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10 thoughts on “Out of Mao's Shadow

  1. says:

    I thought China got it's shit together after Mao's death Apparently I was wrong Out of Mao's Shadow by Philip Pan is yet another book notched in my ongoing self education of that huge honkin' thing known as China I've got two reasons for my interest One China is a world player now When I was a kid China was the overpopulated country that produced cheap plastic goods and that was essentially it Now China is stretching out and opening up They are interacting with the rest of the world On the one hand that's exciting and on the other hand the uniformed and superstitious hand it's a little scary Why? Back when I was that aforementioned kid China was staunchly Communist and buddies with our archenemy the USSR In the '80s if there was one thing our eldersleaders in America wanted us to know it was CommunismBAD End of story That's all you needed to know But since then I've grown up and China has matured as well I felt like it was time we bury the past shake hands and get to know one anotherThe second reason for my recent interest and studies of all things China is that my brother has been over there working as a teacher for a few years now The Chinese are rabid to learn English these days it seems so my bro is over there saying shit and explaining himself mostly to kids who are utterly fascinated by the pasty faced whitie This has led to a desire to know a little about what he's experiencingSo I've read history books on China's past and wow e wow they've got a past AND some to spare I learned about Mao's Cultural Revolution Now it was time to get with the times so I turned to Out of Mao's Shadow a collection of journalistic stories about the people crushed by and fighting back against the authoritarian one party system that has ruled China since the Chairman's death This book dashed my misconception that today's China was burgeoning utopia for capitalism free speech and democracy the facade their government has cultivated for the last few decades Some Chinese want these things the others will hold on to power at all costs China leadership likes prosperity but they also covet ultimate and total control New ideologies blend with old tactics and human rights become the doormat on the way to profit Story after heartbreaking story Pan details the constant clash between the people and the people who rule them It's a war made complex by China's tumultuous past and the back and forth clashes of the Cultural Revolution that sometimes pitted friend vs friend even parent vs child Aging generations jerked around and left confused are pensively mixing with youth if they're not too afraid to get burnt once and so the country is filled with an amoebic populous unsure of itself its place and its future I can only hope for the best


  2. says:

    This review was posted on my Asia Sentinel blog on August 30 2008There are perhaps two resounding messages that the author tries to convey in this book firstly that “those counting on the capitalists to lead the charge for democratization in China are likely to be disappointed” and secondly that the society’s struggle for social justice and civic liberties is often futile although passionate individuals with a conscience and a sense of justice are ceaselessly trying against all odds to attain thoseIn an early chapter of the book the author lets us have a glimpse into China’s recent past through the camera lenses of photographer Hu Jie who was obsessed with digging up the life story of young poet Lin Zhao In making and distributing underground the documentary about Lin Hu had to sacrifice a steady well paying job at Xinhua News Agency and to risk being arrested any day But he was determined to get to the bottom of it because he believed that “it wasn’t normal or healthy for a society to go through a cataclysm like the Anti Rightist Campaign and never discuss it and he wondered if the absence of historical knowledge hindered social progress”In the 1950s Lin Zhao had once been a Communist Party member while studying at the Peking University but she later paid with her life for opposing the party out of utter disillusionment with it As the author takes us through the young lives and actions of Lin and her classmates via Hu’s investigative interviews scene after scene of the perfidious Hundred Flowers Movement and the cruel Anti Rightist Campaign unfolds before us When Lin’s prison writings about the wickedness and absurdities of the Campaign and her sufferings are revealed to us we can almost smell the blood that Lin used to write her memoir withThen we are brought to some tragic happenings during the nefarious Cultural Revolution through the recollection of a former red guard Xi insheng of Chonging whose mother was killed nonsensically during an in party strife In an interview with the author Xi is uoted as saying “The Cultural Revolution brought out the worst in people and the worst in the political system” “Xi said he believed one party rule was ultimately to blame for the crimes of the Cultural Revolution but that individuals – like the man who killed his mother and like himself – must also accept responsibility ‘How could a ruthless dictatorship thrive in this country? Why did the nation support it?’ he asked”Apart from the historical snapshots the book tells the stories of other present day dissidents as well as the story of a wealthy real estate developer who exemplifies the venal union of capitalism and authoritarianismJiang Yanyong a semi retired surgeon blew the whistle on the spread of SARS in Beijing and later tried to no avail to persuade the Communist Party to admit its Tiananmen Suare wrongdoings Threatened by house arrest and a prospect of never being able to visit his daughter in the United States Jiang was finally forced to abandon his causeThe blind legal expert Chen Guangshen who tried to help women forced to have abortions under the one child policy to fight the bureaucracy and who escaped house arrest to take the case all the way to Beijing from the remote village in Shandong province where he lived was finally kidnapped by public security officers and was subseuently imprisonedThere are a bunch of “weiuan” 維權 pro liberties lawyers who try their best to defend Chen’s case and another notorious libel case incriminating Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao for writing and publishing the book “An Investigation of China’s Peasantry” in 2003 the English edition is called “Will the Boat Sink the Water?” brought on by a corrupt party official The book is banned in China as it exposes corrupt deeds of local party and government officials supported by documents and witnesses in particular the imposition of punitive taxes on peasants The case was tried in court but the judge could not or would not come up with a verdictThen there is the story of Cheng Yizhong the idealistic journalist who took Guangzhou’s outspoken newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily to unprecedented levels of popularity and fame He first caught the nation’s and the leaders’ attention by an expose of the corrupt “shourong” retention and repatriation system run by local police whereby the latter had the right to detain at will roaming migrants and force them into involuntary labor and captivity until they could pay their way out Although Cheng managed to force leaders to order a ban on the vile system he also upset many party officials in the process unwittingly setting the stage for his subseuent downfall His unreserved reporting on SARS did not help either In 2004 he was imprisoned for five months for an alleged corruption charge which was an obvious set up to frame him“But prison had changed him and now he considered the party’s rule irredeemably corrupt That judgment however left him with few options as a citizen and a journalist and he was restless ‘The worst thing that happened to me’ he said ‘was that I lost all hope in the system’”If the stories of the dissidents seem outright depressing that of Chen Lihua is remarkably buoyant from her standpoint that is Chen was named China’s sixth richest person in Forbes’ 2001 list with assets of US550 millionThis passage may best sum up Chen’s story “China’s emerging business elite is a diverse and disparate bunch and for every entrepreneur who would embrace political reform there are others who support and depend on the authoritarian system who believe in one party rule and owe their success to it Chen Lihua fits in this latter category and her story is a reminder that those with the most wealth – and thus the most resources to devote either to maintaining the status uo or promoting change – are also the most likely to be in bed with the party”


  3. says:

    Perhaps the most unforgettable scene in the movie Alien perhaps the greatest science fiction movie ever made is the attempt by the fast disappearing crew to resurrect the decapitated robot Ash whom they beg for an answer to their simple uestionRipley How do we kill it Ash? There's gotta be a way of killing it How how do we do it?Ash You can't You still don't understand what you're dealing with do you? A perfect organism Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostilityLambert You admire it?Ash I admire its purity A survivor unclouded by conscience remorse or delusions of moralityThis unforgettable episode kept replaying in the back on my mind as I read through Philp Pan's unforgettable new masterpiece Out of Mao's Shadow This is a book about heroes about the brave souls in China who dare to stand up to one of the world's most formidable political machines the Chinese Communist Party We know one thing in advance none of them will win Some do indeed make a huge difference and nudge the monster toward reform usually by raising public awareness But they cannot beat the party The party will always win It is too perfect too self protective and self sustaining to tolerate defeat and it knows no sense of morality or conscienceA fluent Chinese speaker and former Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post Pan has won the confidence of these people and often at considerable personal risk takes us into their homes into their lives to give us an intimate portrayal of what they do and why they do itThere are some whose stories we've discussed on this blog before such as Jiang Yanyong the doctor who leaked to the Western media the fact that SARS was spreading in Beijing and who later spoke out on the carnage he witnessed in the emergency room on the night of June 4 1989 And Cheng Yizhong the editor of Southern Metropolis Daily who first challenged the government's insistence that SARS was under control and later helped bring the murder of Sun Zhigang onto the radar screen of the Chinese people and ultimately the worldEach of the subjects in Pan's book takes it upon himself to stand up to the government fully aware of the inherent risks As Pan tells us their stories he manages to paint an historical picture around them For example as he details the work of blind activist Chen Guangcheng against the evils of the one child policy Pan takes the reader through a brief and hopelessly depressing history of one of the most ambitious experiments in social engineering ever attempted and highlights just how tragic it was mainly for Chinese women half a billion of whom were either sterilized made to endure forced abortions or sloppily fitted with IUDs that led to misery for themPan weaves history into each story he tells and nearly all of it is grim I have to admit it's a painful and frustrating read And there are no happy endings To go through each of the chapters and tell you which ones moved me the most is too daunting a task i have earmarked nearly every pageIt is not an uplifting book but not a hopeless one either Remember in the end Ripley does outsmart the creature despite its perfection And each of these activists makes small dents in the party's armor and it tells us something that each is still alive and able to talk about it though uite of few of the characters alluded to along the way are not so lucky serving lengthy prison sentences So Pan allows us a glimmer of hope at the end Reform is real even if its pace is snail slow People are getting bolder and some of the lawsuits against the government are being won There is freedom of speech though that can be unpredictable China is no longer totalitarian But it's in no way democraticPan writes in his epilogue What progress has been made in recent years what freedom the Chinese people now enjoy has come only because individuals have demanded and fought for it and because the party has retreated in the face of such pressureI hope we never forget that That's the answer to the uestion we hear a lot if you like China so much why do you criticize it so harshly? Harsh consistent criticism based on fact and made with conviction has proven to be the only winning formula in pushing reform aheadIn my conversations with other expats in China one thing we all seem to agree on is that Philip Pan is the best reporter who has ever covered China Longtime readers know how highly I regard Pan's predecessor John Pomfret who I still see as one of China's most perceptive critics Pan is in a different category however While both Pomfret And Pan are master reporters Pan is also a beautiful writer You don't read Pomfret for style or prose Each story in Out of Mao's China is told with an understated elouence and poignancy clear headed and straightforward but also genuinely poetic And that's a balance few journalists can strike It's a suspenseful book a page turner if you will that keeps you thoroughly wrapped up Just as he does in the article I refer to than just about any other in this bog so too does Pan in his book keep you spellbound incredulous that this could really be happening in a nation trying so hard to convince the world of its love of peace of its good intentions of its glorious reformsSo many books on China and its transformation since passing out of Mao's shadow Get a copy of China Shakes the World Oracle Bones and Out of Mao's Shadow it's all there Of the three the latter is the most haunting and painful to read but you'll emerge from it a lot sober about China's progress and a lot less patient when it comes to the naive insistence of the anti CNN crowd that any negative perception of China's government is the product of biased reports in the Western media There's a lot to be negative about and a lot to be scared of despite the very real reforms of recent years Get the book today and prepare to have some illusions shattered


  4. says:

    This book is a compilation of stories of the individuals in China who are working for political and social change It made me realize that even though I may not be encountering many voices of dissent during my time here in China they do exist and certainly have throughout the country's tumultuous history The book follows the stories of a young and ultimately disillusioned communist revolutionary woman during the cultural revolution a pair of lawyers who fight the corrupt bureaucracy in a rural village and the doctor who blew the lid of SARS and uestioned the government's silence on the Tiannamen massacre to name a few I recommend it highly for anyone interested in learning about how individuals are striving and working toward change in China


  5. says:

    Very informative and absolutely fascinating


  6. says:

    This was an excellent account of China in the post Mao era while back tracking to fill in some gaps at least for me China continues to intrigue me while also freaking me the fuck out at the same time I feel that I know the country and its motivations much better after reading his bookI think this guy wrote for the Washington Post and most of this book felt like article and I don’t mean that to criticize His notes on the horrors of the cultural revolution were fascinating I highly recommend this book to anyone who is trying to learn about China from the completely uninitiated to those bordering on expertise


  7. says:

    With the upcoming Olympics I figured it was time to get a bit educated on modern day China This was a fascinating historical analysis by Washington post reporter Phillip Pan about China’s recent economic reforms and the lack of political reforms one party rule lack of religious freedom government censor of papersinternetdoctors child population control and whether the situation can co existcontinueZhao Ziyang’s resignation as party leader when refusing to order the military against student protesters in Tiananmen SuareUncovering the life of silencedexecuted zin lhaoDocumenting a small cemetery of remembrance for victims of the cultural revolutionWorker’s campaign in factory for rightsSystematic mass eviction of peoplehutong lanes in BeijingGovernment’s cover up of SARS and one doctor sending email to tell the world about the diseaseNewspaperman who exposes and brings about the end of the shourong detention system and then is jailed for itAuthors on trial for libel against local party official who levied exorbitant taxes in rural areaA blind lawyer’s jailing for attempts to illuminate the ills of the one child policyPost civil war historical perspective with great leap forward famines hundred flower’s movement anti rightist campaign cultural revolution at the hands of chairman mao’s communist partyAfter reading this I’m of the opinion that China has no business hosting the Olympics and George Bush has no business attending the opening ceremonies


  8. says:

    the giddy people packed the street and the Suare flashing victory signs from atop of the Gate of Heavenly Peace where Mao proclaimed his red reign in 1949 and where his protrait still hangs the men at the helm of the Communist Party looked out on the masses and basked in the outpouring of the national pride the collective outburst of joy in the political heart of the nation not since the pro democracy demonstrations in 1989 had so many people converged on Tiananmen Suare and the contrast was inescapable and jarring back then the multitude of young people who filled the Suare were protesting the corruption of the Communist government and calling for democratic reform the PLA and its trucks and tanks and guns crushed those protests and protestors and in the early 1990s the memory of the massacre still darkened university campuses but now people seemed to have forgotten the Party's violent suppresion of the democracy movement and now the crowds in Tiananmen Suare were cheering the governmentwhat had happened to the demands for political change? how had the party regained its footing? and how long could it hold on to power?the answer is the Chinese government is making the largest and most successful experiment in authoritarianism in the world the West has assumed that capitalism must lead to democracy that free markets inevitably result in free societies but by embracing market reforms while continuing to restrict political freedom China's Communist leaders have presided over an economic revolution without surrendering power prosperity allows the government to reinvent itself to win friends and buy allies and to forestall demands for democracy change it was a remarkable feat all the so because the regime had inflicted so much misery on the nation over the past half century HAIL LIE AND VIOLENCEPS prosperity can cover up everything or is it?


  9. says:

    I am afraid this is not as good as its rating says it to beWell hang on It is complicated than thatThe author's stance is pre set In the introduction page he writes many people who care about China tell themselves that democratization is inevitable that the people will eventually prevail and the one party will fail I certainly hope soI was stunned reading this when I had barely started Journalists and reporters are supposed to give objective accounts and leave their readers to decide what to believe and what not Once you let your personal opinions get too involved with the contents you intend to present it has pretty much already failed since whatever you write comes with a pre determined bias There is little fairness to speak of in one's articles or books from thereIt bothered me a bit but I rolled it on I did not want to give up on it yet so I continued my reading Communication studies suggest that people tend to look for things they want to hearalready know when dealing with massive amount of information Readers who are of similar opinion of China to Pan will like it even better after reading this book Readers who have a hard time accepting Pan's point of view from the very beginning oh well I mean me will find it uncomfortable to read the bookSee? To put it in a slightly philosophical way we do decide what we like and what not before doing or seeing what it isI also went ahead and watched the documentary Hu Jie made for Lin Zhao That was to my surprise a interesting experience than reading the book Hu seems to believe that Lin Zhao's friends and family were indignant about the treatment she had during the horrible Anti Rightist times Is he too calloused or was he again only focusing on things that he wanted to hear? Because I certainly detected from the things they did not say than what they did say These are a bunch of successful people in today's China They have great lives going on Do you really think they would show effusive sympathy towards Lin Zhao on camera? Nah They are in fact way politically shrewd exactly because of their past experiences One of Lin's friend said she did come from a capitalist family She sent her clothes to a laundry shop There is no way she could understand Chinese revolution She was too ideal too passionate too blind I believe that was what she really wanted to say I came from a rural family I was the proletariat I accepted proletarian revolution from the very beginning This friend Li subtly hinted that Lin Zhao was an idealist who failed to grasp what Chinese revolution really meantAnother college friend Wang commented Of course we sensed things weren't uite right back then But we did not exactly agree with what Lin and her friends did either They got their emotions run high You have got to be calm and rational Emotions achieve nothing Wang not so obviously implied that Lin and her friends were hot headed youngsters who had a great deal of passion but lacked brainI am not rating the book not because I have written it off completely No absolutely not It did provide me with many new insights and showed me things I did not know prior to reading itI am only saying that we need to see beyond is all An author a documentary producer even my review they all have the power of rearranging the facts in certain ways to influence what people think Except that my review probably will do awfully poorly in that respect nonetheless I am saying read all you want gather information as much as possible but do think for yourself


  10. says:

    uite good Pan does an excellent job of weaving a narrative thread that connects the profiled individuals Some further discussion of the meta issues might have been nice but it succeeds uite well at putting a face on dissent in China