The Next Banned Book in China?

It is morbid and depressing to be speculating about which book is going to be banned next in China.  This is a translation of an article on ChineseNewsNet:

Residents of Beijing are telling each other to buy a certain book.  Everybody says that if one defers the purchase, one may not be able to buy it at all.  Some people even said that the book is now being reviewed by the Central Propaganda Department which is likely to ban it.  Just like the banned <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>>, this book is also about the Communist Party's anti-rightist campaign in 1957, except that it is even more daring.

The name of this soon-to-be-banned book is curious.  It is titled <<Zen Insight -- The Altar of Suffering 1957>>.  On the cover, there is a sub-title: "Find the Zen insight in the anti-rightist campaign to see who was holding the flower in the hand and smiling."  The author is Hu Ping.  Just like Zhang Yihuo, the author of <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>>, Hu is the descendant of a 'rightist' of those years, except his father is far less well-known than Zhang's father, Zhang Bojun.

During the period of the two congresses in Beijing mid-April this year, the authorities issued several book bans.  One of them on <<The Chinese Peasants Study>> about the three major problems confronted by the Chinese peasants today.  The other is <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>>, which dealt with the anti-rightist campaign and the Cultural Revolution.

According to Open magazine in Hong Kong, the book on the Chinese peasants revealed the oppression of the peasants under the rule of past Chairman Jiang Zemin.  The book infuriated Jiang, so that Chinese Communist Party Secretary General Hu Jintao had no choice but to order a ban.  <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>> touched upon the two highly senstive historical episodes of the anti-rightist campaign and the Cultural Revolution, and aroused just as much anger among the Chinese leaders.

According to Open magazine, the first wave of book bans was issued on February 23 this year.  The News Publishing Division of the Central Propaganda Department held a conference with several hundred publishers and magazines, and the three persons in charge of ideological control on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party central -- Li Changchun, Liu Wenshan and Chen Zhili -- gave speeches.  Chen Zhili's speech was especially devastating.

Chen Zhili said that the publishing industry must be responsible for the formation of the overall consciousness and lay down the foundation for teamwork.  There must not be any dissidents on the editorial staff.  She boasted that she was very vigilant.  There are 569 publishers in the country at the time, and she has criticized only three of them.  But "the application material stacks up to as tall as herself."

That first wave of bans did not satisfy Jiang Zemin.  Therefore, on the February 25, the News Publishing Division issued a second notice by telephone.  For <<The Past Is Not Smoke>>, <<The Chinese Peasants Study>> and <<The Heart Of The Young Girl>>, the media were ordered to not report, to not recommend and to make sure that they fade away.  Such was the second wave of bans.

According to Open magazine, the mixing of the politically incorrect <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>> and <<The Chinese Peasants Study>> with the distinctly low-brow <<The Heart Of The Young Girl>> will be the new way by which the Chinese authorities will ban future ideological and political books.  [Editor's note:  This approach is evident in the banning of websites, in which poltiical forums are banned along with obscene websites.  The mixing makes it difficult to argue purely for freedom of expression because it means that you are promoting pornography.]

The third wave of banning occurred on March 18.  At the time, the two Congresses had just finished.  The News Publishing Division of the Central Propaganda Department followed the directions from Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao to hold a conference to formally declare the banning of <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>> and <<The Chinese Peasants Study>>.

The author of <<Zen Insight>> makes no attempt to disguise his admiration of the famous rightists of that era, such as Zhang Bojun, Luo Longji and Chu Anping.  The author also provided positive portrayals of latter-day people like Liu Binyan and Baihua, who were publicly sanctioned for opposing capitalist-style liberalization.  He also praised Qin Binlin, who was oppressed for his reporting at World Economic Report of the 6/4 incident.

According to a reviewer for Apple Daily, the first half of the book conveyed the impression that all these principals were the best and the brightest of the Chinese people.  Democrats such as Zhang Bojun and Luo Longji fought alongside the Communists before 1949 to oppose Chiang Kaishek, and their courage is unmatched by today's Chinese intellectuals.

<<Zen Insight>> has another interesting point about why Mao Zedong wanted to start an anti-rightist campaign.  According to the book, Mao Zedong was sincere when he asked the intellectuals to express their opinions to the Communist Party.  It was not a ploy that Mao would later imply.

But the intellectuals spoke about things that went beyond what Mao Zedong was willing to accept.  Moreover, other Communist Party members such as Liu Shaoqi did not agree with Mao's idea of getting outsiders to monitor and reform the Communist Party.  In order to maintain his grip on the Party, Mao Zedong therefore initiated a campaign to attack all those intellectuals who spoke their minds.  [Editor's note:  By now, this point of view is actually conventional wisdom.]

According to the book, there were about 5 million people in China who had received more than elementary education in China at that time.  Of these, 550,000 were branded as rightists in 1957.