Found on John Baker’s blog, and in Marcel’s email

06 Apr

First item: one of my favourite crime fiction writers has just died at the age of 60: Michael Dibdin Dies. I love the Aurelio Zen books.

Second item: Great Firewall of China:

You can use this site to check if your blog or website is available in China. I don’t know why you would want to do that, but maybe you do.

I am interested. Here is the result for this blog.


So, according to the test, is the English and ESL Blog, but a couple of hours ago, according to Sitemeter, visit #101,847 arrived from CHINANET Guangdong province network. I am told the Chinese nanny can be variable…

The third item: “Marcel Proust” emailed an interesting set of links on Zona Europa, beginning here. Two more are at the foot of that page. It requires considerable familiarity with Chinese history and literature in the past sixty years really to get what they are about, though they also bear on the phenomenon above. I was especially interested in the second page as in my 1994 book From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt I used the wonderful poem “If Lu Xun Were Still Alive”. Lu Xun was a great 20th century Chinese poet and essayist of the Left who is still much revered in China, deservedly so; he was also, it may be argued, fortunate enough to die before the Communists came to power.

The poem “If Lu Xun Were Still Alive” by Zhang Yu’an appeared in 1980 and may be found in Seeds of Fire ed. Geremie Barme and John Minford (HK 1986).

…Perhaps he would be holding high office,
Or perhaps just one of the rank and file.
In high office he would not forget to be like an ox to a child,
If humble he would not fawn or be servile.

Perhaps he would have been heaped with honours,
Or perhaps he would be just out of jail.
Honoured, he would feel new outcries, new hesitations;
In jail he’d have written new “Permitted Conversations” and “Pseudo-free Letters”…

Perhaps he would splash his ink around to praise the “new life”
But perhaps too he would try to cure the ills of the age.
He might be rather happier and more cheerful,
But he might too have felt new unease and wrath.

Not rocket science to see that poem as a critique, is it? I see its use of Lu Xun as being a little like the use we tend to make of George Orwell, another manifestly honest (though complex) figure.

On the page The Other Stories of History from Zona Europa is “translation of an essay by Qian Gang about the ‘banned’ book The Other Stories of History: My Days at the Supplement Division of the People’s Daily (风云侧记——我在人民日报副刊的岁月) by Yuan Ying (袁鹰).

The Other Stories of History recorded the “stories at the editorial department” of the People’s Daily during the 1980’s. There were not many stories but each word evoked our memories of the 1980’s. For example, in “What Is The Crime For Writing A Diary! Invoking A Civil Right That Has Been Trampled Upon For Many Years”, the story was about the extraordinary response from the readers to a submitted essay. People outside mainland China will find it hard to believe that personal diaries and letters can be used as material for denunciation in that age so that disaster can fall suddenly.

“If Lu Xun Were Still Alive” describes the problem caused by a poem dedicated to the memory of Lu Xun. The poet imagined that if Lu Xun were still alive: “He might have acquired various honors/but perhaps he was just released from prison.” He might have become a high official and attend important conferences, “but he would not have three security guards and two secretaries.” “He might have gotten into a modernized sedan/but he would not have used shades to shield the view of the roadside/He would extend his hand to every drifter/He needs to listen quiet to the complaints from unemployed young people who have read many books …” After the poem was published, it was followed up by “a certain comrade in the central government” to the point where it was raised to the level of “a counter-revolutionary poem.” Fortunately, this was the post-Cultural Revolution era and Mr. Yuan Ying was able to escape with a self-criticism…

Mr. Yuan Ying’s book is a piece of writing by a Chinese citizen permitted under the law. It is also the righteous words by a Communist Party member in compliance with party discipline. It told people that the Chinese Communist Party made this and that mistake, but it also expressed deep apologies with promises to reform. As Xiao Jun said, “It is good if you make mistakes and admit them!” More importantly, goodness and justice continue to live on inside the Communist Party and there continues to be people who fight for the truth with the warm blood of their lives.

A sharp contrast comes in the form of the “young” ideological controllers who have official Communist Party positions. They know very little about Party history, they are cruel and merciless towards old Party members such as Yuan Ying and they don’t even have the rigid beliefs and puritanical lifestyles of the “leftist tools” of the previous generation. They only made practical considerations and watch the market prices in officialdom; they are greedy, vulgar and do not disguise that they are seeking power and their language are lowly. They guess what their superiors are thinking and they amplify the results. Even one little “factor of instability” within their “domain” may affect their career path, and so they will take high-pressured action against leftists and rights, party members and civilians alike. The barbarity and absurdity of their actions arouse astonishment inside and outside of China. Each of their bad deeds is enough to turn their superiors’ most recent “enlightened” statement into an instant lie; they are the most effective saboteurs of international trust in the Chinese Communist Party.

Let me repeat myself: I have no interest in the crime that the censors made up for Mr. Yuan Ying. The Other Stories of History is undoubtedly causing them to lose sleep. History has that kind of magic. I also do not believe that they can ban anything because the times have changed! This “sudden cold spell” in spring means nothing. Dear friends, let me recommend this warm and wonderful book from Mr. Yuan Ying to you.

I notice too that current “angry young men” in China (see Fenqing in Wikipedia — fascinating stuff) sometimes still “believe if Lu Xun were still alive today, he would continue fiercely criticizing the government.” I think they may be right; you should also note that being an angry young man in China does not necessarily mean one is pro-American or enamoured with western democratic models. That fenqing [say FEN-TCHING] article really is a fascinating glimpse into some of the many variations the quest for freedom might take, and the many various things people in other places might wish to be free from.

Dear me, don’t we need to learn to think a great deal less in blacks and whites in this world, when most of what is out there is some other hue?

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2 responses to “Found on John Baker’s blog, and in Marcel’s email

  1. marcelproust

    April 7, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    While I am on a roll here: ESWN also has links to a very moving documentary commemorating the fortieth anniversary (1966-2006) of the beginning of the cultural revolution (the archetypal “culture war”). The film was to be shown at a documentary film festival in Yunnan (that’s in China, for the uninitiated), but (probably because of the film) the festival was cancelled.

    The film focuses on a man remembering his wife, a vice-principal of an elite girls’ high school attached to Beijing Normal University, who is possibly the first person to be killed in the cultural revolution: she was beaten to death by her students. The man took photographs of her corpse, and even of the smoke from the crematorium chimney, and preserved her clothes (cut off at the hospital) and other mementos. Another teacher who witnessed some of this (from a hiding spot, unsurprisingly) is also interviewed.

    You can see the whole film in 10 7- or 8-minute instalments with English subtitles on You-Tube via the links provided on ESWN.

  2. marcelproust

    April 7, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    The links to the film seem to have gone from ESWN but you can find them on youtube (all having been posted by the one user) at

    Perhaps also of interest to M.

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