nuance in the narrator’s voice and discouraged passages of prolonged introspection. In the short story, the indigenous tradition contained heavy elements of the magical, along with stylized treatments of the sensual and the violent, that were a far cry from the goals of Western realism.

It is not surprising that some Chinese, newly introduced to the world of Western literature through translation, found their own literature stifling; but they responded to the challenge, and the result was an almost unparalleled burst of creativity in the 1920s. By the 1930s, however, as even vaster reaches appeared to be opening up, and more and more Chinese intellectuals came, through study at home or abroad, to read at least one Western language fluently, the intellectuals were once again circumscribed either by the political and moral censorship of the Kuomintang, or by the demands of socialist realism and the “correct” anti-imperialist position advanced by the literary cadres of the Communist Party, both of which were justified by the exigencies of the protracted anti-Japanese war. Rare indeed were those who could still find their own voice.

* * *

One of these rare ones was Ch’ien Chung-shu, whose novel Fortress Besieged (Wei-ch’eng), set in 1937, was written during and after the Second World War and published in China in 1947. Ch’ien was born to a prosperous literary family in the exquisite Kiangsu city of Wuhsi and his precocity and linguistic brilliance were nurtured at the best local schools, at Tsinghua University, at Oxford (where he took a B-Litt), and in Paris. For the last decade nobody was quite sure how he had fared in the People’s Republic and for many scholars in the United States the greatest surprise and delight of the 1979 visit to the US of a delegation from the Chinese academy of social sciences was the fact that the group included Ch’ien—sardonic, erudite, elegant, purveying a sense of slightly world-weary charm, and quite delighted at his own survival.

Fortress Besieged has been described as modern China’s greatest novel. I haven’t read enough of the many Chinese novels to know the justness of that claim, but I can say that it is a vastly intelligent, skillful, and entertaining novel, urbane in tone, profoundly pessimistic in its conclusions. Its appearance in a vigorous and clear-headed (and on occasion truly lyrical) translation by Jeanne Kelly and Nathan Mao will immediately change the way Westerners think about modern Chinese literature, since it is so entirely different from either Mao Tun’s Midnight or Lao She’s Rickshaw,1 probably the two best-known novels in translation hitherto.

The narrative of Fortress Besieged can be easily summarized. In 1937 a Chinese student, Fang Hung-chien, returns to China after a period of study in France. Depressed by an unsatisfactory job in a Shanghai bank, he travels inland to accept a job at San-lü University in Hunan. There he teaches a year but loses his job; he marries one of the San-lü faculty, they return to Shanghai, and after a brief and increasingly unhappy marriage, they separate. As this story unfolds we find that Fang’s education in France had been paid for by the parents of his deceased fiancée, who despite their daughter’s untimely death still regard Fang in the traditional sense as their son-in-law; that Fang had failed his key exams and had purchased a fraudulent PhD; that before his marriage Fang had three other girl friends, one cheerful, sensual, and already engaged, one an intelligent but aloof (genuine) PhD, one naturally warm and sincere; that San-lü University is the back-of-beyond, with a depressed faculty one of whom holds a PhD from the same phony “school” as Fang. Fang, as it turns out, never really meant to propose to the woman he married; and when they get back to Shanghai she gets a much more highly paid job than he does.

The novel’s title first appears inside the book when a group of Chinese intellectuals are discussing Bertrand Russell’s divorces, in the kind of aimless and pretentious conversation that Ch’ien is relentless in satirizing. One of Fang’s women friends cites the French proverb that marriage is like a fortress besieged—those inside want to get out, and those outside want to be in. She uses the French phrase “forteresse assiégée,” and asks Fang if he has heard it. He has to admit that he hasn’t; but later he recalls the phrase and applies it to his feelings about the intellectual world of Shanghai and even to “everything in life.” It is the modern Chinese, we realize, who are trapped in this mental predicament.

* * *

“It’s a hard situation for the Chinese to stomach,” one is tempted to say, and certainly I have never read a book in which people throw up so much. Fang vomits at each of the key turning phases in the novel—in a Shanghai restaurant, in a bus in Hunan, in a plane en route from Kunming to Hong Kong, and repeatedly mucus and phlegm are spat out or swallowed, depending on emotion and context. (Ch’ien himself, interviewed about the novel on his 1979 visit to the United States, referred to it as being “youthful vomit”—using the English word in his Chinese sentence.)2 “Throwing up is like yawning,” says one character helpfully, “it’s contagious,” and one remembers that the root meaning of “Ou,” the word used to transliterate “Europe” into Chinese since the sixteenth century, is “vomit.”

Ch’ien makes the point in a different way at the very beginning of the novel. We first meet Fang sailing across the Indian Ocean en route from France to Shanghai. His ship, Ch’ien tells us in the second paragraph, is “The French liner, the Vicomte de Bragelonne.” This, it seems to me, is typical of Ch’ien’s wit, and also poses the central ambiguity in assessing how he intended such a piece of information to be absorbed. That the boat is French has no discernible importance for the plot: it serves only to open the way for a couple of epigrams about the French national character (i.e., they love order in their philosophy but their ships are always filthy) and to have some French passengers bound for Indochina aboard. Presumably that is the point for many readers. But for Ch’ien, who has grown up in China and studied in France, the Vicomte de Bragelonne is obviously the subtitle of Dumas père’s novel Dix ans plus tard ou le Vicomte de Bragelonne.

But ten years after what? The year is 1937, Ch’ien has just told us, so it is ten years after 1927; in other words, the novel’s characters are trapped by echoes of 1927, when the violent political struggles were at their height and the Communist Party of China, working with the Comintern, received its most shattering defeats at the hands of the Kuomintang. (Fang returns to Shanghai, where the most savage of Chiang Kai-shek’s mass killings took place in April 1927.) If one chooses to read Dix ans plus tard, one sees how the Vicomte, Raoul (Athos’s son), lives a life totally overshadowed by his father and the other three Musketeers. Raoul is a young man fighting to clear some space for himself, and only able to do it by a final foolhardy action that does not really emulate his glamorous precursors.

One could of course go on, and there are many paragraphs in the Dumas novel that illuminate Fang’s predicament—presumably Ch’ien does not intend for us to go so far, but how far does he want us to go? In other words, in answer to the central challenge often placed on “May 4” intellectuals by their Chinese critics, how much baggage of Western culture is the Chinese reader of Ch’ien meant to have? All one can really say is that without knowledge of Western culture one will miss the parody in Ch’ien’s story, and be unable to tell when the characters are genuinely erudite and when they are being merely pretentious. Western culture, in Ch’ien’s view, must be thoroughly absorbed if one is to understand the false uses to which it can be put.

* * *

Hsiao Hung’s China is a universe away from Ch’ien’s. The Field of Life and Death, written in 1934, is set in Manchuria, not far from Harbin where she was born in 1911, but the images seem universal ones from poverty-stricken rural China. The pain and misery in this book, as in Tales of Hulan River, are almost unbearable and clearly spring from Hsiao Hung’s observations of the countryside in which she grew up, from her father’s cruelty to his tenants, and from the misery and loneliness of her own life: “Hurry and grow up! It will be fine once you have grown up,” so she says her grandfather exhorted her. And she continues, with her characteristic brevity: “The year I reached the age of twenty, I fled from the home of my father, and ever since I have lived the life of a drifter. I’ve ‘grown up,’ all right, but things are not ‘fine.’ ” Her genius lies in her ability to write of rural life without judgment but in a tone of total acceptance; so that the villagers are shown as developing their own logic for each action they perform and gaining in dignity as a result, even at their saddest.

Each vignette or overlapping story is related through echoed images that give her short books an aesthetic coherence; they are not novels, not short stories, not novellas, but collections of perceptions around a given theme, each building up to a particularly tragic denouement for one of the female protagonists. Howard Goldblatt’s translations (one of them in collaboration with Ellen Yeung) are supple and convincing.

The haystacks of the wheat-growing families were piling higher and higher. Fu-fa’s haystack was higher than the wall. His woman sucked on her pipe. She was robust but small. As smoke drifted from her pipe, she combed the grains on the ground with the rake in her hand. Her nephew, cracking his whip as he passed under the shady patch up ahead, quietly sang his lonely song. She was moved by his song and nearly stopped her raking. The song continued to come from the edge of the woods.

Yesterday morning there was a light rain;
The young maiden donned her rain cloak;
The young maiden…gone fishing.

Hay, rake, song, woods, grain, whip—each will come again or is an echo of something passed. One can see why Lu Hsün wrote of Hsiao Hung (who died in Hong Kong when only thirty years old) that she was the very best woman writer in China.3

Hsiao Hung’s countryside is beyond politics. Japanese troops come, rape and steal, and depart; some young men join partisans, but we never see them in action and are told they are not really different from the bandits (when a young man returns from the army to his village he is “crawling like a half-dead snake”). As to the villagers, “when their eyesight fails they stop looking at things, when their hearing fades they stop listening, when their teeth fall out they swallow things whole, and when they can no longer move about they lie flat on their backs. What else can they do?” If there is a truly sympathetic character in the book it is the author’s own grandfather, watchful, experienced, comforting though obviously—in economic categories—a member of the landlord class.

* * *

Ch’ien Chung-shu’s novel is also beyond politics: its richness lies in its cultural overlays, its self-absorption, its ambiguities. The nearest thing to a clear political statement Ch’ien makes comes in the preface, where he refuses to dedicate his book to anyone: “Dedicating a book is like the fine rhetoric about offering one’s life to one’s country, or handing the reins of the government back to the people. This is but the vain and empty juggling of language.” Almost everything about both books, in other words, puts them firmly outside the pale of acceptable modern Chinese literature, as the Communist Party has defined it.

As swift and bleak a way as any to be reminded of those definitions can be found in the quotations from Mao Tse-tung’s 1942 Yenan Forum talks “On Literature and Art” and Mao Tun’s 1949 speech on culture as they are presented in K.Y. Hsü’s huge anthology Literature of the People’s Republic of China, the third volume in Indiana University Press’s fine “Chinese Literature in Translation” series to appear within a year. Mao Tse-tung’s remarks, pedestrian but clear, had the effect of banning all literary work bearing on economic and social questions that did not hold to the correct class line of exalting the worker, peasant, cadre, and PLO soldier, excoriating the landlord, foreign imperialist, capitalist, or agent of the Kuomintang. Mao Tun’s remarks spelled out in sharper detail what it was about the bourgeois and over-Westernized literary past that had to be rejected, and what the step toward progress must be:

Petty-bourgeois youth sought refuge in decadence—heavy drinking with girl friends in garden pavilions, fist-pounding on the tables, hysterical shouts of “Go among the people! Live among the people!” Enraptured with individualistic anarchism, these sons of déclassé families, who wore faded, unconventional clothing and had already exhausted every cent of their wife’s dowry and personal savings, would “passionately” and self-righteously yell: “Down with everything! After everything has been destroyed, utopia will then appear!” The metaphysical crazies, the sleep-walkers, the advocates of “art above all else” hiding out in their ivory towers at the crossroads, the futurists, the fin de siècle melancholiacs, the traditionalist reactionaries hoping to restore the past, the advocates of total Europeanization, etc., all came tumbling onto the stage at once. Finally, the shining light of Marxism-Leninism gradually brought order and clarity to all this ideological chaos.

The 947 pages of Kai-yu Hsü’s new anthology provide a sweeping survey of what this new “order and clarity” was to be, what Mao’s “victory on the cultural front” amounted to. Professor Hsü is a well-qualified guide, since he has already compiled an admirable anthology of twentieth-century Chinese poetry and given a somewhat episodic but useful survey of the literary situation in 1973 in The Chinese Literary Scene. (His own unpublished 1959 dissertation on Wen I-to, the marvelous poet who was killed by KMT gunmen in 1946, remains the best thing in English on a man whom Mao Tun’s remarks would also exclude from the acceptable world.)

* * *

Hsü has assembled a work in six chronological parts, with each part subdivided into prose (short stories, selections from novels, plays) and verse; the parts follow logical political watersheds in the People’s Republic: Yenan to 1955 (Korean war and early land reform); 1956-1958 (100 Flowers and anti-Rightist campaign); 1959-1961 (Great Leap Forward); 1962-1964 (Socialist Education Campaign and Mao’s partial eclipse); 1964-1970 (Cultural Revolution); and a section from 1971 on, entitled “The Aftermath: The Fall of the Gang of Four—Returns and Reversals.” This is an enterprising anthology with a wide range, the first effort on a large scale to survey all the literature of the People’s Republic, and I salute both the editor and the publisher for making the attempt.4 The trouble is that though some of the items are fascinating, a great many make pretty dreary reading.

Broadly conceived anthologies of national literature such as this one may be valuable in any of three ways: as literature; as source material for helping us to understand the economic and cultural milieu of the time; or simply as an index to the kinds of expression permitted within that society.

If we take Part I of Hsü’s anthology as a prototype, we find that most of the included pieces fall into the third category, that is to say, their main value is to show that certain materials were written by certain people following a certain political line at a particular time. That is not to say that the issues being dealt with in the pieces are not huge, the suffering described appalling, the heroism genuine—simply that when ambiguity and doubt are banished so thoroughly we lose the tensions and creative richness that might have led to art.

There are however several selections in what I’d call the second category, which give useful insights into China: Liu Pai-yü takes up the theme of a skilled industrial worker back from sick leave, finding a young woman worker in charge of his former domain. Li Chun shows an old man finally persuaded that he need not go on buying scraps of land at endless sacrifice to add to his own. A play by Ho Ch’iu shows how chicanery in cornering office supplies and equipment takes place among party cadres. In a story by Ai Wu a young man and young woman drive home to different villages on a cold night, while she scornfully rejects his only dimly suggested advances; here to the interplay between sensual and political feeling the author adds an element of suspense that is unusual in the fiction of the period.

But the story that leaps to our attention is “A Wine Pot” by Ts’ui Pa-wa, the story of a runaway adopted child pursued by thugs. In its raw power and its capacity to evoke poverty and terror, it reminded me of the work of Hsiao Hung or of Shen Ts’ung-wen, the Hunanese writer who in the 1920s and 1930s wrote brilliantly of rural life and the tyranny of local goons and bandits. A section from T’ien Chien’s long poem The Carter’s Story has some of the same power, but in part this comes from the wonderful translation by Cyril Birch which picks up the cadence of folk songs from old China and drives them to a shifting beat in the new:

This year then, after harvest
Flinty Stone sat in his field,
Sat in his field
By his side an empty cart
An old ox hitched in front.
On his back a few poor rags
Not enough for a man.
He picked up a stone from the ground,
Beat his sickle, cried out,
“Flinty Stone, who’s it all for?
Who’s it for—
Who’s it for?”

* * *

Part Two of the anthology, covering the 100 Flowers period, is a disappointing puzzle as presented by Hsü. Coming after a meager introduction (sample: “writers were not as eager to produce as the peasants and workers were”) the selections give us little sense of that upsurge of creative but allegedly “reactionary” energy that was to lead so many to be branded as rightists and to disappear from view between 1957 and 1978. The once wonderful poets Ai Ch’ing and Feng Chih are represented by merely dutiful pieces. Stories of land reform, model cadres, Yenan heroes, and bold bridge-builders repeat the basic values of the early Fifties but add little new (or old). Only when we have read almost to the end of the anthology do we find the reason why this section is so thin. Hsü obviously felt it more important to highlight the baneful effects of the cultural revolution by including in that section (i.e., section five) examples by writers who were purged during the mid-1960s, as opposed to writings that were produced during that period.

This difference is important and seriously skews the anthology. For if, in the 100 Flowers section, Hsü had included the subtle scene of late Ch’ing politics from Lao She’s Teahouse (written in 1957), the brilliantly conceived and historically allusive scene from T’ien Han’s play about Mongol oppression entitled Kuan Han-ch’ing (written in 1958), and the selection from Hsia Yen’s vivid film script “The Lin Family Store,” adapted from an old Mao Tun story (and released in 1958) we would have a much more accurate picture of the possibilities for creativity the CCP was willing to allow in the brief periods of euphoria, in the mid-1950s, following the First Five Year Plan.

As if this did not throw us off enough, Yüeh Yeh’s play “Together Through Thick and Thin,” which has some searing moments of dialogue between a bore frustrated wife and her upward-bound, impeccably socialist cadre husband, though it was written in 1956, is placed under Part Three, the 1960s, because that is when it was criticized.

After the anti-rightist campaigns of 1959 and 1960 obviously writers grew more circumspect, as can be seen in Hsü’s selections for the early 1960s. (Yet again if the redoubtable Teng T’o had had his satirical and historical anti-Mao essays included here his audacity would be seen as all the more striking.) As it is, one catches some subtle asides, especially from a few of the unregenerate old guard. But after reading this anthology, and praising some of the translators for formidable successes with often intractable material (John Berninghausen, Gary Bjorge, Bonnie McDougall, and Richard Strassberg in particular, as well of course as Cyril Birch), I am led to two melancholy observations: First, that it has to be a terribly good novel that can be excerpted in an illuminating way, and that most of the novels excerpted here do not stand up to such treatment, since we lose any feeling for such development of character as the complete novel might have made possible.

Second, though it is important (crucial even) for historians or economists to follow carefully the shifts in social policies from mutual aid teams to low-level cooperatives, high-level producers cooperatives, small communes, large communes and back to small communes again (i.e., the whole rural revolutionary process from 1950 to 1965), from the point of view of literature and personal character development it is hard to distinguish one from the other in a meaningful way. Which is one way of saying that by the time we come to the end of this anthology we feel that we have read the same story again and again.

* * *

It is instructive right after the Hsü anthology to read an attempt to cover one section of the same ground, written in the US by a woman who graduated from high school in Shanghai in 1949 and emigrated in 1971. Chen Yuantsung’s The Dragon’s Village seems to be a largely fictional account (though it is billed as “an autobiographical novel”) of the first phases of land reform in a northwestern Chinese village, as told through the eyes of a young intellectual from Shanghai who has been assigned to the area.

One comes across many of the elements that writers in the PRC present in their own stories: the grimness of the poverty, the unending toil, the dread of hunger and disease, the casual cruelty with which women were treated, the attempt to foster intelligent analysis of the class realities of rural China, the problems of landlord counterrevolutionary activity, the difficulties of coordination with central authorities. But whereas the PRC writers carry at least a measure of conviction by the place and date of their writing, Chen’s task has to be to convey a sense of authenticity through her art.

She is at her most successful when she describes the young woman cadre’s attempts to communicate with peasant women and to overcome the natural and deep-seated suspicions that they have concerning her motives. But even though Chen has the freedom (denied to the writers in the PRC) to deal as frankly as she chooses with sexual themes or with the profound ambiguities of the party’s position, she is unable to give much coherence or sense of development to her tale; and she does not have Hsiao Hung’s ability to carry violence and degradation to the edge of art.

* * *

Chinese writers in Taiwan, of course, confront problems of a very different order. They are currently in a position closer to the Chinese intellectuals of the 1920s than to those in the PRC. Working also under the restraints of censorship that prevent a wide range of critical comment on the dominant Kuomintang and discourage explicit sexual description, they nevertheless manage to produce stories of considerable depth and subtlety. Joseph Lau’s anthology gives a useful introduction to this literature for those who are not familiar with it, and shows us the source of many current tensions and frustrations.

In his fine story “Earth,” Chang Hsikuo shows Chinese dealing with a range of choices denied to those in the PRC. Primary among them is the choice of making a living in the city or on the land, and Chang is honest in mocking the sentimentalists who think “creative return to the soil” is a simple matter. He acutely describes army veterans, vivacious girls in dance-halls, and unhappy Chinese students writing home from the United States; the dominant image the reader is left with (in a brilliant play on the story’s title) is of the hero as merchant sailor, drawn constantly out of and back to his only half-loved land.

This can be read as another version of Ch’ien Chung-shu’s theme in Fortress Besieged; the same theme is given great poignance in Pai Hsien-yung’s “Winter Nights,” a short and finely rendered account of the meeting of two university professors on the edge of retirement: one, a former Byron scholar teaching in Taipei, admires the bustling prosperous old friend who has become a professor at the University of California; but the Americanized professor, though sheltered by his plane flights and his conferences and his imposing list of publications, feels lost and empty. As for the professor in Taiwan, all he can do is hug the memory of those lost days when New China was young and finally stammer out a request for a job: “I wouldn’t go to America to teach Byron—what I mean is, if there is a school which needs someone to teach Chinese or something like that….”

* * *

Ch’en Ying-chen is represented in Lau’s anthology by a powerful story about a young detective trying to comprehend a universe where people live on their shared memories of once having buried Communists alive. Ch’en was given a ten-year sentence in Taiwan for his “anti-government” activities—and served seven of them. Again and again in Hsü’s anthology we come across writers in the People’s Republic who were sent to camps, or to farms, or silenced, or—like Lao She, Teng T’o, Wu Han, and T’ien Han—were driven to commit suicide. The continuing disclosures of such harsh treatment in the PRC have added much to our knowledge of these processes, and give a terrible sense of how great was the toll in human suffering during the Cultural Revolution.

Hsü’s anthology went to press a bit too soon for the last section—“Aftermath”—to be much more than a series of guesses at what the future might hold. Yet if the condemnation of the Gang of Four continues, writers are likely to have a legitimate forum for airing grievances against the party and that may lead to at least a partial opening of the shutters. An extraordinary declaration about repression has already been made to the fourth cultural congress in 1979 by the redoubtable and talented writer Ting Ling, who had been purged in 1958 following the hundred flowers episode. Ting Ling praised the ending of the Cultural Revolution excesses, but pointed out that it solved nothing to blame everything on the Cultural Revolution, while to say that feudal elements were responsible for it was simply ridiculous. The real danger, she said, is not feudalism but “cronyism.” “Cronyism” itself may not be bad, said Ting, but when it is combined with political power then it becomes terrifying. The interesting thing so far as current PRC politics is concerned is that this declaration was printed in the party organ Red Flag (Hung-ch’i) and so has now become available in the West.5

Among other powerful points that Ting Ling made is this: when the party imposes silence on its writers then it strikes at the very center of human hopes; but she adds that it is the whole society, not just individuals, who are responsible:

In this case it is not a question of receiving favors or settling scores with individuals; what we went through involves the whole society, there was no one person who struck me down…. Fifty-two years have passed since I started writing in 1927, but there has been a hiatus for me of twenty years since the events of 1958. In 1930 the Kuomintang banned my books, and after 1958 we ourselves banned my books. Most people who are now around thirty years old have never read my works.

Ting Ling says that she has rejected her friends’ advice that she should keep quiet, for she wants to bring these facts out of the dark places and into the sunlight. We now learn from other sources and interviews that as well as being made to work on the farms in her long period of withdrawal she was physically abused, the writings on which she was currently working were destroyed, and she was kept for a time in solitary confinement.6 In the light of such experiences, her statement is all the more powerful, and can be read as being of parallel significance to her “Remarks on Women’s Day” written in criticism of Maoist policies in Yenan in 1942. In view of recent crackdowns against even limited freedoms in China, moreover, hers was a brave act. One is reminded of a couplet by Mao’s childhood friend Hsiao San, which Hsü includes in Part Four of his anthology:

An old horse lying in stable
Still dreams of open spaces.

  1. The novel Rickshaw has just been reissued in an excellent new translation by Jean James. James goes back to the original 1937 text of Lao She and abandons the false ending and other unauthorized emendations of the earlier translations (University of Hawaii Press, 1979; also in paperback).
  2. This remark occurs in the interview with Ch’ien Chung-shu recorded in Ming-pao, no. 163, July 1979, p. 37.
  3. Hsiao Hung’s homage to Lu Hsün, in the form of directions for a mime play which she wrote shortly before her death in Hong Kong, has just been reprinted in Ming-pao. no. 167, November 1979, p. 71.
  4. A valuable companion to Hsü’s anthology is Contemporary Chinese Novels and Short Stories, 1949-1974, by Meishi Tsai with assistance of I-mei Tsai, an annotated bibliography (Harvard University, East Asian Monographs no. 78, 408 pp). Author Index, brief notes on all works listed, subject matter cross-index to major themes of novels and stories. In all, 455 authors are listed, though a few authors included by Hsü are not here.
  5. I have seen the transcription in Pei-mei jih-pao, January 30, 1980, which I draw on here.
  6. She mentioned a good deal on this in an interview in Peking, reported in Ch’i-shih nien-tai, 1979, no. 8, p. 90. A powerful indictment of PRC repression of writers and artists in China, along with a profile of Ting Ling and a selection from her brilliant 1942 short story “In the Hospital” can be found in Index on Censorship, vol. 9, no. 1, February 1980, special issue on China.
Jonathan D. Spence holds the position of Sterling Professor of History, Emeritus, at Yale University, and is well-known throughout the world for his insightful views on modern China. His books...
Reviewed in This Article

Fortress Besieged
by Ch’ien Chung-shu, translated by Jeanne Kelly, by Nathan K. Mao
Indiana University Press, 377 pp.

The Field of Life and Death and Tales of Hulan River
by Hsiao Hung, translated by Howard Goldblatt, by Ellen Yeung
Indiana University Press, 291 pp.

Literature of the People’s Republic of China
edited by Kai-yu Hsü
Indiana University Press, 947 pp.

The Dragon’s Village
by Chen Yuan-tsung
Pantheon, 285 pp.

Chinese Stories from Taiwan: 1960-1970
edited by Joseph S.M. Lau, edited by Timothy A. Ross
Columbia University Press, 354 pp.

Go to the homepage

To subscribe, click here.

This article was first published in the April 17, 1980 issue of the New York Review of Books.



China’s Brave Underground Journal—II


In downtown Beijing, just a little over a mile west of the Forbidden City, is one of China’s most illustrious high schools. Its graduates regularly attend the country’s best universities or go abroad to study, while foreign leaders and CEOs make pilgrimages to catch a glimpse...

Pope Francis’ China Problem


China-watchers, friends of Tibet, and admirers of Pope Francis were amazed and disappointed last week when the Pope announced he would not be meeting the Dalai Lama during the Tibetan leader’s visit to Rome. The Dalai Lama was there with other winners of the Nobel Peace Prize,...

China’s Brave Underground Journal


On the last stretch of flatlands north of Beijing, just before the Mongolian foothills, lies the satellite city of Tiantongyuan. Built during the euphoric run-up to the 2008 Olympics, it was designed as a modern, Hong Kong–style housing district of over 400,000 people, with...

China’s Unstoppable Lawyers: An Interview with Teng Biao


Teng Biao is one of China’s best-known civil-rights lawyers, and a prominent member of the weiquan, or “rights defenders,” movement, a loosely knit coalition of Chinese lawyers and activists who tackle cases related to the environment, religious freedom, and freedom of...

China Strikes Back!


When Deng Xiaoping arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington in January 1979, his country was just emerging from a long revolutionary deep freeze. No one knew much about this 5-foot-tall Chinese leader. He had suddenly reappeared on the scene after twice being...

Taking Aim at Hong Kong


A surge of emotion washed through me on Sunday night as I watched tens of thousands of protesters fill the streets of Hong Kong on television. It was the same feeling I had in Beijing on the nights leading up to the killings in Tiananmen Square on June 3 and 4, 1989. Once more we...

The Chinese Invade Africa


In early May, China’s premier, Li Keqiang, made a trip to Africa that raised a central question about China’s rise: What effect will it have on the world’s poorer countries? As a big third-world country that has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty in just a few...

‘They Don’t Want Moderate Uighurs’


In my series of interviews with Chinese intellectuals, there is an empty chair for Ilham Tohti, the economist and Uighur activist. It’s not that I hadn’t heard of him or hadn’t been in China long enough to have met him before he was arrested earlier this year. I had, but...

Sex in China: An Interview with Li Yinhe


Li Yinhe is one of China’s best-known experts on sex and the family. A member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, she has published widely on sexual mores, women, and family issues. Li also runs a popular blog, where she has advocated for same-sex marriage and loosening...

From China to Jihad?


It’s a very long way from China’s arid Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in the country’s far northwest to its semi-tropical borders with Vietnam, Laos, and Burma in the south, and then it’s another precarious distance from there, down rivers and across fortified borders...

Wang Lixiong and Woeser: A Way Out of China’s Ethnic Unrest?


Woeser and Wang Lixiong are two of China’s best-known thinkers on the government’s policy toward ethnic minorities. With violence in Tibet and Xinjiang now almost a monthly occurrence, I met them at their apartment in Beijing to talk about the issue. In part one of our...

Beyond the Dalai Lama: An Interview with Woeser and Wang Lixiong


In recent months, China has been beset by growing ethnic violence. In Tibet, 125 people have set themselves on fire since the suppression of 2008 protests over the country’s ethnic policies. In the Muslim region of Xinjiang, there have been a series of attacks by militants...

He Exposed Corrupt China Before He Left


In the late 1970s, when the passing of Mao made it possible for foreign journalists to work in China for the first time in three decades, the first reporters to get in wrote wide-ranging books that addressed nearly everything they could learn.1 Later books by journalists tended...

Hong Kong Rising: An Interview with Albert Ho


The former British colony of Hong Kong reverted to China on July 1, 1997, and on every July 1 since then Hong Kong citizens have marched in the streets asking for democracy. The demonstrations on this year’s anniversary, however, were on a much larger scale. According to the...

Tibet Resists


Tsering Woeser was born in Lhasa in 1966, the daughter of a senior officer in the Chinese army. She became a passionate supporter of the Dalai Lama. When she was very young the family moved to Tibetan towns inside China proper. In school, only Chinese was used, but Tibetan “...

The Ghosts of Tiananmen Square


Every spring, an old friend of mine named Xu Jue makes a trip to the Babaoshan cemetery in the western suburbs of Beijing to lay flowers on the tombs of her dead son and husband. She always plans her visit for April 5, which is the holiday of Pure Brightness, or Qingming. The...

The Tanks and the People


Twenty-five years ago, before the Tiananmen massacre, my father told me: “Son, be good and stay at home, never provoke the Communist Party.”My father knew what he was talking about. His courage had been broken, by countless political campaigns. Right after the 1949 “...

‘You Won’t Get Near Tiananmen!’: Hu Jia on the Continuing Crackdown


Hu Jia is one of China’s best-known political activists. He participated in the 1989 Tiananmen protests as a fifteen-year-old, studied economics, and then worked for environmental and public health non-governmental organizations. A practicing Buddhist, Hu spent three and a half...

The Smooth Path to Pearl Harbor


1.In mid-February, as part of the plans for his official visit to Germany, Chinese President Xi Jinping asked to visit one of Berlin’s best-known sites: Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The request was declined when it became clear that Xi wanted to...

Tiananmen: How Wrong We Were


Twenty-five years ago to the day I write this, I watched and listened as thousands of Chinese citizens in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square dared to condemn their leaders. Some shouted “Premier Li Peng resign.” Even braver ones cried “Down with Deng Xiaoping and the Communist...

China: Detained to Death


On May 3, fifteen Beijing citizens—scholars, journalists, and rights lawyers—gathered informally at the home of Professor Hao Jian of the Beijing Film Academy to reflect on the 25th anniversary of the 1989 June Fourth massacre in Beijing. Two days later, five of the...

The China Challenge


In 1890, an undistinguished U.S. Navy captain published a book that would influence generations of strategists. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783 posited that great nations need potent, blue-water navies backed by far-flung naval bases...

Solving China’s Schools: An Interview with Jiang Xueqin


In December, China stunned the world when the most widely used international education assessment revealed that Shanghai’s schools now outperform those of any other country—not only in math and science but also in reading. Some education experts have attributed these results...

Chinese Atheists? What the Pew Survey Gets Wrong


Earlier this month, I came across a fascinating opinion survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. The report asked people in forty countries whether belief in God is necessary for morality. Mostly, the results aren’t surprising. In advanced democracies,...

Paddling to Peking


For Richard Nixon’s foreign policy, 1971 was the best of years and the worst of years. He revealed his opening to China, but he connived at genocide in East Pakistan. Fortunately for him, the world marveled at the one, but was largely ignorant of the other.The two events were...

The Brave Catholics of China


Like most pilgrimage sites in China, the shrine in the village of Cave Gulley in Shanxi province is located partway up a mountain, reachable by steep stairs that are meant to shift worshipers’ attention from the world below to heaven above. Thousands make the journey each year...

China’s Way to Happiness


Richard Madsen is one of the modern-day founders of the study of Chinese religion. A professor at the University of California San Diego, the seventy-three-year-old’s works include Morality and Power in a Chinese Village, China and the American Dream, and China’s Catholics:...

China: Reeducation Through Horror


Here are two snippets from a Chinese Communist journal called People’s China, published in August 1956:In 1956, despite the worst natural calamities in scores of years, China’s peasants, newly organized in co-operatives on a nation-wide scale, produced 2,740 million Yuan’s...

China: Five Pounds of Facts


No one seems to have measured exactly how old Chinese civilization is, but Endymion Wilkinson can probably give a more precise answer than anyone else. “1.6 billion minutes separate us from the Zhou conquest of the Shang,” he informs us at the beginning of his Chinese History...

The Surprising Empress


In the mid-1950s, when I was a graduate student of Chinese history, the Manchu Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) was invariably condemned as a reactionary hate figure; Mao Zedong was admired. In the textbooks of that time, leading American scholars characterized Cixi as cruel,...

Dreams of a Different China


Last November, China’s newly installed leader, Xi Jinping, asked his fellow Chinese to help realize a “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation. In the months since then, his talk has been seen as a marker in the new leadership’s thinking, especially as Xi has pursued a...

How to Deal with the Chinese Police


A casual visitor to China today does not get the impression of a police state. Life bustles along as people pursue work, fashion, sports, romance, amusement, and so on, without any sign of being under coercion. But the government spends tens of billions of dollars annually (more...

Unhinged in China


In one of the central scenes in Jia Zhangke’s new film, a young man working in the southern Chinese manufacturing city of Dongguan goes to an ATM and finds that he’s broke. He’s just spent the past month betraying his friends and hopping from job to job, including one as a...

China: “Capitulate or Things Will Get Worse”


The massacre of protesters in Beijing on June 4, 1989, and the harsh repression during the months immediately following put China into a foul mood. Among ordinary Chinese, the prestige of the Communist Party, whose leaders had ordered the brutal assault, fell to a new low....

Who’s Afraid of Chinese Money?


“China is what it is. We have to be here or nowhere.” Chancellor George Osborne, Britain’s second-highest official, was laying out the British government’s view last week, near the end of his trip aimed at selling Britain to Chinese companies. Western governments used to...

Old Dreams for a New China


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 popular historian used the word to...

China: When the Cats Rule


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 picture of the destruction of old...

The Man Who Got It Right


1.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 Teresa in a book entitled The Missionary Position. He...

Censoring the News Before It Happens


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 comparisons to earlier budgets, list no links,...

Faking It in China


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 countries. In many Chinese cities,...

Chen Guangcheng in New York


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. Cohen, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the US-...

The ‘Breaking of an Honorable Career’


1.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—the four Johns—had “lost” China: John Paton Davies,...

Who Killed Pamela in Peking?


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 Forbidden City. (Japan would occupy the...

Dancing in Empty Beijing


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 population of eighteen to twenty million. This...

The New Chinese Gang of Seven


In traditional Chinese religion, a fashi, 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 ceremony can last days, with breaks and feasts, until the rites...

Does This Writer Deserve the Prize?


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 that means “don’t talk.” (The name is...

China: Worse Than You Ever Imagined


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 retreat for Western missionaries and...

Who Was Mao Zedong?


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, when he allegedly godfathered an...

An Honest Writer Survives in China


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 seemed to follow him around in real life too...

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...

News from the Dalai Lama


“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.But it can be put back in. I am hopeful about the new Chinese...

Bo Xilai: The Unanswered Questions


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 smoothness and outsiders are...

The People’s Republic of Rumor


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 advised, referring to the...

‘Pressure for Change is at the Grassroots


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 northeast China by jumping over a wall...

China: Politics as Warfare


Mao’s Invisible Hand 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—and it will interest anyone professionally interested in...

A Chinese Murder Mystery?


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 their rituals as planned.The...

On Fang Lizhi (1936–2012)


Fang Lizhi, a distinguished professor of astrophysics, luminary in the struggle for human rights in contemporary China, and frequent contributor to The New York Review, died suddenly on the morning of April 6. At age seventy-six he had not yet retired, and was...

Debacle in Beijing


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 desire to effect change, outsiders...

Beijing Dilemma: Is Chen Guangcheng the Next Fang Lizhi?


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 four-year prison sentence on the spurious...

A Master in the Shadows


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 best to just let it all go? When does...

China’s Falling Star


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 and make sense of their world.So too...

The Chinese Are Coming!


The day after the Russian parliamentary elections in early December, the Chinese publication Global Times, an English-language newspaper and website managed by People’s Daily, the official organ of the Communist Party official, ran an editorial on how little credit the West...

He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny


Better than the assent of the crowd: The dissent of one brave man!—Sima Qian (145–90 BC)Records of the Grand HistorianTruth will set you free.—Gospel according to JohnThe economic rise of China now dominates the entire landscape of international affairs. In the eyes of...

The New York Review of Books China Archive

Welcome to the New York Review of Books China Archive, a collaborative project of and The New York Review of Books. In the archive you will find a compilation of full-length essays and book reviews on China dating from the Review's founding in 1963. We encourage you...

China Gets Religion!


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 prepared the way for the Communists’...

From Tenderness to Savagery in Seconds


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 rampage, looting, murdering, and raping large...

The High Price of the New Beijing


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 into a Ye Olde Pekinge-type street: its...

The Past and the Future


Concerning the Past: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.I acknowledge that the following are my principal views:Marxism—whether viewed as a philosophy, a...

Kissinger and China


It is hard to fit Henry Kissinger’s latest book, On China, 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 diplomacy and foreign policies across two and a...

Will There Be a ‘Duel of Dalai Lamas’?


On March 10 the Fourteenth Dalai Lama made front-page news throughout the world by saying,As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put...

Quality of Life: India vs. China


1.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 percent growth rate. Despite...

The Worst Man-Made Catastrophe, Ever


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 students had few inhibitions about studying...

China: From Famine to Oslo


1.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 vegetables, or to do...

How Reds Smashed Reds


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 advocate beating people, but...

The Question of Pearl Buck


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 choice by the academy of an American writer...

The Party: Impenetrable, All Powerful


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 of humanity. Most China watchers will...

The Message from the Glaciers


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 the most intrepid adventurers were...

The Triumph of Madame Chiang


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 away on a Coast Guard cutter, was baptized...

Specters of a Chinese Master


1.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 Canal, just north of the Yangzi River, which linked the...

The Mystery of Zhou Enlai


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 change, not noted for its finesse, Zhou Enlai stood out...

The Passions of Joseph Needham


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 Chinese script have been generally...

China: Humiliation & the Olympics


The IncidentOn 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 snub-nose .38-caliber Taurus pistol, and killed Professor...

Casting a Lifeline


Sixty pages or so into Ma Jian’s novel Beijing Coma, 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 specialist,” the class observed the dissection of the fresh...

Sentimental Education in Shanghai


1.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 packed audiences from Japan to Argentina. His message—that...

The Quiet Heroes of Tibet


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 frankly about Chinese rule over Tibet....

Mission to Mao


“This was the week that changed the world” was Richard Nixon’s summing up at the end of his trip to China in February 1972.1 The hyperbole was justified, for this visit to China by an American president was a turning point in the cold war. Hitherto, the Soviet Union and...

China’s Great Terror


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 Chinese leadership began to seek their own...

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


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 Di of Department 1 of the Beijing...

Liu Binyan (1925-2005)


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. But the trait that most determined his...

On Leaving a Chinese Prison


Jiang Qisheng, a former student of philosophy and a human rights activist, was arrested in 1999 for commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. After four years in prison, he was recently released. He wrote the following statement upon accepting the Spirit of...

A Little Leap Forward


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 ask a question about the hard-line...



1.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-traditional façades—...

China: The Anaconda in the Chandelier


In China’s Mao years you could be detained and persecuted for talking with your neighbor about your cat. The Chinese word for “cat” (mao, high level tone) is a near homonym for the name of the Great Leader (mao, rising tone), and a tip to the police from an eavesdropper who...

Found Horizon


1.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 football club before noisily...

East Is West


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:I ran up the north path by the latrines, toward the clearing, as it was known...

Divine Killer


“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.’ “Another thing which upset Mao was bloodshed.” —From Mao Zedong: Man, Not God by...

China in Cyberspace


1.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 died. The soldiers in this...

The Jiang Zemin Mystery


1.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 make a protest known has been...

Sex and Democracy in Taiwan


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. Germans smack their lips when their...

Selling Out Hong Kong


1.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 up, and the Union Jack came...

Holding Out in Hong Kong


1.The Master said: “If seeking wealth were a decent pursuit, I too would seek it, even if I had to work as a janitor. As it is, I’d rather follow my inclinations.”—Confucius: Analects1Flicking through the April issue of the Hong Kong Tatler, a glossy high life magazine...

China: The Defining Moment


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,” which in Peking has the special...

The Beginning of the End


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 situation among the survivors of the Beijing...

In China’s Gulag


Near the end of The Gulag Archipelago, 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, but he also briefly reflects on the relationship...

Unmasking the Monster


In 755 the Tang dynasty poet Tu Fu wrote about the corruptions of court life:In the central halls there are fair goddesses; An air of perfume moves with each charming figure. They clothe their guests with warm furs of sable, Entertain them with the finest music and pipe and...

History on the Wing


Golden Inches 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-day texture of Chinese-American relations during the golden...

From the Ming to Deng Xiaoping


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 Tuscaloosa who came to study...

The Last Days of Hong Kong


1.“Everything you need to know about a new life abroad…. It’s all in the pages of The Emigrant.”—Advertisement for a new Hong Kong periodical, 1989May 1983: It was exactly seven months after Mrs. Thatcher stumbled and fell on the steps of the Great Hall of the People in...

Keeping the Faith


On June 4, the day after the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on the citizens of Beijing, the distinguished Chinese astrophysicist and dissident intellectual, Fang Lizhi, reluctantly sought refuge in the American embassy in Beijing with his physicist wife, Li Shuxian. They...

Stories from the Ice Age


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 Japanese army, took time off for...

Why China’s Rulers Fear Democracy


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 their students like enemies when in our...

The End of the Chinese Revolution


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:This is not an ordinary student movement. It is turmoil…. What they are...

The Price China Has Paid: An Interview with Liu Binyan


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 party officials for abusing their power...

Roots of Revolution


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.Mao’s venomous “class struggle” against his own...

Passing the Baton in Beijing


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 moment...

Our Mission in China


This is the bicentennial year for contacts between the United States and China, since it was in 1784 that the merchant ship Empress of China sailed to Canton from New York. It was an auspicious beginning, at least for the American backers of the voyage; the trip netted them 30...

China: How Much Dissent?


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 diplomacy, but the monarch was tricked...

Sitting on Top of the World


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 emperor far away.” Their world was...

Rules of the Game


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 denounced as the work of Chinese saboteurs....

Bringing Up the Red Guards


Revolutionaries are Monkey Kings, their golden rods are powerful, their supernatural powers far-reaching and their magic omnipotent, for they possess Mao Tsetung’s great invincible thought. We wield our golden rods, display our supernatural powers and use our magic to turn the...

Peanuts and the Good Soldier


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 went to war with a trainload of forty-two...

Still Mysterious


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 live hearing the dogs bark in the...

A Mao for All Seasons


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 motives with historical analysis in what he calls the “...

The Great Wall


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 different impressions of Chairman Mao...

How to Deal with the Chinese Revolution


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 horizon twenty years ago. It was still...