l e t t e r  f r o m  b e i j i n g 

h u a  l i 


18 OCTOBER 2000

Coming back to Beijing, I feel like a fish dropped into the Yellow River after a long jump from the Potomac. The feeling is as always stimulating and piercingly distinctive, even though this fish jumps back and forth, back and forth between the two waters. As a matter of fact, she would feel bored and uncomfortable staying in one water for too long.

For the last ten days, I have had wonderful meetings with my old acquaintances: a stock-market player, a radio journalist, a writer, a computer specialist, two merchants, another correspondent, a librarian, a publisher, and, of course, the three ladies of my neighborhood. Actually, other people’s life-stories make me feel this current I’m in is running ever more rapidly. The older generation has not so easily adapted to the Western, money-driven economy. There are regrets, sorrow, dissatisfactions. All of a sudden, they are pushed by this Western gust of capitalism.

How do people here take the recent announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and how much can they accept the works by Mr. Gaoxingjian, the winner? A good question. These days, people here love to talk about medals from the Olympics and awards from the Nobel Foundation, any topic regarding national honor. It is quite easy to collect comments, ideas, and emotions, and I have put them into the sections below.

The Official Stance

Very few writers would not involve themselves in politics, the leaders think (the leaders always think everything is political). Gaoxingjian has a close relationship with the West and Taiwan, his writings about China were published first outside China, and he had announced that he would never live in China again. This is a betrayal (they say). China has many better writers: Luxun, Laoshe, Bajin, Wangmeng, and others, who are considered our national pride, not Gao. Some truly good Chinese writers and artists are hardly recognized by the West, which usually pays attention to exiled writers. That’s fine, they say, we can just ignore them.

We need to make it clear, however, that if the Nobel Prize for Literature implies some kind of political purpose, it will then lose its literary authority.

We should also be aware (they say) that one of the reasons our native Chinese writers are not able to get the world-level attention is because our lack of work in creating the necessary transmission or translation channels; we have a lot to do in this regard.

People’s Attitudes

The Nobel committee has absolutely belittled the Chinese people and Chinese literature! They never want to give credit to those who really spend their lives close and together with Chinese people, and therefore are the people’s writers. Luxun is such a writer, Bajin, Laoshe and Wangmeng are such writers. Gaoxingjian is a Chinese, was born and grew up in China, worked and lived in China, tells stories about China, yet the Swedish Academy chose him, when he is not living as a Chinese but is French. They were deliberately doing it to go around us Chinese; we could not at all feel happy about this. They never want to link such an honor to our nation and our people, and never are concerned with what real impact a Chinese writer has upon his own nation.

We have never read or heard of a book by Gao. It seems that the Swedish Academy has put more weight on a writer as a single individual than on his audience — Chinese people — although we always consider a writer as the nation’s child.

Is this a problem of the Nobel Prize’s standard, or a problem of our understanding? There is too much difference between us, in culture, language and politics. It seems the distance between the Chinese people and the Nobel Prize for Literature has drifted further apart instead of closer, and we cannot expect too much from the West in understanding our values.

Thoughts of Chinese Writers

“Belated is better than never.”

“If I had got French citizenship I could have won it, too.”

“Congratulations to Gaoxingjian!”

“What do the Westerners know about us? Do not bother me with it.”

“I feel happy, all the same, because he is a Chinese.”

“Do you know if it’s ninety thousand or a million?”

“There is some trick in it.”


I wish you could taste the flavor so far from the water I’m in: not too raw or somewhat sour.

As for works by Mr. Gao, such as (translated from Chinese titles) THE OTHER SIDE, ABSOLUTE SIGNAL, BUS STATION, and SOUL MOUNTAIN, I have tried and failed to get copies in the university library, because of their small print-runs and limited circulation. This has something to do with Gao as a “personal” writer. He is more Western-oriented and post-modern; he studied Western literature and drama. He is both traditional and Western in his enthusiasms. Like many Chinese writers, and people, he resents certain government policies. I don’t know, I am guessing, but I think he resents the ignorance and arrogance of the government. But I think his talent and personality must be tenacious: he won’t yield to the force of the government. He continues to see the differences, the varieties, of literature.

The government’s policy about writers is like the people’s – or, the people agree with the government. The government really likes those writers who genuinely reflect people’s lives. I have noticed this in current works. The Chinese style of Socialist Realism is deeply rooted in the feudalist tradition of a thousand years, which doesn’t favor the individual point of view. Rather, there has to be a center. This resides in the theory of the ruler. One theory of the glory of Chinese art was that the artist worked not merely for the glory of his art, but for the glory of the emperor, who was like a god. The power was there, that was why: there were no higher standards than this. Under this rule, you could create as an individual, but you could not violate those established standards. Long years after, I think, that rule is still in people’s minds.

The difference is so long and wide and deep from Western individualism, in which you help yourself. But because the Chinese were led by a central leader, they looked at the people around themselves to see first what they did. There is an inherent lack of “selfness.” Writers don’t think, “I’m good at this, I’m interested in it, I’ll go for it.” Instead, they say: “This is what our nation needs, this is what our society needs, I’ll sacrifice myself for it.” The writers whose work I bring back are usually educational, they are teaching people what they need, whereas Gaoxingjian is at a different level.


27 OCTOBER 2000

A boy was born into a very poor family of intellectuals in Beijing during the 1970s, a time when China realized that the country would be humiliated if she didn’t open her eyes and see the world and emancipate her people.

Both of the parents were of an impoverished peasant background and were always eager to help their needy families on either side. The budget of the house was always a hot issue. Money was available to other children but never seemed within reach of this boy, who would never forget the day that, with great joy, he showed his father a new textbook he had just bought. The father had gotten so mad at how the money was spent that he had hit the boy’s head with a thick club until it bled.

There is something unique about these three people: they are all extremely smart, tenacious, and love the science of Physics.

The mother was quite a special girl in her home village because in every school she attended throughout Hebei Province, outside Beijing, she scored the highest at every level. She was guaranteed admission to any university in Beijing without further examination. She chose to study Physics in Beijing Normal University, for it was the only school where she would not have to pay her meal and lodging for the entire four years. She met and married a promising young professor in Theoretical Physics in her department, and was glad to share life with the man who was even smarter than she and totally poor. It was an honor to be poor at the time, at least on the social and political level.

Things were hard to manage domestically. Controversy occurred again and again and again, over sharing the money. Every little extra, every little squeeze, every little split could cause terrible strife. The couple divorced because of fights over money and remarried later out of sympathy for each other. The mother would often go to a trash pile to pick up vegetable leaves for dinner and, occasionally, a light bulb to replace a bad one in the apartment. For the few years that I worked with her in the university library, she was notorious for her marital problem, and for stealing books from the library. Sadly, in a way, since she worked in the library, word was spread about how her boy was knocked on the head and called a fool by his father because he had bought books.

Desperate about the meaning of life, the mother has been in recent years deeply involved in the practice of “Falungong,” a spiritual belief and program of physical exercise banned by the Chinese Government for its wide social influence and potential political impact. Twice she was put in jail by the police, and continued practicing it after her release.

In the modern era of “China’s capitalism in Chinese style,” a handful of people have become rich swiftly. The rest all want to follow suit. The trend becomes a torrent and the torrent a hurricane. It is impossible for anybody to stand still in the middle of it.

The boy has grown, and the family remains poor. But the era of promise has finally arrived. This only son of theirs had just finished high school and passed the examinations for higher education, with an excellent score enabling him to go to any Ivy-League-type of school across the nation, such as Beijing University or Qinghua University. The father dreamed that his son could be a computer giant in China like Bill Gates in the United States. Growing up amid his parents’ pain about money, the son has suffered enough. He hates money. He would try all he can to escape the pain by not thinking about money and finding his own happiness. Ironically, he has found theoretical physics. And he cared about no Ivy-League school but one: China’s Academy of Science and Technology in Anhui Province, southern China, where many Chinese prodigies have been accepted and trained, and where Nobel Prize winners in Physics offered classes.

When the time came to fill out college applications, the father forced the teenaged son to pick exclusively those lucrative subjects and schools in Beijing only. The forms were mailed away, the son was locked inside his room on the fourth floor of the dormitory building, and the father waited for the “dough to be baked into bread.” The son, however, would not obey fate, but created his own. He went out through the window, stepped down along the weak aluminum water pipe, ran to Beijing and Qinghua Universities to cancel the applications, and made a new one to China’s Academy of Science and Technology. He was accepted.

The boy studied Physics there for four years without coming back home once: not because he didn’t want to, but because he did not have enough money for the trip from southern China back to Beijing. One day, eventually, he brought himself back home and stood in front of his parents with his college diploma. “Is now the time to get a job?” wondered their parents. It was quite a shock to the mother and a great fury to the father when the son announced that he had been already accepted by the graduate program in Theoretical Physics in Beijing University, where the instructor is a well-known physicist who was strongly against “Falungong” for its unscientific preaching. Honestly and bravely facing his parents, the young man said, “Mom, I am interested in understanding Falungong, and Pa, we can now study Physics in Beijing and, possibly, make a breakthrough together.”

It is 12:00 p.m. in a rainy Sunday. I meet Mr. Feng in front of the library of China’s Art Institution.

“Is it Sunday? Oh!” said Mr. Feng confusedly with his aged eyes opening wider.

He is thin and tall; though weighty in head, he walks lightly and, on seeing me, seems ready to go off in all directions.

We jump into the only car, his car, parked among a flock of bicycles there in front of the library, and happily take off in the rain heading for a cozy place. There are many such places in Beijing, if money is available, for a nice lunch.

Mr. Feng is rich. He told me last year that the net income from his publishing business alone was around a hundred fifty thousand U.S. dollars, even though a lot of other business had suffered from the Asian economic crisis. He also runs two other business — one in exterior decoration for commercial buildings in Beijing, and some electrical engineering projects. He has purchased two houses for his family, one for his parents and daughter, one for himself only, and I am not sure about his marital status at the moment. One more brief note about him: He got his PhD in education a couple of years ago and currently is working on a post-PhD in art history.

Mr. Feng has generously ordered many dishes: crispy-fried east melon, spicy fish, stir-fried green tree ears, bloody beancurd hot pot, and salad.

I begin with my first question: “Have you heard about Gaoxingjian and this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature?”

“Is that a man or a woman?” he asked.

“I was even hoping that you could help me to get some of his books,” I laugh, and after I name a few of Mr. Gao’s works, he says, “I can now recall ABSOLUTE SIGNAL, but I’m not sure I can get ONE MAN’S BIBLE and SOUL MOUNTAIN for you, since we only heard of this first from your American friend from the States. I’m afraid that only a very few copies are in circulation here. And my company deals solely with reference books of all kinds.”

“How is your publishing going this year? And have you been to the book fair in Nanjing this past month?”

“Very good.” Mr. Feng continues without concealing his joy. “We did wonderfully at the fair, which is held only twice a year, much better than those novel-sellers, and this year our gross has already reached a few millions (U. S. dollars).”

“How could you manage so much – the three business, the post-Ph.D., and by the way, are you still going to karioke with girls?”

Understanding my puzzlement, he answered simply: “When my eyes are open, I do things; when they are closed, I sleep.”

“Which part interests you more, producing money or deepening knowledge?” I am very curious.

“I am really just a bookworm. There are different types of pedants. One is the classical type who has the real ardor and gives a life-long dedication to academia. In the past, such people could make one or more inventions during a life. In the present era of specialization in science, the arts, and everything else, an outstanding academic achievement by a single person is less and less possible. The second type has the same dream as the first, but lacks true passion and dedication. They might also “face the four walls” and work hard enough, day in and day out; and after decades of this, they might turn into experts in their areas, except they would regret remaining forever poor in life experience and money. The third type is the kind who uses academia as a means to reach fame or money, by producing as many articles and books as possible — for a scholar’s title, his salary, the size of his house are determined, in our now reformed social and economic system, not much by the quality of his work as by his quantity, by how much of it is accepted in the market. This is a mistake of our Government, that it links the academic work with the market, and it can be only corrected by some kind of political force. And I am a different type of all above. MY true love of life is academia, but academia without the rich colors of life is too boring and not complete. I would want them both, and try either one as much as I can. A few years from now, I will begin to teach, and will have many students, ‘planting plums and peaches all over the world,’ as they say.”

Mr. Feng finished our meeting by inviting me go driving with him, on an outing to see the Fall.



Here is a synopsis, in translation, of an article from CHINA’S HIGH-LEVEL THINK-TANKS, essays by Zhang Xiang Xia (Beijing: Jing Hua Publishing House, Sept. 2000).



Within the academic fields of China there is a man who so often raises extreme beliefs and controversial opinions that he has earned himself a nickname: “mad-man.” He has predicted the following events years before they happened, and he is always bold enough to present his predictions to the central government and paramount leaders:

* The collapse of the Soviet Union and East European Community in 1991.

* The turbulence on Tienanmin Square in 1989.

* The wars in Balkan area.

* A financial crisis in the 90’s.

Hexin is not only able to make his penetrating analysis but also to offer plausible plans, which are often implemented as the central government’s policies.


Hexin was sixteen when Cultural Revolution began, in 1966. Not many books were available to him then except the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Mao. It was with these books that he was dispatched to a farm by the rush of “Going to the Countryside” movement. While other teenagers were living a linear life of field work-eat-sleep, which was supposed to be a correct life-pattern to serve a political goal, Hexin did not stop reading his books at nighttime. He kept thinking about one question: What is the real meaning of this revolution, and what will be its final outcome?

It took ten years of China’s modern history to tell the whole nation that this movement was total nonsense, and that was too much time for Hexin! In 1977, he finally went to a university but, in disappointment, found that the teaching there was not good enough. He did not want to waste any more time and so did something that shocked everybody: He quit the university and vigorously started his independent study of philosophy, economics, history and politics. Soon, Hexin was able to write articles about his original concepts and ideas, even criticisms. He mailed them to major newspapers, well-known academic journals, and certain politicians at the top. He did not care about the possible danger to – or good luck for – himself, he cared only about the truth. First he was punished by being moved from his secretarial work into the boiler room of a factory; then, as he continued even more audaciously sending his opinions and suggestions to the central government, and was called by many a real “mad-man,” someone with authority from the top perceived his wisdom and promoted him to a research fellowship at CPPCC (The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference ) to participate in national policy-making.

Foreseeing the disintegration of the USSR

Closely following the on-going Soviet reforms in 1987 and 1988, Hexin told the Chinese paramount leaders of his worry of the “hidden danger” and “critical moment” that would shake the world: the collapse of the Soviet Union. The prediction was proven true in 1991. Hexin took the opportunity and wrote a letter to the Chinese Government, in which he reflected on and analyzed critically many serious problems of socialism, such as the ossified, totalitarian “system problem” of governing, and the ideology that has suffocated people’s minds and caused long-term economic stagnation and crisis. All of these worked against binding the nation together; when the center was wrong, yet tried to bind the people to it, it would put the people off-balance. Hexin predicted in this letter that unless there were economic reform, the present course would inevitably cause vicious inflation and unemployment, and that the crisis would be a long one. He also warned that the West would, consequently, take the chance to isolate and besiege China, in order, eventually, to eliminate all socialist forces in the world. Hexin’s analysis and warnings were seriously weighed and applied by the paramount leaders in policy making.

Western economic science is dangerous for China

Many Chinese economists and scholars in the ‘80’s were beginning to accept the idea that the advance of the economy of the West resulted from its advanced theory, and that if China wanted to catch up to modernization and make its economy flourish at the level of the developed countries, the scientific, Western theory of economics must be introduced to China.

Amid naive and heated studies and discussions of Western economic theories, Hexin had kept his mind clear. He researched the failed experiments in Keynesianism and Marshallism of a few developing countries in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and declared that, although the modern Western economic theory applies scientific approaches, rather than emphasizing class antagonism as in Marx’s political economics, economics is a science about the vital interests of our social community and, inevitably, involves ideologies, even in the Western World.

Giving historical examples of applications of wrong economic theories that resulted in national disasters – such during the during 18th century in France, and New Classism in the 20th century in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – Hexin argued that important national economic policies should not be drawn solely from Western economic textbooks. He suggested that China should seek its own “developing economics” based on our national conditions, and argued that the inherent function of Western economics aims only at the greatest capitalists within the developed countries, and would direct and rebuild the Asian-Pacific economy into a hierarchical system.

Controlling China’s “Foam Economy”

In 1992, a popular optimistic mood about economic prosperity filled the atmosphere over China’s land. A large number of enterprises were taking off at all levels; high-rises, freeways, real estate developments were flourishing; ordinary Chinese had more cash in hand; and a class even developed, the financial bourgeoisie.

Hexin was at this time traveling across the country, doing research, observing, and thinking deeply. He wrote a report in November 1992 to the central leaders, suggesting that the current short-term economic prosperity was actually illusory and over-heated, and that the government should immediately make a controlling policy to prevent a possible wide-spread economic crisis. This worry was, as in many other times, laughed at and criticized by some reputable scholars and economists as being groundlessly conservative.

Hexin talked in his report about the causes of the high-speed bubble-economy of China, which was unlike that of the West and its established market economy. Major Chinese investors were local government officials at different levels who recklessly set up investment programs aiming to grasp as much of the central government’s funds as possible, thus making quick profits and showing their own merits. These investors never considered factors like production cost, overstocking, market dynamics, and capital turnovers in the long term. The resulting prosperity was in fact pushed by unrealistic investments. New money was printed so that more could be invested. In addition, foreign currencies were also rushing into China, especially into high-profit areas such as real estate and capital construction, further stimulating this “foam economy” and its dependence on foreign capital. Hexin pointed out the effects of such short-sighted investment: once the funds ran out, there would be a pause somewhere, and this would trigger a series of halts in all programs in the process of developing. Eventually, the financial crisis would set off an industrial and agricultural crisis, like falling dominoes. Hexin’s report was again considered seriously by the central leaders, and appropriate policies of economic control were enacted to counter the possible crisis.

The economic world war

Today, while many people feel happy and comfortable about the global economy, Hexin says: “I think that in about ten or twenty years, the world economic system will face the most dangerous and overall crisis in the whole of human history.” According to him, the financial crisis in Southeast Asia is just the tip of a huge iceberg. It is an economic world war having the same results as a shooting war: economic looting, political systems destroyed, and military force weakened – except the means of this war are not cannons and planes, but financial tools and information and currency reserves. In this war are the defeated countries of Russia, Japan, South Korea and a number of Southeast Asian nations. There are countless people who have lost all – their homes, jobs, and their life-savings. There are political powers and leaders overthrown; there are grievous losses of national capital. Who are winners? Hexin points out that they are the hedge-fund owners George Soros and the Tiger Fund, the American Federal Reserve, and the International Monetary Fund. These four parties have formed into a union that fights for the benefits of the United States and its monopolization of global finance.

He says that there are two strategic goals of this economic war launched by the United States. First, to destroy the economy in Southeast Asia, striking at Japanese financial bases and, therefore, confining the growing structure based on the pillar of the Japanese Yen. Secondly, to assemble enormous funds obtained from the Asia crisis, march into the markets of Russia and Europe, weaken the German Mark, restrain the rise of the Euro, and, therefore, maintain the American hegemony over international finance.

According to Hexin, this economic war is still far from at an end. It will shake European continents and, eventually, America itself: not only economically, but also socially and politically. Although the United States in the post-Cold War era has become the dominant world power, it takes enormous strength to maintain this mono-polar role. As the Americans try too hard, the Europeans would become further united, as would the Chinese and other Asians, the Russians and Japanese, the Chinese and the Europeans, and so on. A multi-polar economic structure will be soon formed out of this economic world war.

Unpredictable future

Turning into a new millennium, particularly in its first ten years, stated Hexin, the human race is facing a severe challenge that has more harsh or grim aspects than optimistic and easy ones. There will be many complicated and unpredictable possibilities. However, the possibilities of the market economy are reaching a certain limit. In order to keep and compete for the limited international market, the major world powers have become involved in more and more conflicts, which then raise many unfathomable situations with different necessary policies and complex consequences. History proves again and again that to seek after an ideal goal is one thing, and actually to influence and control reality is quite another.

Right now, the most important question before China, which is also the most common one in front of all the developing countries, is the possibility of becoming more industrialized and modernized, the possibility of exploiting natural resources and occupying the world market.

Hope you are not sleepy yet.

Here is a way of seeing what is behind this thinking. The economy in China is so heated, and people are so driven to improve themselves, that they often are confused and have lost their rationality. There is a saying that translates, roughly: “You want to go so fast that your speed slows you down.” Its meaning is literal and ironic: the very reason you can’t get there is because you want to be fast. You’ve lost direction.

What impressed me was that, when so many leaders, experts, ordinary people are thinking one way, Hexin is thinking another. He is cool-headed and is thinking more deeply. Perhaps he has gotten many of his ideas from the West, but I don’t know: the article says they are his ideas. But he has studied widely and has pondered.

I think that China learned many lessons from the Asian financial crisis. According to Hexin, we shouldn’t just copy capitalism, because it only benefits capitalists. When things get tough, though, my idea is: how to think of this as not just a war, but how to cooperate with capitalism.

I wish I were able to write succinctly so this would not be not so long. Thanks for giving me a chance to brush up my English, and if you do not mind, I’ll write you again.

End of Part One. In part two, “Hua Li” describes jumping into the fire-sea
as the Beijing stock market closes for reform.



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