Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
China Candid

China Candid: The People on the People's Republic

Sang Ye
Edited by Geremie R. Barmé
with Miriam Lang
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 363
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp91n
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    China Candid
    Book Description:

    Leading Chinese journalist Sang Ye follows his successful bookChinese Liveswith this collection of absorbing interviews with twenty-six men, women, and children taking the reader into the complex realities of the People's Republic of China today. Through intimate conversations conducted over many years,China Candidprovides an alternative history of the nation from its founding as a socialist state in 1949 up to the present. The voices of people who have lived under-and often despite-the Communist Party's rule give a compelling account of life in the maelstrom of China's economic reforms-reforms that are being pursued by a system that remains politically rigid and authoritarian. Artists, politicians, businessmen and -women, former Red Guards, migrant workers, prostitutes, teachers, computer geeks, hustlers, and other citizens of contemporary China all speak with frankness and candor about the realities of the burgeoning power of East Asia, the China that will host the 2008 Olympics. Some discuss the corrosive changes that have been wrought on the professional ethics and attitudes of men and women long nurtured by the socialist state. Others recall chilling encounters with the police, the law courts, labor camps, and the army. Providing unique insight into the minds and hearts of people who have firsthand experience of China's tumultuous history, this book adds invaluable depth and dimension to our understanding of this rapidly changing country.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93886-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. SANG YE’S CONVERSATIONS WITH CHINA
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
    Geremie R. Barmé
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  5. Introduction: Words and Saliva
    (pp. 1-10)
    Sang Ye

    I conducted the interviews that make up this book over a four-year period. In the process of searching out people to tell this history, their history, and, by default, a history of contemporary China, I visited over one hundred cities and villages in China and interviewed over a hundred citizens of the People’s Republic.

    The majority of people I chose to speak with have not had a public voice in this history; they are normal, everyday, and uncelebrated individuals. Their lives are unremarkable but compellingly real. As one of the people I spoke to remarked—and he’s not such a...

  6. CHAIRMAN MAO’S ARK

    • 1 A Hero for the Times: A Winner in the Economic Reforms
      (pp. 13-27)

      Doing business is not as hard as people make out, that is, as long as you’re on the right wavelength. That, plus some startup capital, and you’re set. There’s money to be made everywhere you look; as long as you’ve got the right instincts you can make a pile out of whatever you set your mind to. That’s why I can tell you straight, no bullshit, I’ve been at this game for a good ten years. Sure, I’ve taken my share of hits, but now I’m sitting pretty. I’m a millionaire. But that’s not such a big deal these days....

    • 2 Chairman Mao’s Ark: One of the Floating Population
      (pp. 28-39)

      I came to Beijing from Jianli, Hubei Province, in 1991. No one has ever heard of Jianli, but it’s near the famous Honghu Lake. There was a Red Defense Force in Jianli, just like at Honghu.¹ I remember when I was a kid, the party leaders in Beijing sent a delegation to pay respects to the people of areas like ours, which had been among the first occupied by the Communist Party. It presented the local people with a huge letter of gratitude for their support during the revolution. It was red, and it had a quotation from Chairman Mao...

    • 3 The Nondissident: A Party Man Betrayed
      (pp. 40-58)

      I was born in Gaoyang, Hebei Province, in 1919, the year of the May Fourth demonstrations.¹ It was a completely unexceptional place, and I wasn’t even born in the township itself, but a few miles out in the countryside. Both my parents worked on the land.

      When the party determined class status for people in rural areas during the land reform of the 1950s, my father was classified as a prosperous middle peasant. You couldn’t say it was exactly an accurate reflection of reality, since he rented out fields, kept livestock, and employed farmhands as well as a maidservant. Strictly...

    • 4 The Union Rep: A Worker against the Party
      (pp. 59-72)

      China never had that many industrial workers to begin with; that’s because we never had much industry to speak of. Ordinary folks farmed the land for a living, and they had to trade their crops for foreign fuel. Even the rickshaws were foreign-made. What mines and railroads there were had only a few workers—and they were just muscle, breaking their backs for a living. There were hardly any real skilled workers. The machinery was all foreign-made, so the workers could only try their luck when it needed repairing. Pretty much all of them did apprenticeships, learning under a master...

    • 5 The People’s Deputy: A Congresswoman
      (pp. 73-84)

      The first thing I noticed when I sat down in the Great Hall of the People was how hard the seats were. They were not nearly as soft as I’d imagined. Honestly, I’m not joking, that really was my first reaction. The next thing I realized was that there was no portrait of Chairman Mao above the rostrum. Before then I’d never given a moment’s thought to the inside of the Great Hall. Why on earth should I? But I’d always had this impression that there was a portrait of Chairman Mao front and center. Later, I learned that it...

  7. MOONWALKING

    • 6 Looking Ahead: The Founders of a Private Orphanage
      (pp. 87-106)

      We started working towards setting up our orphanage in 1987, and we took in our first child in July 1988. We accepted five children in that first month. In 1989 we hung up our sign, “Shashi Private Orphanage,” although we didn’t get permission from the government until March 1990. Even then we were only authorized to set up a children’s art class, not an orphanage. The Bureau of Civil Affairs of the Shashi municipal government finally gave us verbal permission to operate as an orphanage in July 1993. The de facto recognition of our existence made it possible for us...

    • 7 Getting Organized: The Parents of a Stolen Child
      (pp. 107-119)

      My name is Tu Xiaofeng, and I am a teacher at No. 19 Middle School in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province. After eleven years of marriage I became pregnant, and after eight months of careful bed rest, specialist treatment, and a caesarean, I was able to give birth to a son, Yang Nan. But when he was just six years old the unimaginable happened: left unattended at the entrance to our home for less than half an hour, he disappeared without a trace.

      At approximately one P.M. on 7 July 1994, Yang Nan was playing with a friend, a boy by the...

    • 8 Shine: A Prodigy
      (pp. 120-123)

      I’m nine years old. I’m on level 5; today I’m taking the test for level 6. If I pass, that’ll mean I can perform in big hotels. My teacher says I won’t have any trouble. I’ll be fine as long as I don’t panic. Level 6 isn’t really called “hotel level”; it’s called “commercial performance qualification.” That’s how the grown-ups put it, anyway. But it really means you’re good enough to play for money in hotels. I’m not going to do that, though. I’m still a kid, and my family doesn’t need me out there earning money for them. Besides,...

    • 9 Moonwalking: A Differently Abled Young Woman
      (pp. 124-134)

      When I was little, I didn’t know I was disabled. I knew I couldn’t use my hands. But it never occurred to me that when people spoke about the disabled, they were talking about me. When I was in fifth grade, some reporters came to our school. My teacher said to them, “You can see what a strong spirit this handicapped girl has.” That really upset me. It shocked me. I went home and asked my mother, “Am I handicapped? How could I be?” Up to that moment, I thought I was just like everyone else. I was shattered.

      I...

  8. UNLEVEL PLAYING FIELD

    • 10 Consuming Habits: On the Flood of Fakes
      (pp. 137-144)

      Changsha’s always been chaotic, even from when I was a kid. That was during the Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao was the Red, Red Sun who rose out of Hunan Province, and Changsha was the city where he came to “strike the waters” when he was young.¹ He used to go swimming from the Shuilu sandbanks, right here in the city. Little wonder that we were destined for chaos. But that was long before the appearance of the market economy; it was a different type of chaos from the kind we have now. No one needed a Consumer Protection Association then;...

    • 11 Fringe-Dwellers: A Nonofficial Artist
      (pp. 145-156)

      Let me show you something. Just take a look at this joker’s name card. He’s damned well put “homeless artist” on it. Homeless, my ass. He’s even included an address and phone number! He’s worried people won’t be able to find him, and that he might miss out on making a deal. Even the homeless are printing name cards these days. It’s fucked.

      When things were just starting out, this place wasn’t too bad. It could have become an ideal spot. Maybe. Back then the artists who came here were so poor they had no alternative. They were a bunch...

    • 12 The Computer Bug: The Software Pirate
      (pp. 157-165)

      What type of computer do you use? And what about software? Don’t take it personally, it’s just that if I’m dealing with a computer illiterate I need to know, so I can work out how much information you can handle.

      Lately I’ve been working on a CD-ROM version ofThe Story of the Stone.² Mostly for fun, really, because I don’t expect to make any money out of it. In that novel there’s a character called Jiao Da, who realizes that apart from the two stone lions placed at the entrance of the Jia family mansion, nothing and nobody in...

    • 13 Unlevel Playing Field: Confessions of an Elite Athlete
      (pp. 166-180)

      Don’t say who I am, and don’t let on what sport I compete in. If anyone asks, whatever you do, don’t let on that I was the one who spoke to you.

      We’re under special discipline. The leadership forbids us from talking about what goes on here with outsiders. If you blab to the press, you can be held legally accountable.

      How would I know where these rules come from? Probably the National Sports Commission,¹ or maybe it’s the Athletics Training Bureau in the commission. Anyway, it means you’d better not say anything out of turn; and when you do...

  9. HEAVEN’S NARROW GATE

    • 14 A Life of Sex: Dr Sex
      (pp. 183-194)

      I was a barefoot doctor in the Cultural Revolution. You know, someone whose skills were pretty much limited to applying mercurochrome to whatever injury was presented to me. When I came across cases of syphilis, I didn’t know what it was, so I treated it like it was some allergy-related dermatitis. I didn’t know a thing about sexually transmitted diseases. I was sent back to the commune to practice after just a month-long “red doctor class” at the county health bureau. It’s what they called a “daring induction” into on-the-job training. It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered,...

    • 15 Time as Money: A Shenzhen Hooker
      (pp. 195-205)

      You want to talk? Why not buy a ticket and we’ll go inside. We’re all struggling; no one wants to be lonely. Our karma’s brought us together. Come on, treat me to a film. It won’t ruin you.

      Where do you think I’m from? Hengyang, Hunan province. My family lives in the city. My dad works in the municipal government; he’s a cadre. A lover’s booth will only cost you eighty yuan; that’s the official price, it’s posted over there. I don’t get a cut or anything. Besides, I can see that you are no mere laborer, sir; you’re a...

    • 16 Little Sweetie: A Thoroughly Modern Mistress
      (pp. 206-211)

      I don’t mind. Write whatever you like. I mean it. I couldn’t care less. We meet, we talk, we go our separate ways; and anyway, you’re not out to make me look bad, are you? It’s not that I’m so much more open than other people; it’s just that I’ve got a clear conscience. If some girls are embarrassed about becoming little sweeties, that’s just a reflection of their own hang-ups. I don’t think like that at all. It’s not like I’m a prostitute. I’m free to choose my lovers. It’s wrong to equate a little sweetie with a common...

    • 17 Heaven’s Narrow Gate: Christians Who Overcame
      (pp. 212-220)

      Christianity was first preached in Shimenkan, and that marked the introduction of the gospel to our land here in the Yunnan-Guizhou borderlands. The missionary was from England, and before coming into the mountains he had lived among the Han. He worked mostly with the Miao people. The gospel was brought to us Yi people by an Australian missionary called John Williams. He came to China in 1904; there used to be a tombstone on his grave with the details. During the uproar surrounding the Great Leap Forward, when we were supposed to liberate our thinking,¹ the Communists convinced the people...

  10. MASTERING NEW CHINA

    • 18 An Army on the March: The PLA Means Business
      (pp. 223-234)

      Look, the situation is like this: every operation has to make money any way it can. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an enterprise or a government organization, the standard of success in our society today is whether you can pull in the bucks. Money equals efficiency. If you can find money, anything is possible; without it, you aren’t going anywhere.

      It’s the same for the armed forces; after all, we’re not living in a vacuum. Nowadays, on top of the traditional seven bare essentials for setting up a household when you marry—kindling, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and...

    • 19 Generating Income: The Reeducation of an English Professor
      (pp. 235-243)

      Before I retired, my monthly wage plus sundry allowances came to a little over seven hundred yuan. My pension is 85 percent of my original wage. Strictly speaking, people who joined the revolution after the founding of the People’s Republic are only eligible for 80 percent, but there’s a local policy that treats intellectuals employed by the Ministry of Education as a special case, so they upped my pension by 5 percent.¹ Since I live by myself, it’s adequate for my basic needs.

      Even in my wildest dreams I would never have thought that one day I would be earning...

    • 20 To the New World: Passport Protection
      (pp. 244-251)

      You’re right; I’m a bit slow off the mark. But if I don’t go now, it’ll be even harder to get out later. Anyway, at the moment I have to consider my personal situation as well.

      I’ve just had my fortune told. Not by one of those sidewalk crooks, if you know what I mean, but a serious master who has a suite in a five-star hotel. He specializes in telling fortunes for famous people from Taiwan. Well, he told me that at the moment I’m in a neutral situation: great fortune awaits me, but it won’t necessarily be realized...

    • 21 Mastering New China: A Capitalist with the Party’s Characteristics
      (pp. 252-265)

      One thing about me is that I’m not afraid of displaying my wealth. Just take a look at this house of mine. It’s over three hundred square meters; all of that for just three of us. And we have two cars, a sedan as well as an SUV. We’re the ones who got rich first—not just compared to other people in this area, but relative to the whole of China.¹ Apart from personal infrastructure projects like this, I’ve also spent money on travel. In the past people only really traveled on business, and they were always strapped for cash....

    • 22 Down to Earth: Reflections of a Former Red Guard
      (pp. 266-271)

      What do you want me to say? It’s not like I’m a radio, where you turn it on and it’ll never stop talking. You’ve come all this way because of some bullshit story. The scenery isn’t even any good around here. You’re wasting your time.

      I’m the only one in my whole class who stayed on. Back then, they shipped us down here by the truckload. The trains were packed to the brim as well. Must have been two to three thousand of us in this county alone. Eventually, the others all left. Some got promoted out of the countryside...

    • 23 Just One Party: A Challenge from the Grass Roots
      (pp. 272-286)

      I graduated from Taiyuan Agricultural College in 1982. I was one of the few students who actually went there in order to study agriculture, not just to escape the countryside by getting a college education. I didn’t have any particular ambitions; I just loved the land and wanted to be able to work in agriculture. It’s not as dirty as working in industry. And my family have been farmers for generations, so we didn’t think there was anything wrong with my coming back to work on the land after I finished college.

      I was given a state-allocated job on Red...

  11. PARTING SHOT

    • 24 Beam Me Up: The UFOlogist
      (pp. 289-297)

      Many people in China have been fortunate enough to see UFOs, myself included. My own sighting was during the darkest age of Chinese history. It was 1970, and I was at a May Seventh Cadre School in the countryside. Only one year earlier I had been in the stratosphere myself, when I acted as Chairman Mao’s Spanish interpreter. I was one of the lucky few who spent some time in the presence of our own Red Sun. In 1970, however, I had very much returned to terra firma. I was undergoing self-renewal through labor and thought reform.

      Of course I...

    • 25 Parting Shot: A Beijing Executioner
      (pp. 298-316)

      Remember, you might be publishing a sanitized record of this conversation. And it is only a conversation, not an interview. Therefore I don’t want you adding any extraneous details apart from the three basics: time, place, subject—August 1996, China, a man who issues travel permits to hell.

      There are four schools of thought regarding the death penalty in China: the proexecution faction, abolitionists, a group that wants to keep it on the books but not use it, and another group that thinks it should be used only rarely.

      To date the proexecution lobby has held the day, and it...

    • 26 Days in the Life of the People’s Republic
      (pp. 317-324)

      Since 1 May 1995, an honor guard of thirty-six military policemen in dress uniform has been performing a daily flag-raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square. An honor guard of sixty conducts the ceremony on the first day of every month, accompanied by a band playing the national anthem.

      Tiananmen Square, a twenty-year-old armed policeman.

      We raise the Five-Star Red Flag every morning at sunrise, and take it down again at sunset, no matter what the season, even in rain or snow.

      The time for the two ceremonies is adjusted daily, and the exact time of the following day’s ceremonies is posted...

  12. List of Translators
    (pp. 325-326)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 327-338)