YELLOW EARTH, GREEN JADE: Constants in Chinese Political Mores by Simon de Beaufort

YELLOW EARTH, GREEN JADE: Constants in Chinese Political Mores

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Western perspectives on Communist China have shifted over the decades from a tendency to emphasize the Communist ingredient to an appreciation of the Chinese. J. K. Fairbank, particularly, has stressed the need to understand the cultural continuities that subsist beneath the altered political forms, and Beaufort, who lived in the People's Republic for a time, does just that. ""Yellow earth"" refers to the Chinese people, ""green jade"" to their leaders, and the relationship between them is more firmly established than it might appear. Beaufort argues that many traditional elements of Chinese culture strengthen the tendencies associated with Communist regimes; for example, the traditional gap between high and popular culture in China--exemplified by the split in the language itself--solidifies the relationship between knowledge and power in an authoritarian regime that depends on restricting access to information. Or, again, the high moral standards applied to Chinese art flow into the ideological restrictions placed upon art in such a political system. Beaufort highlights many similar facets of contemporary Chinese culture in this short work, and clarifies some other ambiguities as well. While it is true, he argues, that some elements of the population associate political legitimacy with longevity, the peasants as a whole have kept their distance from any centralized authority, expecting only that their rulers be efficient. This explains the exceptional political importance of the 1977 earthquake and its allegedly inefficient handling, which legitimated a change in leadership. Turning speculative, Beaufort sees some hope of an ""enlightened despotism"" resulting from a further strengthening of the Confucian tradition of morality in public life, even if the only road were to lie through close criticism of Confucian texts by party intellectuals--a sort of reverse learning process. Though he chronicles the many ways in which freedom is curtailed by new and old methods, Beaufort's minimal hope is given a real basis in this instructive study, a fine complement to The China Difference, edited by Ross Terrill (p. 567).

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1979
ISBN: 0819140597
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Center for International Affairs (1737 Cambridge St., Cambridge, Mass. 02138)