Chapter Seven

Those with Knowledge

`Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth from Facts' was the great central propaganda cry of the second half of 1978. It had particular meaning for the doctrinal and personal struggles then in progress within the Central Committee, but it was a heroic reversal, also, in the fortunes and status of the great class described in China as zhishi fenzi (The Element who Know Things), usually given the rather too airy English label `Intellectuals'. The zhishi fenzi included all of China's millions of citizens with education at senior secondary level or above, not merely those few with higher academic and theoretical proclivities, as the English term might suggest. As far as the peasants were concerned (including some in Zhong Nan Hai) anyone who could read the Peoples Daily without mouthing the words was an Intellectual.

The Intellectuals had always had a problem in Peoples China - Chairman Mao did not like them. A largely self-educated man himself, who had been snubbed, when young, by the middle-class students of Beijing's Westernised universities, he seemed

to consider the Intellectuals more of a threat than a resource to China's Marxist revolution. When a large number of radical students came to join the Communists in the forties, at their defensive base at Yenan, Mao welcomed them with mixed feelings. As some of them, fresh from their library books and student demonstrations, began to bandy words with him about Revolution, Mao reacted with cold hostility. At a forum on Art and Literature held in Yenan in 1942, Mao warned the intellectuals of the Party that a strictly utilitarian basis was the only acceptable one for art, literature, and in fact all intellectual life. Literature must reflect a `proletarian' point of view, or it would be tantamount to betraying the revolution. Writers who did not reflect the proletarian viewpoint should be obliged to `unite with the peasants', living and working among them, to correct their own outlook, before considering themselves part of Mao's revolution. `Art for Art's sake' could not exist. All art, even conversation, must be considered as part of the propaganda work of a committed revolutionary.

With this line (which followed that of Lenin in Russia) Mao was challenging not only the students, but a generation of truly intellectual communists, some of them at that time with international reputations stronger than that of Mao Zedong. His line on this was never fully accepted by them, and his war with the zhishi fenzi culminated, twenty-five years later, with the launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966. In earlier campaigns, Mao had described eight basic `black' categories of enemies to the revolution within China. Now he added the `Stinking Ninth Category' - the zhishi fenzi - and it was open season upon them from Maoist ideologues and party loyalists right across the country. `The more you know, the more stupid you become' was a favourite Mao quotation of the peasants and workers now put in charge of `re-educating through labour' the zhishi fenzi hounded from their universities, offices, and research institutes. Museums and libraries were targets of licensed vandalism on a scale unprecedented in history.

Premier Zhou Enlai, while publicly supporting the on-rushing tide of Maoist personality cult, fought a secret, unremitting rearguard action to protect the nation's most irreplaceable resources and cultural relics, placing military guards on hundreds of sites, and even on those individuals he was willing and able to save from the mobs. The targets included thousands of foreign-trained scientists who had given up lucrative careers overseas to come back and serve their Motherland, with no interest in ideological disputation. They included scholars of China's ancient culture, and also scholars of the most high-flown Marxist philosophy. Doctors were hounded from their hospitals, engineers from their drawing-boards, to feed pigs and grow rice, while semi-literate peasant soldiers were promoted to run technical professions by drawing on the power of Mao Zedong Thought and the Inspiration of the Masses.

When the Cultural Revolution had collapsed into national anarchy, resolved only by a state of military occupation, it would still be years before the zishi fenzi could return to their work. The Party had been loaded against them since the fifties, when the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957 had first established that all intellectuals should be considered potential Class Enemies. The orthodoxy became that zhishi fenzi could only become Party members when their superiors (proletarian Party members) considered that they had fully `united with the masses'. This highly subjective judgement seldom favoured even those intellectuals who sincerely believed in Communism. With the supremacy of Party committees over every aspect of life and work, the zhishi fenzi were leading blighted lives.

Hua Guofeng had issued the call for the Four Modernisations Campaign, but by late 1978 it was stated that more than thirty percent of all China's resource of qualified, educated people were employed in menial tasks, while another twenty percent were employed in areas which did not make proper use of their skills. In 1980, when the programme of opening to the west had created a huge demand for interpreters and linguists, a survey found six thousand seven hundred fluent foreign-language speakers buried in clerical and manual labour positions by their units. Cadres motives for this could be ideological, could be personal grudges, or, as often as not, sheer ignorance and incompetence. In the Cultural Revolution, simply knowing a foreign language could make one suspect as a spy.

Just before the Cultural Revolution began, as the lines were beginning to be drawn, Fang Guiying was a Chairman Mao Line Activist. She believed not just in the absolute truth of Mao Zedong Thought, but in the shining genius of Chairman Mao himself. With her fellow-activists, she marched on the streets, fist raised in salute, tears of emotion pouring down her cheeks, crying `Long Live Mao Zedong Thought! Long Live the Great Leader Chairman Mao Zedong!

But when the Cultural Revolution began, and the Red Guards were formed, she found that she was not allowed to join. Membership was open to only two kinds of people - children of Party members, or children of peasants and workers. Guiying's father was an engineer who had studied overseas and returned to serve China. Guiying swallowed her bitter disappointment, believing so much in the ideals of the Cultural Revolution that she accepted this policy, even though it hurt her, as infallibly correct. She cheered as the `Counter-revolutionary Headquarters' of the universities were sacked and anti-Mao figures in the Party itself were dragged down from their pedestals of privilege. She believed they really were bad people, and deserved their punishment.

She didn't believe it when her mother warned her, `One day, it will come to us.' Her father, didn't believe it either, maintaining they were safe, since he had not only served China well as an engineer, but had always been active and generous to those needing help in the neighbourhood. The authorities must know that he supported Party policy and ideology.

Mother still believed trouble would come to them, pointing to the Red Guard raids on similar middle-class families of the neighbourhood. She arranged numerous portraits of Chairman Mao throughout the house, as amulets of protection. Twenty-four hours later, the Red Guards arrived. It was late at night. The front door was not locked, but they broke it down anyway, shouting `Bourgeois, stinking bourgeois! The Revolution has come for you! Don't try to hide anything.'

Father Fang, still hoping to avoid further trouble, immediately brought out all the family possessions - jewellery, books and papers, life savings in gold bars, to give the Red Guards. To the Red Guards it was axiomatic that he must be hiding even more, and they proceeded anyway to destroy everything they could, ransacking the place, prising open window and door frames, and finding nothing.

Guiying pleaded with them, telling their leaders that she herself was a Chairman Mao Line Activist.

`Whatever you say means nothing. You are the child of a dog' was their reply. They took her father out into the courtyard and whipped him till he bled, while neighbours stood by and watched. Guiying wept not for his pain, but for the injustice, knowing her father had supported the poor and the Party. She couldn't believe it was happening. She would now be shunned by classmates at school, taunted as `bourgeois' and `intellectual'. All she wanted was to be patriotic.

`You can't imagine what the pressure was like,' Guiying said. `The best thing really good friends could do was say nothing. Everyone who was not such a friend would join the insults. I had loved going to school, but now it became torture.'

The time came for her high school, like all the others, to be sent down to the countryside. The general rule was that classes went all together to one destination. Guiying had been the best student in her class, and had been nominated for the literature faculty of elite Beijing University. She had dreamed, and talked, of a literary life ahead. Now she knew that the stupid students of the class would take their revenge upon her, and she would be persecuted unmercifully once they were beyond the constraints of family and neighbourhood. Her only chance to prove herself a good and true young revolutionary would be to go separately, somewhere else, where she could make a fresh start.

At first, the Public Security Bureau would not allow her to go separately. But Guiying had already formed a view on the bureaucracy: `Most men are lechers'. They almost always said `Yes' to a pretty girl. Guiying herself, chubby and spectacled, knew that she was not classed as attractive, and would have no hope of gaining special concessions. So she asked a pretty, fair-skinned friend to go and plead with the police on her behalf. She was able to name a village in South China where her mother had some distant relatives, and her friend was able to obtain her, as predicted, the Public Security approval to be `inserted' into a production brigade there. By this time, her father had been sent to a prison farm to `reform his ideology'.

When Guiying arrived at her destination, the local Party leaders refused her a residence permit, because her personal file showed that her father was a zhishi fenzi. She couldn't return, and she couldn't stay without local approval. The police found a man who had once owed debts to her mother's family, and who let her stay a few days. Despairing, Guiying offered to serve them as a house-maid if they would let her stay, but the wife was afraid, also, of her political stigma, and after two days Guiying was told she would have to leave.

Eventually, the police sent her to the brigade `on probation', not to be registered as a commune member until she had proven herself free of undesirable class characteristics. She set herself earnestly to the task, living little better than an animal, but the hard physical work, the endless gossip she endured from the peasants, and the coarse food made life a misery. For her first year of labour she earned two yuan and seventy-five cents, plus her grain ration - but she had to pay for her own cooking-oil. For five years Guiying endured this alone, saving not a cent, and gaining not a single privilege. From a `bad' family, and without good looks to help her, she had no leverage at all.

Many such city children died during those years. A large number of the girls were raped or seduced by peasant cadres, or used their bodies to wangle their way back to the cities. But after five years, the peasants themselves were complaining about the presence of the city youths, and there was a policy change to allow `seriously ill' young people to return to the cities. The initial result of this was that all those parents with good political connections took advantage of the loophole, arranged to get their own children classified as `seriously ill', and had them released back to the city.

In 1974, Guiying's father was released from gaol, emaciated and incapable of standing. Nothing had been proved against him, and a change of political climate due to the brief resurgence of Deng Xiaoping allowed people like him to return home. He was permitted to resume work for eighteen yuan per month - one tenth of his original salary. Guiying's mother had found menial work for twelve yuan per month. In dire poverty, they had no resources to bring their daughter back, and had no `back doors' to open. The only hope was that Guiying herself had become expert in the jargon of the times.

Guiying really was in poor health herself, but always excluded from the quota of `sick' returnees in favour of children of better-connected families. However, she did know that the local cadres had a horror of the complications involved in being held responsible for her death. In wintertime, she immersed herself in a lake and brought on a case of dangerous bronchial pneumonia which left her in high fever, incapable of standing. In fear that she would die on their hands, the commune Party Secretary eventually decided to get rid of her, and shipped her home to Beijing.

It was good to be back with her family, but at first there was no job for her. After some months, a connection of her father's was able to find her a job boiling animal bones in a glue factory. It was sickening work, but at least it brought in monthly pay, and she stayed at the glue factory for five years. Her family's books and possessions had all disappeared. The Red Guard troop who raided them had not even registered their confiscations, as they were supposed to do, and everything, including the eight bars of gold, had vanished forever into their pockets. Guiying hunted libraries and second-hand shops to renew her literary studies after hours.

By the time the universities re-opened to public examination candidates, Guiying was above the age limit of thirty. A year or so later, a national magazine publishing organisation held a highly competitive recruitment examination for editorial assistants. To her great delight, after wasting ten years of her prime, Guiying was accepted. She threw herself into the work with enthusiasm, and thought she had done very well at it. A little too well, perhaps. Guiying told me that she had run into a problem with an older woman, an ambitious Party member, who wanted to monopolise the important parts of the work. According to Guiying, this woman, though married, had a husband posted in another city and was conducting a long affair with the head of the unit. With her enmity, Guiying was now convinced that her career had come to a dead end.

`Unless you are a Party member, you can get nowhere', she concluded gloomily.

`Once, I wanted desperately to be a Party member. But at that time I believed in Communism. Now, I have seen so many Party members who are so corrupt. In material terms, by Chinese standards, I am now quite well off. In a spiritual way, I am under pressure. I have no future here. I used to think all the time about the future of China. I found I was not able to change anything. Now I think about myself, I will be more realistic.'

Throughout 1979, a flurry of economic reforms had brought about radical improvements in the standard of living of Chinese workers and peasants. By 1980, industrial workers were almost universally receiving `productivity' bonuses, and the peasants were getting more money both from their state-purchased crops and from their free-market activities. The intellectual workers, it seemed, were being left behind. By the end of that year, a survey in Beijing showed the average wage of industrial workers to be more than ten percent higher than the average wage of `white- collar' zhizhi fenzi, including such people as school-teachers, scientists and academics. Amid general inflation of around six percent that year, the intellectual workers were in fact becoming worse off by the month, just as they were being exhorted to carry the principle initiatives for the Four Modernisations.

Such people had had the disadvantage that their work seldom put them in possession of anything they could use to trade for favours. Teachers might sometimes gain extra favour or money by coaching students after hours, must most had too full lives already, with household chores to complete after the day's work. The situation had become particularly acute for a generation known as the `middle-aged intellectuals', who were being squeezed from all sides. Having graduated before the Cultural Revolution (i.e. before 1966) they were now of the age when they were likely to be supporting children, perhaps caring as well (as, by law, they must) for aged relatives, and carrying the bulk of daily work in their professions. There was a ten-year deficiency of younger people who should have been trained as their juniors in the professions, since all the colleges had been closed. At the same time, promotion was often blocked from above by senior cadres and professionals who showed no intention of retiring as long as they lived. The `middle-aged' were thus trapped in the lower wage grades, with no prospect of promotion.

At Beijing University, (Beijing Daxue or Bei Da), China's most prestigious for the humanities, a gigantic faculty of teaching staff had been accumulated, with the best graduates every year being invited to stay on. But nobody ever seemed to retire. Promotion was according to a grand total of class hours taught - so over the decades, Bei Da had grown a crop of 1,849 professors, associate professors, and senior lecturers aged in their late fifties and and upwards - more than half the total teaching staff for a student body of only ten thousand. Average age of the professors was seventy years, and associate-professors in late middle age made up nearly seventy percent of the whole staff. The net result was that junior teaching staff had very few teaching hours per week, and it was calculated that for the existing junior staff to reach associate professor level would now take fifty years. In that particular case, the answer was for the adventurous among them to go to teaching assignments in distant, less prestigious institutions where the need for qualified staff was great. Once the Party got this principle across to the university administration, things began to move. Disillusioned and slothful younger teachers suddenly found themselves facing real careers in the provinces. `A worm at Bei Da becomes a dragon when he leaves', ran a saying of the times.

A short story, later made into a hit movie of that year, was the vehicle that brought the plight of this generation to public attention. "At Forty" followed, somewhat sentimentally, the life of a woman doctor in this situation, pressured by conscientious professionalism, by the demands of home life, and by the pestering of unqualified, interfering Party cadres and their wives demanding privileged treatment. It struck a great chord with the Chinese Press, many of whose writers could identify strongly with the woman concerned, and there were a spate of articles, features, and finally a national conference on the theme of `solving the problem of the intellectuals'. The papers were full of stories of valuable qualified people who had died, gone mad, committed suicide, left the country, or otherwise ceased to be useful to the Four Modernisations, as a result of the prejudice and obstruction they encountered from cadres of the old Party type in their places of work.

The white glow of a fluorescent street lamp pushes out into the dark, dusty hutong (lane), dissipating in the black cavern of the open-fronted coal depot across the road. We walk along by the plastered wall, peering at official number plates fastened over each doorway. We find the number, and turn through an arch into a narrow, even darker alleyway between dwelling-rooms. Every inch counts in this tiny compound. All breathing-space in what was once a moderate- sized courtyard has been squeezed out by the extensions tacked on each family's two basic rooms. Family vegetable supplies are stacked outdoors on boxes in the cool autumn air. A family of young chickens erupt in a panic of chirping as my shoe kicks the edge of their wooden hutch in the dark. Earthen pots of dusty cacti stand along window sills, and old plastic-soled cotton shoes air by doorways. A raised voice in one family's quarters would be heard by all in the compound, and as visitors we feel highly invasive.

We find the man we have come to see at the end of the short alley, and tap on the peeling, latticed door. His wife lets us in, thin and smiling politely. The family has two connected rooms, each three metres by four, but the demands of our host's profession have reduced the living-space drastically. He is a painter, and a broad, high work-table takes up half of the living room. The wall behind it is pasted over with layer upon layer of fine white paper, as a base on which to paste finished works, stretching the thin, absorbent paper before mounting on board or scroll. Three works are on the wall this evening - a classic eroded `mountain and water' landscape in bold ink wash, a small painting of two crickets on a frond of bamboo - an exercise in virtuoso brushwork, and a pair of angora goats on a grassy mound, in the style of a famous contemporary painter. A Chinese painter must still prove his mastery of brushcraft before adopting a distinctive personal style. Most will never be more than expert craftsmen, replicating visions of the few who have achieved personal artistry.

Qu's work table is cluttered with boxes of brushes, ink blocks, saucers of dried wash from other days' work. Finished and abandoned works are stacked in rolls, on the table and in racks under it, along with his own collection of scrolls. The floors are bare cement. Jammed between the table and the end wall is a fine antique rosewood cabinet with glass doors, filled with his art books and the visual curios that have taken his fancy over the years - small statuettes, painted fans, a chance antique bronze inkpot, a variegated stone picked up on an aesthetic pilgrimage to the famous mountain temples of Wu Tai Shan.

His wife pours us jasmine tea, and we sit in the pair of wicker armchairs that take up the rest of the studio room. `He paid a lot for that cabinet', she remarks ruefully. `Let's hope he makes a bit of money from the exhibition next month'. The painter pretends not to notice. He is a classicist, and by tradition true scholars never accepted money for their paintings. He actually draws his salary as a teacher at an art institute, so sale of what he paints in his own time is his own right. Painters who have made it to the honour role of fame will be put on salary by the Artists Association, and thereafter allowed to keep only a proportion of the high prices commanded by their paintings, especially from overseas Chinese collectors.

As we talk over the tea, his wife returns to the other room. Their plank bed takes up half of it, and the children sleep on cots behind a curtain, over by the back window. There is just room left for a small dressing-table, a wardrobe, and a stack of trunks for all other storage. A large enamel washbasin sits in a wire stand by the front window, small cotton towels drying over it and a cracked cake of soap on the sill. The kitchen is a lean-to in the courtyard, near the common cold tap. In winter the iron coal stove will be moved indoors and burn all day for heating.

The bedroom now is lit only by the flicker of the black and white television set, sitting on a small wooden stool. Mrs Qu and her children sit on the bed. She is coaching her son to compete with the children on a schools' science quiz programme. As I peep in, she ruffles her son's crew-cut head.

`When you grow up, you're going to be a doctor, aren't you', she smiles.

During 1981, stern instructions from the Party Centre resulted in a million such zhishi fenzi being granted overdue promotions, around the country. In Changsha, ninety-four scholars and scientists were ostentatiously dubbed Labour Heroes at a special ceremony. Theoreticians, from the Party's central journal Red Flag downwards, confirmed that intellectual workers were clearly members of the working class, now that the bourgeoisie had `ceased to exist' as a class in China. Investigation groups were sent out from Beijing to check up that the work was really going ahead, and expose those units which were merely putting on a charade of complying with the policy. Intellectual workers began to be described as a `national treasure'. After all, China had only six million tertiary graduates in total, compared to about two hundred and thirty million illiterates and semi-literates, in its population of a thousand million.

Mao's revolution had ended the centuries-old reverence for the scholar, the master of the written word. But it had replaced this with an equally pernicious inverted snobbery. It became a boast for cadres of the old generation to say, aping their seniors in the Party, `I'm just a simple old peasant with rough hands, entrusted by the Party with this great responsibility'. Some of the old cadres who originated such sayings had overlaid their peasant backgrounds with considerable intelligence and sophistication, but in all too many cases, the humble self- definition was sadly accurate.

Many such men were not impressed by the instructions to increase the participation of zhishi fenzi in the decision-making of industrial enterprises. Su Deshan, a cadre from factory in the Northeast, China's heavy-industrial base, protested to the Workers Daily over one of its editorials on this theme.

`Why do these intellectuals suddenly become "clear-headed", armed with their bookish knowledge, and we old cadres "muddle- headed", who have been working at it over twenty years. I started in this workshop as a teenager, when it had only twenty workers. Now it's expanded to twelve hundred workers, in the hands of roughheads like me, and makes the state several hundred thousand of profit every year. We made great achievements without any intellectuals to "add sand" to our leading bodies - and now how can you say that cadres of worker and peasant origin aren't good enough?

`I hold that knowledge, anyway, is secondary to labour. The knowledge of the intellectuals was created by the labour of the working people. Without the workers and peasants, they'd have nothing to eat or wear. I've heard workers around here say "The black hand raises up the white hand", and I think that's about right. Plans and charts drawn up by the intellectuals won't get us any nearer to the Four Modernisations. Better treatment for the intellectuals only dampens the morale of cadres and workers. I've been here over twenty years, and my salary is still only a bit over seventy yuan a month. My lack of education is a matter of history - should I be blamed?

`If we follow the road of Salvation by Science, which failed before in Republican China, we will end up back at the old Confucian system that those who work with their brains rule, and those who work with their strength are ruled. Many people are worried about this'.

Mr Su was not alone in his feelings, and his reasoning was only what had been taught by the Party itself over the preceding twenty years. But the tide was running against him. There was no longer to be a conflict between Red and Expert. Even Party Secretaries, once all-powerful, were instructed not to interfere in the professional business of the Academy of Sciences and the universities. They should now restrict their concerns to matters of ideology, leaving the specialist decisions to those qualified to make them. Even harder, they must encourage specialists and experts in their fields, the `Stinking Number Nines', to join the Party Committees themselves. There was no way that such relinquishing of a life-time of unchallengeable power would go down well with the Party functionaries at lower levels. But, faced with an imminent purge of the Party itself, they were obliged to swallow it as best they could. Party conservatives had more to get their teeth into when it came to intellectual involvement in the arts and literature, since the Party had never denied Chairman Mao's dictum that all art was propaganda, either for Party policy or against it.

Party cadres had always been put in charge of organisations like the Federation of Art and Literature Circles, and the various Writers Associations, under which all licensed arts and literary workers were marshalled by the supreme Ministry of Culture. Publication lists, theatre repertoires, film scripts, even costumes, could be vetoed by Party committees attached to every unit where creativity was supposed to be channelled for the public good. At the extreme of the Cultural Revolution, only eight `Revolutionary Operas' were approved by Jiang Qing for public performance in the whole of China. There was almost no publication of fiction, and no movies were being made by the tens of thousands of people employed in studios all over the country. Hundreds of prominent writers had been imprisoned or fallen from grace, and with them everything that they had ever written would be scrubbed from the approved list.

At the end of 1979, a time of intellectual ferment in the land, the Party called the first national congress of writers and artists in ten years, with a view to working out how such people should ply their trades in the interests of the Four Modernisations. Emancipation of the Mind, Seeking Truth from Facts, and Letting a Hundred Flowers Bloom Together looked like a pretty good beginning for a writer, if the slogans could really be taken at face value. Deng Xiaoping addressed the congress, roundly berating the unwarranted interference of officialdom in the process of the arts, calling it a major inhibiting factor. He promised that regulation of the arts by administrative orders would cease forthwith. He was backed by a vice-chairman of the Writers and Artists Federation, the veteran communist playwright Xia Yan, who warned that the writers of China had to battle against `feudal authoritarian ideas' which had been entrenched in the Chinese mind for two thousand years, and still infected the attitude of officials.

Other writers complained that China's contemporary literature was still ridden with taboos and fetishes, forbidding honest criticism of important areas of Chinese life, and producing unreal and unconvincing styles in Chinese literature and drama.

The strongest challenge of all came from a playwright, Bai Hua, who had twice been imprisoned for long periods by Maoists for his doggedly independent critical writings in the fifties and sixties. Bai Hua stated that Chinese writers still lived under the fear of future persecution for what they might write today - even avoiding associating with one another in case they might later be denounced as a `reactionary clique'. Calling for all writers to act courageously together to oppose bureaucratic suppression, he said it would still be a long and arduous struggle before creative freedom was a reality in China. Bai Hua was speaking in the year which had seen a wave of arrests and prosecutions of independent writers who had dared to be critical of the Party in wall-posters and self-published magazines. It remained to be seen what latitude there was for individual freedom within the framework of the official cultural media.

It happened that 1979 was also a year of significance in official intellectual life. It was the year in which many writers who had been imprisoned or silenced under the Maoists began to publish again, and, naturally, many of their writings reflected what they had been through. Almost all the newly emerging writers, too, wrote of the traumas so recently past. A genre of its own emerged - the `Literature of the Wounded' - characterised by deep disillusionment with the authoritarian system. Much was allegorical, as Chinese literature has often been. But much was also very direct. The success of the most daring encouraged the next, and a cathartic tide of Literature of the Wounded swelled and swelled.

Inevitably, the Party decided that freedom of expression had gone too far. As usual, the issue turned on a single individual, who happened to be none other than the same Bai Hua who had castigated the literary bureaucracy at the writers congress, a few months previously. Bai Hua wrote a film script which appealed strongly to a large section of China's intelligentsia. Called Ku Lien (Bitter Love), the story was of an overseas Chinese who returned, full of idealism, to help build a modern China, but was caught up in political persecutions, frustrated, and, to cut a long story short, died, sighing bitterly, in a snow-drift. The movie was actually made, and shown to preview audiences in many parts of the country. But before it was released, conservatives raised such an orchestrated howl of protest, starting with the military newspaper Liberation Army Daily, that it was banned. All the old clichés rolled out again - `bourgeois liberalism', `unhealthy tendency', `nihilistic and pessimistic sentiments', - all of which said more about the critics' point of view than about the movie itself, which some who have seen it describe as rather facile.

The point of the incident was not that a `New Cultural Revolution' was about to begin, as some foreign press suggested, but that, in China, artists and writers, all dependent on the state payroll, need only the proverbial whiff of grapeshot to make them run for cover. Literature of the Wounded quickly faded from the scene, and `healthy', positive themes concerning personal commitment to the Four Modernisations returned to dominate literature and the arts.

China is a massive cultural market. Five and a half billion books were sold in 1982, seventy million cinema tickets are sold each day, and forty thousand new cinemas are set up each year. National radio reaches a good billion of people, national television about three hundred million. The major book distributor, Xinhua Bookstores, has sixty-five thousand branches and sales agencies across the country. Three and a half thousand full-time performing troupes across the country employ two hundred and thirty thousand people, and there are a million people working in cultural institutions, media, publishing and performance troupes overall. It might seem an extraordinary feat to control them all, and the Party now seems agreed that the best way to do it is loosely.

An experienced stockman may control a mob of a thousand sheep with only a horse and two dogs. The basic principle is to prevent any alternative line, leadership, or focus dissent developing. Individual breakaways will soon enough rejoin the mob, if not of their own accord, then with a crack of the whip in their direction or a nip on the heels from the keen- eyed sheepdog.

Very few of those million people are interested in risking their secure, relatively luxurious urban lifestyle as `cultural workers' for some abstract ideal or other. In the home of a middle-ranking ballet dancer, my wife and I drank Coca-Cola from their refrigerator, drinks and appliance both purchased with Foreign Exchange Certificates from the Friendship Store - unthinkable extravagances for most Chinese. The dancer told us that her ballet troupe had been through some problems during the Cultural Revolution, but they mainly affected the leaders - directors or choreographers who disagreed with Jiang Qing over repertoire or on points of production.

`We didn't really mind Jiang Qing here,' she said, `In fact we quite liked her. As long as we did the revolutionary dance- dramas that she approved, she made sure that we had everything we wanted, right through the Cultural Revolution'. The couple had a child who lived with her grandmother, so the mother could concentrate on her dancing. Dozens of new young ballerinas were being trained every year, and the dancer knew that any day she would be turned out to teach somewhere, herself, if she let herself go.

Another woman, a minor painter, wanted us to help her arrange an exhibition of her works somewhere outside of China. Her husband, also a painter, had been picked out for persecution during the Cultural Revolution because of his special interest in Western impressionist styles of painting.

`I always kept clear of politics', she said. `In compulsory discussions, I never spoke first. If there were eight on one side and two on the other, I always went with the majority'.

That probably included the meetings called to denounce her husband, I thought to myself. The painter had little time for political or intellectual dissidents:

`Chinese should not make speeches or give any kind of information that reflects badly on China. They should be careful of their national pride. Lots of artists here have the same view - it doesn't matter what the real conditions are, Chinese should not make China look bad. This is our country'.

In private conversation, however, she had nothing good to say about China. Bad service in restaurants seemed to make her particularly angry, and she was dissatisfied with access to medical care.

`Some Western countries are more socialist than China', she asserted. The couple had two children, whom they hoped to get either into one of the Key Universities or, as a last resort, into their own Fine Arts institute. Experience had taught them that detailed planning for the future was futile. She had decided that the only way to survive was to live in the present, from day to day.

`When I think of the future, it hurts', she said.

For many in official arts and literary circles, China's re- opening to the world came as a blessed relief to the decade of xenophobia they had endured. They did not feel that it made them any the less Chinese that they took an interest in what foreign cultures were doing. Since the fifties, it had somehow been taken for granted that China would develop its own symphony orchestras, ballet corps, even a Western-style Opera Troupe. For most of the life of the Peoples Republic, these massive invasions of Western culture have eclipsed the indigenous music, dance and drama of China. European music seems to pass itself off as somehow `advanced', while Chinese classical music was somehow `feudal'. A conservatorium student from Tianjin wrote a letter the paper exclaiming in amazement that a `foreign woman' from Hong Kong (in fact her mother was pure Chinese) had mounted an impressive exhibition of Chinese-style painting. It seemed not to have occurred to him that the same might be said about hundreds of Chinese students paid by the state to devote their talents to the mastery of purely European schools of fine arts, music, and dancing.

Another zhishi fenzi of humble origins, but with overseas relatives, told me:

`I have quite a collection of Western classical music records at home - Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky - lots of them. I often bring them out when friends come around to show them what a broad-minded and advanced intellectual I am. But I tell you honestly, I really don't understand or enjoy the music at all, and never play it by myself'.

In intellectual circles, Western culture is very fashionable.

The cream of Beijing's more Westernised intelligentsia have collected for a bizarre annual gathering - Burns Night. Scottish, English and other anglophone friends from the foreign language publishing and academic circles of China, have joined a collection of prominent Chinese academic and theatrical personalities in the Capital Theatre upstairs workshop. Jardine Matheson, the Scottish trading company which has been making millions from the China trade since the Opium War, has donated the usual case of scotch whisky to lend authenticity to this celebration of the Scottish bard.

Who would expect to meet, in Beijing, a man like Professor Wang Zuoliang - an Oxford graduate of the forties, researcher and translator of Robert Burns, speaker of Gaelic and of Burns' own Scots dialect, Lallands? What has this to do with twentieth century China? Professor Wang, head of the English department at Beijing University, frequent traveller to world literary conferences, will tell you that Robert Burns was a true proletarian, even a revolutionary. Those homely ballads and celebrations of small moments of life were a great contribution to the awakening of the proletarian mind.

A coarse loudspeaker crackles to life with an eightsome reel, and out from the wings gallop a mixed collection of Scots translators from odd corners of Beijing's publishing world, dancing with earnest students of Professor Wang's literature courses.

A fourteen year-old girl, daughter of an academic, recites "Up in the morning", lisping though a rendering of Scots dialect into international phonetics. A famous comic, in a boxy approximation of a Western suit and tie, presents "To a louse" with high drama, squeezing his powerful voice out thin and flat, like a Beijing Opera singer. A timid virgin from the Conservatorium, slim body muffled in many layers of clothing, mounts the low stage to sing a perfectly modulated "Comin through the Rye", the round words emptied of all sensual resonance.

Now here's a contrast. Cai Qin, daughter of a famous Beijing Opera actor of the previous generation, has returned from her career as an actress on the London stage, with all that goes with it. She is no longer young, with a lined face, heavy eye makeup, teased hair and the deepened, threadbare voice of one used to seeking the attention of jaded British theatre audiences. To my surprise, she recites nervously, as at an audition, one slight hand thrust defensively up to its oversized bracelet into the pocket of her Soho trenchcoat.

David Crook rises to the stage - the Fabian Englishman of the thirties who has spent more than half his life in China, creating almost single-handedly the mannered colloquial standard of English taught right across China, his own accent frozen into the standard Chinese orthodoxy by phonetic transliteration. In green tweed sports jacket and borrowed tartan tie, he recalls how Robert Burns sent cannon bought with his own money to the French Revolutionaries. He speaks of his own experience in the International Brigade in Spain, but his language is more that of a country vicar than a proletarian revolutionary.

An unplanned eruption from the wings. Yang Xianyi, donnish Oxford literatteur, respected translator of classics, Editor- in-Chief of the English-language magazine Chinese Literature, penner of elegant prose, and prime Cultural Revolution target, has been enjoying Jardines' whisky with more gusto than most.

`We're here to celebrate Burns!' he cries, waving his whisky glass vigorously at the audience. `Burns is making a satire of me here tonight. I'm just a drunkard who can't hold his liquor. Let's hope Robbie Burns is still writing poetry in heaven!

`This whole thing tonight's too much like a damn church service. My lassy's not here tonight... let's all relax and enjoy ourselves!' He stumbles amiably stage left, to be captured in the wings by two young women and led away to cool off. A muttering rises and dies in the audience.

It takes the presence of Ying Ruocheng, celebrated actor of the day, to recapture the stage. Ying's voice resounds like a fine cello, as he speaks for the theatre, naming the many actors and directors who would like to have been there.

Ying Ruocheng's biography is a remarkable one of modern China. As in a woven silk tapestry, the coloured thread of foreign learning dived beneath the surface of Chinese culture for many years, to re-emerge, in a leaf or in the heart of an embroidered blossom, further down the design. Ying's grandfather was a first-generation Westernised Manchu of the last years of the Empire. He founded a newspaper, Ta Kung Pao, which is still published in Hong Kong. He became a Catholic, and founded Furen Daxue, the Catholic university of Beijing, which trained leading intellectuals in modern arts and sciences for two generations. Ying's own father was put through a British Public School education, and returned to become Professor of English at the university his grandfather had founded. Growing up in the midst of both Manchu princely decadence, and Catholic intellectualism, Ying Ruocheng could hardly regard himself as a typical Chinese.

He led a rebellious boyhood, and had become a member of the radical student movement at Qinghua University, on the outskirts of Beijing, by the time the Communist armies took the city. Ying's father fled to Taiwan, leaving his wife and family behind. Ying's own standard of colloquial English is quite outstanding, but he now denies that he learned much from his father. Be that as it may, his career, with the usual Cultural Revolution interruptions of agricultural labour, has been a stellar one. He has become recognised for his outstanding translations of Shakespeare, as well as taking leading roles in movies and the Italian co- production TV series "Marco Polo", in which a shaven-headed Ying Ruocheng played the Mongol Emperor, Kublai Khan. Earlier, I had witnessed him perform a remarkable feat, unscripted, as the on- stage translator for a Bob Hope stand-up routine before a live Beijing audience. Hope's jokes were appalling, occasionally insulting to China, and aimed, anyway, over the heads of the politely bewildered Chinese to American TV cameras. But Ying Ruocheng managed to put the whole thing across, instantly, even mimicking Bob Hope's laboured inflections.

When I last met Ying Ruocheng, he was collaborating with the American playwright Arthur Miller on a production in Beijing of Miller's classic play, "Death of a Salesman". Ying had made the translation, and Miller was to direct it, through Ying as interpreter. Ying would also play the lead role of Willie Loman. Arthur Miller had nothing but praise for the dramatic feel of the translation, claiming that he always knew just where in the script his Chinese actors were, without understanding a syllable. More importantly, he was confident that the meaning of the play would strike a chord in China.

`Of course, the "salesman" idea is a metaphor, in any case. It's the whole process of selling yourself, of making yourself valuable, of finding your identity through what other people think of you', he said during rehearsals at the Capital Theatre.

Who knows what orthodox Marxist critics might make of that in China. Ying Ruocheng himself had to be more cautious:

`You know, I don't quite believe in direct messages. I think we've had too much of that in the past, and that leads to propagandistic plays... I think the chief value of a play like this is the human relationships, the alienation of the individual by society, which I think is a universal thing..

`I think Willie Loman is simply so human that anybody, everybody should be able to understand him and be able to identify with him..

`The theatre is a public art, like a newspaper. It's one of the first things to feel the underground trembling of society, and we reach the public directly.

`Authorities always are afraid of the theatre.. but we've been here a long time, and we'll go on a long time... I think.'

But, by this stage, Authorities were no longer as sanguine about opening China's cultural doors to the west wind as they had earlier been. All the brave slogans on mental emancipation were predicated, from the beginning, on commitment to the Four Principles of the Socialist Road. Literature and the arts had got the bit between their teeth and were rushing off into explorations of individualism, of alternative philosophies of life, of exploring a Human Nature which Marxist philosophy did not admit. Students and young intellectuals had begun to explore the existentialism of Sartre, the psychoanalysis of Freud, and the range of the European humanistic tradition, to the discomfort of their orthodox political commissars. Inevitably, many had begun to question the very foundations of Marxism.

On the other hand, a liberalisation of life-style had also found its way into the arts. Sprung from their peasant and military garb of the Revolutionary Operas, China's dancers in their thousands now took to writhing sensuously about the stage in skimpy or transparent raiment, supposedly portraying fish, seductive reptiles, or ethereal characters from Chinese legend. Variety performers tightened up their hitherto dowdy costumes as well, with plunging necklines, tight skirts and even the thigh- slit chi pao, or cheong sam, re-appearing on stage. A young traditional erhu (two-string fiddle) player from a folk troupe in Beijing, Cheng Fangyuan, shot to stardom on the concert circuit when she switched to guitar and studied up a repertoire of popular American songs of the sixties. Other singers, led by a soprano in an Air Force entertainment troop, Li Guyi, adopted the breathy, crooning style of Hong Kong and Taiwan pop-singers, and were received with adulation. As cassette-players proliferated among the young, so control of popular music became extremely difficult. What was selected for broadcast on state radio no longer defined the music actually listened to in the land. People recorded, from friends or from short-wave radio, the songs the liked.

The treatment of love themes, once taboo, became more and more daring in their treatment, in song and on film. The vigorous handclasp of revolutionary comradeship was replaced by real embraces and by almost-real kisses - astounding to conservative Chinese audiences. Even fidelity to one's chosen partner was questioned, in stories which increasingly concerned the individual's search for satisfaction in life, rather than sublimation in a collective goal.

In popular literature, the fad was for thrillers - home-grown or translations of foreign titles. In 1980 alone, twenty Agatha Christie whodunits were released in translations, selling millions of copies. A professor of literature complained that the foreign thrillers were teaching an innocent Chinese public to enjoy the stimulation of drugs, homosexuality, pornography and excessive violence, at the expense of Socialist Morality.

The Party guardians of social ethics had had enough, and a vigorous campaign of `cultural criticism' began on all these issues. There was not to be a repetition of Chairman Mao's denunciation, in his talks in Yenan, of all bourgeois writers being tantamount to enemies of the revolution. The Gang of Four slogan that `Art must Serve Politics' had been abandoned in favour of `Art Must Serve the People and Serve Socialism'. But there were firm denunciations of the ill wind of Bourgeois Liberalism in all its forms.

`The advocation of individual freedom, free choice, free development and so on is apt to bring about anarchism and excessive liberalisation', wrote a critic in the magazine Youth Studies.

`The stress on human nature, to the exclusion of other motivations, in these theories can also bring about excessive desire for enjoyment, for material benefits, and other vulgar interests'.

`We must resist the corruption of bourgeois ideology', said the acting Minister of Culture, Zhou Yang, to the China Music Council. `Music workers must help the masses to raise their standard of taste, and nourish high morality.'

In a directive to the national film industry, Party critics warned that `self-expression' was not the purpose of artistic creation, and that `the bourgeois theory of Human Nature, which blurs the social character of people, should be avoided, and class analysis should be stressed'. Bizarre or triangular love affairs were to be banned.

The national drama conference, assigned the task of producing two thousand new plays for the year of 1983, was warned by He Jingzhe, deputy head of the Propaganda Department of the Party Central Committee, that works `advocating ultra-democracy, individualism, and statements running counter to Marxism and to the interests of the people' should be critically rejected.

`Writers have the right to decide on their themes.. under the guidance of Marxism', he went on. `Art must have communist ideology as its nucleus and must educate the people in Communism... Since socialist literature and art is led by the Party, its orientation and prosperity depends largely upon the Party's leadership.'

The Writers Association was directed to despatch delegations of dozens of its salaried writers to spend time with army units, peasant brigades and oil-fields, to `help younger writers understand real life and get better acquainted with the people'.

Red Flag, the Thunderer of the Party, complained that young writers failed to distinguish between the crimes of the Gang of Four and the character of the Communist Party itself.

`They tend to present the struggle against the Gang of Four as one between Human Nature and Inhuman Nature. They try to bring out Human Nature at its best in the literary characters representing the Class Enemy (bourgeoisie) and Reactionaries, so that the distinction between the Revolution and the Enemy is blurred. They present the Party-led revolutionary wars, the land reform and even the socialist system itself as suppressing Human Nature.'

Red Flag was quite accurate in this. Much of the writing of that time, in state-backed publications, was highly subversive of the Party's own official view of reality, though it clearly corresponded all too well with the experiences of most Chinese. In Seeking Truth from Facts, the literary world had been quite brave. Villainous Party Secretaries had been common fictional characters of the period.

When the campaign against Bourgeois Immorality had been running for some time, and the current of published literature began to look more as the Party would have it, a columnist in the China Daily turned his pen to the subject of China's intellectuals. He recalled, as scholars love to do, a scholar of ancient times, who had topped the Imperial Examinations, been made Prime Minister at an early age, but was always in trouble for arguing with veteran courtiers, and eventually lost the Emperor's favour and was dismissed from office. The scholar died, at the age of thirty-three, of `too much sobbing with self-pity'.

`It is a characteristic of the intellectuals that they habitually issue criticisms and make comments. One cannot expect them to change their nature, which is of benefit to the state. However, they have to learn to choose the right way to get their comments across'.

The small classic villa in Bei Hai Park rustles with the scuffling of plastic soles on cement, as a curious crowd picks its way through the exhibition chambers on three sides of a central lily-pond. `The Star Arts Exhibition', says a cotton banner hung across the rockery dividing the villa from the park walkways. This is a breakthrough - the Star group (Xing Xing) are painters without recognition, rejected by the tradition-bound official art world, but determined to reach a public. They have twice been forcibly removed from illegal exhibitions they set up on the streets as their protest against the timid Art establishment. Somewhere in the cultural bureaucracy, a cog has moved, and they have been given two weeks in this villa in Beijing's Imperial gardens.

I see both excitement and embarrassment on the faces of the Chinese there, facing something both unfamiliar and unofficial. Much of the work shows Western influences, more or less digested. There are derivative Impressionist landscapes and abstract expressionism of totally obscure meaning. Often the technique does not match the conception. These are startling departures from traditional Chinese ideas on art, but the subjects themselves challenge more than mere conventions. Breaking Chinese taboos, there are several female nudes, in painting and sculpture. But most striking are the black currents of political protest that draw the exhibition together in ink, paint, print, and wood sculpture.

In piece after piece, tiny individuals struggle for freedom against hostile, implacable forces. Pleading hands rise from darkened villages, and men walk up featureless roads into a black horizon. Chinese visitors gasp at the audacity of the exhibition's centrepiece - a stark wooden sculpture of a man's head with empty eye sockets, no nostrils, and his mouth blocked with a huge wooden stopper. It is titled `A Pillar of Society'.

I find the sculptor, Wang Keping, a stocky man in his late twenties with cropped hair, a wry grin and a sharp glint in his eye. He sits sideways on a balustrade by the central lily-pond, chatting with fellow exhibitors and friends. I congratulate him on the power of his work, and ask if I can buy his sculpture.

`I'd like to sell it to you,' he says cheerfully, `but I'm afraid I'd get into trouble. You'll have to get in touch with the Ministry of Culture about that, or perhaps the Public Security Bureau'.

The courtyard rings with derisive laughter.