THE CHINESE: Portrait of a People by Alain Peyrefitte

THE CHINESE: Portrait of a People

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The author of this sweeping appraisal of post-Cultural Revolution China is one of those blinkered birds of passage whom Simon Leys (above) ridicules--a French diplomat who made an official ""study tour"" in 1971, received VIP treatment, spoke--through interpreters--with Chou, other dignitaries, and designated specialists, and visited the preordained sites; still, he insists, ""In China, appearances don't lie."" And truly this conveys--in its first three ""sunny"" parts--just what his hosts wished to project: the worship of Mao as peasant sage and divine inspiration; the Cultural Revolution's success in stemming bureaucratic ossification and (unique in socialist history) forestalling domination by a ""New Class""; the ascendancy of ""Mao Tse-tung thought"" in medicine (where the efficacy of acupuncture is attributed to the patient's pride in overcoming fear of pain), in education, in technology. Do some measures appear harsh? These are justified by a dual appeal to the Chinese past (for every excess Peyrefitte can, selectively, find a precedent) and to the difference between China and the West. In the penultimate ""dark"" section, the price of success is enumerated--wholesale slaughter, total repression, absolute conformity--and Peyrefitte displays some discomfiture with the testimony of escapees to Hong Kong. But he maintains his faith in this ""extraordinary experiment"" as itself an act of faith--a conclusion which the latest turn in Chinese policy (away from staunch self-reliance toward Western-aided development) calls into question, if indeed it ever existed outside the all-pervasive propaganda mill.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1977
Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill