本主题由 张书记 于 2009-12-14 14:59 分类 曰耳又
1楼 大 中 小 发表于 2009-12-3 08:21 只看该作者
epilogue-prologue (struggles over memory):
jonathan mirsky’s lament on dai qing:
dai qing’s subsequent attack on mirsky, and mirsky’s counterpunch, make me
feel they’re both bitter for their own reasons:
on ma jian (i think this seems to bear out some of the things that zhao says
about the role of public emotion and its display in the movement):
remarks from one of the more moderate leaders:
thoughts on zhao:
robin munro’s account of the events (note mirsky being beaten with
http://lawprofessors.typepad.com … une-4th-annive.html
liu binyan: prologue-epilogue (note the date):
“here are some of the more easily available things that have been important to
my understanding – seriously, look at these (manic luke-like expression of
enthusiasm). in this order, if you please.”
‘June Fourth’ Seventeen Years Later: How I Kept a Promise
By Pu Zhiqiang
The weekend of June 3, 2006, was the seventeenth anniversary of the Beijing
massacre and also the first time I ever received a summons. It happened, as
the police put it, “according to law.” Twice within twenty-four hours Deputy
Chief Sun Di of Department 1 of the Beijing Public Security Bureau ordered
me—”controlled” me, in police lingo—to go to the Fanjiacun police station in
the Fengtai District of Beijing. This “practical action” of the Chinese
government, although it violated basic human rights, was taken in support of
the “stability” that the violent suppression at Tiananmen had brought about.
I recall the early hours of June 4, 1989. The few thousand students and other
citizens who refused to disperse remained huddled at the north face of the
Martyrs’ Monument in Tiananmen Square. The glare of fires leaped skyward and
gunfire crackled. The pine hedges that lined the square had been set ablaze
while loudspeakers screeched their mordant warnings. The bloodbath on outlying
roads had already exceeded anyone’s counting. Martial law troops had taken up
their staging positions around the square, awaiting final orders, largely
invisible except for the steely green glint that their helmets reflected from
the light of the fires. It was then that I turned to a friend and commented
that the Martyrs’ Monument might soon be witness to our deaths, but that if
not, I would come back to this place every year on this date to remember the
hat comment somehow turned into a vow—one that I may need to be fulfilling
indefinitely. So far, I have. Every year on the evening of June 3, I have come
back to Tiananmen to linger for a while. My wife and I join a few good
friends—and beginning in 1995, have brought our son—to gather at the base of
the Martyrs’ Monument and spend some time in reflection.
For me these visits have also aroused guilt feelings. The government’s
pressures to forget June Fourth have caused the day slowly to erode in public
memory: each year the Tiananmen Mothers seem more isolated, and the massacre
seems more a topic to be avoided in daily conversation; even singing “The
Internationale,” as students did that night, has become vaguely embarrassing.
A certain lazy comfort attends this forgetting, and that is why I feel guilt.
If I just slouch along through life, taking the easy route, what do I say to
the spirits of those murdered “rioters” of seventeen years ago? And if
everyone forgets, are we not opening the door to future massacres? Our
Tiananmen generation is now in middle age; we are in positions where we can
make a difference. Do we not want to? At a minimum, my guilt feelings cause me
to telephone Professor Ding Zilin, a leader of the Tiananmen Mothers, every
year on June 3 from Tiananmen Square. It allows me to feel that I am bringing
greetings to this white-haired mother from the spirit of her dead son.
I know that I am not alone in these feelings, and that is why I involve others
in my annual visits. My purpose is not to stimulate resentment. Reconciliation
is fine, but it must be based on truth.
This year, about 9 PM on June 2, I sent the following cell-phone text message
to a number of friends:
On the evening of June 3 we will gather at the base of the Martyrs’ Monument
in Tiananmen Square to reflect upon the 1989 massacre. The purpose is to
remind ourselves that those events have not been consigned to history but
remain deeply rooted in our minds. Pu Zhiqiang asks your support in declaring:
do not forget the massacre; uphold truth; promote reconciliation based on
In fact it was a minimal gesture, aimed mostly at assuaging my own unease.
I also forwarded the message to the low-ranking police who are assigned to
“care for” me. I did the same last year. It is better for all concerned to do
this. It prevents causing a shock to the police higher-ups, who, if angered,
take it out on their underlings as well as on me. I did not anticipate that
this time my message would set off a ruckus.
t 1:10 AM on June 3 my phone rang. It was Officer Cheng Guanglei of the
National Security Unit in Fengtai District. He had been ordered to “find his
way” to the doorway of my building, from where he was calling to inform me
that the Public Security Bureau of Beijing City wanted to have a chat with me.
He earnestly hoped that I would “coordinate” with this plan. I offered a
perfunctory protest, but then went downstairs, got into the officer’s car, and
went to the Fanjiacun police station. As we entered the main hall I noticed a
blackboard bearing the words “Be Civilized in Raising Dogs.” I had to stifle a
laugh. If our government were to reach the level of “civilization in raising
dogs,” then, yes, we would be well on our way to the “harmonious society” that
our leaders were touting.
Deputy Chief Sun Di and Officer Han Feng were waiting for me. Sun Di is about
six feet tall. He struck me as good-natured, but deadpan: there was no way to
guess what he was thinking. He said the police had received a report about my
text message, so they needed to talk to me in order to understand the details.
“We all know what place Tiananmen Square is, and what day tomorrow is,” he
said. “You sent a text message to a lot of people, including quite a few
foreign and domestic media, saying that you intend to go there. If everybody
goes, and something happens, then what?” In the view of his superiors my text
message “endangers stability,” he said, so he needed to get clear on a few
things: my motive, the message contents, the number of recipients, and the
identity of each recipient. He invited me to explain.
I began by saying that I was confident that no one on my list of recipients
would inform on me. I didn’t imagine that all the recipients would head for
Tiananmen Square, either. “I don’t have that kind of charisma,” I said, “not
even Hu Jintao does.” Would reporters go? Chinese journalists had long been
frightened into silence on this topic, and even if one went, no report could
be published. The foreign media? They always report the Tiananmen anniversary
anyway—there’s nothing you can do about that. People are going to have their
own opinions of what I’m doing in any event, so there’s no point getting all
hot and bothered by it.
Then I explained why I had forwarded the text message to the police. Since I
had been under their surveillance for some time now, I thought I might as well
be aboveboard about everything and avoid any misunderstandings. But you can’t
deprive a person of his will, I said, and going to Tiananmen every June 3 to
commemorate the dead is a promise that I made to myself. I go there to keep
the promise, and would feel wrong if I did not.
I ended by saying that I understood it to be legal to send text messages in
China and legal to go to Tiananmen Square on June 3. Moreover, no law
prohibits citizens from commemorating the victims of 1989. Since this is so,
our whole chat right now is superfluous. For you to come to my building in the
middle of the night, without any legal papers and asking for a “chat,” is
itself an example of illegal use of police power.
Deputy Chief Sun responded that he wished I would lower my profile a bit and
stop sending text messages all over the place. “If you want to go, then just
quietly go,” he advised. “What’s the need for text messages?” He promised not
to restrict my movements, but said he might assign some people to accompany me
“Fine,” I said. “I understand.” Then I asked Sun to relay to his superiors my
own promise that, although I view China’s “Law on Assembly, Marches, and
Demonstrations” to be in violation of China’s constitution, I would make
written application in advance if I ever were to plan “an assembly, march, or
demonstration.” But since my present plan is a purely personal matter, and
since Tiananmen Square is a public space, police obstruction of my movement
would be unconstitutional. Please also tell your superiors, I said, that I
hope the government will finally face history squarely and solve the “June
Fourth” problem. A world of make-believe on this issue cannot last forever,
and it generates quite a lot of contempt.
Our chat ended about 3:00 AM. Officer Cheng Guanglei saw me home. But that was
not the end of it.
At 10:20 AM the police called my home to tell me that I could not go out. This
meant, without their saying it, that Sun Di’s promise of a few hours earlier
was no longer valid. Although I had half-expected this news, it angered me. I
went downstairs to walk the dog. Three patrolmen from the National Security
Unit of Fengtai District were already on duty at my door. They looked
bedraggled from lack of sleep. I telephoned Sun Di from the spot. Since he had
broken his promise, I had no choice but to send out a text message explaining
that fact, I said. I hoped that he would stay in touch, though, both with me
and with his superiors, and do what he could not to break his word too
grievously. At least, I said, he should help me to keep my promise of a yearly
visit to Tiananmen this evening. Then I walked the dog.
The police joined me on the walk, and afterward I invited one of them, with
whom I was fairly well acquainted, to come upstairs for lunch. My elderly
mother was home, and we didn’t often have guests, so she was delighted to have
one. She made special dumplings, and the young policeman helped by rolling the
dumpling skins. I was busy composing my text message about “the story that I
had no choice but to tell.”
hortly after 1:00 PM Officer Cheng Guanglei reappeared downstairs. He called
on his cell phone to invite me down for “another chat.” I gobbled down a few
dumplings, pressed “send” on my text message, and went down to see him dressed
in a T-shirt, shorts, and slippers. He, too, looked short of sleep. He told me
I would need to come down to the police station again, because some municipal-
level officers wanted to see me.
“Why don’t they come here?” I asked. “See how cool and bright it is here?”
“You know such things aren’t up to me,” Cheng said. “Could you cut the
questions and just ‘coordinate’ with us again?”
I could see what was going on. In order to guarantee that I would not be seen
that night at the base of the Martyrs’ Monument, the police were going to
“spend time” with me for a while. They had instructions from above to
“frustrate” my personal plans, but they couldn’t plainly say so.
The people waiting for me were Jiang Qingjie and Zhang Kaijun of Department 1
of the Public Security City Bureau. Sun Di joined us later. Jiang Qingjie, a
1996 graduate of the Chinese People’s Public Security University, was the
picture of competence and efficiency—but, like his colleagues, skipped the
step of showing any legal papers. Their formal agenda remained the same: they
wanted to inquire about my text message, my motive for sending it, and a
recipient list. But their real objective, clearly, was to “tie up” my time.
Jiang Qingjie began by saying that to send a text message like this, at a time
like this, harms stability and produces consequences. This is why he has to
get clear about everything.
I responded that Sun Di had broken his word. Then I inquired whether sending
text messages, going to Tiananmen Square, or commemorating June Fourth was
illegal. Who, I asked, was actually breaking the law? Just as I have no right
to force other people to commemorate June Fourth, so the government has no
right to bar me from doing so. But that, I said, is exactly what you are doing
right now. If we go by the rules, I don’t have to “coordinate” with you and we
can end our chat right here.
ut the chat did drag on, all afternoon, as the room grew heavy with cigarette
smoke. Every now and then we discussed some legal matter, but for the most
part the topics lay elsewhere. I asked if the inmates at their detention
center could eat wheat pancakes and dough-drop soup these days, or if they
still had to survive on corn balls. The policemen offered many topics of their
own: how their pay was low, promotions were impossible, and how they always
had to work overtime because there were too many cases. I joked with them that
if they did a good job “accompanying” me they might get raises. Last year the
young man who was assigned to be with me around the clock during the
“sensitive time” after Zhao Ziyang’s
- death got a promotion shortly thereafter to deputy station chief in charge of several dozen people.
About 6 or 7 PM, after box dinners all around, they wanted to “do a formality”
about my summons.
“Summons? You mean this was a summons?” I asked. “To me it felt rather more
like a kidnapping.” I told Zhang Kaijun that if I’d known it to be a formal
summons, I would have wanted a lawyer.
Zhang answered that he was basing himself on article 82 of the Penal Code of
the People’s Republic of China on the Management of Public Order.
I said that I was used to illegal detention for “chats,” but had never
received a summons before. So could he please read to me what that article
says? He didn’t read it, but showed it to me.
“You’re mistaken,” I said after glancing through it. “It says here that a
summons may be issued ‘according to law’ only after discovery that a person’s
behavior has violated the penal code on public order. My behavior has not.”
The police responded that article 82 was only a procedural regulation. “If you
don’t agree with what we’re doing, you can go into detail in your statement.”
So I “coordinated” again. I answered their questions—pointing out, in passing,
where they had broken the law. They took notes. In the end I affixed my
signature and thumbprint to their written record, noting explicitly that they
had omitted mention of the illegal behavior of the police.
By then I was starting to get cell-phone calls from friends at Tiananmen who
wondered where I was. Something else strange was going on, they said. In
earlier years the police cleared the square sometime after 9 PM, but this year
they were already shooing people out by 8 PM. I explained to my friends that I
was at a police station, kidnapped “according to law” for seven or eight
hours, and that they should take care not to get into trouble.
At 9:30 PM Sun Di asked me to sign my name “confirming” that my summons had
ended at 10 PM. It had begun at 2:30 PM, he said, and as long as it ended
within eight hours it was legal. I congratulated him on the successful
completion of his mission, which was, as both he and I knew, to thwart my
plans to go to Tiananmen. On my side, though, the half-day detention at a
police station made me feel as if I had, in fact, kept my promise to remember
the massacre victims.
I reminded Sun Di that, counting the two hours of summons in the middle of the
night, the total for the day was more than eight. Was this not a dangling
vulnerability in his work?
“The morning wasn’t a summons,” he said. “It was just a private chat.”
At noon on Sunday, June 4, I went into the offices of my law firm to do some
overtime work. Two policemen, assigned to “maintain overall stability,” came
—Translated by Perry Link
- General Secretary of the Communist Party of China 1987–1989, disgraced and held under house arrest from June 1989 until he died on January 17, 2005.
China: The Uses of Fear
By Jonathan Mirsky
Tiananmen Follies: Prison Memoirs and Other Writings
by Dai Qing,translated and edited by Nancy Yang Liu, Peter Rand, and Lawrence
R. Sullivan, with a foreword by Ian Buruma
EastBridge, 162 pp., $24.95 (paper)
Instilling deadly fear throughout the population was one of Mao Zedong’s
lasting contributions to China since the late Twenties. In the case of Dai
Qing, one of China’s sharpest critics before 1989, fear seems to explain the
sad transformation in her writing that is evident but never clearly
acknowledged in Tiananmen Follies. Arrested, she confessed and was set free;
her writing about the regime then took a different turn.
Dai Qing’s transformation—what in 1942 Mao’s chief torturer and extractor of
confessions called “becoming conscious”—its causes, and its consequences are
never explicitly mentioned by the translators and the editor of her essay
collection. Yet here is a stark example of how mental persecution, so acute it
must be called torture, can result in jettisoning a lifetime’s convictions. In
Dai Qing’s case she feared execution and considered suicide.
The process of instilling deadly fear, which Mao admired when he saw peasants
torturing and killing landlords in 1926 in Hunan, his home province, was
perfected in 1942 at Yanan, his guerrilla headquarters. No one has described
that “Rectification Campaign” better than Yale’s David Apter and Harvard’s
Tony Saich in their Revolutionary Discourse in Mao’s Republic. In 1994 the
authors interviewed 150 people from every walk of life, including peasants and
poets, who had endured the Yanan ordeal; some of them were the “angry widows”
of husbands who did not survive.
“Very few of those interviewed had been exempt from physical abuse and verbal
abuse, if not before then during the Cultural Revolution,” write Apter and
All had survived by learning to keep their mouths shut, except to parrot the
appropriate line and use the exact words, phrases, and expressions
countenanced by the authorities.
Such abject and long-lasting obedience was produced by terror followed by
confession. Mao’s master at extracting information at Yanan was Kang Sheng,
who had been trained by the NKVD and wore a black uniform. He saw confession
as “a form of repentance that would bring the individual back into the fold.”
To his victims he said,
Why does the Communist Party make so much effort to rescue you? When a person
confesses to the party we immediately remove the evidence about him,…and we
are happy that he has become conscious…. Finally, I warn those people who do
not wish to confess, we have maintained a lenient policy, but leniency has a
And just as the 1942 Rectification at Yanan concentrated the Party’s efforts
to secure, through fear, the abject loyalty and acquiescence of its victims,
so did the Tiananmen events after June 4, 1989. Last January the regime
attempted to curb outpourings of emotion after the death of Zhao Ziyang, the
Party general secretary in 1989 who spent fifteen years under house arrest for
sympathizing with the Tiananmen demonstrators. Zhao would have known of the
nationwide arrests and executions of those condemned for participating in the
hundreds of other uprisings throughout China in the spring of 1989,
comprehensively described by James A.R. Miles in The Legacy of Tiananmen.
In addition to the hundreds of Chinese imprisoned last year for “endangering
state security” and similar crimes, two hundred Tiananmen activists reportedly
remain in jail; anyone who posts a critical remark about 1989 on the Internet
It is therefore an immediate difficulty with Dai Qing’s eight short essays and
letters, all linked to her frightening seven months in solitary confinement
after Tiananmen, that it is called Tiananmen Follies. Follies are foolish,
useless, and ill-considered things—or light entertainment. None of these words
apply in the case of Tiananmen. But the title Tiananmen Follies is not a mere
publisher’s invention. Dai Qing regards what happened in Tiananmen as a series
of mistakes by both the demonstrators and the government and she regrets her
own—very tiny—part in them.
uring her months in Qincheng prison she was accused of being involved in a
conspiracy and she was eventually released with what seems at first a mild
rebuke. Her detention was especially unfair because she had very little to do
with the Tiananmen protests. Most Beijing intellectuals in the spring of 1989
kept their distance from the demonstration. It is plain from Dai Qing’s
narrative that she knew almost nothing about what was happening in the square.
She assumed that the students would treat her with respect since she was
famous for her outspoken writings about the regime. Indeed, a sign had been
held up in the square demanding “Where is Dai Qing?” On May 19, when she spent
an hour or two with the demonstrators, she was treated with some derision.
This was unjust. Dai Qing’s life before May 1989 was exemplary. Born in 1941
(her original name was Fu Ning), the child of a Party martyr, she was raised
in the family of Ye Jianying, one of China’s revolutionary marshals, and was,
as she says, a “[Communist] Party princess.” She received an elite education
in rocket science, working on the type of missiles, she says, that were aimed
at the US, and she admits that she was trained as a spy. When she was twenty-
three, “I was so loyal to the party. I was so loyal to Mao Zedong, I thought I
would die if Mao Zedong needed me to die.” But in her late thirties she
decided to become a writer and her writing made her reputation as an
independent thinker. Her independence was her main quality, as Ian Buruma
writes in his short introduction.
In 1978 she began her career as a journalist on Guangming Daily, a newspaper
often overpraised for its appeal to intellectuals. She began writing on a
variety of subjects. Using her high-level knowledge of the Party’s history,
she showed how long, and in what ways, the Party had been persecuting its
critics. Most startling was her analysis of the fate of Wang Shiwei, an
intellectual who criticized corruption inside the Party during Mao’s guerrilla
days at Yanan. Her article in 1988, “Wang Shiwei and ‘Wild Lilies,’“
revealed that Wang was falsely accused of being a Trotskyite and Chiang Kai-
shek spy—and had been beheaded in 1947, and that some of those involved in his
case were now among China’s leaders. She wrote, too, about Chu Anping, an
editor of Guangming Daily, who in 1957 became a victim during the Anti-
Rightist Movement. She condemned the “world of the party” for, as Princeton’s
Perry Link puts it, its “slow pulverization” of “liberalism in almost any
form.” In 1989 Dai Qing told Professor Link that between 1936 and 1946
perhaps 10,000 Communists, accused of being Trotskyists and spies, had been
“‘eliminated’ by drowning, burying alive, or death in squalid prisons.”
Perhaps Dai Qing’s most famous contribution to public life was Yangzi,
Yangzi, her edited collection of essays exposing the corruption and
environmental destruction of the Yangzi Gorge Dam project. She condemned
China’s leaders who
don’t know the difference between a country and a family. To them, the dam is
fun, like their big toy. It gives them great face…. To me all this “national
prestige” business, at the Olympics or anywhere, is shallow, worthless
In March 1989 Dai Qing was one of the signers of a petition calling on the
government to allow more political freedom and to cease imprisoning people for
their ideas. Zhao Ziyang ordered that no newspaper should publish any of the
petitions or, for six months, any articles written by the signers.
In the West we are used to revelations about the past and public life, and we
value whistleblowers, but in China such acts are rare and anyone who makes
unauthorized revelations about abuses is in danger. Their corresponding
effect, therefore, is explosive. Dai Qing has vividly described this:
To appreciate why Chinese readers can be so interested in one little article,
you should imagine living in a dark room with all the shades drawn. If one
shade goes up—just a crack—the light that enters is suddenly very interesting.
Everyone will rush to look. People in a normally lit room would find the same
ray of light unremarkable.
But it is not mere curiosity, Dai Qing contends. People want to know “How did
we get into this mess? Where did we go wrong?”
ai Qing, then, was a significant voice for liberty for at least a decade
before June 1989. So why is it, as Ian Buruma puts it in his introduction,
she [has] ended up being distrusted, even hated by all sides. The government
regarded her as a dangerous, subversive liberal, and the students as an
establishment stooge who stood in the way of their ideals.
Tiananmen Follies, however, conveys nothing of Dai Qing’s transformation. It
consists, rather, of short pieces about her imprisonment, including her
confession. A smattering of footnotes by the translators identify a few of her
allusions; hardly anything is said about her admirable past. One of her
editors has explained that Dai Qing wants her readers to figure out for
themselves what the text means, without the interpretation of an expert. This
is very different from the previous approach of a writer who made her
reputation by clear explanation. Nor do the editors correct her errors, such
as her statement that Wei Jingsheng, China’s most famous political dissident,
was putting out a journal at a time when, in fact, he was in prison.
As one would expect from a confession made under the Maoist system, Dai Qing
suggests more than once that illegal conspirators had fomented the Tiananmen
uprising; she makes a cryptic reference to “the one who was ultimately behind
the ‘planned conspiracy.’” It would have been easy for her editors and
translators to ask Dai Qing who this was, or whether she still thinks there
was such a person. She is hinting here at dark forces, thus echoing the
Party’s traditional suggestion that any organized acts it deplores are the
result of “black hands.” Yet in another one of her short essays Dai Qing also
dismisses the idea of conspiracy, deriding the Party’s official view of a
“planned conspiracy” as “careless” and criticizing Deng Xiaoping’s opinion
“that everything transpiring outside his window [during Tiananmen] was the
product of such a ‘conspiracy.’”
I sympathize with Dai Qing’s confusion. I was in Tiananmen Square from almost
the beginning of the demonstrations until the killings of June 4 and for both
foreign observers and Chinese participants—many of whom were workers and
citizens of Beijing, and who are barely mentioned in her book—it was
impossible to know who, if anyone, was guiding the demonstrations, and what
the attitude of the regime was. Until May 20 and the declaration of martial
law, the authorities were silent. Nor were we aware of the increasing number
of demonstrations in other cities and towns resembling those in Beijing. What
we journalists saw, with astonishment, was that the normal forces of law and
order in Beijing had almost completely disappeared. There were no policemen to
be seen, although undercover agents must have been present. We knew there were
army units outside the city and we knew they were drawing closer, often
through Beijing’s network of tunnels. We all wondered how this drama would
I agree with Dai Qing’s estimate:
At that time, my own opinion was that the government was simply too
inefficient and cumbersome to respond to the students…. If there were
leaders with such capabilities, they were repressed at the top levels because
of a fundamental difference of opinion. Either way, the distinct impression
one came away with was that in ignoring the good youth of our nation the
government presented itself as cold and heartless—which caused more people to
become even more angry.
This view has been confirmed by many sources, including the Tiananmen
Papers, the government’s own condemnation of Zhao Ziyang, and the vast
qingcha, or ferreting out, of Tiananmen participants which lasted through
But Dai Qing promptly undercuts her own insight when in the next sentence she
suggests that “those who were involved in the ‘planned conspiracy’ were
storing up their energy waiting for the prime opportunity.” She makes the
unfounded and disgraceful charge that student leaders like Wang Dan, who were
imprisoned for about seven years after Tiananmen, were manipulated by the real
masterminds, whom she does not name. Does she still think “that if troops had
been brought in at this moment [April 1989] the situation would have been
resolved very quickly”?
ere Dai Qing simply ignores that what happened in the spring of 1989 was a
nationwide movement of which Tiananmen was the most significant part, but only
a part; if she does know this, does she think that protests were provoked
throughout China by—unnamed—conspirators? Indeed, does Dai Qing still believe
what she says she told a Hong Kong radio station in May 1989: “I support the
announcement of martial law”—which occurred on May 20—”and propose that the
martial law troops carry out the order immediately, something that I have
reiterated time and again.” What did she think would happen when the army
entered the square? Those who compiled Dai Qing’s essays take no interest in
these matters, and particularly in Dai Qing’s contradictory statements, a
serious editorial failure. The editors play into the hands of those Chinese,
some of whom now live safely in the US, who were in Tiananmen and now condemn
the demonstrators for not leaving Tiananmen earlier or, even more severely,
for “destabilizing China,” the very charge the Party makes to this day.
Meanwhile the regime arrests those who use the Internet to call for a reversal
of the official verdict on Tiananmen.
How much more valuable this book would have been if the compilers had been
willing to ask Dai Qing, during her visits to the US, about how her opinions
changed and what she thinks in retrospect. During her one brief visit to the
square on the night of May 14, she and a small group of well-known Beijing
intellectuals tried to persuade students to leave. She says she told the
students, on the basis of a meeting earlier that day with some relatively
high-ranking officials, that “the Premier [Li Peng] and the Party General
Secretary have agreed to see you.” The students turned Dai Qing down flat.
Disheartened, she returned home where she stayed for several days. Without
naming them, she disparages other scholars, “who were spending much of their
time playing at the ‘Democratic Movement.’” She admits that most Beijing
citizens “strongly supported the students.” But she opposed the large-scale
changes she said the demonstrators demanded, including a shift toward
democracy, because what was needed, in her view, was small incremental
reforms. She feared—rightly, as it happens—that “the situation could get
totally out of hand and a disaster would befall everyone.” More robust
democrats like Wang Dan and Wei Jingsheng have dismissed such incrementalism,
sometimes described in China as “neo-authoritarianism,” as a trap that would
maintain the dictators in power.
Tiananmen Follies is nevertheless an important book not only for its comments
on the Tiananmen events but for what it tells us about how the Chinese
authorities treated a distinguished prisoner. On June 4, 1989, when the army
moved into Tiananmen, Dai Qing, who once would have died for Mao and was a
“child of the Party,” resigned from it. Arrested on July 14, she was taken to
Qincheng, Beijing’s prison for elite political prisoners. Her account of her
arrest, imprisonment, and confession are the truly valuable parts of her book.
After her arrest, Dai Qing told friends, her hair turned white.
Dai Qing conveys with telling detail—but not at all “wittily” as the book
jacket puts it—the deliberate, and increasingly terrifying, way the Chinese
security services close in on a victim, in Dai’s case with elaborate false
courtesy, and how quickly, even in a five-star prison like Qincheng, fear
becomes overwhelming. It is incorrect to say, as one translator’s note states,
that she makes “no full-fledged confession or expression of remorse.” In fact,
as the book’s jacket and the text make clear, Dai Qing did confess and
The book begins in mid-July 1989, more than a month after the Tiananmen
crackdown and Dai Qing’s resignation from the Party. The government had
already published a list of twenty-one “most wanted” student and other
leaders, and there were plenty of rumors, “some far-fetched, others quite
scary,” of arrests of this or that person. Dai Qing heard that a Beijing
newspaper would publish her name in a list of people facing imminent arrest.
She and others immediately asked themselves the questions that had become
familiar when they learned such lists were about to be published: What title
precedes your name; for instance, are you called “comrade”? (Zhao Ziyang was
called “comrade” in his brief official death notice, which meant that he had
not been cast into political outer darkness.) On what page is the list
published in the newspaper, how big is the type font, and where does your name
appear on the list?
Dai Qing hears that her name will be the fifth or sixth on a list of twelve
scholars and writers. “It is by such ranking that your fate is determined.”
She starts thinking about prison:
I was a mere grain of sand on their large chessboard…. I was unable to
control my fate. My only wish was that I would be allowed to remain intact,
and not be crushed to smithereens.
On July 13, “a single cop” comes to her apartment; he gives no identification,
although it is plain what he is. He asks if she will be home the next day. “In
so many words my guest was telling me, ‘Tomorrow we plan to take action and we
want to know where you will be.’” The next morning an elderly woman from the
neighbor-hood surveillance committee—usually called “the granny
police”—arrives to inquire about Dai Qing’s plans for childbirth. Of course
she wants to make sure Dai Qing is at home and Dai cannot resist saying,
“Perhaps you’ve forgotten how long it’s been since I passed the age of
That evening she is arrested in front of her husband and daughter. Still
confident that she would not be convicted because she “had set foot in
Tiananmen” only once, well before the declaration of martial law, Dai Qing
writes that she “had no idea that I was being delivered to Qincheng, the most
infamous penitentiary for political prisoners in China.” She recalls that very
high-level enemies of the state have been locked up in Qincheng during various
regimes. Some, she remembers, were former security and military bigwigs who
committed suicide there.
fter one day in prison, Dai Qing begins to give up her hope that China’s post-
Mao reformists might treat her properly. “What,” she asked herself, “if they
now need to create an atmosphere of terror that would involve framing people?”
She seems to be referring to the common practice during the post-Mao years of
accusing prisoners of things they hadn’t done, always citing some law. The
famous saying, which she herself quotes, “Verdict First, Trial Later,” bears
this out. She is allowed to receive a limited number of approved books and to
exercise in an open space (where she never sees another prisoner) and she can
listen to the radio. But she is forbidden to change the station, on which she
hears lectures on how to raise snails and Western music conducted by Herbert
She estimates that there are about thirty prisoners in Qincheng while she is
there. She writes that she admires the guards for their patience,
incorruptibility, and discipline, and their “impervious[ness] to lust.” They
display degrees of “civilization and humanity.” One of them tells her, “Don’t
worry, we’re all family here.” A “strikingly handsome” young guard chats with
her about ice-skating and playing the guitar and permits her to look at a scar
on his ear.
In her reconstructed account, she imagines that the decent behavior of the
guards toward the important prisoners in Qincheng reflects the “general
approach” of Mao and Zhou Enlai. This sounds either like wistful fantasy or an
attempt to show she is patriotic; no one familiar with her previous writings
can read it without skepticism. She says she knows there have been “dark
and poisonous” interrogators in the Party’s past, but she now believes they no
longer exist, a misconception when we consider what was happening to most
prisoners throughout China in the aftermath of the attack on Tiananmen. She
describes her own interrogators as trained in legal ethics, and she regrets
that “no one outside will know about the high quality work of investigators
like those in charge of my case…they never once tried to coerce or cajole
evidence out of me, even when I displayed a ‘bad attitude.’” In the light of
her full-scale confession and repentance, this statement rings hollow. Dai
Qing expresses sympathy for the “burdens of security” her interrogators
shoulder: trapped between the bad past and the reformist present, they know
that many are watching them. One mark of progress, she writes, would be if
China stopped insisting it had no political prisoners.
Soon she begins to fear the worst, a heavy sentence, and she wonders if she
will be executed. This is especially unfair, she writes, because she is
opposed to overthrowing the present system. She favors “enlightened
despotism,” and fears that a revolutionary change now would be worse than the
“present political order.” As for the institution that will bring about
change, “I have always believed that it is only the army leadership who have
the capacity to transform the traditional leadership in China into a more open
system.” This is a startling belief, for which she provides no further
explanation or evidence. Again the editors and translators fail to inquire
when she formed this view and whether she still holds it. But the Party is
progressing, she emphasizes; she wishes the Tiananmen students had been
willing to accept the concession that the leaders would no longer import
In her account Dai Qing shows almost complete ignorance of what the
demonstrators throughout China were actually demanding, although she is well
aware of the implacable system in which she grew up. She describes its shabby
record, starting with the 1942 Rectification Campaign in which thousands were
executed, and moves through increasingly destructive “movements” and
“campaigns.” She concludes that “several generations lost their capacity to
think independently, and their basic human rights.” It is hardly surprising,
then, that she supposes none of her lawyer friends will speak up for her, and
that in any event her trial will be a “mere formality.” She fears a sentence
of more than fifteen years—Wei Jingsheng’s sentence—rather than the two the
law appears to warrant.
By the end of 1989, as interrogations continue and she sees no way out of
prison, she considers suicide. Kang Sheng’s methods, learned from the NKVD and
introduced at Yanan, have worked. All that is necessary now is a confession.
In January she is told she will leave solitary confinement and be placed under
“supervised residence,” which means she can live in several places in Beijing
under almost ordinary conditions, although not at home. She is first moved to
the Qincheng staff dormitory with a retired guard to keep watch on her. It was
while there that she wrote this memoir, which, she says, is uncensored,
although she never says whether officials read it. She is released from prison
on May 9, 1990, accused only of “the ‘error’ of ‘supporting and participating’
The translators add a note: in January 1991 Dai Qing told a Hong Kong journal,
“You could say about my release that they’ve let me out of a small prison into
a massive jail.” This is evidently true, but what happened to her next remains
somewhat mysterious. First she was moved to several different locations,
apparently so that she could not speak with an American State Department
official who wanted to visit her. Then quite suddenly she was allowed to go to
Harvard as a Nieman Fellow. She still had, she says, some writings that she
had hidden from the guards (although we are never told how); and it is in one
of these concealed prison essays that she attacks those who, she says,
“provoked” Tiananmen. She doesn’t say that one of them, Wang Dan, would soon
turn up at Harvard after a much longer sentence than hers.
he last essays in Tiananmen Follies consist of Dai Qing’s confession and what
might be described as confessional materials. It is here that the translators’
brief note claims “she is no snitch” and that she expresses no remorse. This
is clearly false, although there is no evidence that anyone Dai Qing condemned
suffered because of her accusations. What has happened is that Dai Qing has,
in one of the Party’s oldest triumphal terms, “turned over” or, as Kang Sheng
put it, she has “become conscious.” She is willing to say things that would
have been unthinkable before she was arrested.
She names names of political activists and accuses them of acts for which she
has no evidence. She says that Tiananmen demonstrators hoped people would die
in the square to make the situation worse. The translators of this book do not
ask her for any evidence or explanation. The only such expectation—not hope—of
deaths I know of was expressed by Chai Ling, one of the student leaders, in a
filmed interview during Tiananmen, in which, plainly exhausted, she said she
expected the army to kill students in the square. This, she said, would inform
the world what China was like, but she would flee before this happened because
she knew she would be a target. This interview caused Chai Ling’s reputation
to suffer. But in spite of what she said, Chai Ling remained in the square
throughout the killings of June 3 and 4 and its clearing by the army early in
the morning of the fourth. She then fled China.
As for remorse, Dai Qing confesses she regrets almost everything she did from
April 1989 on. She says that while the students were sincere in their demands
for social justice,
I failed to observe, or, perhaps, observed and did not admit, the many defects
of this generation of university students, especially the absence on their
part of a rational spirit and their inability to exercise self-restraint when
emotionally stirred up.
Referring to her own way of using “surprisingly dazzling words,” she declares
that she expressed her opinions “recklessly without much real thought or
careful consideration…. It was exactly the kind of erroneous style of
thinking that our Chairman Mao once criticized.” In what sounds like a
complete victory for Kang Sheng’s idea of being “conscious,” she promises
never again [to] involve myself with political issues nor express opinions on
important matters, especially since I am no longer a Party member.
In November 1989, Dai Qing heard from a prison interrogator that “she would be
among the very few to be ‘executed.’” I suppose very few readers of The New
York Review or its reviewers would refuse to cooperate under such pressure.
We, too, might well confess and express remorse. In any event Dai Qing did the
opposite of what she declared she would do. She broke the promise in her
confession never again to pronounce on important political matters. She has
written vigorously—and falsely—about the Tiananmen events.
Her book is an example of that broken promise. But more than that it is a
frightening example of how mental torture and the fear of death can do lasting
damage. Dai Qing’s treatment in Qincheng by the guards and interrogators she
says she admired led, after her release, to the public condemnations of the
Tiananmen students for which she is now so well known. She says, “I made a lot
of compromises [with the Chinese authorities], and now I have got the right to
live here [in the US].” This, it must be said, is an unusually privileged
position, especially when we think of the refugees from the Tiananmen
repression who cannot return to China, as Dai Qing can and does.
Jung Chang, the author of Wild Swans, whose powerful book on Mao has just been
published in London, recently stated that “the Chinese must be the most
traumatized people in the world. Fear is embedded in the national psyche.”
Only Dai Qing knows for certain what happened to her in Qincheng prison. But
the woman once admired as China’s most fearless and effective investigative
journalist has changed, and her book, if read carefully, suggests why. She
continues to live with the fear that caused her hair to turn white.
 Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings, 1912–1949, edited by Stuart
Schram and Nancy Hodes (M.E. Sharpe, 1994), Vol. 2, pp. 425ff.
 Harvard University Press, 1994.
 University of Michigan Press, 1996.
 “Dai Qing, Environmentalist, Writer, China,” BusinessWeek online, June 14,
 Dai Qing, Wang Shiwei and “Wild Lilies”: Reification and Purges in the
Chinese Communist Party 1942–1944, edited by David E. Apter and Timothy Cheek
(M.E. Sharpe, 1994).
 Perry Link, Evening Chats in Beijing (Norton, 1992), p. 146.
 Link, Evening Chats in Beijing, p. 147.
 International Rivers Network, 1991.
 Link, Evening Chats in Beijing, p. 209.
 Compiled by Zhang Liang, edited by Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link, with
an afterward by Orville Schell (Public Affairs, 2001). See my review, “The
Truth About Tiananmen,” The New York Review, February 8, 2001.
 Link, Evening Chats in Beijing, pp. 144–147. Merle Goldman of Boston
University also discusses Dai Qing’s pre-1989 writings and sets them in a
wider political context in Sowing the Seeds of Democracy in China: Political
Reform in the Deng Xiaoping Era (Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. 284ff.
For a selection of these writings, including an erotic short story, “A Sexy
Lady,” see Geremie Barme and Linda Jaivin, New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese
Rebel Voices (Times Books, 1992).
 For a detailed study of how Mao and Zhou treated political prisoners see
Michael Schoenhals’s “The Central Case Examination Group, 1966–79,” China
Quarterly, Vol. 145 (1996), pp. 87–111.
 “My Books Are Banned. But I Can Speak Outside,” BusinessWeek online, June
 To be published in the US by Knopf in October.
 BBC Radio 3, “Nightwaves,” May 25, 2005.
April 27, 2006: Geremie Barmé, ‘Tiananmen Follies’: An Exchange
November 17, 2005: Jonathan Unger, The Case of Dai Qing
‘Tiananmen Follies’: An Exchange
By Geremie Barmé, Dai Qing, Reply by Jonathan Mirsky
In response to China: The Uses of Fear (October 6, 2005)
To the Editors:
In his review of the English translation of my prison writings, Tiananmen
Follies, Jonathan Mirsky [NYR, October 6, 2005] makes a number of claims in
relation to my work and my public stance both prior to, and since, the Beijing
Massacre of June 4, 1989, that call for some comment.
Based on his reading of Tiananmen Follies, Mr. Mirsky reaches two conclusions.
The first is that the Communist Party authorities employed the same methods of
emotional torture and terror in dealing with those incarcerated as a result of
the 1989 Tiananmen incident as they did during the Yanan “rescue movement” of
the 1940s. Secondly, he avers that in 1990s China such methods were still
effective, or at least they proved to be so in the case of the author of that
book, that is to say, myself. As a result Mr. Mirsky claims that while I wrote
some worthy things in the past, following my imprisonment I was cowed into
abandoning my former beliefs.
The truth about me is quite the contrary. Even though I had been on a list in
prison of people slated to be executed, I remained determined throughout that
ordeal to stick to my convictions. When I was released from prison in 1990 I
gave an interview to a foreign journalist in which I declared, for publication
around the world, that “you could say about my release that they’ve let me out
of a small prison into a massive jail.” I have continued to speak and write in
a forthright fashion ever since my release—on the environmental dangers China
faces, on the sensitive issue of repression in the Chinese Communist Party’s
history, and on a wide range of equally sensitive topics. As a consequence, at
one point I was placed under house detention, and at another I was exiled to
Hainan Island in the extreme south of China.
In his response to the letter to the editors from Geremie R. Barmé and
Jonathan Unger published by The New York Review [November 17, 2005], Mr.
Mirsky repeats his earlier claims against me and expresses a wish to hear
directly from me. Well, I have the following to say:
In his response Mr. Mirsky remarked that “the Three Gorges essays, as I
pointed out, were excellent, but were written before her time in prison.” He
attempts to demonstrate that I have been frightened into silence. Surely, this
is at odds with the facts.
Prior to my imprisonment I produced only one book related to the Three Gorges
Dam, the edited volume Changjiang, Changjiang (Nanning: Guizhou Renmin
Chubanshe, 1989). Following my release from jail, I edited another work,
Shuide Changjiang (literally, “Who Owns the Yangtze?”), a book that appeared
in Chinese in 1993 through Oxford University Press in Hong Kong. The English
version of that work was published in 1996 under the title The River Dragon
In relation to my public opposition to the Three Gorges project, for example,
I would have thought that any reader of Chinese with an interest in my work,
or for that matter a concern for the environmental fate of China, would have
easily been able to find the numerous essays that I have published in the
mainstream international Chinese press and on the Internet since 1992.
Furthermore, for over a decade I have given speeches, keynote addresses, and
talks relating to the Three Gorges Dam in many countries, although on one such
occasion, in Vietnam, my speech was canceled at the last minute due to
official Chinese government pressure. My most recent engagement with this
issue was in October 2005. I was able to make a public speech in Beijing for
the first time in some fifteen years at Sanwei Bookstore on Chang’an Avenue,
Central Beijing. My talk was entitled “The Three Gorges and the Environment.”
The Chinese transcript of that speech was posted on the Web for a week before
being deleted by the authorities. However, both the English and Chinese
versions of my remarks are readily accessible internationally on the Internet.
In regard to my engagement with other controversial issues of moment, I repeat
here what I said on the tenth anniversary of Tiananmen at a commemorative
symposium held at the John King Fairbank Center of Harvard University on May
13, 1999. I told my audience that:
I have lost my voice in China; I have lost my true audience, my supporters and
critics in China; and I have been deprived of a chance for open and direct
public engagement with my world. Yet although I have been thus diminished, I
have not given up hope. Nor have I given in to the fashionable opinions and
simplistic caricatures of China that prevail, both in China itself and here in
In China I have refused to mouth the government lies about 1989; I will not
uncritically sing the praises of the power-holders and what they have done
during these ten years.
And here, in America, I won’t parrot the simple slogans and extreme rhetoric
that so much of the US media delights in. I refuse to play the simple-minded
dissident; I refuse to give in to the thoughtless stereotypes that so many
public figures in this country pursue when talking about China; I won’t follow
the crude claims of some critics that unless you mount a direct and
provocative challenge to the Communist Party, you are nothing less than a
toady to the power-holders.
In my own limited way I want still to write and speak of the vast, complex,
and rapidly changing realities of China.
In his response to Barmé and Unger’s letter to the editors, Mr. Mirsky
expressed some regret that the editors of Tiananmen Follies had failed to ask
me whether I still stood by “some of the things she said in the book.” I
presume he is referring to passages that I wrote in prison such as the
Would it have been possible with a certain timely control to keep the Beijing
student movement from turning chaotic in the streets between April and June of
1989? The answer is yes. If, at any time during the end of April, early May,
mid-May (when the hunger strike began), and late May (once martial law was
established), the government in power had really intended to put an end to the
movement and had ordered the students and city residents to leave the streets,
it would not have been difficult. But without such action, it is quite natural
that matters escalated rapidly, because two kinds of people wanted the protest
to escalate in the hope that some people would die and the protest might then
turn into an “incident” of some magnitude.
Do I still hold to these views? Yes. I maintain the view that by declaring a
hunger strike on May 13, 1989, the student leaders contributed to a
precipitous escalation of a situation that, until then, might have been
defused. The relatively open-minded faction of power-holders who were in the
public eye and who had been charged with dealing with the protests were now
put in a very difficult position. From the perspective of Deng Xiaoping, the
paramount power-holder, these developments were proof that the “reformist
faction” was incapable of containing the situation, and therefore it would no
longer enjoy his confidence.
Mr. Mirsky is convinced that any talk of there being a “black hand working
behind the scenes” is nothing more than a repetition of a government calumny,
one aimed against the intellectuals who supported the students. He hasn’t
managed to work out what I, writing in jail and faced with the prospect of
death, was saying in my prison writings: that the people who hoped that the
situation would spiral out of control were the factional opponents of Zhao
Ziyang. As for the student leaders themselves, I believe that their problem
was their youthful rashness.
Seventeen years have passed since the events of 1989, and it is clearly
evident today how profoundly the value system and thought processes inculcated
by Mao Zedong have beguiled generation after generation of China’s young
people. Take Chai Ling for example, the activist who famously said that what
her group of student leaders were “actually hoping for is bloodshed” on the
eve of June 4, 1989 (yes, Mr. Mirsky, the word Chai Ling uses in Chinese,
qidai, does mean “look forward to” or “hope for”). People show their true
colors in extreme situations, and Chai Ling proved to be a good student of
Chairman Mao’s. Furthermore, there were others who really did hope that the
hunger-striking students would stay in the square. Various factions among the
power-holders reasoned that if they did so they could be used as political
pawns during the National People’s Congress that was soon to be held.
As to my evaluation of the question “Who benefited and who lost out?” as a
result of the massacre of June 4, 1989, I would say that perhaps even Deng
Xiaoping himself did not want to see such an outcome. This is because there
were indications in China at the time that he was actually planning to speed
up the process of political reform, a process that had long been bogged down.
Indeed, shortly before the Tiananmen demonstrations erupted, I was present
when Wang Feng, the head of the Taiwan office of the Party’s Central Committee
and one of Deng Xiaoping’s intimates, remarked that “Comrade Xiaoping is
actively considering removing the Four Basic Principles from the Constitution
and having them limited to the Party Constitution.” The Four Basic Principles,
it should be recalled, were introduced in February 1979 at the time of de-
Maoification, and they were used to maintain ideological rectitude during the
years of economic reform that followed. They were like a Sword of Damocles
that hung over the heads of people, forcing people to conform to the Party’s
norms. Such a decision to remove the Four Basic Principles from the
Constitution would have augured a major development in the political reform of
China, just as a similar act by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union had
signaled a major political transformation in that country.
Those who got the most out of the situation were the political opponents of
Zhao Ziyang, who hoped to force him and his associates from power, as well as
those members of the nomenklatura, that is, the Party gentry, who enjoyed all
the privileges afforded by the monolithic state created under the conditions
of the “proletarian dictatorship.”
To this day I say, as I wrote then in prison, that I “support the martial law
order issued on May 20, 1989, and support the army implementing it
immediately.” I would emphasize to Mr. Mirsky that martial law was declared on
May 20, but it was not implemented immediately. Indeed, the weeks between the
declaration and the final tragedy of June 3–4 saw the further unfolding of a
complex political drama involving internal Party factions and the manipulation
of restive mass and student opinion.
The question I ask in Tiananmen Follies is: Weren’t the authorities willfully
allowing the situation to get out of hand? Weren’t they manipulating things so
that they could undermine the reformers who were in favor of using martial law
as a way of restoring order, reformers who were anxious that things not spiral
out of control? If martial law could have been imposed quickly, the power-
holders in favor of democratization would have been able to shepherd their
forces and make a comeback at some time in the future.
In his review, Mr. Mirsky was also particularly disdainful of my remark that
the students should have been satisfied with the government’s concession that
henceforth the authorities would no longer hold party meetings at the seaside
resort of Beidaihe, or avail themselves of imported luxury vehicles. I still
believe that squeezing such a concession out of the Party at the time was a
big victory for the protesters. Over the years, the Party had proved itself to
be extraordinarily reluctant to relinquish any of the perquisites of power.
And, after all, Mr. Mirsky may recall that in my work on the early Yanan-era
dissenter Wang Shiwei, which he avows to admire, I outlined that one of the
reasons for the denunciation (and the eventual beheading) of Wang was that he
had the temerity to question the special food and clothing allowances the
Party leaders gave themselves at a time of supposed egalitarian frugality.
As for my “confessions” in jail, Mr. Mirsky declares himself to be
particularly offended by my references to “Chairman Mao” and “ideological
method,” as well as my confession’s promise not to get involved in political
issues in the future. Of course, I wrote this in my confession; my life was at
stake. It is ironic that having weathered the interrogations of the
Communists, years later I am subjected to the intemperate declamations of a
reviewer who has so obviously misread my book. Well, Mr. Mirsky, I’d like to
spell it out for you: I was using my “confessions” to explicate my position,
and to announce my innocence. The vast majority of these written statements
were laden with diversionary tactics, or commonplace irony, “slipping away
under the cover of a big coat,” as we say. These are all devices with which
the average Chinese reader is completely familiar. I also used the Party’s
language to make fun of it.
Of course, I should acknowledge Mr. Mirsky’s detestation of communism and note
his sympathy for the Chinese people. However, if he presumes to have anything
of value to say regarding the complex and confusingly intricate realities of
China, I would suggest that he’ll have to work quite a bit harder. All right,
if his Chinese isn’t quite up to the task, he could always have spared a few
minutes Googling my name in English. At least in that way he could have
avoided making the most elementary mistakes regarding my work. Or, if his
Chinese was equal to it, over these many years he could have read at least a
few of the many dozens of articles I have written for a worldwide Chinese-
language audience, essays that touch on a wide range of subjects related to
his own interests in contemporary Chinese politics, culture, society, life,
and civil liberties.
Anti-Communist sloganizing does nothing so much as mirror the kind of
mentality favored by Mao and Kang Sheng during the 1942 rectification
campaign. Mr. Mirsky praised me for exposing the horrors of that campaign to
the world. The mentality of that campaign has played an invidious role in
Chinese politics and life ever since the 1940s. It is, I’m afraid, a mentality
that has been shared by many others. In the end, extremist and simplistic
ideologies express themselves in the same strident fashion, only the wording
differs. While one chants “Chairman Mao is our savior!,” the other shouts “Mao
Zedong is a monster!”
Dai Qing, with Geremie R. Barmé
Jonathan Mirsky replies:
In Dai Qing and Geremie Barmé’s letter criticizing my review of Ms. Dai’s
book, Tiananmen Follies, there is much material on what she has done since her
release from prison in 1990. My review, however, was of her book, which is
devoted to her arrest and her time in prison. She thought well enough of these
materials to publish them under her name.
When I was preparing my review I sent a list of questions to the editors. Did
she still stand by what she had written? Were there, for example, “black
hands” behind Tiananmen? Ms. Dai still says flatly that there were. Does she
really believe that the Beijing “black hands” were behind the other four
hundred uprisings throughout China that spring? She says I should have been
able to “work out” what she really meant. She could easily have made this
plain in her book, but, one of her editors explained, “while a general reader
might need a longer introduction I don’t think this book calls for one.
Anyway, Dai Qing didn’t want one.”
I sent the editors a final draft of my review to check for factual errors.
This was the response: “review looks good, reads well, no surprises…Sullivan
team [i.e., the book’s editors] not unhappy or displeased.”
The key matter here is her confession. I asked the editors, “Is the confession
real or just something she was forced to say. In the introduction it says she
is no ‘snitch’ but she is, and she shows plenty of remorse, though it is said
she doesn’t.” So was it real or was it staged, and if staged is this obvious?
Ms. Dai now says: “I was using my ‘confessions’ to explicate my position, and
to announce my innocence. The vast majority of these written statements were
laden with diversionary tactics, or commonplace irony, ‘slipping away under
the cover of a big coat,’ as we say. These are all devices with which the
average Chinese reader is completely familiar. I also used the Party’s
language to make fun of it.”
Does that mean that the—rare—footnote in Ms. Dai’s book on her confession is
false? In it she says, “I had told the truth and nothing but the truth, mainly
because this would make things much easier and more convenient. This, I
believe, was something that left a profound impression on the minds of the
comrades of the special case group [her interrogators].”
On the book jacket, in words I presume were approved or written by Dai Qing or
the editors, it says of her confession that it is “at times quite unflattering
to the author…. She begins to accept the government’s view on certain
matters, ending up fingering others in a manner that suggests previous
collaborationist actions in China.”
So whether the confession is true, as she emphasizes in the book, or was
really “slipping away under the cover of a big coat,” Ms. Dai misled her
publisher, her editor, and me. She must take responsibility for her text,
which contains the words about which I wrote my review.
November 2, 2006: Dai Qing, Disheartened Author
The Case of Dai Qing
By Geremie Barmé, Jonathan Unger, Reply by Jonathan Mirsky
In response to China: The Uses of Fear (October 6, 2005)
THE CASE OF DAI QING
To the Editors:
In a review of the prison memoirs of the Chinese writer and dissident Dai Qing
[“China: The Uses of Fear,” NYR, October 6], Jonathan Mirsky wrote that after
her post-Tiananmen release Dai Qing’s “writing about the regime then took a
different turn” and that “fear seems to explain the sad transformation in her
writing,…jettisoning a lifetime’s convictions.”
We would like to set the record straight. As China specialists who have
personally known Dai Qing for a long time and who keep abreast of her prolific
writings, we can affirm that she did not jettison her convictions. Indeed, she
remains one of the most courageous, controversial figures on the Chinese
cultural and intellectual scene today.
In the years since her release from prison in 1990, Dai Qing has been a
persistent proponent of freedom of speech and a critic of censorship. She has
also gained an international reputation as one of China’s staunchest
environmentalists. Her energetic work against China’s gigantic Three Gorges
Dam has deservedly won her awards from environmental organizations around the
world. For this and other courageous public efforts, she has been under house
arrest more than once.
She has kept up a constant flow of writing, translating, and editing on a wide
range of topics despite her work being banned in China. Under a variety of pen
names (and also through essays published in Hong Kong and Taiwan and on the
Chinese Internet), she continues to lambast cant and political hypocrisy in a
uniquely powerful writing style that uses delicate sarcasm and irony to
withering effect. Jonathan Mirsky is an admirer of her earlier writings, and
he will be happy to know that she has lost none of her polemical vigor.
On an important point, both Mirsky and we ourselves disagree with a political
view held by Dai Qing. She does not believe that China is ready for
democracy—that is, multiparty elections to select China’s leadership. She has
long been convinced that without a lengthy period of independent publishers, a
decent education system, and a large, well-educated middle class, any
democratic vote in China would be fatally undermined by demagoguery and
corruption. She believes that until the conditions for democracy are ripe,
China would be better off under an increasingly relaxed Party rule. She
expressed such sentiments in her prison writings—which Mirsky presumed was a
sell-out of her convictions. What he does not realize is that Dai Qing
expressed such a view in writings published prior to the Tiananmen protests,
just as (consistent to a fault) she holds fast to such an opinion in
conversations and in her essays today.
This does not make her a toady or friend of the Party. What Dai Qing above all
will be remembered for is her well-researched, truly extraordinary studies of
the darker side of Communist Party history. Mirsky admiringly notes her
writings in this vein from the 1980s. Again, he will be glad to know that Dai
Qing continues to write and when possible publish major essays and books that
dissect and confront important past episodes of Party repression, with
scarcely concealed lessons for today.
In short, Dai Qing has not been scared into submission and has not betrayed
her ideals. She has remained a true, effective, courageous dissenter, contrary
to the impression Mirsky gained from her prison memoirs. She deserves to have
this erroneous impression corrected in The New York Review’s pages.
The Australian National University
Jonathan Mirsky replies:
I did not say Dai Qing had sold out. I said she was terrified into making the
statements she includes in her book. I was also, as they say, careful to write
at some length that until 1989 she did great work for freedom of expression.
The Three Gorges essays, as I pointed out, were excellent, but were written
before her time in prison. Neither in the book’s introduction nor in the
edited material is this made nearly as plain as I wrote in my review.
I said that Dai Qing’s editors should have asked her if she still believed
some of the things she said in the book. She called the Tiananmen
demonstrations a conspiracy caused by a mastermind, “the one,” whom she never
names, while also saying he had used as a mouthpiece the admirable dissident
Wang Dan, who served seven years in prison after Tiananmen. She said she
regretted condemning the troops for entering the square and stated that “I
support the announcement of martial law and propose that the martial law
troops carry out the order immediately.” This is precisely what happened.
Mr. Unger and Mr. Barmé, both well-respected China specialists, do not deal
with what Dai Qing actually says in her book. They have told me they were
unable to read it because almost all the copies were destroyed in a fire at
the publisher’s. I am happy to learn that Dai Qing has resumed her libertarian
work, but she has done herself a great disservice in Tiananmen Follies and
would do well to write to the Review herself and say what she now believes.
Does she still claim, as she does in the book, that she wrote “recklessly
without much real thought or careful consideration…. It was exactly the kind
of erroneous style of thinking that our Chairman Mao once criticized…”? Does
she still promise “never again [to] involve myself with political issues nor
express opinions on important matters, especially since I am no longer a Party
Does she still say she acted “out of pure emotion and irrationality” and that
“deep down in my heart I had forgotten all the responsibility [of being a
Party member]…to protect the reputation of the government above anything
I wrote that few people would have been able to stand up to what happened to
her in Qin Cheng prison; any critical comment on her book should be seen in
that light. But her statements in Tiananmen Follies are all the more in need
of clarification following the letter of Mr. Barmé and Mr. Unger.
Casting a Lifeline
By Francine Prose
by Ma Jian, translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,586 pp., $27.50
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 corpse of a criminal whom the
government had just executed (in celebration of National Day) and whose organs
had been speedily harvested for transplant.
Dai Wei’s moral revulsion was tinged with personal anxiety, for this was not
the first time that politics had placed a serious strain on his love life. In
high school, he had been interrogated and beaten by the police for meeting his
girlfriend in a cement culvert, the only place they could be alone. And now
the distressing physiology lesson reminded his college girlfriend of why she
had been so reluctant to obey her parents’ wish that she cross the border from
Hong Kong to study medicine in the brutal, unenlightened People’s Republic.
How she longed to go to Canada to major in music or business management!
Like much else in Beijing Coma, this incident provides telling and subtle
information about the characters and their milieu. At the same time, the
insight it offers into Dai Wei’s academic background enables the attentive
reader—in whose intelligence Ma Jian has unusual faith—to answer a nagging
question that has been implicit since the book’s opening paragraphs. That is
the mystery of why Dai Wei’s earthy, lyrical, and, despite everything,
humorous narrative voice is so heavily inflected with scientific
terminology—”a bioelectrical signal darts like a spark of light from the
neurons in your motor cortex,” in Flora Drew’s exemplary translation. The
technical language of the surgical theater has been used, as it will be
throughout, to convey Dai Wei’s efforts to diagnose his own medical condition;
he is asleep much of the time, and in fact, he gradually realizes, he is in a
coma into which he has fallen after being shot in the head during the 1989
demonstration-massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
For much of the book, Dai Wei lies in bed, paralyzed, mute, his eyes shut,
cared for by his mother, and hearing himself referred to as “a vegetable.” Yet
he is acutely conscious of his situation and painfully aware of the past,
which he searches for scraps of memory to assemble a coherent self. A doctor
whom Dai Wei’s mother consults informs him that
if I want to come out of my coma, I must make a deliberate effort to remember
events I’ve chosen to forget. Before I return to my old life, I must first
complete this inward journey into my past.
Trying to follow this advice, Dai Wei rediscovers not only the forgotten
events of his own life but the events that marked decades of seismic
historical change in China.
Among his earliest recollections is one of a summer night in 1980, when his
father returned home with a shaven head after twenty-two years of “re-
education” through imprisonment and hard labor. A talented violinist, he had
visited the United States as a young man and flirted with the idea of an
American concert career. In punishment for his youthful folly, he was branded
as a rightist, dooming his stigmatized family to poverty, ostracism, and
When my brother and I were walking through the school cafeteria at lunchtime
one day, two older kids flicked onto the ground the plate of fried chicken I’d
just bought, and shouted, “You’re the dog son of a member of the Five Black
Categories. What makes you think you have the right to eat meat?”
Dai Wei’s grandfather, a landowner, was executed during Mao’s land
redistribution program, and in the lobby of the public bathhouse that Dai Wei
and his family patronized when he was a child was a red box in which bathers
were urged to deposit denunciations of politically suspect neighbors.
By the time Dai Wei turns eighteen, China has changed so drastically—at least
on the surface—that thanks to his father’s foreign connections, he is given
preferential treatment when he applies to Southern University in Guangzhou
City. As Chinese society veers between repressive isolationism and a
willingness to admit a trickle of information from the outside world, cultural
novelties such as the stories of Hemingway and the paintings of Van Gogh come
into fashion, and Dai Wei and his college friends first hear about Freud, whom
they imagine to be the author of sex books as they argue about whether or not
they possess unconscious minds. Kafka’s The Castle inspires Dai Wei to read
the journal his father kept during his imprisonment, in which he learns about
the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Thanks to the diary, Dai Wei develops
a new understanding of the parent whom he had always despised for making his
childhood so difficult. His mother, he was told, was forced to give birth to
him wearing a shirt embroidered with the words WIFE OF A RIGHTIST.
afka’s shadow falls heavily over large sections of Ma Jian’s work, which teems
with the sort of Grand Guignol nightmares that haunt some of Kafka’s stories.
It’s not enough that Dai Wei’s father be sent to a soul-destroying labor camp;
the camp is located in a region whose starving inhabitants have been driven to
cannibalism. When Dai Wei’s mother must conspire to get her wounded son
medical treatment because the government has made it illegal to have been
injured by the government, the logic could hardly be more Kafkaesque.
Yet much about Beijing Coma may remind the reader less of Kafka than of
Proust—or, if such a thing could be imagined, a Proust who had somehow
survived, and emerged from, the violent whirlwind of modern Chinese history.
Like In Search of Lost Time, Beijing Coma is driven by the obsessive force of
its narrator’s desire to retrieve the past, and derives its formal structure
from a highly particular inquiry into the nature of time.
As Dai Wei recalls moments from his youth and writes about the often grotesque
incidents (visits to traditional healers, the arrival of a pair of workmen who
believe that the apartment’s immobile resident is deaf, and the mercifully
brief stay of a sexually predatory boarder) that break the monotony of his
comatose existence, a sort of novel within the larger novel begins to take
shape. That interpolated narrative, which focuses on the buildup to the
massacre in Tiananmen Square, is at once dramatic and so slowly paced that it
almost seems a minute-by-minute reconstruction of what happened. The reader is
provided with details of the factional conflicts and power struggles, the
committee meetings, the rumors, the triumphs and humiliations, the guest
appearances of intellectual and pop celebrities, and the individual decisions
that initiated and concluded the student hunger strike and led to the
confrontation, on June 4, between the demonstrators and the army.
Some of the novel’s most evocative passages capture the atmosphere and the
mood of the crowd in the square in the days before the crackdown:
The restless, sweaty bodies below us suddenly resembled maggots wriggling over
a lump of meat. We descended to the lower terrace and slowly pushed our way
into the tightly packed crowd. It was almost impenetrable. When someone in
front of us wanted to go to the toilet or look for a friend, a tiny crack
would open, and we could follow behind them for a while. The people lining
these narrow pathways, which coursed through the Square like veins, would
instinctively raise a foot or shift their shoulders back to make way for us as
we passed. If they happened to be sitting down, we had no choice but to climb
over their heads. When someone shouted a new slogan, the crowd’s focus would
shift, and a new path would open for a second before quickly closing again,
like a wound healing over.
On June 1, the mounting tension is briefly dispelled when a crowd of children
visit the square in honor of Children’s Day, and a pair of demonstrators, who
have fallen in love, celebrate a mock wedding:
The children shouted, “When are the bride and groom going to hand out the
sweets?” The bright sunlight shone down on us benevolently. It felt as though
we were attending a wedding ceremony on the green lawn of some beautiful
estate. The people at the front of the crowd pushed back the people behind….
Chen Di announced that it was time for the groom to put a ring onto his
bride’s finger…. Mou Sen pulled out a ballpoint pen from his pocket, got
down on his knees, then took Nuwa’s finger and carefully drew a ring around
The trajectory of Ma Jian’s narrative comes more or less full circle, as it
does in Proust’s masterpiece. And yet the consciousness in which this epic
drama takes place could hardly have less in common with that of Proust’s hero.
Dai Wei clings desperately to the hope that memory (his own and that of his
compatriots) may hold the key not only to individual identity, but to national
and cultural survival. The speed with which we forget, the novel suggests, is
the velocity at which we rush toward our doom.
oon after he is transferred from the hospital to his mother’s flat, Dai Wei
recalls leaving Guangzhou City for Beijing, where he planned to earn a
doctorate in molecular biology. But the heady distractions of the pro-
democracy movement rapidly diverted his attentions:
I remember setting up amplifiers in the canteen one afternoon during our first
term at Beijing University. Frustrated by the slow pace of political reform,
the students had set up unofficial “salons” to discuss the taboo subjects of
freedom, human rights and democracy. Some fellow science graduates and I had
formed a discussion group called the Pantheon Society, and had invited the
renowned astrophysicist Fang Li to give a lecture on China’s political future.
He was an outspoken critic of the government. The students held him in high
esteem. We nicknamed him China’s Sakharov. The previous month, the Democracy
Salon, a rival forum founded by some liberal arts students, had invited the
respected investigative reporter Liu Binyan to give a speech. So our society
felt we needed to invite someone of Fang Li’s stature to gain the upper hand.
The final sentence typifies Dai Wei’s sensibility—and Ma Jian’s method.
Accounts of the most high-minded revolutionary struggles are gently undercut
by an ironic, almost whimsical recognition of the emotions and
instincts—competitiveness, pettiness, ambition, vanity, lust—that
characterized the students’ behavior. In the most anxious moments preceding
the Tiananmen Square debacle, Dai Wei pauses from the demands of being a
leader to admire the beauty of the female students who arrive to offer support
or exhort the assembled crowd, and the novel captures the charged, aphrodisiac
aura that surrounds groups of attractive young men and women who believe that
they are effecting historic political change.
hen Dai Wei recalls a series of demonstrations that occurred in 1987, the
novel’s playfulness takes a surprising turn as a story by Ma Jian himself is
brought into the narrative:
A few days later, the People’s Literature magazine published Stick Out Your
Tongue, an avant-garde novella by a writer called Ma Jian. The Central
Propaganda Department denounced it as nihilistic and decadent, and ordered all
copies to be destroyed, then proceeded to launch a national campaign against
By the time Stick Out Your Tongue was banned, Ma Jian, who was born in Qingdao
in 1953, had already been charged with spreading “spiritual pollution.” This
accusation, related to his participation in Beijing’s dissident artist
movement, led him to quit his job as a photojournalist for a state-run
propaganda magazine and begin a three-year journey across China, documented in
his remarkable travel book, Red Dust. His experiences in Tibet inspired Stick
Out Your Tongue, a novel in stories that portrays an unwelcoming landscape, a
devastated culture, and a ferociously savage society with little resemblance
to the popular image of a country inhabited by beaming peasants and beatific,
sonorously chanting monks.
“The poverty I saw,” Ma Jian writes in an afterword to that novel,
was worse than anything I’d witnessed in China. My idyll of a simple life
lived close to nature was broken when I realised how dehumanizing extreme
hardship can be. The Tibetans treated me with either indifference or disdain.
Sometimes they even threw stones at me. But the more I saw of Tibet and the
damage that Chinese rule had inflicted on the country, the more I understood
their anger…. Tibet was a land whose spiritual heart had been ripped out.
Ultimately, the furor over Stick Out Your Tongue drove Ma Jian into exile,
first to Hong Kong and then, when Hong Kong came under Chinese rule, to
Germany and later London, where he now lives.
In 1989 he left Hong Kong and briefly returned to Beijing. Persuaded that his
native land was changing, and wanting to be part of that transformation, he
spent six weeks with the demonstrating students, sharing their dormitories and
tents. “I watched them stage a mass hunger strike,” as he writes in an
dance to Simon and Garfunkel, fall in love, engage in futile power struggles.
I was ten years older than most of them. Their passion and idealism impressed
but also worried me. Denied knowledge of their own history, they didn’t know
that in China political protests always end in a bloodbath.
When the violence finally erupted, Ma Jian was a thousand kilometers away,
safe in his hometown, where his brother had walked into a clothesline and hit
his head on the street and slipped into a coma; in Beijing Coma, Dai Wei’s
mother will tell this story to explain her son’s injury and avoid admitting
that he was part of an illegal movement. At his brother’s hospital bedside, Ma
Jian learned that
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed students and civilians had been gunned
down and crushed by army tanks…. In a state of numb despair, I kept watch
over my comatose brother, until, one day, his eyes still closed, he moved his
finger across a sheet of paper to write the name of his first girlfriend. His
memories had dragged him back to life.
Ma Jian goes on to say that it is now forbidden in China to mention Tiananmen
Square. “The Chinese are a people who ask no questions, and who have no past.
They live as in a coma, blinded by fear and newfound prosperity.” Part of what
gives his novel its highly energized, manic edge is the fierceness of his
conviction that it might be possible for a work of literature to function as a
lifeline to cast out into the world, on the chance that it might save even a
few of its readers from drowning.
s Dai Wei’s ten-year coma drags on, his mother is contacted by the families of
other victims of the massacre, parents who have formed an underground group,
Tiananmen Mothers, dedicated to tallying the dead and wounded and keeping
alive the memory of a tragedy that the government claims never happened. Every
year, on the anniversary of the demonstration, the police move its surviving
victims—including Dai Wei—from Beijing to suburban hotels, in order to prevent
them from talking to foreign journalists.
Meanwhile, the collective memory is being efficiently erased by the popular
enthusiasm for high-end electronics, showy weddings, and luxury automobiles.
“No one talks about the Tiananmen protests any more,” Dai Wei says.
The Chinese are very adept at “reducing big problems to small problems, then
reducing small problems to nothing at all,” as the saying goes. It’s a
survival skill they’ve developed over millennia.
Like Ma Jian’s brother, “dragged back to life” by the name of his first
girlfriend, the persistently romantic Dai Wei remains in love with all three
of his former sweethearts, even after he learns that the girl he used to meet
in the cement pipe has become a real estate developer whose latest project
will destroy his mother’s apartment. When his withered body is no longer
capable of pursuing the objects of his desire, he develops a passion for a
visiting nurse, and finally a deep attachment to a sparrow that flies into his
Now when Dai Wei’s old friends visit, they wear expensive suits, carry cell
phones, and proudly display the accoutrements of their prosperous new lives.
Suddenly, everything is for sale, and, in the burgeoning Chinese economy, even
the country’s traditional healers have turned into profiteers. “The best hope
for him now would be to put him on this 20,000-yuan treatment plan,” one
doctor tells Dai Wei’s desperate mother.
This 6,000-yuan plan he’s on now gives him just five of my qigong sessions, an
acupuncture session and a course of Chinese herbal medicine. It only lasts
twenty-four days. There’s no way he will have come out of his coma by then.
Dai Wei also undergoes a profound metamorphosis, as his own suffering gives
him new respect for the courage and endurance shown by his parents in managing
to endure the barbaric era through which they lived.
Only the harsh realities of fear and repression remain essentially the same.
Granny Pang, the neighborhood informer, alerts the police each time a
representative of Tiananmen Mothers comes to visit. When Dai Wei’s mother is
forced to sell one of his kidneys to pay for his medical bills, she brings
forged records to the hospital where the surgery will be performed so the
doctors will not suspect they are treating a victim of the infamous protest.
Having endured the Cultural Revolution and witnessed her husband’s grisly
fate, she has lived her whole life in terror of committing the most trivial
infraction of government or Party regulations. So one’s heart sinks when she
casually mentions that she has been feeling healthier and happier since she
joined the Falun Gong movement.
s the novel nears its conclusion, Dai Wei’s present and past converge. Not
only do we know how the story of Tiananmen Square will end, but we have
learned the fates of the characters when a group of Dai Wei’s former comrades
gather at his bedside and discuss which of their friends were killed and
wounded, which were jailed and driven mad by torture, which have become
entrepreneurs or gone abroad to pursue academic careers and form dissident
exile groups. Nonetheless, as the army assembles and the tanks roll toward the
square, the suspense and horror are almost unbearable. At the same time, we
may find ourselves paging rapidly through the final section to see if some
miracle may yet cure Dai Wei before what remains of his mother’s sanity is
destroyed by the government persecution of a harmless sect of mystics with
ideas about inner wheels that can be set spinning by meditation and proper
During the reunion of Dai Wei’s friends, Wang Fei, whose legs were shattered
during the army attack, delivers a rousing speech:
We’re the “Tiananmen Generation,” but no one dares call us that…. It’s
taboo. We’ve been crushed and silenced. If we don’t take a stand now, we will
be erased from the history books. The economy is developing at a frantic pace.
In a few more years the country will be so strong, the government will have
nothing to fear, and no need or desire to listen to us. So if we want to
change our lives, we must take action now. This is our last chance. The Party
is begging the world to give China the Olympics. We must beg the Party to give
us basic human rights.
This hortatory passage seems appropriate and fully earned by everything that
has preceded it; and it testifies to the success with which Ma Jian has
accomplished something extremely difficult. That is, he has created a work of
art that functions simultaneously as literature and as a call to action.
After reading Beijing Coma, you want to encourage the sad little protest
groups of Falun Gong practitioners, kneeling on the sidewalks outside Chinese
embassies and consulates. You want to inform people that China’s human rights
abuses extend well beyond the Tibetan borders, and that dozens of Chinese
journalists and writers are currently serving prison terms. Your sympathy for
the victims of the recent, catastrophic earthquake is intensified by awareness
of how their suffering has been exacerbated by man-made factors: the rigidity
of China’s one child-per-family policy and the shoddy building methods of
rapacious developers. And you wish that copies of the book could be
distributed along the route of the Olympic torch’s progress toward the
upcoming Beijing games, an event that might not be taking place had the world
not succumbed to the seductions of forgetfulness—the same dangers and
temptations that Ma Jian’s hero, and his novel, struggle so valiantly to
Contrary to their intention, commemorations of historical events are more
often reminders of the power of forgetting: either official ceremonies that
gradually lose their meaning, becoming public holidays like any other, or
gatherings of tiny bands of militants or mourners, whose numbers dwindle to
nothing as the years pass. In Los Angeles, you can see both kinds. If you ask
people what Memorial Day stands for, virtually no one, not even professors of
history, can tell you. As for the other sort, I myself stand every summer with
a small band of friends outside the Chinese consulate in downtown Los Angeles,
holding placards scarcely anyone notices. But what we commemorate has,
unusually, not been forgotten elsewhere. It is now 18 years since soldiers and
tanks entered Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Yet every year since then, on the
night of 4 June, tens of thousands of people gather in Hong Kong and, whatever
the weather, light candles in memory of what happened then, and those who died
as a result of it. I don’t think any other mass commemoration has lasted so
long. But what is remembered so powerfully in Hong Kong cannot even be
mentioned on the other side of the border that separates the Special
Administrative Region from the rest of the People’s Republic of China.
Eighteen years is not a short time; it’s long enough for a baby to become an
adult. On 4 June this year, a strange incident occurred. In Chengdu, the
capital of the province of Sichuan, a city with a population of 11 million,
the small-ads pages of an evening newspaper contained a short item that read:
‘Salute to the steadfast mothers of the 4 June victims.’ The entry was noticed
by some readers, scanned and uploaded onto the internet, where it rapidly
circulated. The authorities jumped to investigate. Within days, three of the
paper’s editors had been fired. How had the wall of silence been breached? The
girl in charge of the small ads, born in the 1980s, had called the number
given by the person who placed the ad to ask what the date referred to. Told
it was a mining disaster, she cleared it. No one had ever spoken to her about
- Censorship devours its own children.
The mothers the ad was honouring are a small group of elderly women who have
become the symbol of the event the country cannot refer to. Ding Zilin, who
organised the women, is now 71. She used to teach Marxist philosophy at the
People’s University in Beijing. In 1989, when Tiananmen Square was occupied by
thousands of students, her 17-year-old son, who was still at school, got
caught up in the movement. On the evening of 3 June, as the atmosphere grew
increasingly tense, she feared the boy might join other demonstrators in the
streets and locked him in her apartment. He escaped through a bathroom window,
and was killed that night, when troops marched into the centre of the city. No
one knows how many died alongside him. Government repression has been so
complete that the number of victims remains a mystery. When Li Hai, a former
activist from Peking University, tried to collect information about them in
the early 1990s, he was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for ‘leaking
state secrets’. Despite constant police harassment and repeated house arrests,
Ding persisted in her inquiry, and in 1994 published, in Hong Kong, a
verifiable list of victims. Every year the list has expanded, and it now has
186 names. More and more people who lost family members have gathered around
Ding. Inspired by the example of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina,
and with help from human rights activists in Hong Kong, Ding and her friends
some time ago named themselves the Tiananmen Mothers. Actually, the group also
includes fathers, wives and husbands of those who were killed, as well as some
of those who were injured during the repression. Qi Zhiyong, a worker, lost a
leg from a bullet wound near Tiananmen. For trying to get redress and
compensation, he has repeatedly been beaten by police thugs in his home; this
year he was put under precautionary arrest before 4 June, and only released
when the anniversary was over. His case is typical.
The government’s fears are not irrational. Over six weeks, what began as a
student demonstration became a national political crisis, in which the
legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party’s monopoly of power was seriously
challenged for the first time since the foundation of the People’s Republic.
The government resolved the crisis by ordering regular troops, brought in from
the provinces, to enforce martial law in Beijing, even at the cost of opening
fire on the crowds and rolling tanks over peaceful protesters in order to
seize control of Tiananmen Square, the most powerful symbolic space in modern
China. For a whole week after the first gunshot, not a single political leader
came out to face the nation, leaving the capital in the control of a
professional army, a situation Beijing had not seen since the Allied
Expedition against the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.
With Deng Xiaoping’s decision to crush the demonstrations the Party recovered
its monopoly of power, but not its legitimacy or its authority. To fill the
ideological void Deng set China on an accelerated path of economic change,
announced to the nation by a speech in the southern city of Shenzhen in the
spring of 1992, and expressed in the message ‘to get rich is glorious.’
Plastered on billboards across the country, the Party’s new slogan dismissed
any possibility of discussion of ideas or principles, proclaiming simply:
‘Development is the Irrefutable Argument.’ Fifteen years later, China is the
industrial wonder of the world. The average standard of living has improved,
poverty has been reduced, urbanisation has exploded, exports and financial
reserves are sky-high. Abroad, admiration for the People’s Republic has never
been higher. National prosperity and pride typically go together. With such
achievements to boast of, why should the Communist Party still be so fearful
of something that happened an epoch ago? Why does it go to such lengths to
distort and repress the past, and where it is unable to erase people’s
memories entirely, why does it try to portray the demonstrations of 1989 as
senseless turmoil and the movement’s activists as conspiring tricksters? But
the real question is this: what was the conviction that led the protesters to
stand up to the military machine?
Two opposing interpretations of the movement of 1989 have gained ground,
mainly in the West but also to some extent in China. The first is socio-
economic. In early 1988, the government pushed forcefully to free prices, but
the inflation that followed provoked such strong reactions throughout the
country that it was compelled to reinstitute food rationing in the big cities
in January 1989. Some American scholars have argued that this was a factor in
the massive social unrest that manifested itself in the spring of 1989. In
China itself, thinkers on the New Left have taken this argument a step
further, seeing the military crackdown of 4 June as essentially paving the way
for the marketisation of the economy, by breaking resistance to the lifting of
price controls (they were removed again, this time successfully, in the early
1990s). According to this view, the driving force behind the mass movement,
even its inspiration, was the refusal of reforms that would deprive the
population of established standards of collective welfare. What the gunshots
in Beijing shattered were the last hopes for the ‘iron rice bowl’ of
socialism, clearing the way to a fully-fledged capitalism in China.
Another school of thought turns this argument upside down. In this account,
the mass movement, far from clinging to the socialist past, looked boldly
ahead to a liberal future. The growing number of banners written in English,
and the styrofoam statue of a ‘Goddess of Democracy’, modelled partly on the
Statue of Liberty, erected on Tiananmen in the last days of May, all show that
America was the demonstrators’ real dream: not the iron rice bowl, but the
market and the ballot box. Last month, George Bush presided over the erection
in Washington of a monument to the Victims of Communism, in the form of a
scaled-down bronze replica of the styrofoam goddess.
It is true that socio-economic discontent, especially following on the rapid
inflation of the summer of 1988, played an important role in generating
support for the student protests of the next year. But these economic
grievances were unambiguously transformed into political protests in the
movement of 1989. Their target was the way Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang, then
secretary-general of the Communist Party, ruled the country. Particularly
powerful in mobilising protest was Zhao’s description of his reforms as
‘crossing a river by stepping one by one on stones under the water’. If all
you can do is test the stability of unseen stones on the riverbed, what
entitles you to a monopoly over policy-making? Why should we wait while you
pick your way through the current, now and then finding yourself on the right
stone, and letting us drown when you step on the wrong one? That was more or
less the feeling of the movement. The economic slogans of 1989 were mostly
attacks on past policies that had gone wrong, and especially on corruption
among high officials. But these never took the form of specific economic
demands, nor did any demands of that kind come into the many attempts at
‘dialogue’ – i.e. negotiations – between protesters and officials, before
talks finally broke down. What dominated were unequivocally political demands
for freedom of speech, civil rights and citizen participation.
As for the movement’s ideology, one must remember that this huge social
upheaval erupted very quickly. When a hunger strike among the students put
pressure on the government in mid-May, the news media, including the People’s
Daily, enjoyed a week of press freedom unprecedented in the history of the
PRC. On the streets people from the most varied social backgrounds were
suddenly able to voice their ideas and debate among themselves. In the ensuing
hubbub, it was easy to overinterpret a few isolated symbols. Popular
imaginings of America are an example. A highly abstract idea of the US, based
on very little knowledge, became one of the vehicles – a shell, if you like –
in which people’s imaginative energy was invested. This shell was filled,
however, with understandings – and critical reflections – based on life in the
socialist, or semi-socialist, society of the previous decades. Socialist
discourse and notions of an idealised America were mixed together in people’s
minds. This can be a disappointment for today’s intellectuals, who occupy much
more clear-cut ideological positions, liberal or leftist. Yet below the
Goddess of Democracy, armbands on the picket line were red. The historical
significance of the upheaval of 1989 in Beijing does not lie in one paradigm
or another, espoused by this or that spokesman or leader. It lies in the space
the movement opened up for creative imagination and the opportunities it
offered for experiment. The focus was always on the right of citizens to
participate in the public life of the country, and the channels that would
enable them to do so.
However important economic developments or ideological cross-currents in the
making of the crisis, the incontestable fact is that the millions who
demonstrated in Beijing between April and June 1989 formed what was
essentially a political movement. What was its aim? On several occasions in
this past year, Party officials have, at last, publicly broached the topic of
democratic reform. It seems they think that time, and repeated lies, have
created enough of a barrier to stop people from relating the word ‘democracy’
to the protests in Tiananmen. However, I have always believed that the courage
of the demonstrators came from the power of a mass movement’s desire for
The movement was, of course, led by students, although by the end they made up
only a modest proportion of those who took part, and they have consistently
been singled out for criticism, not only by the government, but by a number of
intellectuals in China and abroad, who claim that had they taken power, they
would have exercised a more extreme dictatorship than the Party itself. In
reality, most of the students were troubled by the question of the democratic
legitimacy of their actions. They did go beyond inviting public sympathy for
their protests, but they never meant to overthrow the government or to usurp
its authority. Although they lacked practical experience, owing to the
vigilant ban on non-governmental organisations, they benefited from the more
open and reflective intellectual atmosphere of the 1980s. Ideas of democratic
reform had been widely spread by the dissident physicist Fang Lizhi and
others. The political principles of autonomy and transparency were hot topics
at the time.
Less than a week after the death of the reformist Communist Party leader Hu
Yaobang in mid-April 1989, those who gathered to mourn him began to form
independent organisations. On campus after campus, as soon as one individual
took the initiative, many students followed. That, in effect, is how the
Beijing Autonomous Association of College Students, the core organisation of
the 1989 protest, came into being. Every university had student
representatives who used their real names rather than sheltering in anonymity
– a great difference from the student movements that had emerged since the
late 1970s. I was among them.
With their college IDs as identification and their names out in the open, the
students had to take responsibility for what they were doing, and to recognise
their own positions of power as representatives of the student body. Under
tremendous political pressure, as well as pressure of time and space, the
student organisations encountered numerous obstacles in their efforts to learn
about and practise procedural democracy. Some students’ status was
representative in name only, and would not withstand scrutiny. Yet faced with
the final decision whether or not to withdraw from Tiananmen Square, the
student leaders still relied on a vote to persuade their followers, as well as
themselves, of the rightness of their course of action. The internal working
of their organisations was always dependent on democratic legitimation.
This is not to claim that every twist of events was democratically determined.
There were many imperfections in the students’ exercise of practices that were
so new to them. Among today’s intellectuals in China, one sometimes hears a
distinction being made between a republic and a democracy. Adapting it, I
would use the term ‘republic’ for the united will that establishes a political
collectivity in the first place, and ‘democracy’ for the procedures that
govern it once unity is established. Ideally, the two should be complementary,
for without republican unity there is no framework for democracy, and without
democracy the original spirit of a republic is never guaranteed. At one level,
the students knew this. They demanded democracy, but always assumed it would
be realised in the context of the People’s Republic, and this was how they
justified their confidence in marching through the streets. But at another
level, the connections were not always well understood. The group of hunger-
strikers, for example, paid little regard to the larger student body
represented by the Beijing Autonomous Association of College Students. In
effect, it functioned as a little ‘republic’ of its own. The hunger strike had
an electrifying effect in the city, but when the strikers attempted to speak
on behalf of the students as a whole, sidestepping the BAACS, something I
argued against, there was inevitably confusion and a crisis of legitimacy.
Many students were aware of the contradiction, and desperately tried to figure
out the conceptual problems confronting them in the little time they had. But
it is fair to say that virtually all of them shared some basic understanding
of democracy, as the right to express different opinions and to participate in
public decision-making, to elect representatives or to recall them; and these
simple principles were quite sincerely, if at times awkwardly, practised.
A different criticism that has often been made of the students is that they
did not merge with the citizenry, once the population of the capital took to
the streets in vast demonstrations. Had the student organisations consciously
sought to lead a mass movement, it would certainly have been the wrong
approach. What their ‘exclusivity’ showed was their reluctance to abuse their
power: they were aware of the limits of their own legitimacy. Not all the
student leaders were flawless – how could they have been? – but I am certain
that if the government had fallen, no student-led autocracy would have
followed. Instead, student organisations would have asked the people to elect
their own representatives, not least to reduce the already unbearable burden
of responsibility. The National People’s Congress would have been the most
likely agency for the next steps in a long process of democratisation.
What of the citizens themselves? During the 20 days of the student occupation
of Tiananmen Square, huge numbers of them paraded under the banners of their
different work-units and affiliations, as if this helped to justify their
actions. But when night fell, they went out on the streets individually,
representing only themselves. Many confronted government officials face to
face. These different ways of participating, by day and by night, gradually
merged. Once the government declared martial law, and stepped up control of
all workplaces, people realised that the socialist structure tying their
economic and political rights together into their work-unit was collapsing in
front of their eyes, and took a clear stand as citizens, casting off the
ambiguous safety of their institutional affiliation, confident that the
government was in the wrong.
What brought the people out onto the streets was not only the wish to express
sympathy with the students, but also the denial of their rights as citizens.
Whether it was the unexpected success of the 27 April march, the proclamation
of martial law on 20 May, or the first gunshots on the night of 3 June, the
largest response was always in reply to the government’s toughest measures.
Without this huge outburst of energy, the upheaval of 1989 would never have
These days, you can see many short videos on the internet commemorating the
events in China in 1989. What is most striking about them are the expressions
on people’s faces – excitement, anxiety, hope, determination and compassion –
across all groups and generations. The demonstrators were interested in
democracy, not in overthrowing the government. Only if one recognises this can
one understand why, throughout weeks of protest, people displayed so much
self-discipline. This did not come from a fear of government revenge, but from
a strong feeling of pride in their ability to take their fate into their own
hands – visibly a legacy of the Chinese revolution and a socialist past. The
crime rate in Beijing fell sharply. Not a single incident of looting or
vandalism was reported. In Beijing and Chengdu at least, even the thieves went
on strike to protest against the government. Spontaneously, there was order
everywhere. On 17 May, in an atmosphere of crisis, there was a televised
discussion between the prime minister, Li Peng, and some of the student
leaders about the ‘anarchy’ of the movement. An argument broke out over who
was responsible for the scenes in the square, interrupting one of Li’s
patronising speeches, and I watched his face turn red and then white as he
clutched the armrests of his chair with both hands. I remember insisting, when
my turn came to speak, that the students were demanding rights guaranteed them
by China’s constitution, and that what characterised the movement was the
opposite of anarchy: calm orderliness, confidence and self-restraint. Of
course, this was what the government was really afraid of.
Three days later, martial law was declared, and there were tanks on the
outskirts of the city. For two weeks, the people held them off. No one who was
there, as the people of Beijing confronted troops in trucks and APCs, will
ever forget their spirit. When the crackdown came on the night of 3-4 June,
most of the victims were not students, but ordinary citizens. Strangers helped
each other without asking questions, and some were killed as they tried to
save the lives of others. The world remembers the image of a single man
standing alone, in front of a column of advancing tanks. The city was full of
such courageous people that night. The reason for commemorating 4 June each
year is not simply to remember its tragic cost, but to recapture the
magnificent spirit of the movement, rarely seen in China in recent centuries.
That this was the real meaning of the social movement of 1989 can be seen from
the government’s lasting fear of it. Had it been spurred mainly by economic
grievances, it would have little resonance in today’s China, where the
standard of living in the cities is so much higher than it was then. If it had
been moved by a desire for things American, satisfaction has in many ways been
more than granted: fast food, Hollywood films, television quiz shows are
everywhere, business principles are exercised more vigorously at all levels of
administration than in the US itself. The reason the memory of 4 June still
haunts officialdom is that it was about something that high-speed growth and
giddy consumerism have not altered. For despite all the economic records it is
setting, China today is not a sea of social calm. Soaring inequality,
collapsing welfare systems, environmental disasters, land seizures, mistreated
migrants, labour ruthlessly exploited, children abducted and enslaved, the
unemployed cast aside, and – in many ways the most hated thing of all –
rampant corruption, have bred widespread discontent. Local explosions of
popular anger, especially in the countryside and smaller towns, where social
conditions are worse and police control is stretched more thinly, have
multiplied in recent years. In this poisoned social environment, in which the
crudest profiteering by crooks and officials, typically in league with each
other, is a daily reality, the root of such evils is clear. It is the monopoly
of power by the ruling party, which makes it impossible for people to check
the abuses from which they suffer. Only democratic rights could make the
holders of power accountable for their actions and release the popular
energies needed to achieve all the things of which they are incapable. That is
why, even today, whenever indignation over injustice or corruption boils over,
the collective memory of 1989, we can be sure, lurks in the minds of the
rulers, and – how often we can only guess – in those of the ruled.
The situation is not unchanging. This year, Professor Ding was for the first
time allowed to commemorate her son’s death on 4 June. Followed by a squad of
plain-clothes policemen, she went from her apartment to the spot beside a
subway station where he was killed, and laid flowers on the pavement.
Photographs of the scene found their way onto the internet, where also for the
first time this year, an online gathering in memory of the victims of 1989 was
held through a web-server based overseas, but which could be accessed from the
mainland with the help of special software. This is a small advance; much more
will have to come. Chinese society needs to acknowledge the tragedy, condemn
the killings, accept and respect the families of those who died, and honour
the work of the Tiananmen Mothers in preserving the memory of the collective
national past. It has not been in vain. When it was learned that the young
subeditor at the Chengdu Evening News had not known what the date of 4 June
referred to, many young Chinese born in the 1980s made it clear on the
internet that they did know.
He Would Have Changed China
By Perry Link
Zhao Ziyang: Ruanjinzhong de tanhua (Captive Conversations)
by Zong Fengming
Hong Kong: Kaifang, 399 pp., HK$98
In trying to make sense of their country’s turbulent modern history, Chinese
intellectuals sometimes resort to counterfactual speculation. How might things
have been different if one or another accidental event had happened
differently? For decades it was a sort of parlor game to guess how long the
great writer Lu Xun, who died in 1936 possessing a keen eye for hypocrisy and
a stiletto wit, and whom Mao Zedong praised in 1942 as “the bravest, most
correct national hero,” could have survived in Maoland had he lived beyond
- Eight years, most people said. If he had somehow managed to avoid prison
until 1957, the Anti-Rightist Campaign of that year surely would have got
him. Harder to fathom is a question like what would have happened in China
if Mao Yichang and Wen Qimei, parents of Mao Zedong, had lived apart in the
spring of 1893, when Mao was conceived.
Zong Fengming’s new book, Zhao Ziyang: Captive Conversations, raises a
question of the same sort, and it has stimulated much debate both inside and
outside China. Zhao Ziyang was premier of China from 1980 to 1987, during
which time he gained much credit for pushing China’s economy forward, and from
1987 to 1989 was general secretary of the Communist Party, when he became
known for advocating reform of the political system. During the demonstrations
at Tiananmen in 1989, Zhao advocated using “democracy and rule of law” to
settle the crisis. But Party elder Deng Xiaoping, who held ultimate power and
who was swayed by Premier Li Peng and others who saw nefarious intent within
the student movement, chose repression.
After Deng had already ordered troops to surround Beijing, he summoned Zhao to
ask that he concur in possible use of the military, but Zhao, well knowing
that intransigence would cost him his position, declined. After the massacre
on June 4, Zhao was charged with “splitting the Party” and “supporting chaos.”
He then further sealed his fate by declining to write the kind of “self-
criticism” that is customary in the Chinese Communist Party when one is
disgraced. He spent the next sixteen years under house arrest at his home at
No. 6, Wealth and Power Alley, Beijing. In 2004 he developed pulmonary
fibrosis, and he died on January 17, 2005, at the age of eighty-five.
Meanwhile the Deng Xiaoping formula of “market yes, democracy no” marched
forward under Zhao’s successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. China’s economy,
military, and international influence have grown steadily while inequality,
discontent, repression, and environmental degradation have worsened. All this
is background for the counterfactual questions that frustrated Chinese
reformers now ask about 1989. How would China be different if Zhao had stayed
on? And how might he have done that?
In August 1991, when Boris Yeltsin climbed atop a tank in Moscow to defy a
coup by Soviet hard-liners against Mikhail Gorbachev, and when Yeltsin won the
support of a cheering crowd and helped to turn the tide against the hard-
liners, some in China were led to ask why Zhao Ziyang could not have done a
similar thing in 1989. There were about a million people in Tiananmen Square
on May 17 of that year, and they were overwhelmingly on Zhao’s side of the
political debate. A New York Times reporter heard a policeman shout, “The
student movement is terrific! If the Government commands a crackdown, will I
obey their order? No, I will go against it.” Large crowds of similarly
inclined protesters were in the streets of nearly all of China’s provincial
ut this flight of fancy is far-fetched. Zhao Ziyang by nature was circumspect,
a bit timid, and hardly comparable to Yeltsin; moreover it is almost
unthinkable that China’s military, whose command is steeped in personal
loyalties, would have obeyed Zhao instead of Deng Xiaoping no matter how many
people were in Tiananmen Square. But what if the protesting students had
listened to the outspoken journalist Dai Qing and her delegation of liberal-
minded intellectuals who urged them on May 14 to declare (partial) victory and
go home? If they had, the crisis would not have come to a head and Zhao might
have remained general secretary. Or what if—even assuming that the students
remained in the square—Zhao had made some compromises with Deng in order to
stay? How much of a difference could he have made?
The question has layers. To guess what Zhao might have achieved one needs
first to estimate what he might have attempted, and that requires us to
extrapolate how his thinking as general secretary might have developed after
- As a first, albeit imperfect, approximation, we can look at how Zhao’s
thought actually developed even though he spent his post-1989 years observing
China from house arrest. But on that question, until now, there has been
extremely little to go on. We have a letter that Zhao wrote to China’s
Politburo in 1997 asking (futilely) for a reconsideration of the verdict on
the Tiananmen demonstrations. We have a revealing account of a two-hour talk
that Zhao had with a friend named Wang Yangsheng in July 2004 and that Wang
published in Hong Kong shortly after Zhao’s death. But that’s about it. Zhao
released no memoirs, and a family member told me recently that “as far as I
know, there is nothing left behind.” Hence Zong Fengming’s new book,
containing 385 pages of records of conversations with Zhao Ziyang between 1991
and 2004, is an almost unique resource.
Zong, three months younger than Zhao, had known him a long time. They were
both from Henan and had fought Japan together in the 1940s. Both had careers
entirely within the Communist Party system. Zong was Party secretary at the
Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics until he retired in 1990.
His book is based on more than a hundred visits that he made to Zhao’s house,
which he entered at the sufferance of a squad of military police stationed
inside the residence. Plainclothes police from State Security occupied the
building directly across the alley, and from the second floor monitored
comings and goings by camera. Periodic “renovations” of the Zhao compound kept
electronic surveillance systems in shape. Zong was able to enter this police
web in the guise of Zhao’s qigong (“breath exercise”) teacher. It also helped
that Zong had played no role in the “turmoil” of 1989. The two elderly men
talked outdoors in the courtyard, presumably to minimize electronic
eavesdropping. Zong did not use a tape recorder and took no notes, but went
home after each talk to write down what he could remember.
The book is arranged chronologically and is not tightly edited. The
conversations, which retain their chatty flavor, are wide-ranging. They seem
frank but not soul-baring. There no doubt were levels of Zhao’s thinking that
died with him, or—if they have survived—live only in the memories of people
extremely close to him.
Zhao’s family members say that Zhao was opposed to publishing the book because
he feared that “inaccuracies” might result. Zong Fengming himself quotes Zhao
as calling the talks “just some random thoughts and casual comments”—but
whether this was from caution or from self-effacing convention is hard to say.
Zhao’s long-time political secretary Bao Tong, in his own memoirs, writes that
when Zong Fengming presented the conversation records to Zhao for review, Zhao
did not even look at them but said, “Let Bao Tong decide what to do.” But Bao
declined to edit them, fearful that his own taint (he had recently served a
prison term for “counterrevolutionary agitation” and “leaking state secrets”)
might only make things worse for Zhao and his family.
Bao clearly treasured the book, however, as is shown by his agreement to write
a second preface to it. The first preface is by Li Rui, once a secretary to
Mao Zedong and now another leading reformist thinker. With few exceptions the
book has been championed by liberal-minded Chinese everywhere. Even Zhao’s
family members, despite their reservations about accuracy, have expressed warm
feelings toward Zong Fengming.
he state has taken a different view. Before the book appeared, a deputy chief
of the Science, Technology, and Industry Commission of the State Council (the
“leadership” authority for the university where Zong had worked) visited Zong
at home, warning darkly that, in earlier times, his book would have been
judged “counterrevolutionary,” and demanding that he hand over the manuscript.
Zong said no. His book was published in Hong Kong and banned in China.
It is easy to see why top leaders were worried, because Zhao’s conversations
address China’s problems with a depth and clarity that they have been
accustomed to calling “dissident.” Zhao may not possess Fang Lizhi’s elegant
reasoning or Liu Binyan’s magisterial grasp of Chinese society, but his basic
outlook, especially near the end of his sixteen years of house arrest, bears
close resemblance to theirs. His thinking does not show any radical breaks,
but it does evolve as he watches developments and comes to see things in new
He comes to see, for example, that democracy is not just an attractive luxury
that a modern nation ought to want for its own sake but an indispensable
condition for the survival of a healthy economy as well. He told Zong that,
during the 1980s,
I thought that as long as we get economic reform right and the economy
develops, the people will be satisfied and society will be stable.
But by 1991 he felt that
political reform must go forward in tandem with economic reform …[otherwise]
a lot of social and political problems will appear.
“Democratic supervision” is necessary. By 2004 he had concluded that “a market
economy under a one-party system inevitably produces corruption” and that
China’s economic growth was now “deformed.”
Zhao’s analysis of how China’s growth came to be distorted is very close to
that of He Qinglian, whose 1998 book China’s Pitfall Zhao read in
captivity. In Zhao’s words,
people who hold political power use that power to control resources and to
turn the wealth of society into their own private wealth.
This happened inside a “black box,” beyond public supervision, and on “an
enormous” scale. On September 18, 1998, Zhao tells Zong:
As the market economy grows, it leads to the marketization of power and the
fungibility of money and power, which leads to large-scale swallowing up of
state resources, chaotic capital formation, extortion, and blackmail. This, in
turn, makes popular opinion boil and leads to the formation of a privileged
class, a growing gap between rich and poor, and other social problems that
only get worse the more they pile up.
Five years later Zhao observes:
The government seizes land from the people, pushing the price down to a
minimum, then hands it over to developers who sell it at a huge mark-up. It
also manipulates stocks and figures out how to siphon off society’s monetary
resources—like the savings accounts of ordinary people—using the funds for
public construction that stimulates internal demand and keeps growth high….
If people were free to shift their savings out of state banks, the savings
would flow overseas and growth would end. There could be a rush on withdrawals
and banks would be in crisis.
And where were China’s intellectual gadflies as this went on? The voices that
had been so eloquent in the late 1980s? By 2004 Zhao Ziyang saw the
intellectual elite as having been co-opted:
Economic reform has produced a tightly knit interest group that is now joined
by students who have been educated in democratic countries of the West. These
people have succumbed to power, and what we now have is a tripartite group in
which the political elite, the economic elite, and the intellectual elite are
fused. This power elite blocks China’s further reform and steers the nation’s
policies toward service of itself.
Zhao concludes that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” has produced
“power-elite capitalism,” which is “capitalism of the worst kind.” He reflects
that he had once accepted the argument that free speech is a luxury when
people have empty stomachs, but now (in 1998) sees that the two are connected:
without free speech, one gets a “deformed economy.”
hina’s common folk can see the deformed economy, and those who are losers
within it—farmers whose land has been seized, state workers who have been laid
off, retirees whose pensions vanish—have been protesting at increasing rates
since the late 1990s. In 2003 the number of “mass incidents” reported by
Public Security rose to 60,000, a sixfold increase since 1993. This rise helps
to explain the tighter controls on unauthorized speech, publication, and
assembly during recent years. In 2004 Zhao Ziyang told Wang Yangsheng:
They [in the government] are afraid. They are afraid to open even a crack,
because all kinds of unsolvable problems might then spill out. They have to
protect their interests and those of their interest group.
In New York the exiled dissident Hu Ping, editor of Beijing Spring, has noted
that when a booming economy creates a need for increased repression, as it has
in China, a favorite theory of Western politicians is challenged. Bill
Clinton, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair are all on record as predicting that
economic growth inevitably will pull China toward freedom and democracy. Hu
Ping sees increased wealth for China’s elite as providing not only better
means to repress but more reason to, as resentment between haves and have-nots
grows. The result, instead of democracy, could be turmoil—or, if the
repression works, a successful monster state.
Such a state would surely make use of Chinese nationalism, which Zhao Ziyang,
in his chats with Zong, comes to see as “the greatest threat” to “China’s
progress toward a modern civilization.” Nationalism has understandable roots,
Zhao felt, because of “the sting of China’s past century of foreign
encroachment and bullying.” But authorities can easily exploit this sentiment
to “ignite parochial ethnic hatred” and build “the internal unity required to
preserve stability and to consolidate rule.”
By the end of his life Zhao feels that China’s politics needs at least three
things: a free press, an independent judiciary, and an end to the Communist
Party’s monopoly of power. Without a free press, citizens turn into “loyal
instruments of authority.” As for the courts,
the experience of our own country shows that there is no good at any level,
including the top level, in political interference in the judiciary.
And on Party power:
The Party must release its right to control everything…[otherwise] other
social organizations cannot get started and cannot marshal the power to do
The concept of “dictatorship of the proletariat” must go, and “parliamentary
democracy is the necessary way forward.”
Did Zhao hope that China might actually get these things anytime soon? At the
end of his life he seemed pessimistic. The biggest obstacle to abolishing one-
party rule, he suggests, is one-party rule. The privileged group that sits
atop China and enjoys its boom will not easily give up and, as Zhao told Wang
Yangsheng, “to confront such a large interest group would be very difficult”
even if a leader wanted to. For Zhao there was not the slightest sign that
China’s current leaders wanted to. He told Zong Fengming that
the policy of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao is only to hand out little favors to
the common people in order to bolster their image of “caring for the people”
without infringing any serious interests of the elite, let alone changing the
system in any way. This just will not solve the problem.
he sharpness of Zhao Ziyang’s views near the end of his life makes it more
important that we recall what we know of his thinking before 1989. For most of
the 1980s, Hu Yaobang, as general secretary of the Communist Party, had been
leading the way for political change while Zhao, as premier, attended to
economic matters. In 1987, when Deng forced Hu to resign as general secretary
and transferred the title to Zhao, Zhao clearly wanted to continue Hu’s
political work. He established a “Central Small Group for Study of Reform of
the Political System” and gave it a substantial staff. Asked at a news
conference in October 1987 what his top priority as general secretary was, he
minced no words: “political reform.”
Before 1987 Zhao had not said much that was politically sensitive. He did
allow for small-scale “capitalism”—restoration of private farming, free
markets for certain agricultural products, and partial autonomy for industrial
enterprises—as part of his plan to open the economy to market forces. But he
conceived such changes within a Marxist frame, saying “the initial stages of
socialism” needed to include capitalism. According to Zhao, Marx’s argument
that all capitalism must end in order to bring about socialism had not taken
sufficient account of the necessity of capitalist enterprise to prepare the
ground for socialism. Stalin and Mao had made big mistakes by expecting that a
socialist utopia could spring directly from a peasant society. The capitalist
stage cannot be omitted, Zhao argued, so China needed to go back and “make up
this class.” It would be, though, “capitalism under the leadership of the
Communist Party” and only a passing stage. In the early 1980s Zhao saw no
problem with the formula “capitalism plus one-party rule.”
Between 1987 and 1989, however, he had begun to see how this formula bred
corruption. Bao Tong records in his memoirs that Zhao not only realized that
democratization is the answer to corruption but further saw that corruption,
as a public issue, could be used to stimulate popular interest in building
democratic institutions. This was a truly astute insight. The Chinese populace
at the time was incensed at the growing evidence of official corruption, and
if rule-based institutions like a free press, transparent administration, and
legal procedure could be presented as instruments with which to combat
corruption, there would instantly be public support for the efforts.
How would Zhao have been inclined to move after 1989? His notions about how to
make the transition to democracy seem never to have changed much. He
consistently held that, for China, the change should happen slowly and in
stages. He cited the example of Hong Kong as showing that there can be civil
rights without electoral democracy. So one could start there: release controls
on speech and the press in China generally and encourage the establishment of
nongovernmental organizations. Give more power to the provinces, less to the
center. Then take steps to make the judiciary independent. Next press for more
transparency and democratic decision-making inside the (still-monopoly)
Communist Party. When all this is done, move toward democracy in general
elections. One reason why Zhao felt that a transition to democracy could be
carried out by an authoritarian leader was that such a thing had recently
happened in Taiwan. Zhao admired Jiang Jingguo, son of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang
Jiang Jingguo is an amazing person; he deserves to be studied carefully. He
followed a world trend and pushed democratic reform on his own. He was
educated in the traditions of KMT one-party rule, and also, for many years in
the Soviet Union, in the tradition of Communist one-party rule. That he was
able to walk out of these old modes of thought is truly impressive.
During his house arrest in the 1990s, Zhao retreated from thinking strictly in
terms of Marxist “stages of history” in favor of more varied ways to measure a
society’s progress, including by its standard of living, life expectancy,
educational level, and the size of the gap between skilled and unskilled labor
and between rural and urban ways of life. Prescient among Chinese leaders,
Zhao was worried about the effects of economic development on the natural
environment as early as 1992.
ut it is one thing to have a blueprint, another to carry it out. Here two
questions arise: Would Zhao have really pursued a transition to democracy, had
he been in power? And if so, could he have pulled it off? The first question
arises because of a general pattern, widely observable in Chinese journals in
recent years, of retired officials who, once free of the pressures of working
within the bureaucracy, suddenly sound much more liberal-minded than before.
Zhao’s house arrest may have had this effect on him, and we cannot infer that
what he thought at home is what he certainly would have done as general
secretary. There is, moreover, evidence that an ideal image of the Communist
Party of China, arising from his experience with it in the 1940s, survived in
Zhao’s mind to the end. If he had stayed in power and had peered across the
brink of actually ending the Party’s system, would he still have moved
The question is interesting but probably moot, because it is not likely that
Zhao could have had much power after 1989 even if he had accommodated Deng and
stayed on—not, anyway, before Deng died in 1997. Zhao’s talks with Zong
Fengming make it quite clear that throughout the 1980s both Zhao and Hu
Yaobang were only “frontstage characters” for Deng. All real power rested with
“the two old men,” Deng and Chen Yun, each of whom had his network of loyal
followers. Deng and Chen divided power awkwardly, controlling somewhat
different spheres but with the balance favoring Deng. Zhao reports that Deng
once sent a message to Chen that “this Party can have only one grandma.” The
seven-man standing committee of the Politburo meant even less to Deng, who
called it a “many-headed horse cart” whose meetings are a waste of time. “As
Party general secretary,” Zhao asks Zong Fengming rhetorically, “could I
change the chief of the Organization Department? The Propaganda Department? I
could not—not so long as ‘somebody’ supported him.” To fully grasp Zhao’s
predicament one needs to appreciate why Deng was using “frontstage characters”
in the first place. Why didn’t he just dictate?
Political power within the Chinese Communist system depends almost entirely on
the favor of one’s bureaucratic superiors, not on opinion “from below,” but
there is an interesting exception at the very top where no superior exists.
There, the opinion of people at the level immediately below the top can matter
considerably. If the top leader makes “mistakes,” these can be grounds on
which his rivals who are one level down can try to move him out.
Even Mao Zedong was subject to this dynamic. When his Great Leap Forward in
the late 1950s precipitated a famine that began costing millions of lives, his
“mistake” made him vulnerable. His launching a few years later of the Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution was in large part a counterpunch at rivals who
had been holding him responsible for the famine.
Deng Xiaoping came to power in the late 1970s fully aware of the political
role of mistakes. He was charting a radical new course for the Chinese economy
and he knew that the risks involved might be tremendous. If something went
wrong he might lose power. By bringing in “frontstage” people like Hu Yaobang
and Zhao Ziyang, Deng gained not only energetic executors of his program but
potential scapegoats as well. Of course, the underlings would need to remember
who was really in charge, and in 1986 Hu seems briefly to have forgotten. When
Deng offered that year to step down as chair of the Military Commission, he
apparently expected Hu to say, “No, no, you have to stay.” But Hu unwisely
agreed to the idea. Deng then saw Hu as a usurper and nine months later Hu was
out, ostensibly for “bourgeois liberalization.”
Two years later it was Zhao’s turn to feel the pinch of the “frontstage”
position. In May 1988 Deng decided that China’s system of fixed prices should
be removed for an experimental period. Skirting Zhao, who was worried about
the dangers of doing this too abruptly, Deng began to announce to visiting
foreign leaders that China was instituting price reforms, and this left Zhao
with no choice but to go along. In summer 1988, when rapid inflation led to
panic buying and social unrest, and it became obvious that a “mistake” had
been made, Zhao, as general secretary of the Party, had to take
responsibility. In September, “representing Party Central,” he published an
official apology. Many people were left with the impression that Zhao had been
the originator of the ill-conceived reform, and his authority suffered. But
even people who knew the truth knew that it did not much matter; right or
wrong, Zhao was now falling from favor. People close to Zhao say that by 1989
he was already so weak that he might not have lasted long even if there had
been no demonstrations at Tiananmen.
Moreover, if he had wanted to keep his position beyond 1989, small concessions
to Deng would not have been enough. He would have had to completely endorse
the Deng approach, including Deng’s decision to use troops at Tiananmen. But
to do that, while still in a “frontstage” role, would mean that the massacre
could have been blamed on him. Zhao does not say in his chats with Zong
Fengming that he made such a calculation at the time, but several people close
to Zhao have said that it could—and certainly should—have been part of his
ny doubt that the octogenarian Deng was still capable of such a maneuver
against Zhao was dispelled in 1992 when Deng stripped his longtime comrade
Yang Shangkun of his power base in the military. The purge of Yang left behind
a tripartite division of power among Party chief Jiang Zemin, Premier Li Peng,
and Party elder Qiao Shi, among whom relations were sufficiently strained that
Deng, standing above them, could still dominate.
Zhao Ziyang would not have done well in such an environment. He never
developed much of a power base even in his special field of economics. In
early 1988, a chief of the State Bureau of Price Control, whose “backstage
somebody” was Chen Yun, could still openly defy Zhao at meetings. For Zhao to
have embraced controversial political reform in the 1990s would have required
patience, persistence, and Herculean effort, and it is not clear that Zhao,
for all his other virtues, was capable of these. Some of his friends defend
his 1989 decision to quit rather than to persist by saying that his image as a
martyr turned out to be the best practical contribution he could have made to
the cause of political reform. A shining example of principle, they hold, has
more value than a doomed effort.
Still, to “predict” a counterfactual past is as risky as predicting the
future. Who knows? It is indeed far-fetched to imagine Zhao Ziyang atop a tank
proclaiming a republic, and yet there was nothing imaginary about the broad,
nationwide character of the 1989 upheaval, the government’s fear of it, or
Zhao Ziyang’s lasting association with it. Zhao’s sixteen-year house arrest
was less intended to punish him than to foreclose any possible revival of his
appeal. Could there have been any warmth left in the 1989 embers by the time
China’s top leaders apparently thought so. Within days of Zhao’s death, Hu
Jintao had formed an “Emergency Response Leadership Small Group” with himself
as chair and China’s top policeman Luo Gan as vice-chair. This group put the
paramilitary People’s Armed Police on alert, issued instructions on riot
control, and declared “a period of extreme sensitivity.” The group ordered the
Ministry of Railways to speed up the movement of people, especially students,
who were leaving the capital and to screen tightly anyone moving in. News of
Zhao’s death was kept out of the press and television. People approaching the
Zhao residence to offer condolences were screened or blocked by State
In fall 2006, when Zong Fengming’s book was about to appear, some friends of
his, including Bao Tong and Li Rui, became concerned. Beijing had just banned
several other books; the authors were coming under considerable pressure; and
Zong had a heart condition. Zong’s friends sent a delegate to suggest that he
postpone publication for a while. But Zong was unpersuaded. He was already
eighty-six years old; what could they do to him now? Moreover the book was, in
a sense, his own declaration of independence. He sent the messenger back with
SPITTING IT OUT
—on the concern that my friends feel for me
I’m a silkworm, I just expectorate,
Cheer for the truth, nudge justice along,
And hope to leave some pure strands behind.
But I’m a free moth, too.
Broken out of the cocoon, like a Buddha-spirit
Floating aloft, untouched, untouchable.
Zong underwent heart surgery on March 20, 2007, and seems to be doing all
 Mao himself contributed to the parlor game on July 7, 1957. In addressing
a group of writers and others in Shanghai, Mao said, according to someone who
was present, “Lu Xun? He’d either be writing his stuff in prison or else
saying nothing at all.” Huang Zongying, “Wo qinling Mao Zedong he Luo Ji’nan
duihua,” Wenhui dushu zhoubao, December 6, 2002.
 Sheryl WuDunn, “A Million Chinese March, Adding Pressure for Change,” The
New York Times, May 18, 1989.
 See Liu Binyan’s and my review of her book in The New York Review, October
8, 1998. Zhao Ziyang, although formally educated only through high school,
became an assiduous reader during house arrest and seems to have had a special
taste for “dissident” writers. He mentions He Qinglian, Wang Lixiong, Wu
Guoguang, Gao Wenqian, Gordon Chang, and others in his chats with Zong.
 See James Mann, The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese
Repression (Viking, 2007), pp. 2–3.
 See, for example, Hu Ping, “Pochu jingji juedinglun de shenhua” (Abolish
the myth of economic determinism), Beijing Spring, No. 147 (August 2005), p.
http://lawprofessors.typepad.com … beijing_and_why.pdf
The Price China Has Paid: An Interview with Liu Binyan
By Nathan Gardels
Liu Binyan is a sixty-two-year-old writer and journalist who is regarded as
the preeminent intellectual advocating reform in China today. During the
mid-1950s and again throughout the post-Mao period, he has strongly criticized
Communist party officials for abusing their power and suppressing people’s
In the 1950s Liu wrote stories intended, in the tradition of Confucian
literati, to express the views of the inarticulate masses to the country’s
leaders. In 1957 he was, as a result, expelled from the Party and sent from
Beijing to the countryside to do hard physical labor and was prevented from
publishing. After further persecution during the Cultural Revolution, he
returned to Peking in the late 1970s to produce an extraordinary series of
investigative reports, stories, and essays that were published in Chinese
newspapers and periodicals. One of the most powerful and widely praised of
these, “People and Monsters,” published in 1979, was a report on the behavior
of corrupt Party officials in northeastern China that was seen as applying to
corruption in the Party generally. Because of such writings, Liu became one of
the main targets of the regime’s campaigns against intellectuals launched in
1981, 1983, and 1987. Along with the physicist Fang Lizhi and the Shanghai
writer Wang Ruowang, he was expelled from the Party after Hu Yaobang, the
reform-minded General Secretary of the Chinese Communist party, was demoted in
Liu’s views have gradually but radically changed since the 1950s. He has moved
away from the traditional Chinese reliance on ideological persuasion to
restrain people in power and now puts more emphasis on the need for legal and
political institutions to protect liberties, particularly freedom of the
press. While Liu remains a Marxist, he began to express such views publicly
and repeatedly during the 1980s.
No writer in the Western countries seems comparable to Liu. His position in
China resembles that of Eastern European intellectuals such as Vaclav Havel in
Czechoslovakia who, while apparently powerless, can have a deep effect on
their society. The great respect now accorded him throughout China derives
from his courage in saying what many believe and talk about privately but are
afraid to say openly. Now visiting Harvard as a Nieman Fellow, Liu was
interviewed by Nathan Gardels, editor of New Perspectives Quarterly, which
will publish a somewhat different version of the following interview later
NATHAN GARDELS: Fang Lizhi, the physicist, and yourself are the most prominent
intellectuals expelled from the Communist party during the reform period. Fang
Lizhi has concluded that socialism failed and Marxism is irrelevant at the end
of the twentieth century. You, on the other hand, remain a committed Marxist.
LIU BINYAN: The problem does not lie with socialism itself. The socialism
imported from the Soviet Union and implemented in China was not true
socialism. From Stalin to Mao Zedong, we have had false Marxism.
NG: The head of the Soviet Writers Union has said Stalin compromised socialism
on a world scale by his crimes. Do you feel the same way about Mao Zedong?
LIU: Stalin was the first to ruin socialism. The second was Mao. Cambodia’s
Pol Pot was the third. All of these men completely destroyed the meaning of
These men were not really Marxists at all. They ignored Marx’s basic tenet
that socialism presupposes a high level of material development. The
conditions in each of the countries where these men came to power were not
economically mature enough to build a socialist society.
If we construct a building where there’s no foundation, it’s not a surprise
when the building collapses. A society that is supposed to emerge from a
materialist theory of development cannot simply be willed into existence.
NG: Is that how you would summarize the experiences of Stalin and Mao—trying
to force socialism into existence through political power?
LIU: Yes—utopia through the barrel of a gun.
In the beginning, Lenin himself believed socialism could not happen in an
undeveloped place like Russia. He looked to revolution in advanced Germany and
Austria to lead the way. When their revolutions aborted, the need to maintain
state power persuaded Lenin to push aside the materialist science of Marxism
and attempt to establish socialism in one backward country. The result was not
Furthermore, there can’t be socialism without democracy. Gorbachev has now
made this tenet of Marx into an influential slogan in the ussr—”More democracy
means more socialism.” But over the last thirty years there has been less
democracy and freedom in both China and the Soviet Union. This can’t be
NG: So, China has to develop, or redevelop, a market in order to build a more
advanced economy before it can become truly socialist?
LIU: That was even Mao’s original theory. In fact, he named the
postrevolutionary stage, during which market forces would develop the economy,
“the new democratic phase.” In 1949, Mao said China’s “new democracy” would
need fifteen to twenty years before it could change over into socialism. But
in 1953, Mao wanted to be the leader of the world communist movement so he
attempted to leap into socialism. He ignored the material reality and tried to
rush into the “glorious future.”
NG: You sound very much like Abel Aganbegyan, an economic adviser to
Gorbachev, who has remarked that everything since Lenin was a mistake!
LIU: Even though the Maoist course was premature and mistaken, there were
achievements. We built heavy industry; culture and education advanced; the
people’s standard of living was raised. But we paid a great price—twenty cents
for something that should have cost only five cents.
Perhaps our enormous suffering has contributed to humanity. We have taught
other countries not to take our disastrous path.
NG: The price China must now pay for this tragic past is the deep
disillusionment of today’s youth. What can a young person believe about the
future in China?
LIU: So many of our youth have seen nothing good since they were born. Now,
everything depends on the reform and democratization process, including reform
of the Communist party itself. I believe our youth will gradually see that
there is hope for China.
NG: What is the difference in outlook between a Chinese intellectual in 1956,
at the time of the Hundred Flowers Campaign, and an intellectual now during
the reform period?
LIU: There is a profound difference. In 1956 Chinese intellectuals still
believed in the Party. Now they don’t.
Chinese intellectuals awoke in 1956 from the slumber of Stalinist “socialist
realism,” in large part as a result of Khrushchev’s thaw in the Soviet Union.
They realized then that idealizing life in literature and the arts had been a
mistake. Instead of writing that everyone lived well, they now sought to
depict life realistically, with all the contradictions and conflicts of
socialist society that “realism” had attempted to suppress.
Paradoxically, just as this “new wave” thinking began to take hold, China
embarked on a new phase of “socialist construction” patterned after Stalin’s
industrialization of the Soviet Union. This course transformed the Chinese
Communist party into the very bureaucratic and oppressive apparatus that
Khrushchev was criticizing. The Party soon clamped down brutally on critical
thinking, which was not reactivated until after the Two Great Disasters—the
Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—completely
destroyed faith in Mao and the credibility of the Party.
When intellectual life awakened in 1979, twenty-three years after the 1956
Hundred Flowers Campaign, the faith of Chinese intellectuals in the Party was
In 1979, many intellectuals nevertheless took the new opportunity to begin
developing a theoretical framework to support the economic reforms of Deng
Xiaoping. Essays and reports published in the People’s Daily negated the era
of Mao as a total mistake. But no sooner did this begin than the Party
leadership decided that they could not allow the complete delegitimation of
Mao without endangering their own power.
Rather than a new ideological openness, Deng himself put forward the Four
Cardinal Principles in 1979 which constrain intellectual freedom in China to
this day. Those principles are keeping the socialist road; upholding the
People’s Democratic Dictatorship; respecting the leadership of the Chinese
Communist party; and adhering to Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong thought.
I was expelled from the Party in 1987 for breaching these principles.
NG: What on earth does Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong thought mean? I asked a
twenty-one-year-old student in China this question, and all she could answer
was “love the motherland.”
LIU: There are many slogans like “Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought” in
China which are not taken seriously either by those who shout them or by those
Over the last ten years, the more intellectuals have fought for the reforms
launched by Deng, the more they have been attacked for breaching the Four
Cardinal Principles, including the violation of Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong
thought. Since the reforms are totally opposed to the economic ideas of Mao,
the officials launching reforms have found it necessary to proclaim
unanimously their loyalty to the Four Cardinal Principles. In fact, these
principles, that have been put into a constitution that guarantees freedom of
thought and expression, do not belong there. I suppose these weird
juxtapositions can only happen in China.
NG: What accounts for the two-steps-forward, one-step-back nature of change in
LIU: Since 1979, liberalization has occurred in an on-and-off fashion, opening
up and closing down. Virtually every year there has been a campaign against
liberalization, but each campaign gets weaker and weaker.
In 1981 there was the long campaign against Bitter Love, the film by Bai Hua
in which he exposed the people’s sufferings during the Cultural Revolution and
laid the blame squarely on Mao. In 1983 there was the Campaign Against
Spiritual Pollution which lasted only twenty-seven days. In 1987 there was the
Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign that was stopped after three months.
These campaigns all belong to a single strand of counterreform which emanates
from one faction of the leadership that is obviously getting weaker as time
NG: But didn’t former chairman of the CCP Hu Yaobang’s dismissal last year
mean a weakening of liberalizing forces in the Party?
LIU: Even though Hu Yaobang has been removed, the forces that he represented
inside the Party have actually become stronger. They’ve expanded even in the
last year because the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign provoked very
strong negative reactions both inside and outside the Party. The dismissal of
Hu Yaobang and the expulsion of Fang Lizhi and myself were viewed as illegal
acts against the Party and the Constitution. For the first time, people
publicly opposed a political campaign and defended its victims. They asserted
that the Party’s actions were against the Constitution.
There is another reason why progressive forces in the Party have become
stronger: the Party anticorruption, or “rectification,” program of 1983 and
1984 failed. Originally a lot of people had put their hopes in the
rectification program, because it was going to eliminate the corrupt elements
from the Party. Even some conservative-minded people in the Party wanted to
see the Party improved, and they also opposed corruption.
So, when Hu Yaobang was deposed and I was expelled, there was sympathy for our
position, even from many conservatives, because not only had the corruption
problem not been solved, but those who opposed corruption had been thrown out
of the Party! As a result, the corrupters became more brazen and attacked
those who had exposed the corruption. Their brazenness, which has become more
blatant, has upset even some conservatives who are moving closer to our side.
This realignment is key to understanding the current political situation in
China. “Conservatives” realize that opposing the free expression which exposes
corruption harms their own interests in reestablishing the credibility and
leadership of the Party. That’s why the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign
ended so quickly.
The Party leadership also finally understood that every time it unleashed a
new campaign the economy was severely damaged. Private businessmen and foreign
investors, already nervous about Party stability, were worried; and these
campaigns only proved that the fears of the private concerns were correct.
NG: Does the Party leadership now believe that political reform is necessary
for economic reform? Or, in effect, is Deng Xiaoping for perestroika without
LIU: The economic reform is a very long leg in China, while the political
reform is a very short one. One can’t proceed without being tripped up by the
other. The student movement in 1986 exploded because political reform has
Actually, the first person to bring up the idea of political reform was Deng
Xiaoping. In 1980 he said we must reform the political system, fight feudalism
and bureaucracy, and expand democracy.
But it never came to pass. The resistance within the Party was too strong.
Senior officials refused to give up their positions and privileges. They are
not concerned about socialism; they are concerned only with their own
interests and that of their children and grandchildren. I think real glasnost,
or openness, will gradually come about, not because conservatives want it, but
because the people will force them to accept it.
NG: Is there another conservative reaction on the horizon?
LIU: If there is it will have different rationalizations than past campaigns.
It’s possible high inflation will be the excuse. Inflation has caused a lot of
dissatisfaction among the masses. Conservatives could use economic reasons to
attack the reforms, saying, “Look! The majority of people are suffering from
inflation while a minority who benefit from the market reforms lives well!”
That approach might be effective because people are upset about the new social
inequality and what they perceive as a falling standard of living. Peasants
are often richer than urban dwellers, and a cab driver, for instance, can make
ten times as much as a bus driver and even an intellectual.
NG: How would you compare China’s progress under reform to the Soviet Union’s?
LIU: There are many areas where conditions in China are behind those in the
Soviet Union, including political and cultural conditions, and the state of
the legal system. The Soviet Union is also riddled with corruption, but
Gorbachev has been more effective in exposing this corruption.
But we are better off than the Soviets in the sense that, after the Cultural
Revolution, nobody in China believes anymore. As a result, if a drastic reform
program is put forward in China that challenges all dogma, the people will not
oppose it the way many are opposing reforms in the Soviet Union.
Another distinction. While the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign got rid
of Hu Yaobang, the reforms went forward. It was decreed in March 1987 that in
the elections to the local people’s congresses there would be more candidates
than positions to be filled and that the candidates can be nominated not only
by the Party but by the people themselves. If the Soviet Union were to have an
antiliberalization campaign that removed Gorbachev, their reforms would be in
NG: How important for the Chinese is the Soviet experience of perestroika and
LIU: Very important. We are watching Gorbachev because he began his reforms
with politics and the media. He is very good at glasnost, which is exactly
what China lacks.
So we would be very concerned if Gorbachev should fail. If Gorbachev is
successful, it will encourage Chinese intellectuals and the media to demand
greater freedom. One of China’s biggest difficulties is that our problems are
always covered over. For example, China has never fully revealed the Party’s
role in the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s. We
have to open up and face our problems if we are going to fix them.
If we don’t open up, then we won’t have democracy. Democracy means the power
to choose, and choice is an illusion without information.
NG: As the substructure of the economy evolves under market reforms, the
Chinese economy will develop different strata with conflicting interests. Some
people will become richer than others; peasants will want more for their
crops, urban workers will want cheaper produce.
Won’t these different interests seek expression in multiple political parties?
LIU: Before 1957, the question of multiple parties was actually raised in
China, but for the near future I don’t think it’s possible to have multiple
China is a very special country. There is no other country with such a long
“feudal” history—two thousand years, ten times the length of European medieval
times. Furthermore, in the forty years since the revolution the Party has not
allowed opposition parties or tolerated people with different political ideas.
It has not allowed nonpolitical ideologies to spread.
As a result, it is even more difficult for a political society or organization
to appear in China than in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. Unless social
chaos and popular pressure develop to the degree that they render the Party
utterly powerless, a new opposition is not likely to appear. The more
realistic possibility is the evolution of pluralism within the Party.
NG: What would pluralism within the Chinese Communist party look like? After
all, there seems to be no room for critical Marxists like yourself. You were
LIU: But so many of my comrades are still in the Party; and, because they are
in the Party, in three to five years the Party will change internally, even
though the outer shell of the CCP may not change. In fact, the Four Cardinal
Principles are themselves a statement that this outer shell cannot change. But
the insides will change. The Communist party is right now in the midst of
internal change. The Party leadership has lost control over the Party itself.
The progressive forces at different levels disregard instructions from above
when they feel they are not beneficial to their districts. So, there is room
for pluralism in the Chinese Communist party.
NG: Does that internal pluralism satisfy your idea of socialist democracy, or
are you simply admitting the upper historical limit of what is now possible in
LIU: I’m not at all satisfied. But China is a country with a lot of walls,
symbolized by the Great Wall. Many changes occur behind the wall, but it is
difficult to see these changes because the wall itself is the same as before.
It’s hard to say in what form future changes will take place. Perhaps one day
the different factions within the Party will publicly acknowledge their
differences, and there will be an organizational mechanism for Party
pluralism. At present there is no organizational mechanism, but the factions
nevertheless exist and struggle without a set of rules. In the secret
elections at the Thirteenth Party Congress in the fall of 1987, in which it
was possible to choose among several candidates, several conservative
candidates lost out.
NG: What are the most important historically and politically possible reforms
that could help curb corruption and the abuse of power?
LIU: There are two vital reforms. One is to expand freedom of the press. The
other is to strengthen the legal system.
Freedom of the press means that existing newspapers, Party newspapers, have
more freedom to expose, criticize, and express different opinions. This
process has already begun. Papers such as the China Youth Daily are still
Party newspapers, but in reality they aren’t the same newspapers they once
were. For example, the president of China’s elite Beijing University, Ding
Shixun, criticized the government for not giving enough attention and money to
education. Even though the authorities were angered by this criticism, the
China Youth Daily published his speech. The editors knew they would be
censured for it, but they did it anyway. In addition, we also need to
establish independent newspapers that are outside the reach of the Party.
Interestingly enough, Beijing People’s University recently polled two hundred
high-level Party cadres. Seventy percent believed that Party newspapers were
not managed well. More than 70 percent said they did not believe the
newspapers. Thirty-four percent believed that there should be a large
independent newspaper. As the inflation continues to accelerate, the Party’s
power continues to weaken, and a relatively independent middle class emerges
in the countryside and cities, a constituency is being formed that could
support independent newspapers.
Reform of the legal system has only just begun. Previously, we had the pitiful
situation where there were no private attorneys at all, only government
attorneys. Now we at least have a small number of private attorneys who may be
able to defend victims of official abuse.
NG: After all you’ve been through, all the ups and downs, the backward and
forward patterns of reform and reaction, do you still have faith that China
can build the type of socialism that inspires you?
LIU: Yes, because of my faith in the Chinese people. We are a very intelligent
and industrious people. And we have paid such a high price—Americans can’t
understand because they have never had to pay such a price. The deaths, the
suffering, and the misfortune have forged a strength that will push society
In 1957, before our great man-made disasters, the Chinese people were not
strong enough to push forward. Now, they are.
[ 本帖最后由 曰耳又 于 2009-12-3 08:27 编辑 ]
2楼 大 中 小 发表于 2009-12-3 09:00 只看该作者
3楼 大 中 小 发表于 2009-12-3 09:32 只看该作者
4楼 大 中 小 发表于 2009-12-3 15:36 只看该作者
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6楼 大 中 小 发表于 2009-12-4 15:26 只看该作者
7楼 大 中 小 发表于 2009-12-4 19:36 只看该作者
http://lawprofessors.typepad.com …新英格兰大学- 4 - annive.html
毛泽东政权的道路：革命著作，1912至1949年，由斯图尔特施拉姆和南希霍德斯（我的夏普，1994年），卷编辑。 2，页。 425ff。
http://lawprofessors.typepad.com … beijing_and_why.pdf
[ 本帖最后由曰耳又于09年12月3号8时27分编辑 ]