Thursday, September 4, 2008

Currently reading...

Out of Mao's Shadow, by Philip P. Pan

Review from The Washington Post (Andrew J. Nathan)
Before she was executed in a Chinese prison in 1968, a courageous political dissident named Lin Zhao gave a tiny sailboat, folded from a cellophane candy wrapper, to her friend Zhang Yuanxun. He kept it for more than 30 years, treating it as a secret treasure. Then he passed it to Hu Jie, a documentary filmmaker, who accepted the fragile origami boat and the implicit burden it carried: the duty to preserve Lin Zhao's memory. This he did obsessively, working without pay for five years to track down people who knew her and to recover her prison writings, scratched in her own blood after the authorities had denied her ink.

Philip P. Pan tells the story of the origami sailboat in Out of Mao's Shadow, his entrancing book about the struggle "for the soul of the world's most populous nation" between a "venal party-state" and "a ragtag collection of lawyers, journalists, entrepreneurs, artists, hustlers, and dreamers striving to build a more tolerant, open, and democratic China." He uses the sailboat, in a quietly moving way, to help readers feel the enduring chill of Mao's ideological twists and turns, particularly the Hundred Flowers Movement of 1957, when intellectuals such as Lin Zhao were encouraged to criticize the Communist Party, then cruelly punished for doing so.

Part of the book's poignancy is that Pan has joined the chain of transmission: He earned the documentary filmmaker's trust and promised to tell his story, just as the filmmaker had earned Zhang Yuanxun's trust and promised to preserve Lin Zhao's legacy of pain and endurance. Out of Mao's Shadow is a work of reporting, but it is also a work of conscience.

I received the book yesterday from and I've read 1/2 of it already. The book's stories validates my feeling that the CCP are pretty much in power for themselves. Very few individuals in the government bureaucracy actually cares about the people, of course this is probably true in all governments, but under a one-party system where there is no accountability, crazy shit like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution can happen. Also by burying the mistakes of the past, we can pretty much guarantee that stuff like this will happen again in China. I can't see a peaceful way out of this; like all past dynasties in China, it appears that violence is the only way to end communist rule... sad.

BTW, the documentary about Lin Zhao by Hu Jie (mention above in the WaPo review) just had it's first US screening on August 29th in San Francisco. I hope they bring the film to LA as well.

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