The principal force in awakening the people and setting them on the road to struggle, Liu Binyan argues, has been the repeated mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party and the outrageous bureaucratic corruption it has allowed to flourish. Even as he describes the runaway inflation that inflicts unfathomable hardship on all but the elite party officials, the increasing isolation and hypocrisy of the Communist leadership, or the political persecution of intellectuals and the press, Liu’s message is one of hope. This book—written in one man’s eloquent voice—is testimony to his belief that the need for democratic reform has taken root among the Chinese people and that they will ultimately take steps to transform their nation.
Liu Binyan offers a special perspective on contemporary China. He has been a prominent player in that country’s tumultuous political–social–literary history ever since the mid-1950s. His long experience as an investigative reporter for China Youth News and People’s Daily has afforded him a grasp of the details of Chinese social history that few can approach.
Liu Binyan (1925–2005), born in Changchun, Manchuria, exemplified in his words and actions the tradition of the courageous literati of independent conscience. A party member since the beginning of China’s 1949 revolution and a firm believer in Marxism, Liu pointed out how the Chinese Communist Party came to abuse its power. In 1957 he was expelled from the party and sent down to the countryside to do hard physical labor. Forbidden from publishing, he was barely able to support his family. With the establishment of the Deng Xiaoping regime in late 1978 and the rehabilitation of political prisoners by Deng’s protégé, Hu Yaobang, Liu was made “special correspondent” for the party’s official newspaper People’s Daily. By 1979, he had begun to publish a series of investigative essays that exposed the party’s corrupt practices and suppression of the people’s rights. His exposés electrified the nation, and in 1987 Liu was purged from the party once again, along with his political ally Hu Yaobang. It was Hu’s death that precipitated the massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
As a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1988–89, Liu was able to predict in his lectures, only a month prior to the Beijing uprising in the spring of 1989, the impending turmoil. Excoriated by China’s leaders, he was unable to return to his homeland.
Merle Goldman is Professor of History, Emerita, at Boston University and Associate of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.