The Other Stories of History

The following is the translation of an essay by Qian Gang about the 'banned' book The Other Stories of History: My Days at the Supplement Division of the People's Daily (风云侧记——我在人民日报副刊的岁月) by Yuan Ying (袁鹰).

(Boxun)  What Is Wrong with The Other Stories of History?  By Qian Gang.  February 2, 2007.

[in translation]

Among the "eight banned books" that are being talked about inside and outside of China, I found one that I like -- <The Other Stories of History: My Days at the Supplement Division of the People's Daily> by Yuan Ying.

Mr. Yuan Ying is a veteran Communist Party news worker.  During the Kuomintang rule, he ran an underground Communist Party newspaper (his colleagues included Wang Yuanhua and Qiao Shi).  What was wrong with his writing such that he received the same type of treatment as his United Evening news which was persecuted and shut down by the Kuomintang?

I take no interest in conspiracy theories.  I don't want to look for any hints or clues among the events reported in <The Other Stories of History>.  In the end, I cannot believe that there could be any state secrets worth leaking in the journalism field that Mr. Yuan Ying worked all his life.  <The Other Stories of History> contained a few dozen memorial articles about betrayals that occurred over half a century as observed through the special window of People's Daily.  This was the past that we went through together.  Under Mr. Yuan Ying's pen, the past characters and their stories had flesh and blood, and he took us back to the truthful and honest historical reality from a current world in which history is being deliberately forgotten or distorted.

There were some tender writings in which Mr. Yuan Ying recalled his dealings with the great cultural icons: Bing Xin, Xia Yan, Zhou Yang, Hu Qiaomu, Deng Tuo, Guo Moruo, ...  He does not disguise the truth, but he is also tolerant towards people.  His language sometimes show the tone of the older generation of leaders who work on intra-Party propaganda.  Thus, the term "Comrade" appears everywhere.  The use of "in consideration of the general situation" was familiar to me.  Yet this generous senior's pieces of record sometimes struck me with surprise and awe.

In the chapter <Xia Yin taught me how to edit a newspaper>, he recalled how Xia Yin wrote the essay <Some doubts about the "theory of eliminating the names"> in the People's Daily supplement.  Xia Yin was opposed to the superficial tendency to abandon tradition and annihilate individuality after the Revolution.  He was tactfully critical of the post-Liberation phenomenon in which many enterprises, shops and schools got rid of their old names and used a numbering scheme instead.  He brought out this wonderful conclusion:

I imagine that many years later, people will have résumés that look like:

Name: Wang 17.
Place of origin: 5th province, 38th county, 26th town
Education: Graduated from 11th province, 98th middle school
Occupation: Store manager, 5th department, 3rd supplemental food store, 9th city, 15th province.

In <For Whom Did The Violent Winds Come Down From Heaven?>, the first big criticism campaign after the founding of the nation was reviewed -- "The Discussion of the movie <The Life of Wu Xun>."  This set the bad example of campaigns directed against the cultural field in the history of the People's Republic of China.  The illustration was the editorial page of the May 20, 1951 issue of People's Daily.  The editorial came from Mao Zedong.  Underneath the stern language of reprimand, the titles of 43 "problematic writings" and 47 names of authors were listed.  The dense listing could not help but evoke the shock that people must have gotten when they read this editorial.  The violent winds had just come down on the fates of those who were exhibited for the public.

As we read these histories, we are sometimes saddened by the tragedies and we are sometimes amazed by the absurdity.  In <A Few Episodes From The Fanatic Era>, we saw how the bricks on the Wangfujing street in Beijing were dug out one by one during the Great Leap Forward in order to construct stoves from which to "distill steel and iron."  In <An Intellectual Runs A Newspaper>, we read how People's Daily deputy chief editor Chen Xiaoyu was criticized and humiliated.  Before drowning himself, he left the shortest will to his wife Huang Yin: "I'm better off dying.  It'll be tidy and neat.  Yin, goodbye forever."  Mr. Yuan Ying also recalled how he set up a <The Long and Short Record> column in People's Daily before the Cultural Revolution.  The title of this essay is just like the demands of today's media workers: <Taking about the Long and the Short is the vocation of public opinion> ...

"In the 1960's, the battle line for ideology and culture became more tight.  The pens in the authors' hands became dried up.  There seems to be a sword on everyone's head ready to fall down anytime ..."  (<The senior Bing Xin and <People's Daily>>).  To read such language today seems like going back in time!

Many of the essays mentioned Zhou Yang.  He was the former "gatekeeper" in the ideological area on mainland China.  In that era, there were many mistakes or even crimes.  But he was also someone that Mr. Yuan Ying admired.  "In my impression, he was a tall and strong person.  As a personality, he was attractive and charismatic."  This respect was derived from Zhou Yang's sincere repentance.  According to the description in <The Other Stories of History>, at the Fourth National Conference of Cultural Representatives that was held after the Cultural Revolution was over, Zhou Yang delivered a long speech and apologized to every comrade that he had brutally hurt previously.  The veteran writer Xiao Jun was sitting in the first row.  He called out from his seat: "It is good if you make mistakes and admit them!"  This led to a round of enthusiastic applause in the meeting hall. 

Zhou Yang was a vivacious person, but he lost the ability to speak in his final years.  When Mr. Yuan Ying was interviewed, he spoke about the illness of Zhou Yang.  In 1984, Zhou took a spill.  A cadre came from the Cultural Association and told him about the experience of the association with respect to "combating spiritual pollution."  Zhou Yang said: "You have been learning this thing for over a year."  The reply was that this was a long-term duty.  Zhou Yang became mentally disturbed by this, and he had severe speech impairment after this.  He had a meeting with Guangdong province party secretary Ren Zhongyi and he was able to articulate in intermittent fashion: "Guangdong must not backtrack on the reform path."  Ren Zhongyi observed that Zhou had problems speaking and told him not to say too much: "I totally understand what you mean."  Zhou Yang's health never recovered and he left the world speechlessly (<Speaking with Li Fe about Zhou Yang>).

Mr. Yuan Ying wrote about Hu Yaobang: 

... I cannot help but recall that ending scene in which then Chinese Communist Party secretary-general and central propaganda department chief comrade Hu Yaobang addressed the national scriptwriters forum in February 1980.  He emphasized once again that we must love and support the literature and art people.  He suddenly stood up and raised his tightly clenched fist to yell passionately: "Our party must promise that it will not make rash charges against works of literature and art and turn writers into counter-revolutionaries!"

There was thunderous applause from the conference attendees.  Everybody let themselves go and applauded without stopping, and their tears flowed down their cheeks.  More than twenty years have passed, but the people, the words, the scene and the emotions were just like yesterday.  I am flushed with mixed emotions as I feel the sorrow. 

<The Other Stories of History> recorded the "stories at the editorial department" of the People's Daily during the 1980's.  There were not many stories but each word evoked our memories of the 1980's.  For example, in <<What Is The Crime For Writing A Diary!>: Invoking A Civil Right That Has Been Trampled Upon For Many Years>, the story was about the extraordinary response from the readers to a submitted essay.  People outside mainland China will find it hard to believe that personal diaries and letters can be used as material for denunciation in that age so that disaster can fall suddenly.  

<"If Lu Xun Were Still Alive"> describes the problem caused by a poem dedicated to the memory of Lu Xun.  The poet imagined that if Lu Xun were still alive: "He might have acquired various honors/but perhaps he was just released from prison."  He might have become a high official and attend important conferences, "but he would not have three security guards and two secretaries."  "He might have gotten into a modernized sedan/but he would not have used shades to shield the view of the roadside/He would extend his hand to every drifter/He needs to listen quiet to the complaints from uunemployed young people who have read many books ..."  After the poem was published, it was followed up by "a certain comrade in the central government" to the point where it was raised to the level of "a counter-revolutionary poem."  Fortunately, this was the post-Cultural Revolution era and Mr. Yuan Ying was able to escape with a self-criticism.

Valuable historical materials include the essay <The Ins and Outs of <Zhao Dan's Will>> that reviewed the publication of the essay <There is no hope for the arts if the control is too tight>.  As he was dying, Zhao Dan said, "Originally, we artists were not familiar with the word 'system.'  Later on, we realized that even though we did not want to deal with 'system,' the 'system' wants to manage us; in the end, we had to deal seriously with the 'system.'"  In 1980, I had already become a journalist.  When the People's Daily published this essay two days before the death of Zhao Dan, it was like a thunderclap to me and I can still remember it.

There was also <"It Only Depends On The Number Of Votes" and Other Things>.  He recalled the democratic election of the representatives at the Fourth Annual Writers Association Meeting in 1984.  At the time, Hu Yaobang eliminated the list of candidates for the presidium as decided by the "human affairs planning group."  He said that the list was "neither a directive nor a guide; it is simply null and void."  "At the Writers Association, whoever gets elected gets elected!"  "At the meeting, Hu Qili delivered the congratulatory message from the Communist Party central secretariat and he said: 'Creative work must be free' and 'Criticism should also be free.'"

What Mr. Yuan Ying recorded were all "intra-Party stories" of the Communist Party, most of them occurring in the Chinese Communist's central newspaper.  <The Other Stories of History> comes with a red-colored title on a white cover.  I removed the detachable cover and I was surprised to find a yellowish copy of the photograph of a page from a newspaper: "The central people's government of the People's Republic of China has been established ..."  It was the People's Daily on October 2, 1949.  I respect the People's Daily.  Deng Tuo and Liu Binyan came from there, and Wang Ruoshui and Hu Jiwei too.  I respect the older generation of news workers who continued to fight for democracy with their last breath.  Among those famous names were Li Zhenzhi, Li Rui, He Jiadong, Qin Benli, Ge Yang, Zeng Yinxiu, Li Pu, Dai Huang, Zhong Peizhang ... These facts give food for thought as well as bring grief.  

<The Other Stories of History> quoted Xia Yin's reflections in his last years: "Based upon my personal experience, I thought even until now that in the whole world, it was the Chinese intellectuals who are most patriotic and who supported the Chinese Communist Party the most."  "As I write this, I cannot help but have this reflection.  The Chinese intellectuals genuinely loved and supported the Chinese Communist Party this way, but what did they go through over those forty plus years?" (<Speaking About Zhou Yang With Li Fei>). 

Mr. Yuan Ying's book is a piece of writing by a Chinese citizen permitted under the law.  It is also the righteous words by a Communist Party member in compliance with party discipline.  It told people that the Chinese Communist Party made this and that mistake, but it also expressed deep apologies with promises to reform.  As Xiao Jun said, "It is good if you make mistakes and admit them!"  More importantly, goodness and justice continue to live on inside the Communist Party and there continues to be people who fight for the truth with the warm blood of their lives.

A sharp contrast comes in the form of the "young" ideological controllers who have official Communist Party positions.  They know very little about Party history, they are cruel and merciless towards old Party members such as Yuan Ying and they don't even have the rigid beliefs and puritanical lifestyles of the "leftist tools" of the previous generation.  They only made practical considerations and watch the market prices in officialdom; they are greedy, vulgar and do not disguise that they are seeking power and their language are lowly.  They guess what their superiors are thinking and they amplify the results.  Even one little "factor of instability" within their "domain" may affect their career path, and so they will take high-pressured action against leftists and rights, party members and civilians alike.  The barbarity and absurdity of their actions arouse astonishment inside and outside of China.  Each of their bad deeds is enough to turn their superiors' most recent "enlightened" statement into an instant lie; they are the most effective saboteurs of international trust in the Chinese Communist Party.

Let me repeat myself: I have no interest in the crime that the censors made up for Mr. Yuan Ying.  <The Other Stories of History> is undoubtedly causing them to lose sleep.  History has that kind of magic.  I also do not believe that they can ban anything because the times have changed!  This "sudden cold spell" in spring means nothing.  Dear friends, let me recommend this warm and wonderful book from Mr. Yuan Ying to you.