UBC Faculty Research and Publications

“Life, it’s been said, is one big book…” : One hundred years of Qian Zhongshu Rea, Christopher G.


Headlines about China have been looking the same for some time now. “The China story” always seems to be political: labor riots and their suppression; sabre-rattling over Taiwan and cultural erasure in Tibet; catastrophic earthquakes and official ineptitude; internet censorship and jailed dissidents (the latest being Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo). Even ostensibly good news, such as the Chinese government’s investment in wind power, becomes yet another story about how China is going to eat our lunch. These stories must be told, and the Chinese government’s feet must be held to the fire on many issues. Yet these stories collectively imply a “truth” about China that is equally misleading: namely that in China, politics is life. This truism has become ingrained in Western views of Chinese culture. I was struck by this not long ago during a Canadian radio interview of the author Yu Hua when the host’s first question was whether or not Yu Hua was a “dissident.” A recent New Yorker article about China’s “most eminent writer” and former Minister of Culture, Wang Meng, set a similarly political agenda by asking whether Wang is a “reformer” or an “apologist” of the Communist Party. To be Chinese, as far as the West is concerned, seems to mean being for or against one’s government.

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