DISCOS AND DEMOCRACY: China in the Throes of Reform by Orville Schell
Kirkus Star

DISCOS AND DEMOCRACY: China in the Throes of Reform

Email this review


That rarest of accomplishments--a journalistic epic--from a writer who continues to set new standards for reporting on China. Schell (""Watch Out for Foreign Guests!"", 1980; To Get Rich is Glorious, 1984) has previously written with prescient power of China's recent democratic reforms. Here, he rises to new levels of insight with a masterful account of events surrounding the 198687 rebellions of Chinese students and intellectuals. For a moment, notes Schell, China's socialism teetered on the edge of extinction. The December 1986 student uprisings at Keda and Beijing Universities threatened to throw Deng Xiaoping's tentative democratic reforms into full-scale revolution. Schell builds his book around these incidents (during which he was absent from the country), providing a vast, multilayered view of Chinese society. He traces the ideological roots of rebellion to the ""political and spiritual"" void of Mao's culturally defoliated China, and incidentally to three dissident intellectuals who gave the moment fire: cosmologist Fang Lizhi, journalist Lin Binyan, and writer Wang Ruowang. Schell envies these men and makes their expulsions from the Party and temporary blacklisting a key part of his chronicle of the 1987 conservative backlash against the reforms. He also catalogues with seeming omniscience the cultural and social minutiae of China's change: the ""slavish"" devotion to things Western, including blue jeans, disco, and surgically widened eyes; the sale of securities in Chinese banks; the introduction of fast food and national advertising. One literally watches a national value system collapse in these pages. That Schell both records and participates in the ""somber fearfulness and sense of depression"" the bewildered Chinese experience as it passes makes the book most extraordinary. Stunning, cataclysmic, remarkable: a passionate account of history being made.

Pub Date: June 17th, 1988
ISBN: 038526187X
Publisher: Pantheon