The Last Days of Hong Kong

The Last Days of Hong Kong


“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, 1989

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 Xiaoping about the future of the British colony, was regarded in Hong Kong as a dark omen: a few days later the stock market crashed and the Hong Kong dollar slumped to a point not seen since the riots of 1956.

As usual in Hong Kong, the market bounced back, some canny speculators made a killing, and corporate towers of silver- and gold-tinted glass sprouted up in a Babylonian frenzy that lasted until the end of the decade. Still, I thought as I arrived on that hot spring morning, this place must be feeling jittery, not to say fragile, not to say terrified of the likely prospect of being handed over to a Communist regime. It was still only a prospect, to be sure, for the deal was yet to be concluded, but Deng had made no bones about Beijing’s firm intention to take back what it saw as rightfully its own.

On the afternoon of that same day I was taken by an old friend to a barbecue party attended by a bunch of what the white folks call “expats,” and the Cantonese call gweilos, or devil men—a collection of nice, suntanned young Aussies, Brits, an American or two, and the odd Chinese girlfriend for local color. The talk was of parties, boat trips, restaurants, and absent friends. Partly out of boredom but also out of genuine interest I asked my new acquaintances how worried people in Hong Kong were about the not too distant future. There was a moment of rather awkward silence, as though I had asked the wrong thing. Then I realized it was simply the result of a misunderstanding.

“Worried?” asked an Australian PR man in Bermuda shorts, “Us worried? ‘Course not. Lots of opportunity here. Why, Bob, he’s opening a new hair-dressing salon. And Kevin is doing great in advertising, and Ann’s just got a huge pay rise at the bank. No, no worries, mate. Every day I wake up I’m glad to be in Hong Kong, and the moment that ends, I’ll move somewhere else.”

It was a valuable lesson in Hong Kong anthropology: it had not occurred to my PR friend that I might be referring to six million Chinese and not to our cosy bunch of expatriates. It was also clear that people were not in the habit of measuring time much beyond the immediate here and now, that you avoided thinking of the future (or, for that matter, the past) until, well, until you moved somewhere else.

I found this extraordinary insouciance both refreshing and perplexing. It came in different forms: “Give Hong Kong back to China? Oh no, dear boy. That will never happen. You see, it’s simply not in China’s interest to take Hong Kong back. Too much money to be made.” This was said to me by a charming old hand who had lived in “Honkers” for almost thirty years. We were having lunch at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, where there was no dearth of such old hands to sort out the ignorant newcomer on the Chinese mentality, not to mention China’s interest. Such experts were always ready to explain that the Chinese are by nature indifferent to politics. Making money is all they really care about. And the Hong Kong Chinese, they’re a clever lot. No need to worry about them. They’ll manage to make some kind of deal. Anyway, it’s in China’s interest to let them be.

* * *

Perhaps I am being unfair. How were these people to know that only one year later, on September 26, 1984, a declaration was formally signed in Beijing by representatives of the Chinese and British governments, which formally sealed Hong Kong’s fate? The formula was one country, two systems: Hong Kong was to be a Special Autonomous Region under Chinese sovereignty, allowed for fifty years to retain its own legislation, judiciary, and socioeconomic system. There was no mention of a bill of rights, and freedom of speech would not extend to criticism of the Chinese government.

But even then the propensity for wishful thinking in certain circles was extraordinary. On the day of the announcement, the British editor of the most authoritative local news magazine wore a Union Jack T-shirt and arrived at his office to celebrate the good news with a bottle of champagne. He wrote an editorial firmly in support of the agreement, and put the “dark voices prophesying doom” sternly in their places. Hong Kong, he said, would help put “China back on to its traditional search for peace, stability and prosperity—the Confucian Golden Mean….”1

Perhaps he was not to know either that Hong Kong was the victim of a cruel confidence trick often termed a “conspiracy of euphoria.” Everything would stay the same. Stability and Prosperity. Lots of money to be made. Democracy with a fully elected legislature. (Just how it was to be elected was never made clear.) The Confucian Golden Mean. All this, and more, was promised by officials from London and Beijing who kept on grinning fiercely in the hope that this would keep the locals quiet.

But things didn’t stay the same. Hong Kong is hardly stable, though still relatively prosperous. Hong Kong is run by a British governor appointed by Her Majesty’s government, who presides over a legislative council, none of whose members are directly elected. Democracy never materialized, and probably never will. Instead we have had a succession of grotesque financial scandals; a string of broken banks that had to be bailed out; a calamitous collapse of the Hong Kong dollar which had to be pegged hastily to the US currency; a serious shortage of labor; forced repatriation of Vietnamese refugees; a judiciary compromised by corruption—and on top of all that, the Beijing massacre. And still the incantations ring daily in our ears, albeit with an increasing tone of desperation: it is not in Beijing’s interest to change Hong Kong; everything will be all right; democracy will come, albeit at a slower pace; stability and prosperity, etc., etc.

Fifty thousand Hong Kong people a year know better. They are already boarding the planes, bound for Sydney, Vancouver, Singapore, New York. They have seen the future and they are moving somewhere else.


“Opinions on the decor were as mixed as the drinks at last week’s opening party for Hong Kong’s newest nightclub. ‘Sort of 50s,’ offered one reveler, ‘but with a bit of 60s’ and 90s’ as well,’ she concluded.”

South China Morning Post, January 1990

The first time I visited Hong Kong, in 1974, you could still see vestiges of the old colonial city. Portly Indians played cricket with English bankers and civil servants in the middle of the Central district, between the Hong Kong Club and the old Supreme Court building. The highest buildings in Central were the Bank of China and the Hilton Hotel. The waterfront was a collection of ramshackle warehouses still redolent of opium dens and mysterious Oriental skulduggery. I remember walking up Queen’s Road Central and striking up a conversation with two beautifully dressed Asian girls who emerged from an expensive jewelry store. They spoke exquisite French. They had come from Saigon on a shopping trip.

I have no idea where those girls are now, but I know that the Hong Kong Club, a charming Victorian building resembling a square Wedgwood bowl, is gone, the cricket ground is gone, the Bank of China has been replaced by a brand-new I.M. Pei building, and the Hilton Hotel is so dwarfed by new skyscrapers that you hardly notice it anymore. The physical change in Hong Kong has been so devastatingly fast that if you put two pictures side by side, one from 1974 and one from 1990, you would hardly believe they were of the same city. It is as if midtown Manhattan were built in the last ten years, with nothing left to remind one of the 1950s, let alone the nineteenth century. Hong Kong looks like a city without a past.

“Cities,” wrote Lewis Mumford,

are products of time. They are the molds in which men’s lifetimes have cooled and congealed, giving lasting shape, by way of art, to moments that would otherwise vanish with the living and leave no means of renewal or wider participation behind them…. By the diversity of its time-structures, the city in part escapes the tyranny of a single present, or the monotony of a future that consists in repeating only a single beat heard in the past.2

Mumford’s convictions would have been shaken by Hong Kong, for little is left behind in this city of immigrants, so many of whom ended up moving somewhere else. There are hardly any museums in Hong Kong, precious few libraries, no great historical buildings, and no monuments to speak of. Well, perhaps there are two. One is the terrace of the Repulse Bay Hotel, rebuilt after the original hotel was pulled down some years ago. The other is a well-known tourist trap called the Tiger Balm Garden. This extraordinary piece of moralizing kitsch—plaster models of Chinese deities, folk heroes, wild animals, and torture scenes in a Buddhist Hell—is a monument left behind by a rich Chinese businessman named Aw Boon Haw, the inventor of, among other things, Headache Cure Powder, Chinkawite Wince Mixture, and of course Tiger Balm. Aw Boon Haw was born in Rangoon and died in Honolulu. His theme-park fantasy of Chinese folk culture is a monument to the enterprise of an overseas Chinese, a permanent drifter, the emigrant who made good.

* * *

There is, perhaps, another reason for the jangled sense of time in Hong Kong, the lack of any feeling of continuity, besides the hurried mentality of the immigrant on the make, and that has to do with a more ancient Chinese approach to cities. The Chinese were never in the habit of building cities as monuments. There is no Chinese Rome or London or Paris, a repository of centuries of civilization, to be handed on and added to from one generation to the next, cherished as a precious heirloom, meant to last for ever. Mao Zedong may have been one of the great vandals of all time, but long before the Chairman was born, travelers in China remarked upon the nonchalance with which Chinese let the vestiges of the past rot away. Instead of preserving the old, people would rebuild in the same style. Hence, a pagoda erected during the T’ang dynasty, but entirely rebuilt in, say, 1912, would still be regarded as ancient, for it is not so much the age of the bricks as the style that counts.

It is also true that Chinese connoisseurs always tended to make fetishes of the ancient, which explains, perhaps, why China has the oldest industry in fake antiques in the world. But fake, to a Western ear, has a pejorative sound not entirely appropriate to the common Chinese view that a good fake can be admired in its own right.

Instead of eternal cities, China had eternally shifting cities. With a new dynasty often came a new capital, whose layout was based on geomancy and other signs of auspiciousness. These seats of administrative power sometimes lasted about as long as the dynasties that built them were blessed with Heaven’s mandate. Thus once great cities—Ch’ang-an, K’ai-feng, Hangchow—are now provincial towns, with only a few monuments, frequently rebuilt through the ages, as reminders of past glory.

Most Chinese capitals were in the north or center of China, in the heartland of Chinese civilization. None was ever in the deep south, long considered a swampy region filled with ghosts and other undesirables. Trade is what made the southern coastal cities tick, not bureaucratic power. But commerce and cosmopolitanism were not highly valued by Chinese governments; on the contrary, merchants were strictly controlled and contacts with outsiders limited, if not forbidden. Mandarins, in the name of the Son of Heaven, ruled China, and they kept the businessmen firmly under their long-nailed thumbs. In its entire history China had truly cosmopolitan cities only twice: between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, during the T’ang and Sung dynasties, and again, from the latter years of imperial China to the beginning of what is still called, without irony intended, Liberation.

Ch’ang-an, the capital during the T’ang dynasty, was a center of trade with central Asia. Official control was relaxed, and business was good. Then, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the imperial governments put the lid back on. As William Skinner observed in his fascinating study of Chinese cities, the impact was especially severe on the southeastern coast, which is precisely where foreigners arrived in the nineteenth century to blast China open again.3 They were led in this enterprise by the English and Scottish opium pushers who settled in a rocky little pirates’ lair called Hong Kong. Once more, Chinese merchants, stifled and disdained for centuries by the supercilious mandarins, were able to escape their official leash, and, protected more or less by foreign laws, were free to make money in Amoy, Fuzhou, Tianjin, Shanghai, and, of course, Hong Kong. It wasn’t long before Shanghai became the most cosmopolitan city in Chinese history.

* * *

Some Chinese were very rich as a result, many were better off than before, and many remained miserably poor. The pursuit of wealth and happiness led to the usual things: well-organized crime, well-stocked brothels, and well-greased palms, but also the richest cultural life China had seen for centuries and, despite wars, famines, and terrorism, the freest marketplace for ideas Chinese had ever known. One of these ideas was Marxism.

Naturally, when a new breed of Chinese mandarins took upon themselves Heaven’s mandate in 1949, all this had to go, except the Marxism, of course. Destruction is easier than one sometimes thinks. Whenever I enter the battleship-gray headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank to cash a check, and watch in wonder the silent efficiency of this modern capitalist beehive, Hong Kong appears, for a moment, indestructible. But in Shanghai, once the government put its mind to it in 1952, it took exactly two months to turn the great metropolis into what one observer described as a dead city. (Pol Pot worked even faster, but then Phnom Penh is not Shanghai.) Businessmen were systematically humiliated, persecuted, and above all squeezed of their assets, which, according to the correct line of the day, they had “stolen from the people.” One of the many curiosities of China after Mao is that you can still hear, in remote villages of the poor Northwest, traces of the Shanghai dialect, spoken by the children and grandchildren of businessmen booted out of their city thirty-eight years ago.

Hong Kong might not be treated in quite the same way. But when people speak blithely of China’s interest, they do well to remind themselves that China plucked its interest from a thriving business city before, by plunder. It is also useful to remember that however wellmeaning or, to use a favorite word in this part of the world, sincere, China’s mandarins may be, and however much they speak of Open Doors and Reforms, their understanding of commercial enterprise is more akin to that of the imperial mandarins than to the views of Milton Friedman, or even John Kenneth Galbraith. The traditional instinct is not to let the flowers of business bloom by encouraging the free pursuit of riches, but to control and to squeeze. Many Hong Kong businessmen already are paying their dues by donating vast sums to the motherland to curry favor with officialdom. The more they pay, the more will be demanded, for this only confirms to the mandarin mind that business is there to be fleeced.

Hong Kong and Shanghai are the peculiar products of historical events over which a feeble, decadent, insular China had little control, and the humiliation of being forced by foreigners to concede extraterritorial rights on Chinese soil is still keenly felt in Beijing. When Mrs. Thatcher, still flushed with her victory over the “Argies,” stumbled into Beijing in 1982 to convince Deng of the validity of the nineteenth-century treaties, Deng answered with expletives, which were, I believe, deleted from the record, but would have made even the Iron Lady blush. Hong Kong was promised autonomy nonetheless, which sounded very well on paper, but before reaching for their bottles of champagne people might have paused to contemplate the fact that virtually throughout their history the rulers of China did everything in their power to deny their cities precisely what Hong Kong has been promised.

The freebooting, vice-ridden, cosmopolitan, mercenary, wonderful urban bitch goddesses—Berlin, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong—are never much liked by those who live in the hinterlands, but the hatred, awe, and envy inspired by Hong Kong is often extreme. Intellectuals in Beijing usually express a disdain for its empty materialism, its lack of culture, and the rough-and-ready manners of its mainly Cantonese inhabitants. To most ordinary Chinese Hong Kong is a wealthy Xanadu, so far away it hardly seems real. To millions of southern Chinese it is the place they would rush to, if only they could. And if they are lucky enough to live close by, they watch Hong Kong television and ask their friends and relatives who have made it to Xanadu for money, electronic gadgets, anything they can carry. To provincial Communist cadres Hong Kong is a place for freebies. You see them walking about in groups, in their badly cut suits and pudding-bowl haircuts, gawking with open mouths at the shops, the buildings, the restaurants, hoping perhaps that one day all this will be theirs. To the mandarins in Beijing, often men from China’s poor interior, Hong Kong represents everything they loathe: it is southern, urban, subversive, vice-ridden, rich, relatively free, and, above all, full of foreigners and their polluting foreign ways. It is, in short, horribly un-Chinese.

So of course it would be in Beijing’s interest to keep its hands off Hong Kong, but if the men who rule China today were to follow their instincts, they would stamp on the bitch goddess, after having picked the last bit of meat off her carcass. Few tears would be shed over Hong Kong’s demise, for it was never a Chinese heirloom to be cherished, but rather a monument to a past that still hurts. Why then, you might well ask, hasn’t China pounced before? What has kept the mandarins so long from booting the Brits out and grabbing what is theirs?

There is a possible answer to this, which sounds paradoxical, but isn’t. The reason for Deng’s decision to take back Hong Kong was, I believe, the result of his Open Door policy. Mao never wanted Hong Kong back, for the colonial city was hidden from sight, a Chinatown that was in China, but not of it. The vice, the subversion, the spiritual pollution, never penetrated China enough to be a threat. This only began once China’s door was ajar, and Deng realized that the only way to impose control was to turn Chinatown back into a Chinese town, subservient once again to the mandarins in Beijing. Yes, he wants Hong Kong to make money but he also wants to suppress some of the very ideas and institutions that produce the wealth: Deng’s dilemma in a nutshell.

Alas—and after thousands of years of subservience, who can blame them?—most Chinese need little encouragement to fall into line with officialdom, particularly when the spirit of patriotism is invoked. And with the unfailing accuracy of an experienced acupuncturist, Beijing has time and again managed to prick the one raw nerve in this hard-bitten community of refugees and their offspring: patriotism—the need for a sense of the past, the need to feel Chinese.


“Chinese authorities yesterday claimed that Mr. Lee Cheuk-yan, the Hong Kong pro-democracy lobbyist who was detained in Beijing, had confessed to supporting ‘counter-revolutionary organisations.’ Mr. Lee, a senior official in the Christian Industrial Committee, was allowed to return to Hong Kong on Thursday after he was ‘educated’ by police in the mainland capital, Radio Beijing said.”

South China Morning Post,

June 1989

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Lee Cheuk-yan, today a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, testifies during a U.S. Senate hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, March 4, 2004. A pro-democracy activist, Lee was detained in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and confessed to supporting “counter-revolutionary organizations” before authorities permitted him to return to Hong Kong.

There are few more melancholy sights than Martin Lee, QC, standing on a platform in the rain, manfully singing “We Shall Overcome” with a crowd of three hundred fellow crusaders for democracy in Hong Kong. His cause is just, his criticisms of London and Beijing are unfailingly correct, his methods always peaceful and polite, which makes it all the sadder that he appears to be fighting for a lost cause. Hong Kong was promised direct elections by various representatives of the British government, who were, however, always carefully vague about the practicalities; Beijing doesn’t want direct elections to take place, or only to such a limited degree that they will be virtually meaningless. According to the just completed Basic Law, less than half the legislature will be directly elected by as late as 1999. Although Beijing has made it clear that the Basic Law can no longer be changed, London still promises that something might be worked out. The people of Hong Kong, who have seen too many promises made and broken, maintain a sullen silence.

Martin Lee is not, a professional politician. He is a highly successful barrister. And he showed little interest in politics until six years ago, when he realized that without elections Hong Kong would be bereft of an accountable local government, without which the future so-called Special Autonomous Region would have no protection against the whims of Beijing’s mandarins. He is of course absolutely right. And if you ask many ordinary people in Hong Kong, they agree that he is right. Indeed, he is quite a popular and much respected figure. And yet, there he is, with the long-suffering face of a sensitive camel, bravely singing songs to no more than a few hundred people.

The reasons for his failure are complex, but they are mostly to do with fear and a crippling sense of futility. The problem is not that Chinese people are by their nature uninterested in politics. This is a self-serving myth propagated by mandarins in Beijing, in London, and, indeed, in Hong Kong itself. But the myth has been sustained for so long in Hong Kong that it has become self-fulfilling; and it also accounts for an astonishing political naiveté, as well as a deep suspicion of the whole business, especially among the worthies who still help to run Hong Kong today.

* * *

One of these worthies is the glamorous Dame Lydia Dunn, director of Swire’s, one of the oldest British trading houses, appointed member of the Legislative Council, campaigner for the right of Hong Kong people to live in Britain, wife of the former attorney general, winer and diner of every titled and famous face in town. She is, despite her anglicized name, completely Chinese, although one can hardly tell from her almost faultless Knightsbridge drawl. Perhaps to remind people of her Chineseness, she likes her official photographs to have Chinese screens in the background. She is, in short, a typical product of empire, an honorary native member of the colonial Club.

Dame Lydia, like her fellow worthies, native or British, never believed in democracy for Hong Kong, but, again like many others, she was so shocked by last year’s events in Beijing that now she at least pays lip service to the necessity of some democratic reforms. Her shock was in itself the result of naiveté, for, as she admits, she had had no doubt that China was on the right track and that Hong Kong’s future was assured: What, then, I asked her, about this democracy business?

“Well,” she purred, “you see, the problem with the Chinese people is that they are simply too individualistic for a democracy. They have no discipline, which is really most awkward if you have to work for the common good. The Japanese, of course, are quite, quite different. They are a disciplined race and so they can have a democracy.”

I was too baffled to argue with her. But I should not have been surprised by this complete incomprehension of democratic principles. For when it comes to politics, the tycoons and civil servants of capitalist Hong Kong are really not so different from the mandarins in Communist Beijing. Thus, in a fascinating little book of interviews, we hear Simon Li Fuk-sean, former high court judge and drafter of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, expound the following theory:

As a society the people in Hong Kong are politically immature. By not having universal suffrage we keep out a lot of people who make absolutely no contribution to society in Hong Kong, are totally ignorant of any form of government, and are exploited by unscrupulous politicians.

Instead, says Mr. Li, only professional people with “interests to protect” should be elected by their peers to run Hong Kong, for “they, and not the parasites, deserve representation.”4

* * *

For years the likes of Dame Lydia, Simon Li, as well as such local tycoons as Y.K. Pao, who made his fortune in shipping, or newspaper editors like Louis Cha, have warned Hong Kong people not to rock the boat, not to push for divisive politics, which would only upset Beijing. After all, wrote Louis Cha in an editorial last June, the Communists “are Chinese. There are good Chinese and bad Chinese, but most Chinese are good.”5 And as Clive James once described so well, whenever there was a good party in China for a visiting British worthy, there was Y.K. Pao (“Powie”), grinning and hand-wringing like an oily compradore. No wonder such people have been so pathetically easy to intimidate. Louis Cha said it all in one sorrowful and all too typical sentence: “We felt we were doing our best to serve the country.”

The worthies are still doing their best. When, some months ago, the Hong Kong Arts Centre wanted to screen a documentary film about China, footage of last year’s massacre in Beijing was censored, because, as a local official put it, “we have to pay attention to the shifting political sensitivities of the Chinese Government.” One of the main galleries in the Arts Centre has been named after Y.K. Pao. His son-in-law, an Austrian worthy called Helmut Sohmen, is chairman of the board.

No wonder, with an establishment like that, that Martin Lee has a hard time, and that few people in Hong Kong wish to stick their necks out when the tycoons and mandarins refuse to stick out theirs. Far wiser, if you have the chance, to take to the planes and move elsewhere.


“We are Chinese by race. We love our country with Chinese blood flowing in our bodies. But we don’t like the communist system.”

—Martin Lee, Hong Kong,

February 12, 1990

“In the past, Hong Kong people thought that they were colonial citizens. But after the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, we knew that Hong Kong would go back to China after 1997 and that Britain would not take care of us any more.”

—Letter to the South China Morning Post,

February 13, 1990

Martin Lee faces another, perhaps more intractable obstacle than the cowardice, connivance, and bullying of mandarins: the perennial question of many immigrant communities, especially the overseas Chinese: Where do they feel they belong? It is an important question, for there was never enough identification with the colonial Chinatown, ruled by benevolent British patriarchs, to stimulate the majority of people to engage in politics. This suited the patriarchs in the past, but it suited their subjects as well, for they were pleased enough to have escaped from political mobilization back home. As long as they were left alone, they were content to let the British mandarins govern. The recent half-hearted talk about democracy from the patriarchs themselves—who feel they must give their Chinese subjects some hope, even if only on paper, now that the British are gearing up to leave—must sound decidedly hollow to the Hong Kong Chinese, and devious to the Beijing mandarins, who had counted on a neat transfer of power from one authoritarian government to another. That is what they meant after all by Hong Kong staying the same.

* * *

To develop a political identity, people must feel a sense of continuity, of a shared past, but, more importantly, a shared future for which they can be responsible, as citizens, not subjects. This is precisely what is missing in Hong Kong. For once, Dame Lydia hit it right on the button: “Apart from lunatics, condemned prisoners, and small children, Hong Kong people must be the only people in the world who seem to have no right to decide their own fate.”6 Political deals are negotiated over their heads, and their more critical representatives are dismissed and sometimes insulted in London and Beijing—Martin Lee’s protest activities have been branded as “counterrevolutionary,” and he claims to have been told in Beijing that even if he were elected after 1997, he would not be allowed to be part of any government.

So who in this colony (tactfully called “territory” in the local press) do the Chinese residents think they are? Where do their loyalties lie? Racially and culturally, there is no question that they feel Chinese, sometimes defensively, sometimes aggressively so. The Chineseness of the overseas Chinese kung-fu found its most popular expression in the movies featuring Bruce Lee, a native of San Francisco, who rose to stardom in Hong Kong. In one of his early films, entitled Fists of Fury, ethnic pride is the main theme of the story, set in Shanghai in the early 1930s.

Lee plays a member of a kung fu school whose master is murdered by a gang of evil Japanese, who add insult to injury by stamping on the master’s picture and offering a calligraphy, which reads: “The Sick People of Asia.” In the rest of the film, Lee redresses the insult by showing the evil Japanese what’s what, and not just the Japanese but also the white folks, in the form of an odious Russian, whom the Chinese hero, his magnificent torso bared to the waist, hacks and kicks and pummels so convincingly that there can be no question left in anybody’s mind about the superiority of Chinese manhood.

The usual racial slights are rather crudely rehearsed, including the infamous sign outside the Shanghai park: “Chinese and dogs not allowed.” When Lee’s entrance is barred by the most grotesque-looking Indian the casting director could find, he demolishes the sign with a high kick and, while he is at it, demolishes a bunch of Japanese in kimonos too. The most evil character of all is, however, neither Japanese nor Caucasian, but a Chinese collaborator called Wu, whose toadying to the wicked Japanese comes to a symbolic climax when he is forced at a geisha party to “walk like a Chinese,” that is, on all fours, doggy-style. Naturally, Lee knows how to deal with Wu: he beats him to death and hangs him from a lamppost.

* * *

Once in a while racial defensiveness breaks into racist aggression, not only in fantasy but in fact. The hostility toward the Vietnamese refugees, huddled in their ghastly prison camps in Hong Kong, is a case in point. To be sure, their arrival in large numbers poses a problem for a small congested place like Hong Kong, but to hear Cantonese schoolchildren protest in front of TV cameras against sending Vietnamese refugee children to local schools, because “they stink,” and to hear civic leaders virtually begging the British to send the refugees back to Vietnam, is to lose fast one’s sympathy for the plight of the Hong Kong Chinese themselves. And to observe, as I did recently, Cantonese accusing the Vietnamese of being “noisy” is to enter the realm of absurdity, for whatever the Cantonese virtues may be, silence is not one of them.

To be Chinese, then, is not the same as to be a citizen of China, but the relationship with the motherland is complicated, vague, and wide-open to political manipulation. “China,” wrote a Chinese-American in a Hong Kong magazine,

is a cultural entity which flows incessantly, like the Yellow River, from its source all the way to the present time, and from there to the boundless future. This is the basic and unshakable belief in the mind of every Chinese. It is also the strongest basis for Chinese nationalism. No matter which government is in power, people will not reject China, for there is always hope for a better future a hundred or more years from now.

China, in other words, is both real and utopian. To engage in politics in Hong Kong, indeed, in all overseas Chinese communities, almost always means politics in China. The average Chinese restaurant owner in San Francisco or Vancouver may not have been interested in American or Canadian politics (“as long as he was able to make money”), but when it concerned the struggle between the Nationalists and the Communists, he became passionately interested, for it involved the future of China. When that future is at stake, the racial, cultural, and political merge in a sometimes combustible mix.

* * *

That moment arrived in the spring of 1989, when the students in Beijing occupied the heart of the Chinese empire. It was a sign for the Hong Kong people to show that they were more than rough-and-ready Cantonese traders, that they, too, cared for the motherland, that they, too, were Chinese to the core. It was in many ways Hong Kong’s finest hour: people supposed to be greedy money-grubbers donated millions of dollars to the students in Beijing; people supposed to be indifferent to politics took to the streets. At one rally, attended by rock stars, TV comedians, politicians, professionals, workers, indeed, le tout Hong Kong, almost a million turned up, one out of every sixth person in the colony. Martin Lee, who spoke at last to a mass audience, must have hoped his hour had finally come. It was as if every person on Hong Kong had a glint in his or her eye, a glint of hope, of joy, of patriotism. But then the tanks of the People’s Army rolled, and soon the whole thing collapsed.

But not before a moving and dignified demonstration of grief swept over Hong Kong, which for several weeks was draped in black (the Western color of mourning, incidentally—the Chinese traditionally wear white at funerals). Even the procommunist press expressed its solidarity with the students and its disgust with the massacre. Every taxi in town flew a black ribbon; the New China News Agency, the unofficial Chinese embassy here, was surrounded by mountains of wreaths and banners decrying the “butchers of Beijing”; slogans in the streets compared Beijing 1989 to Nanking 1937. “Chinese must never kill Chinese” was another popular phrase (as though non-Chinese were more legitimate victims). There was even a banner hanging from the almost completed Bank of China building, decrying the butchery, and its architect, I.M. Pei, vowed not to engage in any more projects for the motherland.

Grief was followed by confusion. To be Chinese was no longer a simple matter. This was neatly demonstrated in June when the then foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, turned up in a maladroit attempt to calm things down. He was greeted by a kind of battle of songs. On one side of town, in Victoria Park, where a hideous old bust of the old Queen-Empress has found its last resting place, protesters gathered to demand the “right of abode” in Britain, as the country of refuge. They played a tape of Dame Vera Lynn’s “Land of Hope and Glory,” and made speeches, often in English, about Hong Kong people not wishing to be second-class citizens, and displayed banners that said “Shame On You, England!” and “Howe Can You Sleep at Night?” Dame Lydia Dunn flew to London to plead Hong Kong’s cause. Newspaper ads appeared in the English-language press, pointing out that “There’s no point in being almost British.” The full-page ad was accompanied by a picture of a Chinese boy in a British school uniform. The text deserves full quotation:

The coins in his pocket bear the impression of the Queen. On Saturdays he plays football. His school flies the British flag. He doesn’t think about freedom because he takes it for granted. He was raised in the British tradition in a British colony. He is one of the millions of people for whom Hong Kong is home. And who want to continue living here. All they want is some form of insurance. And the only form of insurance that will mean anything to them is the right of abode in Britain. Otherwise, being almost British is like being homeless.

But another ad, asking for the same thing, made the point of emphasizing that “we wish to stay in Hong Kong, as it is our home, and we are proud to be Chinese.”

* * *

The demand for insurance was understandable, even right, but why the stuff about the Queen on the boy’s money, why the reference to football, and what did pride in being Chinese have to do with anything? A conversation with Dame Lydia, or any of her peers, titled or not, tells one why. Those who understand the irony of playing Dame Vera’s song, and not many in Hong Kong do, are trapped between colonial dependence and old-fashioned Chinese patriotism.

There was, however, another set of songs being sung in Hong Kong that week. Members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students gathered in one of the busiest shopping areas of Hong Kong island and sang the Chinese national anthem. They handed out leaflets written in Chinese saying that the right of abode in Britain would only benefit a small, rich elite, that it was humiliating to ask for help from the colonial masters, and that the duty of the masses was to stay in Hong Kong to struggle on for a democratic China. “China and Hong Kong are one family,” read the headline of their pamphlet, “and helping the motherland is the way to help Hong Kong.”

Near the turnstiles of the ferry boat to Kowloon, a group of young people had set up a booth, representing a kind of mini-Tiananmen Square: the Internationale blasted from a loudspeaker, lurid cartoons of the blood-soaked Chinese leaders were displayed, and recorded speeches by the Beijing student leaders were endlessly repeated. And in another ad, placed in a Chinese-language newspaper, one hundred show-business personalities renounced their right of abode in Britain, for “We Stand Upright and We Don’t Beg.”

And what, while Dame Lydia was begging the British for the right of abode, did her fellow worthies at the top of the Hong Kong heap say? Well, they didn’t all say the same thing, of course, but the predominant message was twofold: not to rock the boat any further in China, and to kick the Vietnamese boat people out as quickly as possible. The replica of the Statue of Liberty, or rather the Hong Kong replica of the replica that was crushed in Beijing, had to be removed from Victoria Park, for, as one prominent Hong Kong businessman, Vincent Lo Hong-sui, said: “China will become skeptical about the people of Hong Kong if they continue to organize what Beijing has already criticized as counterrevolutionary activities.”

* * *

What we saw here, then, was a fine irony: those least emotionally involved with China were most inclined to appease the Chinese leadership, while the young patriots wanted to fight on. They, and Martin Lee, are still the only ones fighting, albeit for slightly different aims, since Lee confines his ambitions to a directly elected government for Hong Kong. Even as I write, three thousand students are marching to the New China News Agency to protest against the inadequate Basic Law, whose final draft was recently imposed by the Chinese on a joint drafting committee, causing one of the Hong Kong representatives to return home in tears. On the eve of the lunar New Year, in February, I visited a “democracy booth” set up by the young patriots, to find out more about their views on democracy. I didn’t find out much, but bought a coffee cup engraved with the spirited, though not especially democratic slogan: “I am Chinese. One country. One heart.”

And the British? They have done their best to appease the spokesmen of local bigotry and forced the first group of Vietnamese to return to the country from which they risked their lives to escape. And they have appeased the worthies by offering the worthiest, fifty thousand of them to be exact, the right of abode in Britain. This has already unleashed the British variety of bigotry, in the shape of right-wing Tories, led by the Right Hon. Norman Tebbit, who has vowed to fight against the admission of even one Chinaman from Hong Kong in his green and pleasant isle, an attitude, alas, shared by the Labour opposition, worried about losing working-class voters.

So far there has been surprisingly little overt hostility in Hong Kong toward Britain. There is a general but vague feeling of having been let down, certainly, but little outrage, a sign perhaps of the lack of emotional involvement with that country. Whatever most Hong Kong Chinese might feel they are, they don’t feel British, always excepting, of course, that small number of worthies, who appear, ad nauseam, in the social pages of the Hong Kong Tatler.

* * *

Perhaps to feel truly outraged at Britain it helps to be British, for the most outraged criticism of the British government for not doing the right thing by its colonial subjects has come, by and large, from the British themselves, and particularly from those Englishmen who feel most outraged by the likes of Norman Tebbit. These tend to be patrician in background and inclination. It is no coincidence, for example, that the magazine which has done more than any other British publication to voice concern over the shabby treatment of Hong Kong is The Spectator, a patrician magazine I personally hold dear. And the most trenchant, not to say outraged, critique of British government policy was written by William Shawcross, a gentleman of impeccable patrician credentials, who has done more than any other writer to concentrate our fickle attention on the suffering of refugees.7 Kevin Rafferty, the author of City on the Rocks,8 is not to my knowledge a patrician, which might account for the somewhat blander tone of his mish-mash of a book, which is part travel brochure, part business journalism, and part history lesson. But even he draws pretty much the same conclusions.

Everything Shawcross says in his polemic is correct. Yes, “Circumspection, prudence, kowtowing, have been the watchwords of our behavior.” Yes, “We have been afraid of [China’s] force, not confident of our strength.” All this is perfectly true, but how much strength does the old lion really still have? And how much of this strength is it still willing to use for the sake of a lot of foreigners, reputed to eat monkey brains? Is there not a hint of outrage in these polemics at the fact that Britain is no longer a great power that can set right the world’s wrongs?

George Hicks, an Australian observer, has argued in his collection of polemical articles that by formally committing the British to govern Hong Kong until 1997, Beijing has London, as they say, over the barrel.9 For to ensure a smooth transfer of power, with a minimum loss of face in both decaying imperial capitals, London doesn’t feel it can do much to thwart the wishes of China’s mandarins. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t let Britain off the hook, and the patricians are surely right that history can still make demands on the present, and Britain, even though it is now a somewhat seedy power of the second rank, is morally obliged to feel responsible for the fate of six million people (a figure loaded with unfortunate symbolism) being handed over to a harsh regime. For better or for worse, however, the estimable William Shawcross and the noble Spectator are less representative of the New Britain than is Norman Tebbit, who hates patricians, doesn’t care much for foreigners, and, to use his kind of language, doesn’t give a toss for the legacy of Empire.


“The Police Commissioner, Mr. Li Kwan-ha, yesterday expressed concern at the marked increase in violent crime in Hong Kong, which he said was caused by uncertainty about the future among young people.”

South China Morning Post,

January 1990

“Vietnamese boat people are being forced to draw lots to decide who will attempt suicide in a bizarre plan aimed at winning international sympathy, it was alleged yesterday.”

South China Morning Post,

February 1990

“The Twenties’ atmosphere of the Champagne Bar lured those who could physically manage yet more champers, and those with real stamina stuck it out until way after midnight—Now that’s an opening!”

Hong Kong Tatler

February 1990

“Hong Kong,” exclaimed an Italian China hand, “feels like Shanghai in the Twenties!” My friend is fond of exclamations, it is true, but one sees what he means. There is a whiff of The Last Emperor about the slim young Chinese boys; dressed to the nines in retro styles, their hair slicked back like wet black silk, languidly sipping champagne in the neo-art-deco hotels that are in fashion these days. There is something distinctly devil-may-care about Priscilla Chois, the Rawley Chaos, Pansy Hos, and the Dickson Poons dancing the nights away at their Venetian masquerades, their Fifties parties, and their Marie-Antoinette balls, while the young Brits from the banks and trading houses have fun ruining their dinner jackets in custard pie fights. There they all are, you might think, tuning their fiddles in anticipation of the great conflagration.

And yet decadent is not the right way to describe late-imperial Hong Kong. For decadence suggests a bored dissipation of wealth acquired over the ages, indeed the squandering of heirlooms. Hong Kong really lacks the cultural richness for true decadence. And the squanderers are too busy making more money to throw away. In fact, there is a raw, not to say vulgar, vitality in the way the gilded youth enjoys its excess; not so much divine decadence, as nouveau riche flashiness. There is something Gatsbyish about Hong Kong high life. Instead of bored dissipation there is a frenzied scramble for wealth and a childish desire to show it off, before it is too late, before it is time to move on, to the next party, somewhere else.

The brain drain is already so serious that people with special skills have to be paid more and more to stay on. At the same time people must pay more and more to leave, legally or not. Doctors feel they can no longer afford to work in public hospitals. Policemen might be more tempted to take bribes. There is a flourishing trade in fake passports, fake IDs, fake travel documents. A former principal of the Hong Kong College of Language and Commerce, who also ran an immigration consultancy business, was arrested earlier this year for having forged immigration stamps. Corruption, always endemic to Hong Kong, is reaching such proportions that half the legal department seems to be under investigation. Far from dying, then, Hong Kong is becoming a free-for-all, battling against the clock.

Now, more than ever, Hong Kong feels like a city without a past, or a future, only a frenzied present. Almost the only institution still talking about big investments in the future is the government itself, just to keep the morale up, to show that not all is lost. A new airport is planned, for example, but quite who will finance such a grand project is still unknown. Before anything can go ahead these days, there are matters to be considered which have little to do with business. “Sensitivity tests” is what these considerations are called in the charming jargon of the day: how will Beijing react, how will it affect the morale in Hong Kong, will it give the government face, and so forth.

The morale of my own Chinese friends is already such that most of them are actively seeking a way out, even those who vowed never to leave, when I first met them some years ago. One is trying to get a Taiwanese passport, another might move to Canada, a third is thinking of Singapore. But these friends, sad though their departures are, do not deserve our greatest sympathy. That should go to those who stay behind, because they have no choice, and especially to those very few who still fight for political change, however naively or quixotically.

As I prepare my own departure, I often think of an image that captures the melancholy of this slowly breaking city. It is a scene I saw on the television news, almost surreal in its violent intensity, the scene of a great bulldozer crushing a mountain of fake gold watches, all made in Hong Kong, until there was nothing left but dust.

  1. Derek Davies, in the Far Eastern Economic Review, September 1984.
  2. Quoted by F.W. Mote in The City in Late Imperial China, ed. G. William Skinner (Stanford University Press, 1977), p. 116.
  3. Skinner, The City in Late Imperial China.
  4. Gerd Balke ed., Hong Kong Voices, (Hong Kong: Longman, 1989).
  5. Ming Pao, June 13, 1989.
  6. Speech at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club, June 30, 1989.
  7. William Shawcross, Kowtow! Chatto counterblasts, No. 6.
  8. Kevin Rafferty, City On the Rocks: Hong Kong's Uncertain Future, to be published by Viking in April.
  9. George Hicks, Hong Kong Countdown, US distribution by The Cellar Book Shop, 18090 Wyoming Street, Detroit, Michigan 48221.
Ian Buruma was educated in Holland and Japan, where he studied history, Chinese literature, and Japanese cinema. In the 1970s in Tokyo, he acted in Kara Juro’s Jokyo Gekijo and participated in Maro...

Reviewed in This Article

Hong Kong Voices
edited by Gerd Balke, with an introduction by Anthony Lawrence
Longman, 288 pp.

by William Shawcross
Chatto CounterBlasts, No. 6 64 pp.

City on the Rocks: Hong Kong’s Uncertain Future
by Kevin Rafferty

Hong Kong Countdown
by George Hicks
Writers’ and Publishers’ Cooperative, 136 pp.

Go to the homepage

To subscribe, click here.

This article was first published in the April 12, 1990 issue of the New York Review of Books.



China: The Superpower of Mr. Xi

Roderick MacFarquhar
In the almost one-hundred-year existence of the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), its current general secretary, Xi Jinping, is only the second leader clearly chosen by his peers. The first was Mao Zedong. Both men beat out the competition, and thus...

A Blind Lawyer vs. Blind Chinese Power

Evan Osnos
In early 2012, Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer who had been blind since infancy, lived with his wife and two children in the village of Dongshigu, where he’d been raised, on the eastern edge of the North China plain. They were not there by...

A Partnership with China to Avoid World War

George Soros
International cooperation is in decline both in the political and financial spheres. The U.N. has failed to address any of the major conflicts since the end of the cold war; the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference left a sour aftertaste; the...

In North Korea: Wonder & Terror

Ian Buruma
The northeast of China used to be called Manchuria. Another name was “the cockpit of Asia.” Many wars were fought there. A French priest who traveled through the region in the 1920s wrote: “Although it is uncertain where God created paradise, we can...

China’s Invisible History: An Interview with Filmmaker and Artist Hu Jie

Ian Johnson
Though none of his works have been publicly shown in China, Hu Jie is one of his country’s most noteworthy filmmakers. He is best known for his trilogy of documentaries about Maoist China, which includes Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul (2004), telling...

Mao’s China: The Language Game

Perry Link
It can be embarrassing for a China scholar like me to read Eileen Chang’s pellucid prose, written more than sixty years ago, on the early years of the People’s Republic of China. How many cudgels to the head did I need before arriving at comparable...

An American Hero in China

Ian Johnson
One night in September, three hundred people crowded into the basement auditorium of an office tower in Beijing to hear a discussion between two of China’s most popular writers. One was Liu Yu, a thirty-eight-year-old political scientist and blogger...

The Wonderfully Elusive Chinese Novel

Perry Link
In teaching Chinese-language courses to American students, which I have done about thirty times, perhaps the most anguishing question I get is “Professor Link, what is the Chinese word for ______?”

China: What the Uighurs See

Ian Johnson
Xinjiang is one of those remote places whose frequent mention in the international press stymies true understanding. Home to China’s Uighur minority, this vast region of western China is mostly known for being in a state of permanent low-grade...

China: Inventing a Crime

Perry Link
In late January, Chinese authorities announced that they are considering formal charges against Pu Zhiqiang, one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, who has been in detention since last May. Pu’s friends fear that even a life sentence is...

How to Be a Chinese Democrat: An Interview with Liu Yu

Ian Johnson
Liu Yu is one of China’s best-known America-watchers. A professor of political science at Tsinghua University, she lived in the U.S. from 2000 to 2007 and now researches democratization in developing countries, including her own. The thirty-eight-...

China’s Brave Underground Journal—II

Ian Johnson
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...

Pope Francis’ China Problem

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

China’s Brave Underground Journal

Ian Johnson
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...

‘China Strikes Back’: An Exchange

Perry Link, Orville Schell
Letters in response to: “China Strikes Back!” from the October 23, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books.To the Editors:In “China Strikes Back” [NYR, October 23], Orville Schell sounds a much-needed wake-up call about China’s recent attitude...

China’s Unstoppable Lawyers: An Interview with Teng Biao

Ian Johnson
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...

China Strikes Back!

Orville Schell
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...

Taking Aim at Hong Kong

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

The Chinese Invade Africa

Ian Johnson
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...

‘They Don’t Want Moderate Uighurs’

Ian Johnson
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...

Sex in China: An Interview with Li Yinhe

Ian Johnson
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...

From China to Jihad?

Richard Bernstein
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...

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

Ian Johnson
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...

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

Ian Johnson
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...

He Exposed Corrupt China Before He Left

Perry Link
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...

Hong Kong Rising: An Interview with Albert Ho

Perry Link, Ian Johnson
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...

Tibet Resists

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

The Ghosts of Tiananmen Square

Ian Johnson
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...

The Tanks and the People

Liao Yiwu
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...

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

Ian Johnson
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...

The Smooth Path to Pearl Harbor

Rana Mitter
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...

Tiananmen: How Wrong We Were

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

China: Detained to Death

Renee Xia, Perry Link
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...

The China Challenge

Ian Johnson
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...

Solving China’s Schools: An Interview with Jiang Xueqin

Ian Johnson
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...

Chinese Atheists? What the Pew Survey Gets Wrong

Ian Johnson
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...

Paddling to Peking

Roderick MacFarquhar
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 Brave Catholics of China

Ian Johnson
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...

China’s Way to Happiness

Ian Johnson
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...

China: Reeducation Through Horror

Ian Buruma
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,...

China: Five Pounds of Facts

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

The Surprising Empress

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

Dreams of a Different China

Ian Johnson
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...

How to Deal with the Chinese Police

Perry Link
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...

Unhinged in China

Ian Johnson
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...

China: “Capitulate or Things Will Get Worse”

Perry Link
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...

Who’s Afraid of Chinese Money?

Jonathan Mirsky
“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...

Old Dreams for a New China

Ian Johnson
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...

China: When the Cats Rule

Ian Johnson
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...

The Man Who Got It Right

Ian Buruma
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...

Censoring the News Before It Happens

Perry Link
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...

Faking It in China

Ian Johnson
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...

Chen Guangcheng in New York

Jerome A. Cohen, Ira Belkin
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...

China’s Sufis: The Shrines Behind the Dunes

Ian Johnson
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...

The ‘Breaking of an Honorable Career’

Roderick MacFarquhar
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”...

Tibet: The CIA’s Cancelled War

Jonathan Mirsky
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 that “close...

Will the Chinese Be Supreme?

Ian Johnson
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, Deng...

Who Killed Pamela in Peking?

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

Dancing in Empty Beijing

Ian Johnson
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...

Blogging the Slow-Motion Revolution

Ian Johnson
Huang Qi is best known in China as the creator of the country’s first human rights website, Liusi Tianwang, or “June 4 Heavenly Web.” A collection of reports and photos, as well as the occasional first-person account of abuse, the site is updated...

The Old Fears of China’s New Leaders

Jonathan Mirsky
I felt a shudder of déjà vu watching the mounting protests inside China this week of the Communist Party for censoring an editorial in Southern Weekend, a well-known liberal newspaper in the southern city of Guangzhou. It is all too similar to the...

Beijing’s Doomsday Problem

Ian Johnson
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 illegal...

The New Chinese Gang of Seven

Ian Johnson
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...

Does This Writer Deserve the Prize?

Perry Link
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 “...

China: Worse Than You Ever Imagined

Ian Johnson
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...

Who Was Mao Zedong?

Roderick MacFarquhar
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...

An Honest Writer Survives in China

Ian Johnson
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...

Han Han: ‘Why Aren’t You Grateful?’

Ian Johnson
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, Han...

China’s Lost Decade

Ian Johnson
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’...

Shanghai: The Vigor in the Decay

Ian Johnson
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.All of this is happening in Shanghai—...

Beijing’s Dangerous Game

Perry Link
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 Islands in the...

Jesus vs. Mao?

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

News from the Dalai Lama

Jonathan Mirsky
“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...

The New Olympic Arms Race

Ian Johnson
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 with them...

Bo Xilai: The Unanswered Questions

Perry Link
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...

Bo Xilai: The Unanswered Questions

Perry Link
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...

The People’s Republic of Rumor

Richard Bernstein
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,...

China’s ‘Fault Lines’

Ian Johnson
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 published in Chinese in Hong Kong a few weeks ago...

‘Pressure for Change is at the Grassroots

Ian Johnson
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
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...

Why the Dalai Lama is Hopeful

Jonathan Mirsky
“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.But it can be put back in. I am hopeful...

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

Ian Johnson
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 before...

A Chinese Murder Mystery?

Ian Johnson
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...

Finding Zen and Book Contracts in Beijing

Ian Johnson
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 talk,...

London: The Triumph of the Chinese Censors

Jonathan Mirsky
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 Chinese...

On Fang Lizhi (1936–2012)

Perry Link
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...

Debacle in Beijing

Ian Johnson
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...

Beijing Dilemma: Is Chen Guangcheng the Next Fang Lizhi?

Perry Link
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...

Bringing Censors to the Book Fair

Jonathan Mirsky
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 Communist Party’s...

‘Worse Than the Cultural Revolution’

Ian Johnson
Tian Qing may be China’s leading cultural heritage expert. A scholar of Buddhist musicology and the Chinese zither, or guqin, the sixty-four-year-old now heads the Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center, an institution set up by the...

A Master in the Shadows

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

China’s Death-Row Reality Show

Jonathan Mirsky
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, always...

China’s Falling Star

Ian Johnson
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...

Learning How to Argue

Ian Johnson
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 August...

The Chinese Are Coming!

Richard Bernstein
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...

He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny

Simon Leys
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...

Is Democracy Chinese?

Ian Johnson
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 freedom of...

Notes from a Chinese Cave: Qigong’s Quiet Return

Ian Johnson
Lift up your head Calm your eyes Look far away, as far as you can Look beyond the walls What do you see?The Jinhua caves are located in a wooded, hilly area about 200 miles southwest of Shanghai. The most famous cave, Double Dragon Cave, is entered...

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'...

Banned in China

Jonathan Mirsky
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 Newsweek had been carefully torn from each of the 731 copies of the magazine on sale in China...

China Gets Religion!

Ian Johnson
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...

Do China’s Village Protests Help the Regime?

Ian Johnson
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 off public...

The Real Deng

Fang Lizhi
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 “nonappearance of the...

My ‘Confession’

Fang Lizhi
From reading Henry Kissinger’s new book On China,1 I have learned that Mr. Kissinger met with Deng Xiaoping at least eleven times—more than with any other Chinese leader—and that the topic of one of their chats was whether Fang Lizhi would confess...

Making It Big in China

Jonathan Mirsky
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 interior...

Are China’s Rulers Getting Religion?

Ian Johnson
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 given...

From Tenderness to Savagery in Seconds

Ian Buruma
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,...

China’s Tibetan Theme Park

Richard Bernstein
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, the Qing...

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

Robert Barnett
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 of his...

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

Ian Johnson
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 with...

Murdoch’s Chinese Adventure

Jonathan Mirsky
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 the elder...

China’s Political Prisoners: True Confessions?

Jonathan Mirsky
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, eighty-...

The High Price of the New Beijing

Ian Johnson
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...

The Past and the Future

Fang Lizhi
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...

Kissinger and China

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

China’s Glorious New Past

Ian Johnson
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 that felt...

Will There Be a ‘Duel of Dalai Lamas’?

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

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
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, who...

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

Ian Johnson
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 rants into...

On the Sacred Mountain

Pico Iyer
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 Mount...

How China Fears the Middle East Revolutions

Perry Link
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 Twitter and...

The Secret Politburo Meeting Behind China’s New Democracy Crackdown

Perry Link
In an NYRblog post on February 17 (“Middle East Revolutions: The View from China”), I discussed Chinese government’s efforts to block news of the democracy uprisings spreading across the Middle East and speculated how China’s rulers might view those...

Middle East Revolutions: The View from China

Perry Link
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 People’s Daily...

The Worst Man-Made Catastrophe, Ever

Roderick MacFarquhar
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...

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
Yang Jisheng is an editor of Annals of the Yellow Emperor, 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 government-run Xinhua news...

At the Nobel Ceremony: Liu Xiaobo’s Empty Chair

Perry Link
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 Liu Xiaobo...

Unveiling Hidden China

Christian Caryl
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 year when...

A Hero of Our Time

Jonathan Mirsky
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 because he...

How Reds Smashed Reds

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

A Very Superior ‘Chinaman’

Richard Bernstein
Charlie Chan, the fictitious Chinese-American detective from Hawaii, makes his first appearance in the movie Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935) looking out the window of an airplane while flying over the Pyramids and the Sphinx. We next see him, looking...

Rumblings of Reform in Beijing?

Ian Johnson
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. Monday’s conclusion of a key Communist Party meeting...

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

Perry Link
It would be hard to overstate how much the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo on October 8 has meant to China’s community of dissidents, bloggers, and activists. Not only has it lifted their spirits tremendously; many also view it as a...

A Hero of the China Underground

Howard W. French
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’s student movement, people like...

The Question of Pearl Buck

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

Jailed for Words: Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo

Jonathan Mirsky
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 because he...

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

Richard Bernstein
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 public...

The Party: Impenetrable, All Powerful

Ian Johnson
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...

Booming China, Migrant Misery

Richard Bernstein
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 low...

Waiting for WikiLeaks: Beijing’s Seven Secrets

Perry Link
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 in...

The Message from the Glaciers

Orville Schell
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...

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

Perry Link
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 theorizing...

Brutalized in China

Jonathan Mirsky
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.“She” is Granny Lin, a fifty-one-year-old Chinese woman who has...

The Triumph of Madame Chiang

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

Locked Out: Beijing’s Border Abuse Exposed

Perry Link
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 Chinese citizen...

What Beijing Fears Most

Perry Link
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 quixotic: it...

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

Perry Link
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 months, on the...

Copenhagen: China’s Oppressive Climate

Perry Link
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 will depend...

Specters of a Chinese Master

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

China: The Fragile Superpower

Christian Caryl
Some China watchers believe that China’s dramatically rising prosperity will inevitably make the country more open and democratic. President Barack Obama’s highly-scripted trip this week provided little to support that claim. As The Washington Post...

The Empire of Sister Ping

Richard Bernstein
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 47 East...

China’s Boom: The Dark Side in Photos

Orville Schell
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 documentary...

The Enigma of Chiang Kai-shek

Jonathan D. Spence
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 to be so...

Obama’s Bad Bargain with Beijing

Perry Link
As the echoes of China’s spectacular military parade on October 1 were subsiding, officials in the Obama administration, in quieter settings in Washington, D.C., were telling representatives of the Dalai Lama that the president was not going to meet...

China at 60: Who Owns the Guns

Perry Link
The most striking feature of China’s October 1 celebration of sixty years of Communist rule was the spectacular and tightly choreographed military parade in the center of Beijing. The display of crass militarism—paralleled only by parades in...

China’s Dictators at Work: The Secret Story

Jonathan Mirsky
Prisoner of the State 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 great-power status. The book...

The Mystery of Zhou Enlai

Jonathan D. Spence
{vertical_photo_right}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...

‘A Hell on Earth’

Pico Iyer
“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 indifferent.”...

The Death and Life of a Great Chinese City

Richard Bernstein
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 except by...

The China We Don’t Know

Jonathan Mirsky
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
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 Slovak intellectuals...

An Asian Star Is Born

Christian Caryl
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
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...

The Passions of Joseph Needham

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

Why Didn’t Science Rise in China?

Jonathan D. Spence
In response to:The Passions of Joseph Needham from the August 14, 2008 issueTo the Editors:In his illuminating essay on Joseph Needham [ NYR, August 14], Jonathan Spence notes that early in his career Needham posed the question: “What were the...

How He Sees It Now

Jonathan Mirsky
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 May, when...

Casting a Lifeline

Francine Prose
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...

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...

Thunder from Tibet

Robert Barnett
1.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 Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet...

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

Wang Lixiong
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 of safeguarding national...

He Would Have Changed China

Perry Link
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 decades...

He Won’t Give In

Jonathan Mirsky
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 GUNS HERE.”...

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...

‘Ravished by Oranges’

Simon Leys
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 actually...

The Amazing Wanderer

Christian Caryl
1.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 enough to point out that his shoes...

China’s Area of Darkness

Jonathan Mirsky
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 Autonomous...

The Dream of Catholic China

Jonathan D. Spence
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 soldiers...

Mission to Mao

Roderick MacFarquhar
“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...

Chinese Shadows

Perry Link
In 1920 a young Chinese poet named Guo Moruo published a poem called “The Sky Dog,” which begins:Ya, I am a sky dog!I have swallowed the moon,I have swallowed the sun.I have swallowed all the planets,I have swallowed the entire universe.I am I!After...

Court Favorite

Jonathan Mirsky
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 National...

China’s Great Terror

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

Why They Hate Japan

Ian Buruma
1.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 trip to Graceland, home of...

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

Pu Zhiqiang
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...

China: The Shame of the Villages

Jonathan Mirsky
1.Published fifteen years ago, Chinese Village, Socialist State, 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 new understanding “of the methods by which the...

Liu Binyan (1925-2005)

Perry Link
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...

Portrait of a Monster

Jonathan D. Spence
1.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’ northwest base area of Bao-an...

China: The Uses of Fear

Jonathan Mirsky
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 transformation in...

Chinese Shadows

Ian Buruma
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 have the...

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
1.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 tends to come from writers...

Taiwan on the Edge

Jonathan Mirsky
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, something...

The Party Isn’t Over

Jonathan Mirsky
1.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 such a condition the fish never...

Chiang’s Monster

Jonathan D. Spence
1.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 Gestapo and the SS under Hitler...

The Hong Kong Gesture

Jonathan Mirsky
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 treason...

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.” —Jiang Qisheng

A Little Leap Forward

Nicholas D. Kristof
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...


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
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 conviction...

China’s Psychiatric Terror

Jonathan Mirsky
1.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 maltreated as “political maniacs”...

China’s New Rulers: What They Want

Andrew J. Nathan, Bruce Gilley
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 are given as of...

China’s New Rulers: The Path to Power

Andrew J. Nathan, Bruce Gilley
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 are given as of...

Taking Rights Seriously in Beijing

Ronald Dworkin
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 arranged...

There Were Worse Places

Jonathan Mirsky
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 them that...

China: The Anaconda in the Chandelier

Perry Link
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...

Inside the Whale

Jonathan Mirsky
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 ending...

China’s Assault on the Environment

Jonathan Mirsky
In 1956 Chairman Mao wrote the poem “Swimming,” about a dam to be built across the Yangtze River. This is its second stanza:A magnificent project is formed. The Bridge, it flies! Spanning North and South, and a Natural Barrier becomes a thoroughfare...

On the Road

Pico Iyer
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 defeat,...

Un-Chinese Activities

Jonathan Mirsky
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 mind. He...

Writers in a Cold Wind

Jonathan Mirsky
Early in 1979 the Chinese officials in charge of culture declared that the Maoist ban on nineteen traditional classics and sixteen foreign works, including Anna Karenina, was lifted. On the day the books became available at a Beijing bookshop, a...

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...

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...

‘Taiwan Stands Up’

Jonathan Mirsky
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 down by a...

China’s Dirty Clean-Up

Sophia Woodman
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 because...

A Lamas’ Who’s Who

Jonathan Mirsky
A one-l lama, he’s a priest. A two-l llama, he’s a beast. And I will bet a silk pajama, There isn’t any three-l lllama. —Ogden NashThe only Tibetan lama most Westerners knew of until recently was the fourteenth Dalai Lama, the genial Nobel Prize...

East Is West

Ian Buruma
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...

Divine Killer

Ian Buruma
“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,...

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
Connoisseurs of traditional Peking opera would have enjoyed the recent meeting in Shanghai sponsored by Fortune to consider “China: The Next 50 Years.” The audience of approximately three hundred CEOs of US and other companies and over a dozen...

Room at the Top

Pico Iyer
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 foreigners...

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
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, who died...

Message from Shangri-La

Jonathan Mirsky
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 installed as the...

Talking with Mao: An Exchange

Henry Kissinger, Jonathan D. Spence
In response to:Kissinger & the Emperor from the March 4, 1999 issueTo the Editors:No China scholar has influenced my own thinking more than Jonathan Spence. My comments on his review of The Kissinger Transcripts edited by William Burr [NYR,...

Kissinger & the Emperor

Jonathan D. Spence
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 of human...

Sex and Democracy in Taiwan

Ian Buruma
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...

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...

Goodfellas in Shanghai

Jonathan D. Spence
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 kill...

Talking with Wei Jingsheng

Jonathan Mirsky
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’s...

The Mark of Cain

Jonathan Mirsky
1.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, or Cambodia, there is surely...

Lost Horizons

Pico Iyer
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 in just...


Jonathan Mirsky
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 roughly...

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...

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’s Choice

Jonathan Mirsky
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 time the...

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
1.The first Western-language version of Confucius’ sayings—later known as the Analects—was published in Paris in 1687, in Latin, under the title Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, with a brief dedication to King Louis XIV, thanking him for supporting...

Demolition Man

Roderick MacFarquhar
Deng Xiaoping was eulogized by his colleagues as the “chief architect” of China’s reform program and its opening to the outside world.1 This was misleading. Deng was no master builder. Unlike his patron, Mao Zedong, and fortunately for his...

China: The Defining Moment

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

The Risks of Witness

Jonathan D. Spence
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. In this...

The Hope for China

Fang Lizhi, Perry Link
1.“Some people,” declared Mao Zedong in 1959, “say that we have become isolated from the masses.”1 By “some people” Mao meant Peng Dehuai, a subordinate who had dared to criticize Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” which was just then creating in China the...

How China Lost Taiwan

Jonathan Mirsky
1.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 what the China-Taiwan crisis is...

One More Art

Simon Leys
1.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.1Since the dawn of its civilization, China has cultivated a particular branch of the...

River of Fire

Jonathan Mirsky
In her introduction to a collection of Karl Marx’s newspaper dispatches on China, Dona Torr conceived a charming fantasy in which Marx speculates thatWhen our European reactionaries have to take refuge in Asia and at last reach the Great Wall of...

Is There Enough Chinese Food?

Vaclav Smil
1.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 its effects on the country’s politics, and about its...

The Beginning of the End

Ian Buruma
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...

In China’s Gulag

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

Jumping Into the Sea

Jonathan Mirsky
“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 China Wakes, and it shows what Chinese rulers knew for centuries: that, for the emperors,...

The Underground War for Shanghai

Jonathan D. Spence
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 weeks...

Unmasking the Monster

Jonathan Mirsky
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...

The Bottom of the Well

Jonathan Mirsky
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 said to be...

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 Old Man’s New China

Perry Link
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 rights. So how...

The Prodigal Sons

Jonathan Mirsky
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 Battle for Hong Kong

Jonathan Mirsky
1.Hong Kong—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 Peking fireworks are banned), was muffled in mist. In...

Where the East Begins

Jonathan D. Spence
Between 1965 and 1977, Donald Lach published the first two volumes of his Asia in the Making of Europe, an illuminating and erudite survey of the various ways that Asia has affected scholarship, literature, and the visual arts in the West. Beginning...

The Chinese Miracle?

Jonathan D. Spence
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 trammels of...

Unjust Desserts

Jonathan D. Spence
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 politically...

The Party’s Secrets

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

Deng’s Last Campaign

Roderick MacFarquhar
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 the...

Squaring the Chinese Circle

Jonathan Mirsky
“China,” according to Lucien Pye, “is a civilization pretending to be a state.”1 This is an elegant formulation of an idea which eventually occurs to most people who have studied, read about, or traveled and lived in China. In the late sixteenth...

The Other China

Jonathan D. Spence
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 fired into...

Blazing Passions

Geoffrey O’Brien
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 the...

Literature of the Wounded

Jonathan Mirsky
In Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic, 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, charting every change and finding...

John King Fairbank (1907–1991)

Roderick MacFarquhar
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 The New York Review in the last several years, was for him one way of keeping abreast of China...

The Anatomy of Collapse

Roderick MacFarquhar
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. Politics...

China on the Verge

Jonathan D. Spence
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 a...

The Myth of Mao’s China

Jonathan Mirsky
In China Misperceived 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 academic misconduct when it...

Brutality in China

Merle Goldman
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 against...

History on the Wing

John K. Fairbank
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...

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...

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

Simon Leys
1.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 satisfaction; I think the feeling...

The Chinese Amnesia

Fang Lizhi
The following was written while Fang Lizhi was staying in the American Embassy in Beijing, before his release last June.In November 1989, during the fifth month of my refuge inside the American Embassy in Beijing, I received two letters from New...

From the Ming to Deng Xiaoping

John K. Fairbank
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
In her disturbing memoir of three and half years in Beijing, Bette Bao Lord, the author of the novel Spring Moon and wife of Winston Lord, the American ambassador until just before the Beijing killings, retells a traditional story which is wholly...

The Empire Strikes Back

Jonathan Mirsky
“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, the...

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
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
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...

China Witness, 1989

Jonathan D. Spence
In response to: China’s Spring from the June 29, 1989 issueTo the Editors:The absolute cynicism displayed by the current Chinese leadership as they present their version of this spring’s events in Beijing and other cities offers a special challenge...

After the Massacres

Simon Leys
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 characters...

Why China’s Rulers Fear Democracy

John K. Fairbank
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...

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...

The End of the Chinese Revolution

Roderick MacFarquhar
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...

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...

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Jonathan Mirsky
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 Square...

The Chinese Intellectuals and the Revolt

Perry Link
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 clear nine...

China’s Spring

Orville Schell
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 broad masses...

Mao and Snow

John K. Fairbank, Jonathan Mirsky
In response to:Message from Mao from the February 16, 1989 issueTo the Editors:Edgar Snow was set up by Mao and mugged by the Cold War. I first met him in 1932 in Peking and kept more or less in touch during the next forty years of his life. I think...

Message from Mao

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

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
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...

Roots of Revolution

John K. Fairbank
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...

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
Almost forty years have passed since John King Fairbank’s first book, The United States and China, was published in 1948. A careful blending of Chinese institutional history with diplomatic history, the book proved immediately popular among...

Surviving the Hurricane

Judith Shapiro
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 written...

Turbulent Empire

Jonathan D. Spence
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 extracted...

The End of the Long March

Roderick MacFarquhar
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 has now...

Our Mission in China

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

China: Mulberries and Famine

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

China: How Much Dissent?

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

His Man in Canton

John K. Fairbank
In the Chinese united front of the mid-1920s, the Soviet agent Borodin has been a protean figure. Bringing Leninist skills, arms, and advisers to Canton, he seemed to be the priceless ingredient that finally catalyzed Sun Yat-sen’s revolution...

Take Back Your Ming

Jonathan D. Spence
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 dominated by...

Forever Jade

Jonathan D. Spence
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...

Why Confucius Counts

Jonathan D. Spence
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 fourth...

The Chinese Dream Machine

Jonathan D. Spence
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, doubts, and...

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
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...

Traveling Light

Martin Bernal
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 matters, and...

Rules of the Game

John Gittings
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...

Up Against the Wall at Tsinghua U.

Ross Terrill
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 says he...

A Shameful Tale

John Gittings
On the contents page of the latest issue of Foreign Affairs1 the new shape of American diplomacy is writ large and in italics. In this prestigious house organ of the international affairs establishment—and by coincidence it happens to be its...

Who’s Who in China

Martin Bernal
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 immediately...

Bringing Up the Red Guards

John Gittings
Everyone 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...

Peanuts and the Good Soldier

John Gittings
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...

How Mao Won

Martin Bernal
In response to:Was Chinese Communism Inevitable? from the December 3, 1970 issueTo the Editors:Although pleased by Martin Bernal’s laudatory reference to my piece criticizing Chalmers Johnson’s thesis concerning the reasons for the Communist triumph...

Was Chinese Communism Inevitable?

Martin Bernal
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 movement...

Mao and the Writers

Martin Bernal
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 offered...

Report from the China Sea

Jonathan Mirsky
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 People’s...

Still Mysterious

John K. Fairbank
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...

A Mao for All Seasons

Martin Bernal
{vertical_photo_right}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...


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

The Great Wall

John K. Fairbank
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...

Puritanism Chinese-Style

Martin Bernal
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 sensitive East...

Chinese Checkers

Martin Bernal
In Response to:Contradictions from the July 7, 1966 issueTo the Editors:Martin Bernal in his review [July 7] describes Franz Schurmann’s brilliant new book Ideology and Organization in Communist China as “easily the most provocative work…yet seen on...


Martin Bernal
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 extensively...

How to Deal with the Chinese Revolution

John K. Fairbank
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...

Down There on a Visit

Martin Bernal
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 the...

Mao’s China

Martin Bernal
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 of...

The Popularity of Chinese Patriotism

Martin Bernal
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 has...