Friday, September 25, 2009

Trying to Live an Honest Life

Months after the explosive book by Zhao Ziyang came out, there is another one the Chinese government again tried to intervene in stopping the publication of, but was released a few days ago. It is banned in China.
Called Chinese History Revisited (中国文明的反思), a tome that took Xiao Jiansheng (萧建生)20 years to write, is about the policy failures of the ruling Communist Party and calls for the mainland to embrace western democratic ideals.
Xiao reflects in an academic analysis, how traditional Chinese teaching, with its emphasis on obedience to authority and the centralization of power caused the decline of Chinese civilization, and how it now badly needs diversity, openness and an outward-looking environment.
Two years ago academics praised it and the China Social Sciences Press had planned to publish it.
But a CCSP editor who was in charge of Xiao's book says, "We had everything ready for publication. We had done the proof-reading, printing, advertising and even started to take pre-orders. The academy leadership suddenly called and asked us to stop distributing the book," he recalled.
"To be frank, I don't find anything wrong in the book. It's a great book that offers critical reflection on Chinese culture and thinking."
However now Hong Kong publisher Bao Pu, son of Bao Tong, Zhao's former aide, is publishing the book in the former British colony.
Xiao writes in the preface his motivation for writing this book that took him two decades to complete.
My birthplace is located in a remote village in Feng Huang Prefecture, Xiang Xi, Hunan Province. It is about 50km away from Feng Huang town. My grandfather dyed fabric for a living when he was young. He was very hard working and enjoyed what he did. His business thrived. He accumulated some wealth and bought some land. During land reform, my family's land was categorized as a small lot operation. Actually my grandfather should have been regarded as a wealthy farmer, but since he was very kind, honest and giving, his good reputation prevented that from happening. In the end, my grandfather was categorized as a well-off medium-level farmer, and became a target for unification.
Bad luck, however, soon came to find my grandfather. In 1958, a people's commune was set up in my hometown. Our land, farming, cows, farming tools, and even our pots, bowls and chopsticks were all confiscated. From then on, each person had to go to the public canteen to obtain a little bit of rice. Since we did not have enough food from the canteen, we had to survive on wild vegetables. My grandfather was very upset and enraged by the situation, and decided to end his life of 74 years by going on a hunger strike. For the entire week, my grandfather did not even consume a mouthful of water and finally starved to death.
I had just turned three when my grandfather passed away. At that time I did not understand his cause of death. My mother told me what happened when I was a bit older. She said my grandfather made a comment on the situation. He said, "Now we can only come to the canteen to obtain a few mouthfuls of rice. What hope do we have left?" Grandfather was totally disappointed by the situation at that time, and was determined to fight back with death. The sad fate of my grandfather marked me for life. I could not forget what he had done. I truly admire his integrity and honourable personality, and I also learned that when a person's private property is infringed upon, his right to pursue happiness is taken away, there could be dire consequences.
Xiao later talked about when he was 19-year-old when he dared to criticize the government's policies. He had visited many villages in Hunan where people were starving to death and Xiao questioned the need to continue Mao's class struggle and revolution. His article prevented him from going to university, but he was lucky he was not arrested and thrown into prison. Nevertheless, he continued working as a journalist and all this time he has continued to question the current system and wonder what is best for China's future.
But, as a banned book, it may eventually end up in the mainland one way or another... and hopefully will influence more people to wonder, like Xiao, what will happen to China in the future with the Party at the helm.

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