Ian Johnson reports from Beijing and Berlin. His new book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, will be published in April. His essay in the January 19, 2017 issue was supported by a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. (January 2017)
The Killing Wind: A Chinese County’s Descent into Madness During the Cultural Revolution
by Tan Hecheng, translated from the Chinese by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian
In August and September 1967, more than nine thousand people were murdered in and around China’s Dao County. Some were clubbed to death and thrown into limestone pits, others tossed into cellars full of sweet potatoes where they suffocated. But most victims were simply bludgeoned to death with agricultural tools—hoes, carrying poles, and rakes—and then tossed into the waterways that flow into the Xiao River.
by Liu Xia, translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern, with a foreword by Herta Müller and an introduction by Liao Yiwu
Steel Gate to Freedom: The Life of Liu Xiaobo
by Yu Jie, translated from the Chinese by H.C. Hsu
Day and night, I copy the Diamond Sutra of Prajnaparamita. My writing looks more and more square. It proves that I have not gone entirely insane, but the tree I drew hasn’t grown a leaf. —from “I Copy the Scriptures,” in Empty Chairs …
Xi Jinping came to power offering a similarly broad range of reforms and pledging to “rejuvenate” China. But his measures have been limited to the classic nationalist-authoritarian-traditionalist playbook. After five years of Xi, his main accomplishments seem to have been to consolidate his power while satisfying people’s desire for social change through crackdowns and promoting traditionalism. The problem is that these efforts come at the expense of actual reforms.
Hu Fayun: I do not take as much direct action as some. Ever since being a sent-down youth in the Cultural Revolution, I’ve feared hardship and fatigue. But in important actions, if I feel I should express myself, then I try to pick up my courage.
Ai Xiaoming: I believed in the goodness of human nature. I believe this is naïve. Actually, human nature in this totalitarian society has become very vile. This power has changed Chinese people’s psychological makeup. Most people, very many people, are really terrible; they’re afraid of losing things.
The exiled Chinese author Liao Yiwu, the International Literaturfestival Berlin, and a group of prominent international authors are jointly appealing for an international reading in support of the imprisoned Chinese author Li Bifeng.