Press Highlights 26 MAY 2015

Keywords: United Front, Linshui Protest, Internet, PLA, NGOs, Peter Hessler, Taiwan, Hong Kong


Xi vows to develop the widest patriotic united front

  1. At a three-day meeting of united front work, Xi has asked authorities to // befriend and recruit more non-Communist Party of China (CPC) intellectuals and representatives, stressing their role in economic development and cleansing the Internet […] High value should be placed on intellectuals in new economic and social organizations and they should exert their roles in development. Students studying abroad should also be encouraged to return home and serve the country in various ways, said the president. Xi asked them to establish regular contacts with outstanding intellectuals from new media organizations and strengthen interactions with them both online and in reality, encouraging them to make contributions to purifying the cyberspace. // Source: Xinhua
  2. Note the emphasis on three targeted groups for united front work – overseas Chinese students, new media representatives, young employees in the non-state owned economy. Source: ifeng
  3. Xi targets tech elites for Communist Party outreach push: // Chen Tong, a vice president for Xiaomi; Zhu Guang, a vice president for search engine Baidu Inc.; and Chen Danqing, a vice president for video site Youku Tudou Inc., were among the technology executives who attended a seminar on “new social classes” this week that was also organized by the United Front Work Department. It was the first time technology leaders, who made up one-third of attendees, were invited to such an event, the department said on its official WeChat account. // Source: Bloomberg Business
  4. On the other hand, Xi also stresses localizing religions: // Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday stressed that the development of religions in China should be independent from foreign influence. “Active efforts should be made to incorporate religions in the socialist society,” said Xi at a high-profile meeting on the united front work. He promised to fully implement the Party’s policy of religious freedom and manage religious affairs in line with the law.// Source: Xinhua
    1. Top political advisor stresses religion-socialism harmony: // During a visit to a Tibetan prefecture, top Chinese political advisor Yu Zhengsheng urged efforts to harmonize religion with socialist society and ensure stability. Yu, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, made the remarks during a two-day inspection tour to the Diqing Tibetan autonomous prefecture in southwest China’s Yunnan Province that ended on Saturday. Yu urged further work to implement the Communist Party of China Central Committee’s decisions regarding the Tibetan areas and to improve people’s lives and promote comprehensive social development and long-term prosperity and stability in such areas. Moreover, Yu said the relationship between development and stability should be properly balanced. // Source: Xinhua

 Internet the key front in China’s battle with Western hostile forces: military paper

  1. // The Internet is the most important front in China’s ideological battle against “Western anti-China forces”, the country’s military newspaper said on Wednesday, adding that online controls were essential to the government’s survival. […] China must defend its “sovereignty” in cyberspace with ideological purity, or “the public will be led astray by the enemy,” the People’s Liberation Army Daily said in a commentary reposted on the website of Seeking Truth, a leading Communist Party journal. “Western hostile forces, as well as a few ‘ideological traitors’ in our country, are using the Internet on their computers and mobile phones to viciously attack our party,” it added. “The fundamental purpose is to use ‘universal values’ to confuse us, and ‘constitutional democracy’ to disturb us.” […] The commentary called for a massive “Red Army” of “seed-planters and propaganda teams” to defend the “online Great Wall”. // Source: Reuters
  2. Original article is called 网络主权彰显国家主权,full translation by China Copyright and Media, another article “决不能让互联网成为人心流失地”published on PLA Daily was also translated by China Copyright and Media
  3. China Media Project: What’s up with the PLA
    1. David Bandurski disagrees with what some saw as a “chilling memo” that PLA declares war on the Internet, arguing that PLA’s militant stance was nothing new: // But it’s coverage today that provides the clearest context to yesterday’s jeremiad. The front page of today’s People’s Liberation Army Daily tells us that yesterday was the first full session, held in Beijing, of the “All-Military Internet Security and Informatization Expert Consultation Commission” (全军网络安全和信息化专家咨询委员会). I can bet you’ve never heard of this group before, because until now virtually nothing whatsoever has been written about it, in Chinese or in English. […] Others may disagree with me, but I don’t believe the PLA’s new Expert Consultation Commission is anything to get excited about, much less up in arms about. Its formation most likely mirrors, on the military side, the priority assent of strategic internet and information technology control we have seen already within the Chinese Communist Party, in the form of Xi Jinping’s new Leading Group. // Source: China Media Project
  4. Meanwhile, Xi demands absolute loyalty, firm faith from national security agencies: // Xi Jinping stressed “firm faith” and “absolute loyalty” to the Party in face of tough tasks to safeguard national security and social stability Tuesday. Xi made the remarks at a meeting with some of the top agents from China’s national security agencies. National security agencies should strictly discipline themselves and forge a team, which is “determined, pure, trustworthy, devoted and competent,” Xi said at the meeting.// Source: Xinhua

 Predicament of Chinese NGOs

  1. // Activist Zeng Jinyan writes about a shifting dynamic between domestic NGOs and security forces in China. She profiles Guo Yushan, co-founder of the Transition Institute of Social and Economic Research, who is in detention on suspicion of “illegal business activity,” a charge frequently used against NGOs. Zeng describes Transition Institute as an “indigenous” group, which she defines as: “its thinking was shaped by the Chinese cultural ideals of the traditional scholar and the heroic knight; its research and activism were focused on local issues; and, furthermore, some of its responses to police interference can also be described as ‘indigenous.’” She explains that even such groups, which historically have played an important role as a channel to convey concerns from the lowest rungs of society to officialdom, are finding themselves on the wrong side of the security apparatus. // Source: CDT
  2. // [..W]ith their pursuit of temporary and superficial stability through ever-increasing spending, Chinese authorities have strayed far from the means and ends of social governance: instead of seeking solutions to real social problems, this product-oriented bureaucracy is geared only towards the perceived “quick fix” of suppression. Guided by this new methodology, the state security apparatus has no real interest in distinguishing the content and nature of different activists’ work, their individual characteristics, the threat they pose to the regime or their level of cooperation with the state, nor are the police keen to weigh the impact of their arrest on the government’s performance and public image. This new methodology has turned rights activists into standardized objects of business. The true interests of the authorities lie in how to improve their business and increase output. Consequently, norms which originally played an important role in constraining the conduct of the police, such as humanity, morality, ideological values, the government’s image and public opinion have been severely weakened in the current police system. The government’s adjustment of its overall attitude and policies towards NGOs represents another change. Decades-old independent film festivals have been cancelled, workers’ rights groups have been repressed, sometimes violently, the Liren Library has been disbanded, and the Transition Institute has been forcibly closed. The authorities also ordered the arrest of women’s rights activists and placed restrictions on—and attempted to close—the Beijing Yirenping Center. Groups with positive and moderate agendas that originally had a certain survival space have lost almost all possibility of existence. The closure of TI illustrates that in dealing with police control, pragmatic NGOs no longer have space to negotiate. This is a sign that the Chinese government is not simply strengthening its anti-foreign philosophy, but moreover, ultimately trying to control pragmatic NGOs by upgrading them to the category of political opposition groups. In other words, Chinese rulers cannot tolerate indigenous civil groups that—in the style of traditional Chinese literati—offer advice on how to govern society. // Source: Probe International, Chinese version on Zeng’s blog
  3. The Economist writes about 14 civil rights advocates who were pictured on the cover of Asia Week Magazine 10 years ago and hailed as the vanguard of the new rights protection, or weiquan, movement. All 14 have since been imprisoned, detained, beaten, threatened, or have fled the country: // It has been a long and hard fall that says much about the Communist Party’s chosen path of evolution. Activists seeking to protect the legal rights of ordinary citizens rose to prominence in the early 2000s. At the time the party was trying to professionalise its legal system, to encourage people to seek redress through the courts and to reassure them that their land, their homes or the wealth they were fast accumulating would be safe from local officials who often had scant regard for the sanctity of private property. At first the party tolerated the activists’ emergence. It soon lost patience. Since Xi Jinping took over as China’s leader in 2012, he has tightened the noose on them further. The remaining outspoken weiquan activists have been jailed or silenced. On May 15th prosecutors in Beijing formally charged Pu Zhiqiang, a 50-year-old lawyer who had been in custody for more than a year, with “inciting ethnic hatred or discrimination” and “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”. Mr Pu is a giant of the weiquan movement; his trial, which is likely to take place in a few weeks, will cast an even deeper chill over like-minded lawyers. // Source: Economist
  4. After a year in detention, rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang is officially indicted on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “causing a disturbance and provoking trouble,” based on 30 microblog messages he posted. While the two other charges against him, “inciting separatism” and “illegally obtaining personal information,” have been dropped, he still faces up to eight years in prison. // “He was incriminated for the opinions he expressed, just because he posted about 30 microblog messages – I don’t think this is acceptable,” [Pu’s lawyer] Shang [Baojun] said. […]“With this prosecution, the authorities are sending a warning to all lawyers that take up ‘sensitive’ cases: “fall in line or we’ll go after you”. This harassment of those that defend the rights of ordinary citizens must end,” said [William] Nee. // Source: SCMP
  5. No trial date has been set, and Pu will maintain he is innocent: // Mr. Pu and his supporters have maintained that the case is a baseless, politically motivated attack on a lawyer who long irked officials by challenging them in court and online. His lawyers said Mr. Pu adamantly rejected the charges. “Of course, he’ll maintain that he’s innocent and will continue to defend himself,” Shang Baojun, one of Mr. Pu’s two lawyers, said by telephone. The prosecutors’ announcement did not give a date for Mr. Pu’s trial; a court will announce it later. Mr. Shang said that a trial could be two or three months away, and that he would meet with Mr. Pu next week after obtaining a copy of the indictment. // Source: New York Times

 Chinese pro-development protesters in bloody riot police confrontation in Linshui

  1. // A by-product of China’s breakneck economic growth has been the emergence of “nimbyism” – the “not-in-my-backyard” mantra of middle classes around the world opposing unwanted development. But it was a pro-development protest that drew thousands of people to the streets of Linshui, a county of western Sichuan province on Saturday, resulting in one of the most violent confrontations to date, hundreds of injuries and unconfirmed reports of three deaths. […] On [May 16] thousands of residents (as many as 30,000 according to organisers) marched to demand construction; angered that a proposed regional high-speed rail link cutting through the hilly region was to bypass their town in favour of neighbouring Guang’an​. Guang’an​ is best-known, ironically, as the hometown of former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping​, widely-credited as the architect of modern China’s economic leap to its current riches. Videos and photos from the scene circulated on Chinese social media depicted protesters hurling rocks and being beaten heavily by baton-wielding police in riot gear. Many graphic images of bloodied protesters and injured bodies lying in the streets were also shared widely. Police vehicles with smashed windscreens were overturned and set on fire. […] But such nascent protesters show a willingness, especially among Chinese in smaller towns, to participate in organised dissent when their direct economic interests are at stake. They also show their increased expectations of local governments.// Source: Sydney Morning Herald
  2. Some believed that the protests were, to certain extent, encouraged by the local authorities: //「鬼才相信為這種事會有大批群眾自發聚集遊行,老百姓能得到多少利益?」對政府撇清責任,不少網民表示不滿,網民「麥田裏的風」等說,標語橫額都有充分準備,遊到縣政府都沒人干涉,那麼多警察在場維持秩序,「沒有當局默許,誰敢去?」// Source: Singtao
  3. Local officials originally said the protests was a “reflection of passion”, but later said they were “unrest” (naoshi 闹事). // 四川廣安鄰水縣過萬市民因政府不滿改變高鐵規劃,於過去的周末上街示威,遭武力鎮壓,四川官方終於昨日就事件發出報告,指示威「體現熱情」,但隨後鄰水縣官方又改口形容是「鬧事」,並強調無人死亡。有分析指鄰水縣政府最初默許民眾上街,令事件鬧大,不少官員被問責,故現在需嚴肅「補鑊」,把事情定性為「擾亂秩序」。四川省和鄰水縣官方昨日共發了三份官方文件,首先是四川省鐵路建設辦公室於凌晨發出通告,形容事件「體現了大家對鐵路建設的熱情和期待。」同日,鄰水縣政府通報事件,指摘示威者為「聚集鬧事、擾亂秩序」,表示事件造成68人受傷,都是警員及圍觀民眾,並不承認網傳的至少四人死亡,強調「無一人死亡」。隨後再發表《致全縣人民的一封信》,內容指「善良意願卻被少數別有用心的人所利用」,「嚴重損害偉人故里的形象」,再次強調無人死亡。有分析指事件起因為鄰水官員默許市民上街遊行,不少鄰水官員遭追究責任,故被迫180度轉變態度,施以重力威嚇。// Source: Apple Daily

 A Chinese documentary about reformist leader Deng Xiaoping’s 1979 visit to the US

  1. // Nine Days in the Whirlwind 旋风九日, or to give it its English title, Mr Deng Goes to Washington, including interviews with then-President Jimmy Carter, opened this weekend in Beijing. The documentary depicts for the first time in China an attack on Mr Deng by a Ku Klux Klan member, which was not then reported by China’s heavily controlled official press, but stops short of calling it an assassination attempt. […] The documentary promotes a positive vision of engagement with the US, at a time of increasing friction between the two countries over the South China Sea and international institutions like the Chinese-backed multilateral bank. China’s propaganda apparatus is increasingly consumed with an ideological campaign against “hostile” foreign forces. […] Going a step further, the Beijing News described the movie showing “details of Deng Xiaoping nearly being assassinated during his visit to the US”. […] In fact, Mr Deng was approached in a hotel lobby by a white supremacist who planned to spray him with red spray paint. The would-be assailant was punched by a member of Mr Deng’s secret service detail.// Source: FT
  2. Economist argues that // [t]he biopic is part of Mr Xi’s campaign to deploy the image of Deng, who ruled China from 1978-1992, to bolster his own position. Last year, for example, a 48-episode drama about Deng was aired on state television. The government did not directly fund the just-released “Mr Deng”, but its author and director, Fu Hongxing, used to run the state-backed China Film Archive. During the editing some of the wider geopolitics was reportedly stripped out. A reference in English to the brewing conflict at the time between Vietnam and China is not translated into Chinese. The film, whose American release date has yet to be set, is aimed at both foreign and domestic audiences and sternly warns that China will not be cowed. “We do not want wars unless others force wars upon us,” Deng declares to his American hosts, a statement that could as easily sum up Mr Xi’s own foreign policy, which combines lofty rhetoric about the country’s “peaceful rise” with increasingly belligerent land reclamation in the South China Sea and provocative action elsewhere. Yet the film also repeatedly stresses how crucial relations with America have been to China’s ensuing economic growth.
    […] Despite some hagiography, “Nine days in the whirlwind” […] is far better than most party propaganda. Lasting 90 minutes, it skilfully weaves historical with contemporary footage and even makes use of animation. Judged by box-office takings alone, the Avengers defeated Deng with barely a punch. “Mr Deng” took 1m yuan ($160,000) on its first day, meaning that around 28,000 people went to see it, whereas the Avengers’ “Age of Ultron” marked China’s second-biggest opening day ever, notching up 224m yuan.// Source: Economist
  3. An NPR article reports that Hollywood is becoming increasingly sensitive to government censors in China, and willing to feature extraneous cultural references: // Unlike the United States, China doesn’t have a movie-rating system. So the government relies on censors at the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China — SAPPRFT — to block content it deems offensive for general audiences. What officials find offensive can extend beyond sex, violence and foul language to politics, culture and portrayals of China. […] For the Chinese release of Iron Man 3, moviemakers inserted a scene of doctors, played by major Chinese movie stars, discussing surgery on the superhero. The scene made no sense and seemed like it was from a different film. The Chinese audience I watched it with at an IMAX theater in Shanghai was bewildered. […] In recent years, foreign filmmakers have also gone out of their way not to provoke the Communist Party. For instance, the 2012 remake of the Cold War action movie, Red Dawn, originally featured Chinese soldiers invading an American town. After filming was complete, though, the moviemakers went back and turned the attacking army into North Koreans, which seemed a safer target, at least until last year’s hack of Sony Pictures. […] // Source: NPR

 The success of Peter Hessler as a writer on contemporary China

  1. At the New York Review of Books, Ian Johnson discusses author Peter Hessler’s enormous success in China and describes the complexities of writing about the country: // But this puts Hessler at the center of a vexing and heated discussion: How should Western writers deal with censorship? Writing on contemporary China and publishing there almost inevitably mean accepting government cuts. Is this acceptable if a writer is trying to achieve what he takes to be the larger aim of portraying a little-known reality? […] Hessler has recently put up a website (www.peterhessler.net) with a Chinese-language page that lists the major cuts. He also got his Chinese publisher to include a short note at the start of new editions of his books directing them to this site. To date, the site has all the major cut passages from his three books published in China, but not the smaller word changes. // Source: New York Review of Books
  2. Paul A. Cohen also wrote about Peter Hessler on Journal of Asian Studies, in a article titled “Peter Hessler: Teacher, Archaeologist, Anthropologist, Travel Writer, Master Storyteller”. //In the first decade of the present century, Peter Hessler published three acclaimed works on China, mostly (although not exclusively) dealing with the present period. Many of the parts of the second and third volumes, in particular, initially appeared as articles in the New Yorker and National Geographic, where the deftness of Hessler’s writing and his superb skills as a storyteller attracted attention well beyond the academic world. Hessler’s books have also been widely and generously praised—and used in class—by teachers of contemporary China. Yet, to my knowledge, no China specialist has yet attempted a comprehensive assessment of their contribution to the deepening of American understanding of the complexities of Chinese life today. Such an assessment is the modest aim of this essay. […] // Source: Journal of Asian Studies
  3. Previously on New Yorker Peter Hessler describes shifts in political acceptability over the years, and his censor’s efforts to bring foreign books to Chinese readers with as little alteration as possible. // […] Recently, there have been a number of articles in the foreign press about Chinese censorship, with the tone highly critical of American authors who accept changes to their manuscripts in order to publish in mainland China. The articles tend to take a narrowly Western perspective: they rarely examine how such books are read by Chinese, and editors like Zhang are portrayed crudely, as Communist Party hacks. This was one reason I went on the tour—I figured that the best way to understand censorship is to spend a week with your censor. Since Xi Jinping became President, in 2013, China has engaged in an increasingly repressive political crackdown. The authorities have also become more antagonistic toward the foreign press; it’s now harder for journalists to renew their visas, and many report being hassled by local authorities while on research trips. And yet the reading public has begun to discover nonfiction books about China by foreigners. More than any other editor, Zhang has tapped into this trend—all but one of his six best-selling titles in the past few years have been foreign books about China. In Zhang’s opinion, this reflects the new worldliness of readers, which he believes says more about the country’s long-term direction than the censorship or the propaganda does. “The Party turns left this year, and maybe it turns right this year,” Zhang wrote to me in 2014. “In my opinion, the only certain thing is that Chinese people are much more individualized and open-minded.” // Source: New Yorker
  4. Reviewing Henry Paulson’s “Dealing With China” at The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Jeffrey Wasserstrom accused the former Goldman Sachs CEO and U.S. Treasury secretary of writing with an eye on the Chinese market: // On the fraught question of Chinese civil society […] Paulson is too soft on his “old friends,” including the man now in power, Xi Jinping. True, he chides Chinese leaders for such things as restricting free speech and trying to control tightly the “great public square of our time, the Internet.” The author views these moves as not just morally wrong but “ultimately self-defeating,” since limiting transparency and creativity will prove an obstacle to China’s economic growth. But Mr. Paulson frames such criticism cautiously. To be more precise, the author carefully uses language that will not bother the Chinese censors unduly when they prepare the mainland edition of “Dealing With China.” In writing of the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown of 1989, he says that he was “deeply disturbed by the imposition of martial law” and made “uneasy” by the government dealing “harshly” with those who “sought greater freedom.” But in referring to the brutal June 4 denouement, he employs the anodyne term “incident” and gives no hint of a massacre in which Chinese troops killed hundreds. // Source: Wall Street Journal



Beijing’s top official on Taiwan greeted with protests and brawls on visit to Taipei-controlled Quemoy

  1. // Officials from Taiwan and the mainland have met for talks on a range of issues in an attempt to maintain momentum for the forging of closer ties in the face of a sceptical Taiwanese public. Yesterday’s talks yielded no firm agreements but underscored Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s desire to prove that engagement with the mainland benefited the island’s economy. Ministerial-level officials from both sides met on the tiny Taiwan-controlled island of Quemoy, called Jinmen on the mainland, which sits in the mouth of a bay outside Xiamen, in Fujian province, where the rivals fought bloody battles up to the 1960s. Taiwan’s cabinet-level body, the Mainland Affairs Council, said topics discussed included controlling the illegal excavation of sand from the ocean floor, connecting drinking water supplies from the mainland to Quemoy, and opening outlying Taiwanese islets to more mainland-based tourism and letting mainland tourists make transit stops in Taiwan. […] Unfurling big posters and placards condemning Zhang and the mainland government, several dozen Union members protested outside the pier at Quemoy as a welcoming ceremony for Zhang began. […] The protesters have called the mainland-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank a scheme by Beijing to “gradually swallow up” Taiwan, and criticised Hsia for representing the government of the island’s mainland-friendly president in expressing the government’s hope to take part in the bank. Beijing rejected Taiwan’s application to become an AIIB founding member because it regards it as a renegade province subject to reunification, and not a sovereign state. // Source: SCMP


Hong Kong

 Pan-democrats invited to last-ditch political reform talks with Beijing officials

  1. // Hong Kong’s pan-democratic lawmakers have been invited to last-ditch talks with Beijing officials on political reform a week today – less than a month before a key vote on how the chief executive will be elected in 2017. With reform hopes hanging by a thread as pan-democrats stand firm against Beijing’s model for the election, the Hong Kong government on Saturday said it had invited all 70 lawmakers to the talks in Shenzhen. They would get to “exchange views” with Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office; Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee; and Zhang Xiaoming, director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong. A few pan-democrats, including Frederick Fung Kin-kee and the Civic Party’s Ronny Tong Ka-wah, have said yes to the offer. […] Other pan-democrats were debating how to respond. […] Lee Cheuk-yan and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung would not attend because the talks clashed with an annual march in Hong Kong to mark the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. Officials should change the date to show sincerity, Leung said. // Source: SCMP
  2. Pan-dems remained skeptical on the meeting: // Pan-democrats and the Beijing-loyalist camp remain sceptical that last-ditch talks with central government officials next week will break the impasse on how the city’s chief executive will be elected in 2017. While a former government adviser believes the talks in Shenzhen on Sunday will not bear any fruit, pan-democratic lawmakers reiterated they would not accept any reform plans within the framework set out by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in August. […] Meanwhile, pan-democrats, who staged a bicycle parade yesterday to protest against “sham universal suffrage”, have yet to come up with a list of representatives to attend the talks. But the leaders of the Civic Party and the Democratic Party, Alan Leong Kah-kit SC and Emily Lau Wai-hing, alongside independent lawmaker Charles Mok, reiterated they would not budge an inch.// Source: SCMP

 Growing “soft censorship” of bookstores and media outlets in Hong Kong

  1. The Guardian’s Ilaria Maria Sala describes growing “soft censorship” of bookstores and media outlets in Hong Kong, engineered through channels including the commercial holdings of Beijing’s Liaison Office: // […] But mounting pressure from China to have greater control over what the Hong Kong public, and the Chinese tourists flocking there, read is creeping into this former British colony. Through a complex web of self-censorship, soft censorship and mainland economic control, bookshops and media outlets in the territory have been changing their tone or giving less coverage to topics that China deems sensitive. A slow but steady “mainlandisation” of Hong Kong, a key factor in bringing tens of thousands of protesters to the streets during last year’s umbrella movement, has been changing the face of the publishing and book distribution industry, with fewer shops willing, or able, to sell books forbidden in China. […]That the Liaison Office is controlling most media in Hong Kong has been raising concerns. Recently, an article in the Chinese language Apple Daily (the only newspaper in Hong Kong completely independent of mainland influences) detailed how, at times through shell companies, the office controls 100% of Joint Publishing, Commercial Publishing and Chung Hwa Books, the three main bookshop chains, fully owned subsidiaries of Sino-United Publishing. The Liaison Office also controls two newspapers (Ta Kung Pao and Wen Hui Pao) and three magazines, according to Apple Daily.// Source: Guardian



Mao’s China: The Language Game, Perry Link’s introduction to Eileen Chang’s Naked Earth

  1. // 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 clarity? My disillusioning first trip to China in 1973? My reading of the devastating journalism of Liu Binyan in 1980? Observation of bald lies in action at the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 and in the imprisonment of a Nobel Peace laureate in more recent times? Did I need all of this to catch up to where Chang was in 1954 in her understanding of how things worked in Communist China, beneath the blankets of jargon? In graduate school I did not take Chang’s Naked Earth (published in Chinese in 1954 and translated by Chang into English in 1956) and its sister novel, The Rice-Sprout Song (also published in 1954 and translated by Chang into English in 1955), very seriously. People said the works had an anti-Communist bias. How silly.// Source: New York Review of Books