Presented as ""the first dissident literature"" in English about contemporary China, the case proves slightly narrower than one might expect. Taiwan-born and American-educated, Chert Jo-hsi was propelled to China by ideological fervor; she stayed seven years, time that coincided with the full bloom of Red Guard madness that hit this earthly corner of Mars. A foreigner who came and then left, Chen's outsiderness and particular situation inform most of her stories. Teachers are sent to University-run farms for ""labor reform""; children are read bedtime stories like ""Nabbing the Secret Agent by Strategy""; when these same kids dare each other to call Chairman Mao a ""rotten egg,"" their parents are thrown into a fear close to that of death; shops are named ""The Red Guard Department Store,"" ""Serve the People Restaurant,"" ""The East is Red Theater."" There's no one fearful hell, like the KGB's Lubyanka; every neighbor is an interrogator. And yet there's a delicacy, a flavor, even to the nightmare here. Chen's best story, ""Keng Erh in Peking,"" about a returning Chinese intellectual who remains an unwilling bachelor because of his peer-committee's veto of each of his fiancees, is filled with a lacquered sadness that you wouldn't find, say, in a Russian story. Scrupulousness of class origin, who's up and down in a political situation that changes with each week, each new wall poster--all of this is nicely rendered. Chen is a good writer, discriminating, but she retains enough Western consciousness to keep us aware that she's providing more of a commentary on Chinese values than a wrenching rupture up from beneath them.