Mao and the Writers

Mao and the Writers

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 the most convincing explanation of the appalling international and internal situation of China but also seemed to provide the best way of escape from it. But a common hostility to the Government and a common desire to build a new, strong, and just China did not impose any unity on the left-wing literary scene.

During the last thirty years radical writers in China have fought continuous literary battles on such issues as whether to use traditional forms or to import new ones; whether foreign models should come from the West or the Soviet Union; whether fictional characters should be morally clearcut or ambiguous. Whether books should try to elevate popular taste or whether authors should write for the people; whether revolutionary art can be completely utilitarian, or whether a writer under the direct control of the Communist Party can also be creative. Since the 1930s numerous complexities have been added to these and other controversies, and yet the issues and even the personalities involved have recurred with surprising regularity.

During the last few years several books touching on this topic have appeared in America. For Mr. Hsia Tsi-an, “Leftist” writers could hardly have been more antipathetic. When he was at the university in the 1930s, whenever other students went on strike in protest against Kuomintang oppression or Japanese aggression he would spend the day watching traditional opera. In the draft of his introduction—the book was compiled after his tragic death—he stated that he knew none of his radical contemporaries. At several points he gave the impression that for him a “Communist” was some sort of creature from outer space. While admitting that he approached some of the Communist writers of the 1930s from the outside, Mr. Hsia tried hard to understand them. However his sympathy was further hampered by his conviction that with two or three exceptions, notably the works of the great short story writer and critic Lu Hsun, the literary value of most Marxist writing in the period was nil. For instance, he described one young writer of immense popularity and wide political influence as “a back who had yet to prove that he could write a single good sentence.”1 Mr. Hsia loved complexity, subtlety, and paradox, all qualities strikingly absent in the writers he described. The only times when he could identify with them were their moments of pessimism or doubt.

* * *

Much the most interesting section of the book is on Lu Hsun and the League of Leftist Writers. The League was founded in 1930 as a cultural adjunct to the Communist Party, and it remained one of the leading radical organizations in Shanghai, until 1936, throughout the intense Nationalist persecution and the bitter internecine fighting of the Communist Party. A major reason for its survival was the patronage of Lu Hsun. Despite his Marxism, his savage social criticism, and his violent attacks on the Government, Lu Hsun, the greatest writer in modern Chinese, was far too important a cultural figure and far too well known internationally to be suppressed by the Kuomintang. Although he was not formally in control of the League still, when other radical intellectuals were arrested, executed, or forced to leave Shanghai, Lu Hsun remained a pillar of strength. At the same time, as his closest friends in the Communist Party were eliminated or fled to join the guerrillas in the Kiangsi Soviet, Lu Hsun, who had never become a member, drifted away from the Party. He turned increasingly to other non-party Marxists, notably his “first disciple,” a young writer called Hu Feng.

In the winter of 1935 the Communist Party in Shanghai called for an end to the civil war and a new United Front with the Kuomintang to fight the Japanese. Early in the following year, Chou Yang, a minor writer and critic who was becoming the Party authority on literature, disbanded the League of Leftist Writers and set up a new cultural organization open to all patriots and bearing the slogan, “Literature for National Defense.” Lu and his disciples believed this to be a betrayal of the revolution, and together with other left-wing writers they established an independent group, using the more radical slogan, “Mass literature for the revolutionary war.” Bitter polemics were exchanged between the two groups until Lu Hsun’s death from tuberculosis in October 1936.

* * *

In 1938 and 1939 there was a new flare-up, this time between Chou Yang, who was now with Mao Tse-tung in Yenan, and Lu’s disciples, many of whom stayed in “white zones.” The issues dividing the two sides were extremely complicated. Mr. Hsia and Merle Goldman, who describes the same struggle in the first chapter of her book, both emphasize the objections of Lu Hsun and Hu Feng to Chou Yang’s dictatorial methods and their insistence that the revolutionary writer can only be creative if he is given freedom. In the later stages of the literary battle a new issue emerged. Chou Yang and the official group argued that new writing should borrow from Chinese tradition so that the masses who were familiar with the old forms could easily understand it. Hu Feng and his colleagues, clearly following Lu Hsun’s thinking on the subject, maintained that as all Chinese traditions were vitiated by feudalism, progress was impossible unless the traditions were completely destroyed. Therefore they argued that an entirely new revolutionary literature should be created which should use only modern and foreign literary forms.

The next stage came during the spring of 1942. This was a time when the Japanese were pressing on the Communist guerrilla zones in North China with a policy—“burn all, kill all, destroy all”—of almost American ferocity. The Communists in their base area around Yenan also had internal problems and in February 1942 they launched a campaign of “rectification,” in which Party members were criticized and forced to make self-criticisms in order to straighten out their “style of work.” The movement lasted for over a year and spread to all areas under Communist control and even to radical circles beyond.

In the midst of what Merle Goldman calls “this confused atmosphere,” a group of writers published a number of essays and stories in the Party newspaper that were sharply critical of many aspects of Yenan life. Nearly all of these writers had been in Shanghai and several of them, including the famous woman novelist Ting Ling, had been associated with Lu Hsun. The writers, like many other students and intellectuals, had made the dangerous journey to Yenan and had accepted the rugged life there because they saw the Communist capital as the focal point of the struggle against Japan and as the center of new China.

* * *

In spite of their basic loyalty to the new society, and because of their high expectations of it, they felt severe dissatisfaction. Having lived and written under the Kuomintang, they were steeped in a culture of protest. For them, social criticism was a major function of political writing. Ting Ling, for instance, was in many ways like the present members of Women’s Liberation in America. An important reason for her revolt against the old society had been its treatment of women. Now she found that in a lesser way women were still being exploited and despised by the “revolutionaries.” They were expected to marry, have children and look after them, and were then looked down upon for being backward. In general terms she and the other critics attacked the Party cadres for their cynicism, insensitivity, and intolerance toward lower ranks, especially the young. Above all, and Merle Goldman sees this as the essence of all their criticism, they demanded the freedom, which had previously been denied, to write and publish honest descriptions of life as they saw it.

The criticisms began in February 1942 but in April the full blast of the “rectification” campaign was turned onto the critics. Merle Goldman believes that the intensity of this second part of the campaign indicates that the writers had originally been allowed to develop their ideas so that the challenges to Party discipline contained in them could be isolated and dealt with. This picture would seem to be confirmed by Mao’s “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art,” which he made in May 1942. In these he specifically dealt with many of the criticisms put forward earlier. Indeed most of the points raised in the Talks are incomprehensible unless one reads Merle Goldman’s background material.

While frequently referring to and quoting from Lu Hsun, Mao came out clearly against Lu’s attitudes in almost every respect. He opposed Lu Hsun’s school of independent social criticism and his disciples’ desire to describe the unpleasant aspects of the new society. He also took up the arguments previously championed by Chou Yang and attacked the critics’ rejection of all traditional art forms. He laid down the line that was to be followed in China until the 1960s:

Nor do we refuse to utilize the literary and artistic forms of the past, but in our hands these old forms, remolded and infused with new content also become something revolutionary in the service of the people.

“Serve the people” was the key phrase in the Talks. Mao made it absolutely clear that there was to be no art for art’s sake, that art was to be purely utilitarian. He admitted that there were aesthetic criteria of good and bad, but he maintained that these should be subordinated to the nature of the political content. Aesthetic quality or skill increased the effectiveness of the political message. Thus high level work for the bourgeoisie was especially dangerous, while skillful work for the proletariat was good in itself and in its effectiveness in mobilizing the masses. According to Mao, the revolutionary artist should produce good straightforward work for the people, and to do this he should go to the people and become as much like them as possible.

* * *

Merle Goldman sees one of the main aims of the Rectification campaign as an attempt to incorporate the petty bourgeois writers from the cities into the rural mass revolutionary movement. Above all she sees it as a way of bringing writers to heel and of placing them firmly under Party discipline. She underlines this interpretation by describing the mass meetings and public denunciations organized against the critics and their subsequent removal from office and dispersal in the countryside to “reform their thoughts” through labor and contact with the masses.

By 1949 and the establishment of the Peoples Republic, most of the former critics had returned to positions of influence. They became officials in the Writers Union, professors in universities and institutes, and editors of literary journals. Within a few years they were joined by Hu Feng and other members of Lu Hsun’s school who had previously stayed behind Kuomintang and Japanese lines as critics of reactionary society. In the early 1950s, in spite of their acceptance into the new structure and some attempts to adapt themselves, Hu Feng and his colleagues maintained an independent stand. They continued to argue for the introduction of Soviet and Western forms to create a new revolutionary literature. They wanted a new socialist realism that would describe all aspects of the post-revolutionary society, not only its favorable ones. Hu Feng emphasized the importance of subjective vision and his belief that Party control over creative writers would stifle new literature. In particular, he attacked the bureaucratic power of his old enemy Chou Yang, who had become Vice-Minister of Culture.

* * *

In spite of his deviations from the official line and the criticisms he and his friends received from more orthodox writers in the early 1950s, Hu considered himself a Marxist-Leninist and a loyal supporter of the Chinese Revolution. So much so in fact that in 1953 and 1954 he and his colleagues began a campaign to change the Party’s literary policy. In July 1954 he presented a report to the Party Central Committee calling for the implementation of his ideas on artistic freedom and the removal from power of Chou Yang and his “small ruling clique of literary bureaucrats.” After a few months’ delay, Hu’s enemies, backed by the authorities, launched a strong campaign against him and his supporters. Hu resisted for a time, but then buckled.

In the summer of 1955, while China was in ferment over the extremely rapid collectivization of agriculture, the campaign against Hu and his friends spread beyond literary circles into other areas of cultural and educational life. They were accused of a crescendo of crimes, from promoting art for art’s sake—which they did not—to insulting China’s traditional culture, promoting a bourgeois sense of realism, attacking Mao’s literary policy, and eventually to the absurd charge of being counter-revolutionaries and supporters of the Kuomintang. By the autumn Hu seems to have been driven insane. It is probable that he committed suicide. His colleagues recanted and were dismissed from their posts. Many of them seem to have been sent to “remold their thoughts” in prison camps or the countryside.

By the end of 1955 the wide scope and the intensity of the anti-Hu Feng campaign seems to have demoralized a large number of the intellectuals. Merle Goldman and Dr. Fokkema both see 1956 as a year in which the Party leadership tried to repair the damage done, by offering extra incentives and rewards to them. In May Mao gave wide publicity to the slogan:

Let a hundred flowers bloom,
Let a hundred schools of thought contend.

Dr. Fokkema, whose thesis is the close relationship between Soviet and Chinese literary trends, believes that this new mood was influenced by the Russian thaw and Khrushchev’s revelations on Stalin at the Soviet 20th Congress. In China the situation of the intellectuals was relatively relaxed during 1956, and several short stories and essays were published implicitly criticizing the Party’s control of literature. However, the full implementation of the “hundred flowers” did not come until after Mao’s speech, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People,” in February 1957. As no text of the speech was published before June that year, by which time the political situation had completely altered, it is impossible to discover its original contents. Nevertheless it is clear that Mao stressed his belief that many contradictions, including those between the leaders and the masses, could persist in post-revolutionary societies. Although he saw these contradictions as “non-antagonistic,” that is to say, as ones that would not destroy or seriously damage society, he pointed to the danger that if they were not handled correctly, they would become “antagonistic” and harmful.

* * *

In April 1957 a new “rectification” campaign was launched. Intellectuals and others from outside the Party were invited to criticize the Party’s “style of work.” Some Western writers have argued that the Leadership did this to lure the Party’s enemies into the open. But both Merle Goldman and Dr. Fokkema maintain that Mao had over-estimated the intellectuals’ support for the regime and that the Central Committee was surprised by the flood of criticism that was released. Whatever their preconceptions the Party leaders, together with Chou Yang and the literary establishment, reacted very harshly against the critics in the late summer of 1957. However slight their criticisms during May and June, and however much they had been encouraged to make them, writers like Ting Ling and the survivors of Lu Hsun’s group were “struggled against” in mass meetings, dismissed from their offices, and in many cases sent to do manual labor in distant parts of China.

Merle Goldman and Dr. Fokkema end their books rather inconclusively in the early 1960s, in a period of what they saw as total Party control of literature. Modern and Western styles were discouraged and traditional forms were promoted. During the Great Leap Forward this was linked to the mass writing of folk songs and poetry, when districts and provinces competed with each other to produce poems in bulk.

Merle Goldman sees the period covered by her book as one of continuous struggle of creative artists, forced by their nature to promote the ideals of liberal humanism and the honest portrayal of reality, fighting bureaucrats intent on keeping their power and tight Party control over the arts. Again and again, when given the slightest opportunity by the authorities, writers were compelled by their consciences to rebel; but each time they were suppressed with increasing severity. Dr. Fokkema, in the shorter period with which he is concerned, sees very much the same pattern and he stresses parallel Soviet relaxations and repressions.

The Cultural Revolution, which broke out after Dr. Fokkema’s book had been published and when Merle Goldman had substantially completed her work, provides fascinating new information on the subject. In the arts the most startling event was the dismissal of Chou Yang and his supporters in June 1966. Merle Goldman takes this into account in her final chapter, and she has written an extremely interesting essay on it in China Quarterly. In these pieces she takes the view that though factional fighting was involved, the ideological reason for Chou’s fall was that he was a scapegoat for the Party’s failure to control literature. In spite of all his efforts during the previous thirty years, in 1966 there were still defiant writers. She also maintains that although Chou Yang had been the scourge of creative writing, even he was too cultured to be tolerated by the Cultural Revolutionaries.

* * *

There is no doubt that Chou Yang and, of course, Liu Shao-ch’i himself have been extremely convenient whipping boys. They are used to explain the political “backwardness” of Chinese intellectuals twenty years after the Revolution. However, it is clear that other fundamental issues were involved. Just as Chou fell, Lu Hsun was proclaimed a “pioneer of the Cultural Revolution.” In contradiction to the facts and earlier Party historiography, it was now said that it was Chou Yang, not Lu Hsun, who had been incorrect in 1935 and 1936. Lu Hsun was now cited as a militant who had rightly rebelled against reactionary authority. In her China Quarterly article written in the summer of 1966, Merle Goldman estimated that the reason for the resurrection of Lu Hsun was only to attack Chou Yang. She maintained that the Cultural Revolutionaries had no sympathy with Lu Hsun’s political and cultural position, and still less with those of his disciples. She backed this contention by citing attacks made during 1966 on Hu Feng, Ting Ling, and other literary rebels. She also predicted that the promotion of Lu Hsun would be “fleeting.”

Here she has been wrong. Though referred to less often than in 1966, he is still very highly praised. An editorial of the Peoples Daily on May 4th this year called “Lu Hsun…the greatest and most courageous standard bearer of this new cultural force”—that of “the proletariat and the Communist Party.”

The Cultural Revolution is now recognized as having been an attack by Mao and the Cultural Revolutionaries on the hierarchy and structure of the Chinese Communist Party. As such it does not fit neatly into the conventional axes used in the political analysis of China, left and right, hawk and dove, or red and expert. As I have written before,2 it seems to me that the least confusing way to look at the Cultural Revolution is to see it as a struggle between “protestant” and “catholic.” I believe that this analogy is particularly useful precisely because it is absurd, and therefore does not have the dangers of reification inherent in other metaphors. The Cultural Revolutionary “protestants” maintain that all men are equal before Mao, and that the Revolution cannot survive, let alone succeed, unless the masses are filled with enthusiasm and are not fettered by orders from above. The “catholics” in the Party hierarchy are no less left-wing. They are equally devoted to Mao and the Revolution, but they believe that organization and discipline are what distinguish Leninists from petty bourgeois anarchists, and that they are essential if any progress is to be made.

* * *

The extraordinary and profound nature of the Cultural Revolution makes it necessary to look again at many other aspects of Chinese Communist history. The resurrection of Lu Hsun, which appears to fit very well with other trends in the Cultural Revolution, makes it especially important to reassess the literary and intellectual conflicts described by Merle Goldman and other writers. It now seems to me that in understanding these struggles the analogy of “protestant” and “catholic” may be more helpful than that of liberal humanism and doctrinaire communism.

Lu Hsun and Hu Feng clearly believed themselves to be to the left of Chou Yang on almost every issue. Unlike Chou and the Party, they demanded the complete eradication of traditional culture. They also took a more rigid position on fictional characters, wanting them to be representatives of social classes, whereas Chou thought that they could be individuals. Most important of all, they opposed the Party’s compromises with bourgeois writers. This “leftism” can be partly explained by the fact that in 1935 the Chinese Communist Party and the world Communist movement were, as so often in their histories, to the right and not to the left of the radical political spectrum.

However Lu and Hu’s criticisms were also on the plane of discipline. They demanded the freedom to create for all true revolutionary artists regardless of their position in the Communist Party. They included in their group such men as Pa Chin, the enormously influential anarchist writer, whose life and novels, though not his literary controversies, are described in Olga Lang’s fascinating biography.

Lu Hsun’s positions as they were developed by Hu Feng in the 1950s were just the mixture of fervor and encouragement for the individual revolutionary to seek the truth as he sees it, regardless of Party instructions, that I think useful to describe as “protestant.” Similarly, in 1942, although some of the critics wanted to promote humanism, that is, a love for humanity that transcends class, on nearly all issues Ting Ling and her colleagues were more militant than the Party authorities. Most of their attacks were against the lack of spirit and conventional rigidity of the cadres. They were particularly insistent on the liberation of young revolutionaries from the shackles imposed by the middle-aged. They continued the cult of youth started in China in the May 4th Movement before 1919. As one of the critics in Yenan wrote:

Youth are precious because they are simple, sensitive, enthusiastic, courageous and full of the new strength of life. The evils that others have not perceived they perceive first.

At this point it should be noted that in China “youth” has connotations of class as well as of age. The word covers young men and women with leisure, if not with education. In China, as in many places elsewhere, most people go straight from infancy to work. The cult of youth is, of course, linked to the composition of the critical movements. In the rectification campaigns, as well as in the Cultural Revolution, most of the leading critics came from schools and universities.

* * *

The appeal to youthful enthusiasm in the midst of a rectification campaign leads to a problem that has puzzled many Western writers. Why did the Communist leadership allow even short periods of free criticism? Merle Goldman appears to believe that these were tolerated so that the authorities could retain the support of the intellectuals on whose expertise they depended. She and Dr. Fokkema recognize that the periods of freedom or “hundred flowers” coincided with rectification campaigns, but they do not seem to see any intrinsic relationship between the two. It is now clear, however, that the initial liberation and later chastisement of the intellectuals was only one element among others.

The major element in rectification campaigns has been the attempt by Mao and certain sections of the top leadership to release youthful enthusiasm and attack ossified Party and government bureaucracy. The critics were not merely tolerated: they were positively encouraged to assault local officials. The later backlash against the critics was savage in its effects on individuals. It may also be seen as a counter-balancing action considered necessary to restrain extremism and to re-establish Party discipline, an action that was made more vicious by the revenge of lower officials who had been threatened and hurt by the criticisms.

* * *

Here it should be emphasized that the overwhelming majority of the critics thought of themselves as loyal supporters of the Chinese Revolution. After the “hundred flowers” of 1957, the injured authorities wanting to prove the “rightist” nature of the critics scoured the mass of critical material for evidence of bourgeois or counter-revolutionary thought. This process was continued by Western experts looking for fellow spirits in “the Chinese Hungary.” However, in Roderick MacFarquhar’s excellent compilation of materials, most of the quotations given from the Hundred Flowers period are attacks on bureaucracy, privilege, and the abuse of power. Very few are opposed to communism or Mao. The political criticisms were largely from the left:

The old ruling class has been overthrown but a new class has arisen. The evolution of this will lead to an amalgamation with Taiwan….

There was also an emphasis on voluntarism and a refusal to accept the belief in the constraints of objective conditions so often held by the hierarchy. “Youths, let us unite and do things ourselves.”

A group of “Rightists” in the provinces were later accused of having said “society is in a mess” and “another revolution is necessary.” They were reported to have advanced the view that “social development is not governed by objective laws but is determined by man.”

Not only do the words of the “Rightists” in 1957 resemble those of the Cultural Revolutionaries, but their actions seem to have been remarkably similar. Their targets were examinations, the Youth League, Party control of students, and the dossiers of “black material” on students held by school administrations. In some instances they attacked police stations and Party offices, either by sieges or sit-ins or by unarmed physical force. They tried to go to the factories to rouse the workers. But this was unsuccessful either because of the machinations of the Party bosses or because of the workers’ general distrust of students. Some descriptions published later sound familiar and ring very true.

One peasant…who happened to pass by (a “Rightist” demonstration) said it takes more than three peasants to support one student and yet you still want to make trouble.

Lin Hsi-ling, by far the most influential “Rightist” leader, was not an elderly bourgeois but a twenty-one-year-old student of impeccable working-class origin, who had joined the People’s Liberation Army at the age of fifteen. In 1957 she was studying at the most politically conscious university in China, the People’s University in Peking, the students of which were all revolutionary veterans and cadres. Most of Lin’s reported speeches were concerned with the evils of bureaucracy and hierarchy. She was particularly hostile to the Chinese Army’s imitation of Soviet ranks and privileges for officers, wanting a return to the egalitarian tradition. She also attacked what she saw as bourgeois in the new society, notably the payment of bonds to the former capitalists. According to a report in the People’s Daily, “She demanded ‘a search for true socialism and advocated using explosive measures to reform the present system.”

Lin Hsi-ling and other “Rightists” saw a clear link between their movement and the radical individualism of Hu Feng. In one of her most famous speeches she said:

Hu Feng’s opinions were basically correct. The “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend” policy which the Party offers us today is essentially the same as Hu Feng’s proposal. True socialism is highly democratic. I call this society socialism sprung from feudalism

It has often been argued that the “hundred flowers” were brought to an end because of the bourgeois criticisms that crossed the bounds of socialism. It would now seem more likely that they were suppressed because of the critics’ effectiveness in pointing out the discrepancies between the Chinese Communist Party’s stated values and its actual behavior. This hypothesis is strengthened by the differences between the punishments received in the anti-Rightist campaign. Although ministers from the vestigial bourgeois parties who had made criticisms were demoted, most of them were restored to their positions within two years. On the other hand, Lin Hsi-ling and many of the radical critics were sent into permanent exile in the extreme North of China.

Even during the backlash in the Summer and Autumn of 1957, some aspects of the rectification of the bureaucracy continued, and this helped to lay the foundations of the Great Leap Forward the following year. Nevertheless, the effect of the campaigns of late 1957 and 1958 was to silence outside critics and to increase the power of the Party. During the optimistic enthusiasm of the Great Leap, the Party gained at the expense of Government. But it was also the Party that led the cautious retrenchment of the early 1960s. The measures carried out during this period may have helped to restore the Chinese economy after three years of harvest failure and the confusion of the Great Leap. On the other hand they greatly widened the gap between the officially propagated vision of the just society and social reality, with its economic differentials and rigid stratification.

* * *

During these same years Mao, Lin Piao, and their sympathizers began their analysis of what they saw as the degeneration of the Soviet Union, which in many ways seemed the trend of events in China taken to its logical conclusion. It was clear to them that the Soviet retrogression had been brought about by a “Revisionist clique in the leadership.” Selfish bourgeois tendencies lurk in every individual, they argued, and these had come to the fore in the Soviet leadership, because it was in a position of privilege and was divorced from the masses. Furthermore it was steeped in bourgeois culture which the Revolution had failed to eradicate. For this latter reason Mao and his colleagues have frequently emphasized the importance of culture as the stalking-horse of counter-revolution.

In Marxist terms they see the capitalist takeover of the socialist economic base in the Soviet Union as having been brought about by elements in the “superstructure” and by the persistence of bourgeois culture in particular. As the late Joseph Levinson pointed out, in Communist countries it had previously been accepted that though culture often lagged behind the rest of society, this problem need not be taken seriously, as it was the economic base that determined the nature of society as a whole. Thus in China, the political line laid down by Mao in the Yenan Talks, and maintained by Chou Yang and the literary hierarchy, was that positive elements of traditional culture should be maintained and used. Now, because of the Soviet example, all pre-revolutionary culture was seen as dangerous. In this way Mao and his friends came round to the position held thirty years before by Lu Hsun and Hu Feng that all feudal culture should be rooted out. In the Cultural Revolution, while refusing to accept Lu and Hu’s call for the introduction of foreign artistic forms, Mao and Lin Piao violently attacked Chinese tradition, hoping to clear the way for a new proletarian art.

* * *

There was another even more important convergence of opinion between Mao and the radical individualists. Given the backsliding of a “small group in authority” in the Soviet Union, why had the lower ranks in the Party and the masses failed to prevent them from establishing a “bourgeois dictatorship”? In Mao’s eyes the answer seems to have been “slavishness” or the blind obedience to orders from superiors. If China was to avoid the Soviet fate, she had to destroy “slavishness” and mobilize the lower ranks of the Party and the “masses” not to accept revisionist orders from above.

Thus each individual—however young or ignorant—with the help of the works of Mao, was to develop his own revolutionary conscience by whose standards he was to judge society around him. If he saw an experienced Party veteran behaving in a way that he believed to be unrevolutionary, he had the duty to denounce the latter and organize the “masses” against him, regardless of the cost to himself or society. This in some ways is similar both to Lu Hsun and Hu Feng’s belief that revolutionary artists should establish their own standards, and also the desire of the critics in 1942 and 1957 to attack individuals and institutions they did not think to be truly socialist. Mao and Lin Piao’s freedom for revolutionaries suffers from the same imprecision: it is impossible to distinguish “revolutionary” criticism and disobedience from the “counter-revolutionary” varieties.

In the Forties and Fifties, Mao and the Party Leadership believed in balancing the “protestant” and “catholic” aspects of Chinese communism. In the Sixties Mao wanted to tip the scales toward enthusiasm. In 1966 many people who could remember the Hundred Flowers were extremely reluctant to attack authority in case they were later branded as “rightists.” But this time Mao wanted to make sure that rectification should be thorough and, that no one in the Leadership—excepting Mao himself—should be spared. Above all, he was determined that the authorities should not be allowed to reestablish themselves as before. In this he has succeeded; in spite of the considerable reversal of the Cultural Revolution this year there is no doubt that it has brought about a qualitative change in the structure of Chinese power.

Some radicals in the West may see this transformation as a glorious victory for the spontaneous and free new Left over a hidebound and in many ways reactionary Communist Party. But in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, young intellectual radicals who insist on Revolutionary integrity and “continuous militance” are quite out of touch with the mass of the people, whose overwhelming preoccupation is with the security and material improvement that have so far only been achieved by organization, coercion, and personal corruption. If we consider the conflict over culture apart from other aspects of modern China, it is easy to choose between Lu Hsun, the attractive, independent, and honest revolutionary, and Chou Yang, the party hack. In China itself, where the Communist Party, in spite of its monstrous faults, has achieved vast benefits for the Chinese people, the question is not so simple.

  1. Here my linguistic limitations and the failure of modern Chinese to develop firm criteria of style make it impossible to challenge him.
  2. New York Review, October 26, 1967.
Martin Bernal was born in London in 1937. He studied at Kings College in Cambridge, and in 1959 attended Peking University. After taking his degree he did graduate work at Cambridge, the University...
Reviewed in This Article

Literary Dissent in Communist China
by Merle Goldman
Harvard East Asian Series, 343 pp.

The Gate of Darkness: Studies on the Leftist Literary Movement in China
by Tsi-an Hsia
University of Washington Press, 266 pp.

Literary Doctrine in China and Soviet Influence 1956-1960
by D.N. Fokkema
Humanities Press, 296 pp.

Pa Chin and His Writings: Chinese Youth Between the Two Revolutions
by Olga Lang
Harvard, 402 pp.

The Hundred Flowers
by Roderick MacFarquhar
Atlantic Books, 324 pp. (The Hundred Flowers was published in America in 1960 by Praeger under the title The Hundred Flower Campaign and the Chinese Intellectuals. It is now out of print)

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This article was first published in the October 23, 1969 issue of the New York Review of Books.



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

Taking Aim at Hong Kong


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

The Chinese Invade Africa


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

‘They Don’t Want Moderate Uighurs’


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

Sex in China: An Interview with Li Yinhe


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

From China to Jihad?


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

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


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

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


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

He Exposed Corrupt China Before He Left


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

Hong Kong Rising: An Interview with Albert Ho


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

Tibet Resists


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

The Ghosts of Tiananmen Square


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

The Tanks and the People


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

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


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

The Smooth Path to Pearl Harbor


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

Tiananmen: How Wrong We Were


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

China: Detained to Death


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

The China Challenge


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

Solving China’s Schools: An Interview with Jiang Xueqin


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

Chinese Atheists? What the Pew Survey Gets Wrong


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

Paddling to Peking


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

The Brave Catholics of China


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

China’s Way to Happiness


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

China: Reeducation Through Horror


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

China: Five Pounds of Facts


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

The Surprising Empress


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

Dreams of a Different China


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

How to Deal with the Chinese Police


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

Unhinged in China


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

China: “Capitulate or Things Will Get Worse”


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

Who’s Afraid of Chinese Money?


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

Old Dreams for a New China


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

China: When the Cats Rule


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

The Man Who Got It Right


1.Near the beginning of Simon Leys’ marvelous collection of essays is an odd polemic between the author and the late Christopher Hitchens, fought out in these very pages. Leys takes Hitchens to task for attacking Mother Teresa in a book entitled The Missionary Position. He...

Censoring the News Before It Happens


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

Faking It in China


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

Chen Guangcheng in New York


Following are excerpts from a recent conversation among Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist who was recently permitted to leave China and is currently a distinguished visitor at New York University School of Law; Jerome A. Cohen, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the US-...

The ‘Breaking of an Honorable Career’


1.In the 1950s, the late John King Fairbank, the dean of modern China studies at Harvard, used to tell us graduate students a joke about the allegation that a group of red-leaning foreign service officers and academics—the four Johns—had “lost” China: John Paton Davies,...

Who Killed Pamela in Peking?


An ordinary winter evening in the Legation Quarter of Peking, where foreign embassies and consulates were located, January 7, 1937. Cold. The heavy sound of Japanese armored cars, out on patrol down the busy shopping streets that flank the Forbidden City. (Japan would occupy the...

Dancing in Empty Beijing


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

The New Chinese Gang of Seven


In traditional Chinese religion, a fashi, or ritual master, will recite a set of phrases to turn an ordinary space into a sacred area where the gods can descend to receive prayers and rejuvenate the community. The ceremony can last days, with breaks and feasts, until the rites...

Does This Writer Deserve the Prize?


On October 11 Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, announced that the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2012 will go to the fifty-seven-year-old Chinese writer Guan Moye, better known as Mo Yan, a pen name that means “don’t talk.” (The name is...

China: Worse Than You Ever Imagined


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

Who Was Mao Zedong?


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

An Honest Writer Survives in China


A little over a year ago, I went with the Chinese writer Yu Hua to his hometown of Hangzhou, some one hundred miles southwest of Shanghai, and realized that his bawdy books might not be purely fictional; their characters and situations seemed to follow him around in real life too...

China’s Lost Decade


It’s hard to believe, but just twenty years ago China was on the verge of abandoning the market reforms that have since propelled it to its current position as a world power. Conservatives had used the 1989 Tiananmen massacre to reverse the country’s economic direction. Many...

News from the Dalai Lama


“I told President Obama the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are missing a part of the brain, the part that contains common sense,” the Dalai Lama said to me during our conversation in London in mid-June.But it can be put back in. I am hopeful about the new Chinese...

Bo Xilai: The Unanswered Questions


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

The People’s Republic of Rumor


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

‘Pressure for Change is at the Grassroots


The Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in the United States last month following top-level negotiations between U.S. and Chinese officials. Several weeks earlier, Chen had dramatically escaped from house arrest in his village in northeast China by jumping over a wall...

China: Politics as Warfare


Mao’s Invisible Hand is one of those books that make one feel good about scholarship. It describes inner workings of Chinese Communist society about which few nonexperts know anything—it may even surprise the experts—and it will interest anyone professionally interested in...

A Chinese Murder Mystery?


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

On Fang Lizhi (1936–2012)


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

Debacle in Beijing


The story of a blind Chinese lawyer’s flight to the US Embassy in Beijing is likely to ignite accusations and recriminations until the US presidential election in November. But what few will acknowledge is a harsher truth: that for all our desire to effect change, outsiders...

Beijing Dilemma: Is Chen Guangcheng the Next Fang Lizhi?


The Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng, blind since childhood, self-taught in the law, defender of women’s rights to resist forced abortion, thorn in the side of local despots in his home district of Linyi in Shandong province, veteran of a four-year prison sentence on the spurious...

A Master in the Shadows


How should one assess the best ways to survive in a revolution? What exactly is the tipping point between obedience and outright sycophancy? When does one try to hold on to the values that gave meaning to one’s upbringing, and when is it best to just let it all go? When does...

China’s Falling Star


In China, the year is traditionally divided into periods based on the moon’s orbit around the earth and the sun’s path across the sky. This lunisolar calendar is laden with myths and celebrated by rituals that allowed Chinese to mark time and make sense of their world.So too...

The Chinese Are Coming!


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

He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny


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

The New York Review of Books China Archive

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

China Gets Religion!


This autumn, China has been marking the one hundredth anniversary of the collapse of its last imperial dynasty, the Qing, with a series of grand celebrations. The government has released an epic film showing how the revolution of 1911 prepared the way for the Communists’...

From Tenderness to Savagery in Seconds


Much nonsense has been written about the Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking. We know this much: in December 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army, after taking the Chinese Nationalist capital of Nanjing, went on a six-week rampage, looting, murdering, and raping large...

The High Price of the New Beijing


One recent weekend, I went for a walk through the alleys around the Qianmen shopping district, once Beijing’s commercial heart and still home to nationally known traditional shops. One of its chief side streets, Dazhalan, had been turned into a Ye Olde Pekinge-type street: its...

The Past and the Future


Concerning the Past:I have maintained that China should move forward with the reform of society. In many speeches before 1988, I openly expressed my advocacy of reform in China.I acknowledge that the following are my principal views:Marxism—whether viewed as a philosophy, a...

Kissinger and China


It is hard to fit Henry Kissinger’s latest book, On China, into any conventional frame or genre. Partly that is because the somewhat self-deprecatory title conceals what is, in fact, an ambitious goal: to make sense of China’s diplomacy and foreign policies across two and a...

Will There Be a ‘Duel of Dalai Lamas’?


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

Quality of Life: India vs. China


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

The Worst Man-Made Catastrophe, Ever


When the first waves of Chinese graduate students arrived on American campuses in the early 1980s, they were excited at entering an unfettered learning environment. After the recent ravages of the Cultural Revolution, political science students had few inhibitions about studying...

China: From Famine to Oslo


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

How Reds Smashed Reds


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

The Question of Pearl Buck


The announcement by the Swedish Academy in November 1938 that Pearl Buck had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature was met with sarcasm and even derision by many writers and critics. They were not impressed that this was the third choice by the academy of an American writer...

The Party: Impenetrable, All Powerful


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

The Message from the Glaciers


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

The Triumph of Madame Chiang


Charlie Soong, born in 1866, was a new kind of figure in Chinese history, an independent-minded youngster with an openness to the world who came to Boston from Hainan Island at the age of twelve to work in a store. At fourteen he stowed away on a Coast Guard cutter, was baptized...

Specters of a Chinese Master


1.Luo Ping, who lived from 1733 to 1799, was perfectly placed by time and circumstance to view the shifts in fortune that were so prominent in China at that period. He grew up in Yangzhou, a prosperous city on the Grand Canal, just north of the Yangzi River, which linked the...

The Mystery of Zhou Enlai


Through the ups and downs of the unpredictable Chinese Revolution, Zhou Enlai’s reputation has seemed to stand untarnished. The reasons for this are in part old-fashioned ones: in a world of violent change, not noted for its finesse, Zhou Enlai stood out...

The Passions of Joseph Needham


It is now a little over four hundred years since a scattering of Westerners first began to try to learn the Chinese language. Across that long span, the number of scholars studying Chinese has grown, but their responses to the challenges of Chinese script have been generally...

China: Humiliation & the Olympics


The IncidentOn a snowy winter day in 1991, Lu Gang, a slightly built Chinese scholar who had recently received his Ph.D. in plasma physics, walked into a seminar room at the University of Iowa’s Van Allen Hall, raised a snub-nose .38-caliber Taurus pistol, and killed Professor...

Casting a Lifeline


Sixty pages or so into Ma Jian’s novel Beijing Coma, the hero, Dai Wei, is troubled by the memory of a harrowing anatomy lecture that he attended as a university student. Taught by “a celebrated cardiovascular specialist,” the class observed the dissection of the fresh...

Sentimental Education in Shanghai


1.In April 1924 Rabindranath Tagore arrived in Shanghai for a lecture tour of China. Soon after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, Tagore had become an international literary celebrity, lecturing to packed audiences from Japan to Argentina. His message—that...

The Quiet Heroes of Tibet


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

Mission to Mao


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

China’s Great Terror


Long before August 1966, when immense chanting crowds of young Chinese Red Guards began to mass before Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square, alerting those in the wider world to the onset of the Cultural Revolution, senior figures in the Chinese leadership began to seek their own...

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


The weekend of June 3, 2006, was the seventeenth anniversary of the Beijing massacre and also the first time I ever received a summons. It happened, as the police put it, “according to law.” Twice within twenty-four hours Deputy Chief Sun Di of Department 1 of the Beijing...

Liu Binyan (1925-2005)


Liu Binyan, the distinguished Chinese journalist and writer who died of cancer on December 5, 2005, in exile in New Jersey, at the age of eighty, was an inveterate defender of the poor and the oppressed, a man with a powerful analytic mind. But the trait that most determined his...

On Leaving a Chinese Prison


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

A Little Leap Forward


The Communist dynasty is collapsing in China, and in retrospect one of the first signs was a Chinese-language computer virus that began spreading when I was a reporter in Beijing in the early 1990s. The virus would pop up on your screen and ask a question about the hard-line...



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

China: The Anaconda in the Chandelier


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

Found Horizon


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

East Is West


Chang-rae Lee has an extraordinary talent for describing violence. Here is his account of the gang rape and murder of a Korean sex slave (“comfort woman”) in a Japanese army camp during World War II:I ran up the north path by the latrines, toward the clearing, as it was known...

Divine Killer


“If there was anything Mao wouldn’t want to see, it was tears. Mao said on one occasion, ‘I can’t bear to see poor people cry. When I see their tears, I can’t hold back my own.’ “Another thing which upset Mao was bloodshed.” —From Mao Zedong: Man, Not God by...

China in Cyberspace


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

The Jiang Zemin Mystery


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

Sex and Democracy in Taiwan


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

Selling Out Hong Kong


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

Holding Out in Hong Kong


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

China: The Defining Moment


The evolution of the People’s Republic of China since its founding in 1949 has been tumultuous and bloody, and marked by the suffering of millions. It has been anything but peaceful. Yet it is precisely the prospect of “peaceful evolution,” which in Peking has the special...

The Beginning of the End


Failed rebellions are often like failed marriages: former partners and their friends blame the other side for what went wrong; old tensions are magnified; the past is rewritten; feuding camps are formed. This pretty much sums up the situation among the survivors of the Beijing...

In China’s Gulag


Near the end of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn includes a chapter he calls “The Muses in Gulag.” Most of the chapter describes the absurdity and uselessness of the Communist Party’s Cultural and Educational Section, but he also briefly reflects on the relationship...

Unmasking the Monster


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

History on the Wing


Golden Inches is a charming memoir of an American couple who built up the YMCA in Chengtu and Chungking. Their careers on America’s farthest Western cultural frontier in Szechwan province give us a sense of the day-to-day texture of Chinese-American relations during the golden...

From the Ming to Deng Xiaoping


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

The Last Days of Hong Kong


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

Keeping the Faith


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

Stories from the Ice Age


Since the Tiananmen Square killings it has become fashionable within the Chinese leadership to refer to dissident intellectuals as “scum.” That was Mao’s view, too. In 1942, the chairman, his armies besieged by both Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese army, took time off for...

Why China’s Rulers Fear Democracy


To try to understand is not to condone or forgive. Quite the contrary. In this bicentennial year when a euphoria for democratic rights seemed to be sweeping the world, why was it stopped in Tiananmen Square? Why do China’s rulers attack their students like enemies when in our...

The End of the Chinese Revolution


When Deng Xiaoping suppressed the Beijing Spring last month, he thought he was putting down a new Cultural Revolution. Pirated notes from a Party meeting in late April quoted him as telling his colleagues:This is not an ordinary student movement. It is turmoil…. What they are...

The Price China Has Paid: An Interview with Liu Binyan


Liu Binyan is a sixty-two-year-old writer and journalist who is regarded as the preeminent intellectual advocating reform in China today. During the mid-1950s and again throughout the post-Mao period, he has strongly criticized Communist party officials for abusing their power...

Roots of Revolution


The books by Frank Ching and Zhang Xianliang are vastly different in content, aim, and style, as opposite as yang and yin. Yet each casts light on the Cultural Revolution. Considered together, they may even begin to explain it.Mao’s venomous “class struggle” against his own...

Passing the Baton in Beijing


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

Our Mission in China


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

China: How Much Dissent?


In the year 278 BC an aristocrat and poet named Qu Yuan took his own life by throwing himself into the waters of the Milo River. Qu Yuan had once been the powerful adviser to the ruler of the Chu kingdom, specializing in legal affairs and diplomacy, but the monarch was tricked...

Sitting on Top of the World


Remoteness is often a condition of status and an attitude cultivated by parties to inequality. Chinese peasants, for more than twenty centuries subjects not citizens of the realm, were being literal when they said, “Heaven is high and the emperor far away.” Their world was...

Rules of the Game


On September 18, 1931, a very small bomb caused a very minor explosion on the South Manchurian Railway just north of Mukden, a railway controlled by the Japanese and crucial to their economic domination of Manchuria. The explosion was denounced as the work of Chinese saboteurs....

Bringing Up the Red Guards


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

Peanuts and the Good Soldier


In 1927, the province of Shantung was under the control of the warlord Chang Tsung-chang, a ferocious ex-coolie with a taste for white mercenaries and white women. His forces included a Russian brigade with four armored trains; he himself went to war with a trainload of forty-two...

Still Mysterious


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

A Mao for All Seasons


A psychologist and an expert on the Far East, Mr. Lifton believes that the most fruitful way to look at Mao Tse-tung and the Cultural Revolution is to combine the investigation of psychological motives with historical analysis in what he calls the “...

The Great Wall


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

How to Deal with the Chinese Revolution


The Vietnam debate reflects our intellectual unpreparedness. Crisis has arisen on the farthest frontier of public knowledge, and viewpoints diverge widely because we all lack background information. “Vietnam” was not even a label on our horizon twenty years ago. It was still...