The Story of Eileen Chang's Naked Earth
On my book shelf, there is this copy of Eileen Chang's Naked Earth (赤地之戀) Almost all of my other Eileen Chang books come from the current publisher, Crown Publications. This one was published by an obscure Taipei-based outfit named Huilong (慧龍) in 1978. I thought this to be quite odd, but I had no idea why it was preserved by my late father until recently. This book is in fact a collector's item because it showed what censorship was like in Taiwan once upon a time.
As a literary work, Naked Earth does not get much respect. It is well-known that this book was commissioned by the United States Information Services with a general outline being supplied to the author to write the novel on demand. The author would eventually write Chinese-language and English-language editions. This was anti-Communist propaganda completed in 1954, even if it was better written than most books in that "politically correct" category. The assumption was that the book would be published in "free China" (namely, Taiwan and Hong Kong) so that people can learn how horrible things were inside China.
However, there was a problem. It happened that the author was also given some leeway with respect to the creative details. And that would prove to be troublesome.
There are two sections of interest here. Here is the first one as it appeared in Chapter XII (p.153) of the English edition published by Union Press (Hong Kong) in 1964. This about a Labour Day parade in China during the early 1950's.
The procession started to move again. Liu helped a Communications Officer push a small prisoner's van with Comrade Ho huddled inside it, masked and dressed as President Truman. Chang Li as Chiang Kai-shek crouched inside another van, bandaged and plaster-crossed to show the People had defeated him. At the sound of a gong they both crashed up against the bars and pranced around, posturing like Tibetan devil dancers, now threatening, now leaping away frightened. Their bodies dwarfed by their enormous hook-nosed, shiny pink masks that reached down to their chests, they were as jerky and unreal as coloured paper cutouts appliqued on to the drab, crowded scene.
The other paragraph is about a reporter researching a subject and appeared in Chapter XVI, page 202.
The newspapers had stepped up the campaign for the 'extermination of imperialist elements wearing the cloak of religion.' The latest figure in the limelight was a Father Riberi, a native of Monaco who had just been arrested. Ko Shan was sent to the reference room to search for all available material about him, proof of his Anti-People Crimes. Where exactly was Monaco, she wondered.
As Riberi was not a well-known figure, it was like looking for a needle in the haystack. The only time Ko Shan could find that his name had appeared in the newspapers was when he had been sent to China as Minister from Monaco. A blurred photo showed him presenting his papers to Chiang Kai-shek. The entire letter of state was quoted. Monaco hoped that the friendship between the two nations would be ever on the increase, expressed admiration for Chiang, the head of the Chinese national government, and felt confident was marching toward a brilliant future under his leadership. It was a routine letter, worded in the usual diplomatic phrasing. -- But since that was that all there was, she brought it to the chief's room. He had told her it was very urgent, that "the top level is placing great importance on the Riberi case."
She knocked on the door. "Come in," Yuin Yih-ch'uin's voice said.
When she pushed the door open, she found that he had a guest, Sheng Kai-fu, the head of the Hsin Hua News Agency.
"What is this? Sheng asked, reaching for the old newspaper in her hand. "Let's have a look."
"It's about Riberi, "she said.
Yuin came over at once and peered at it over Sheng's shoulder.
Sheng ran his eyes hurriedly thought the item and read the letter of state twice. He gave his glasses a little upward thrust.
"That's very interesting," he murmured. "He's pledged his allegiance to old Chiang in no uncertain terms."
"Let me see," Yuin said, trying to take the paper.
Sheng was too quick for him, having already folded up the sheet and thrust it into his breast pocket, making a double chin in the effort to look down while buttoning up his pocket.
"This is a nation-wide campaign, so this item ought to be issued by the Hsin Hua News Agency for nationwide distribution," Sheng said.
"Not so fast!" Yuin protested, forcing a laugh. "At least let us copy it down to save you the trouble of sending us a mimeograph."
"Huh, you know how Peking will scream if you print it ahead of the People's Daily," Sheng said over his shoulder.
These two paragraphs were sufficient to prevent Naked Earth from being published in Taiwan for more than two decades. Why? Because the name of Chiang Kai-shek was invoked in a negative and disrespectful manner. Whereas the author thought that it was natural to describe how Chiang Kai-shek was referred to by the Communist cadres, this was taboo in Taiwan. Although Crown Publications had the publishing rights, they were not able to get it pass the censors.
Then Chiang Kai-shek passed away on April 5, 1975, and his son took over. Immediately, another publisher (Huilong) approached Eileen Chang and promised that they could get the book out. The publisher offered a contract which had a clause: "If changes are necessary, the author must make the amendments." That clause was removed at the insistence of Eileen Chang. Finally, Naked Earth made its debut in Taiwan in 1978.
But the political atmosphere had not really changed that quickly. Huilong had been presumptuous in making promises and it was still unable to get past the censors in the original form. So Huilong unilaterally made the book acceptable through some editorial license and without informing Eileen Chang. In Chapter 7, on page 137, the following appeared (with the Huilong change being put in bold).
The procession started to move again. Liu helped a Communications Officer push a small prisoner's van with Comrade Ho huddled inside it, masked and dressed as President Truman. Chang Li as a counter-revolutionary crouched inside another van, bandaged and plaster-crossed to show the People had defeated him. At the sound of a gong they both crashed up against the bars and pranced around, posturing like Tibetan devil dancers, now threatening, now leaping away frightened. Their bodies dwarfed by their enormous hook-nosed, shiny pink masks that reached down to their chests, they were as jerky and unreal as coloured paper cutouts appliqued on to the drab, crowded scene.
The name Chiang Kai-shek was replaced by a generic 'counter-revolutionary.'
Chapter 8 posed a much larger problem, since the Minister from Monaco could not be presenting his papers of state to a 'counter-revolutionary.' So Huilong came up with a simple and expedient solution. In the Huilong edition version, Chapter 7 ended on page 177 and Chapter 9 began on page 178. Chapter 8 had been completely dropped! But at least Huilong had the honesty (or maybe they were just too lazy?) not to renumber the chapters. Thus, this Huilong book is truly a collector's item at this time. How many books do you have that jumps from Chapter 7 to Chapter 9?
I reach for the current Crown Publications version, with the collector's edition being published first in 1991. Chapter 8 has been restored, but the single reference to the counter-revolutionary in Chapter 7 was missed and is still there. So this was the history in Taiwan of an anti-Communist book by a famous Chinese novelist and commissioned by the United States Information Services.
What about the reception of Naked Earth inside China? That may be just as interesting. When did it appear (if at all)? And with what kind of editing? Alas, I don't have the information. Why? Because every single publisher in China was probably pirating some or all of Eileen Chang's books, sometimes publishing completely different books under her name and titles. The Internet pirated copies appear to follow the Crown Publications version (i.e. "counter-revolutionary" in Chapter 7 and the whole Chapter 8). I promise that when I go to the Beijing the next time, I will go to the book city and check it out.