Stories from the Ice Age

Spring Bamboo: A Collection of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories

compiled and translated by Jeanne Tai, with a foreword by Bette Bao Lord, an introduction by Leo Ou-fan Lee
Random House, 284 pp., $18.95

I Myself Am a Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling

edited by Tani E. Barlow, with Gary J. Bjorge
Beacon Press, 361 pp., $24.95

Lapse of Time

by Wang Anyi, introduction by Jeffrey Kinkley
China Books and Panda Books (Beijing), 235 pp., $8.95 (paper)

Baotown

by Wang Anyi, translated by Martha Avery
Norton, 144 pp., $17.95

Since the Tiananmen Square killings it has become fashionable within the Chinese leadership to refer to dissident intellectuals as “scum.” That was Mao’s view, too. In 1942, the chairman, his armies besieged by both Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese army, took time off for zheng-feng, or rectification movement, in which he laid down rules for “unclean” Chinese authors. Despite the official repudiation of Mao’s literary views in 1983, his dead hand continues to terrify writers today.

The dead hand occasionally withdraws a bit, and what both writers and the Party call a warm wind and gentle showers blows across the literary scene. Before long a cold wind follows; this has been the case since the killings in Beijing. On August 26, Vice-President Wang Zhen, one of the octogenarians who emerged from angry retirement in late May to encourage a violent crackdown on what Beijing calls “the insurrection,” recalled with pleasure the “men of letters” who, while reclaiming frontier wasteland, “immersed themselves in the lives of peasants and workers.” Older writers will remember such immersion as one of the nightmares of the Maoist era. Wang said today’s dissidents are “scum” (the People’s Daily also uses this word), advocates of bourgeois liberalism.

In her foreword to Spring Bamboo, an anthology of stories by young Chinese writers, Bette Bao Lord notes that while “the authorities have a love-hate relationship with writers… Deng Xiaoping has championed reforms and…writers, like the rest of society, have benefited.” This benefit has been at best temporary. Although what Ms. Lord says may have been so at the moment she was writing in 1988, Deng has always insisted that intellectual freedom comes far behind loyalty and discipline. He said this during the smashing of the Democracy Wall movement in 1979, and the arrest of hundreds of pamphleteers, some of whom, like Wei Jingsheng, remain in jail; and he repeated it during the campaigns against spiritual pollution and bourgeois liberalism of the mid-Eighties. It was Deng, then Mao’s Party general secretary, who oversaw the Anti-Rightist drive of 1957 and 1958 in which at least 400,000 “bourgeois” intellectuals were purged, including two recent contributors to The New York Review, Liu Binyan and Fang Lizhi, who were both rehabilitated after more than twenty years, only to be repurged in 1987, once again as bourgeois liberals.

Bourgeois liberalism” is the official catchall for bad ideas from the West, which when they emerge in literature tend to be called poisonous weeds. The novelist Wang Meng, who has just been sacked as minister of culture after failing to congratulate Deng for ordering the assault on Tiananmen, was first purged more than thirty years ago, during the Anti-Rightist campaign; he had written the short story, or poisonous weed, “The Newcomer,” about an idealistic young cadre who doesn’t understand how the Party really works. In his introduction to a collection of his formerly banned stories published in 1983, Wang Meng said that in 1957 the purgers of “good and …

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