CHINA'S INTELLECTUALS: Advise and Dissent by Merle Goldman

CHINA'S INTELLECTUALS: Advise and Dissent

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As any student of Chinese politics knows, doctrinal controversies often take the form of carefully constructed literary discussions or are camouflaged within poems, plays, or stories: Mao's own poems are a classic example. And, as any observer of intellectuals, past or present, knows, the purveyors of ideas often do so either under the protection or in the service of patrons. Goldman (History, Boston Univ.) has combined these two commonplaces into what he construes as a uniquely Chinese story. The fact that it's not doesn't mean, however, that his book is without value in illumining the lineages of the ""liberal"" and ""radical"" intellectuals who have fought it out within the Communist Party, and without, since the early 1960s. The liberals descend, he shows, from the ecumenical May Fourth Movement of the 1920s and embody the ""western"" ideals of pluralism and individualism; they clustered around the figure of Zhou Yang, a top cultural bureaucrat who presided over the rebirth of such forms as the ""ghost play"" in the early 1960s (banned as superstitious residues previously) and who otherwise diverged from the hard-core tenets of unambiguously socialist art. The radicals reacted to the cultural relaxation engineered by Zhou--under the auspices of Liu Shaoqi, but not, according to Goldman, under his direct control--with a call for socialist spiritual renewal. The radicals, acting against the party, ushered in the Cultural Revolution under the leadership of Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, who acted with Mao's indirect authority. Goldman traces the machinations of this cultural warfare through various literary forms, linking the battles to the political struggles waged within the Party leadership up to the triumph of Deng Xiaoping. With the ""rehabilitation"" of academics, artists, and scientists who were attacked during the Cultural Revolution, Goldman contends, a new relationship between political power and Chinese intellectuals may be at hand; and he cites--all too hastily, perhaps--the emergence of ""Democracy Wall"" in Beijing as one manifestation of the creation of a critical intelligentsia independent of factional strife. To him, this is a more natural relationship--an assumption with which one could take issue too. But the book's conceptual weaknesses notwithstanding, Goldman has documented significant aspects of the political turmoil in China's recent past.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press