EXPLAINING CHINA by Steve Allen

EXPLAINING CHINA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Allen's excuse for publishing this log of his three visits to China in 1975 (March, July) and 1979 is the ignorance of ""most Americans"" on the subject; and to establish his non-Communist credentials, he inserts the text of a debate he once had with Dalton Trumbo. Well, anyone who read Shirley MacLaine or the other euphoric returnees of that era has been through all these model nurseries, model factories, model hospitals and clinics, model schools, model communes, and mixed-bag hotels; and Allen, non-Communist or not, hasn't learned from their inexperience. (In one unintentionally hilarious episode, Allen and son Bill wake in Shanghai to the sight of a hundred young men doing exercises--""Hey,"" shouts Bill, ""those are the guys in Shirley MacLaine's movie!"") At a Peking nursery school, he reports: ""The little ones are taught from the beginning to serve society. . . . The children soon wish to serve not only the Chinese people but the people of the whole world."" The products of the Hero Fountain Pen Factory, we're informed, ""are all well-made, serviceable, and low-priced. There is no place in China for shoddy, planned-obsolescence merchandise, except perhaps a bit specifically ordered by foreign importers."" The new China is also free, we're told, of houseflies and homosexuals. (Everybody knows that there's no theft.) On his 1979 visit, post-Mao, Allen does observe some changes--rampant signs of modernization, ""hopeful signs of the enlargement of freedom"" (since aborted)--which alter the image of selfless bliss. And in the final chapters he takes cognizance of Chinese Communist violence (not, remember, a Chinese or a Communist invention) and of the very social ills--like juvenile delinquency--which he earlier claims to be non-existent. A muddle of noble sentiments, innocuous self-advertisement, and politically naive drivel.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Crown