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ASIA : 'Banned' Book Raises Eyebrows Among Chinese

October 01, 1994|RONE TEMPEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEIJING — One of the most talked-about books in the Chinese capital is a thin, provocative paperback titled "Viewing China Through a Third Eye."

The book is an alarmist vision of the future that warns of a looming "catastrophe" if peasants continue to flee the countryside by the millions for the cities.

Praised in private by many Chinese leaders, reportedly including President Jiang Zemin, the book was nonetheless banned from government bookstores last month by the propaganda department of the Communist Party.

Despite the ban, sales have been brisk, particularly for a work of political analysis, in private bookstores. Li Shiqiang, owner of Beijing's Sanwei (Three Flavors) Bookstore, a haven for intellectuals since it opened in 1988, said he quickly sold out his 200 copies. Liang Heping, a composer and jazz keyboardist, said he shared his copy with dozens of friends.

Adding to the interest is the uncertainty of the identity of the book's author. It was first published in March by Shanxi Province People's Publishing House under the pseudonym "Leininger." The author was identified as "the most influential China expert in contemporary Europe."

But few took the foreign authorship seriously. "The understanding of China and the Chinese language is too good," musician Liang said. "I think they used a foreign name to attract attention and give the book an air of objectivity."

Under pressure from journalists, the publisher said the author was, in fact, Wang Shan--named as the book's translator. But that also happens to be the Chinese equivalent of "John Doe."

Because of the book's pessimistic view of economic reforms, attention focused on controversial economist He Xin as the possible author. He, who works for a state-sponsored think tank, became a controversial figure among intellectuals in 1989 when he defended the army crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. He said the action, in which hundreds of Chinese were killed, was necessary to maintain order and prevent China from slipping into chaos.

But in an interview, he denied writing the book. "Back in 1988 I already wrote something similar to that," He huffed.

The main contention of "Viewing China Through a Third Eye" is that economic liberalization ushered into China by Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping has broken the traditional links of the peasantry to the land.

Pointing to China's huge floating population--as many as 100 million who have left the rural interior to seek their fortune in the cities--the author sees parallels with the decline and fall of Chinese dynasties: "Open the Chinese history books and we will be reminded of an obvious fact; every dynasty, without exception, was destroyed by roving masses. The roving masses are peasants who have lost their land or who are not satisfied staying on the land."

By opening up the economy and allowing peasants to travel to seek jobs, Deng and his supporters have "let the devil out of the bottle."

Such thoughts are not uncommon, particularly in hard-line factions of the Communist Party that see little good in Deng's economic reforms.

But no target is spared in the book, including the world's last great Communist system: "The Chinese Communist Party has made a lot of serious mistakes after it came into power. But the most serious mistake is that it covered up the reality of the impoverished countryside and starving peasants. The result is that the Communist Party lost the opportunity to gain sympathy, understanding and help from international society."

The mixed reactions the book provoked in the Communist Party proved that it touched a nerve. Just how seriously the book was received was apparent when, despite the ban, celebrated author Wang Meng wrote a critique for the journal Readings.

Wang, one of China's most famous living authors who resigned his post as minister of culture in 1989 after the Tian An Men Square crackdown, praised parts of the book but attacked the dismissal of economic reforms.

In his most ironic line, Wang noted that the hard-line policies advocated by the author probably would have prohibited the book's publication.

So Whodunit?

A mystery has surfaced over who wrote the brisk-selling political analysis on China.

Excerpts From the Book

"Chinese intellectuals first didn't have the right to think independently. Then they were given the right but had lost the ability to think on their own. That's why today they either believe totally in the state or totally believe what they hear on Voice of America."

"To develop the economy, maintaining order is most important. To maintain order, autocracy is the appropriate way."

"If the state could maintain a 30-year program of coercion and education, then the mistakes and vice committed by the dictatorship would be forgiven."

Source: Times Beijing Bureau

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