"Strange things happen when Chinese dynasties near their end. Dams break, earthquakes hit, clouds appear in the shape of weird beasts, rain falls in odd colors, and insects infest the countryside. These are the ill omens of moral turpitude and political collapse. While greed and cynicism poison the society from within, barbarians stir restlessly at the gates. Corrupt officials, whose authority can no longer rely on the assumption of superior virtue, exercise their power with anxious and arbitrary brutality. When people, even those who live far from the centers of power, begin to sense that the Mandate of Heaven is slipping away from their corrupted rulers, rebellious spirits press their claims as the saviors of China, with promises of moral restoration and national unity. Millenarian cults and secret societies proliferate and sometimes explode in massive violence."
Myths abound about China: all Chinese everywhere are united in a community of enduring culture; Western-style democracy is unsuited to China, as it would bring only chaos and the disruption of unity. In this brilliant report of his encounters with Chinese dissidents, rebels and democrats those blessed or cursed with "sheer cussedness" veteran journalist Buruma (The Wages of Guilt, etc.) brings into question such generalizations. There are, it seems, manyChinas and many Chinese willing to risk all in the name of individual freedom and the rule of law. In the U.S., Buruma visits exiled veterans of the 1989 Tiananmen protests who have adjusted well to their new lives and older exiles lost in the impatient busyness of America. He travels to Singapore an antiseptic and intolerant blend of the market and one-party rule where dissidents risk not only prison but extreme marginalization within a conformist society. He then moves on to Taiwan, with its lively if banal democracy (of banners and campaign buttons and staged rallies) and the men and women who, under the island's Nationalist Party rule, faced lifetimes of torture, prison and exile to bring democracy to life, and then to Hong Kong, where democrats try to keep the rule of law alive under China's new rulership. Finally, he travels to the center, the motherland, China. Buruma detects the stench of political decay as the Communist Party drifts into dangerous irrelevance, but amid the decay are rebels fighting battles big and small, for the simple right to criticize, the grand right to choose their leaders. Whether he's describing the noble melancholy of an exiled Chinese rebel or the unbridled joy of free elections in Taiwan, Buruma's writing is as elegant as Chinese calligraphy and as potent as Chinese wine. It is hard to imagine anyone in the West beginning to understand China without first reading this book. (On-sale: Nov. 20) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2000
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Excerpt from Bad Elements by Ian Buruma
Exile from Tiananmen Square
We will never know how many people were killed during that sticky night of June 3 and the early hours of June 4, 1989. A stink of burning vehicles, gunfire, and stale sweat hung heavily on Tiananmen Square; thousands of tired bodies huddled in fear around the Monument to the People's Heroes, with its carved images of earlier rebels: the Taiping, the Boxers, the Communists of course, and also the student demonstrators of May 4, 1919, who saw "Mr. Science" and "Mr. Democracy" as the twin solutions to China's political problems. The huge, rosy face of Chairman Mao stared from the wall of the Forbidden City across three or four dead bodies lying where his outsize shoes would have been had his portrait stretched that far. Tracer bullets and flaming cars lit up the sky in bursts of pale orange. Loudspeakers barked orders to leave the square immediately, or else. Spotlights were switched off and then on again. And over the din of machine-gun fire, breaking glass, stamping army boots, screaming people, wailing sirens, and rumbling APCs, young voices, hoarse from exhaustion, sang the "Internationale," followed by the patriotic hit song of the year, "Descendants of the Dragon":
In the ancient East there is a dragon;
China is its name.
In the ancient East there lives a people,
The dragon's heirs every one.