Zhao Ziyang's Virtual Book Shelf, edited by Nicolai Volland


What do Chinese leaders read? From which sources did Zhao Ziyang receive information on developments in the outside world while under house arrest between 1989 and 2005?

In January 2005, an article signed "Mo Zhixu" 莫之許 appeared on the homepage of Chinese Blogger An Ti 安替 with the title "Ziyang's book shelf" 紫陽的書櫃. The author had been among the guests paying their tributes to Zhao Ziyang's family, and had used a few minutes while waiting in the Zhao mansion to look at the deceased leader's book shelves. In the article he reports those titles he could still recall after the ceremony. They provide a rare and valuable insight into the sources of information used by Zhao during his house arrest, and by PRC politicians in general.

The Digital Archive of Chinese Studies has tracked down the texts mentioned by "Mo Zhixu," downloaded them wherever possible, and has tried to find information on the titles and their authors, many of whom are virtually unknown in the West.

Among the older volumes on Zhao's shelves were volumes by his erstwhile political ally Hu Jiwei 胡績偉 and the liberal entrepreneur Cao Siyuan 曹思源, which might have been personal gifts from their authors (a collection of Hu's articles is available here; for Cao Siyuan's homepage click here). Zhao also seemed to be interested in the experience of foreign leaders, reading the memoirs of Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Boris Yeltsin.

Yet Zhao's book shelves also boasted the most recent bestsellers: Zhongguo nongmin diaocha 中國農民調查, the investigative report on conditions in the Chinese countryside by Chen Guidi 陳桂棣 and Chun Tao 春桃 that was banned in 2004 (click here for a fulltext version of the book; another fulltext and a collection of related articles is available here). Another recently published volume that has drawn the authorities' wrath was Xue chou dinglü 血酬定律 by Wu Si 吴思 (fulltext version: ebook format).

Other books considered sensitive in the PRC (all of them banned) include Xiao Shu's 笑蜀 Lishi de xiansheng 歷史的先聲, as well as Huanghuo 黃禍 and Ziyou ren xinlu 自有人心路, two volumes by Wang Lixiong 王立雄. Xiao Shu is the pseudonym used by the liberal-minded intellectual Chen Min 陳敏 (click here for a collection of Chen's articles and books). Lishi de xiansheng, published in 1999, is a collection of articles that originally appeared in the 1930s and 1940s in Xin Zhonghua bao 新中華報, the Communist Party's Chongqing-based newspaper that was designed to promote the Party's United Front policies. Consequently, the articles call for democracy and a multi-party government, and complain about human rights violations. Decontextualized as they appear in Xiao Shu's book, the articles have considerable suberversive potential. Wang Lixiong's science fiction novel Huanghuo shocked readers when it first appeared in in 1991, under the pseudonym Baomi 保密. With his 1999 collection Ziyou ren xinlu he once again touched a number of sensitive topics (full text versions of both books, as well as more articles of Wang Lixiong are avilable here).

In particular, Mu Zhixu draws attention to a complete run of the "Prairie Tribe - Black Horse Collection" (Caoyuan buluo - hei ma congshu 草原部落—黑馬叢書) he saw on Zhao's booksehlf. This collection, edited by the private entrepreneur / publisher He Xiongfei 賀雄飛 since 1998 in cooperation with changing publishing houses, contains a number of very interesting titles; since it is little known in the West, a closer look at this collection and the single titles follows below:

  • Li Datong 李大同. Bingdian '98: Xunhui xinling shenchu de gandong 冰點98:尋回心靈深處的感動. This volume collects essays from Li's hugely popular "Bingdian" column in Zhongguo qingnian bao 中國青年報. Started in 1995, the column became one of the most widely read in the Chinese media and was emulated by countless other papers (more background information).
  • Zhang Mo 張末 (ed.). Jiaozi de tanxi: Mingpai daxue caizi cainü xinling dubai 驕子的嘆息:名牌大學才子才女心靈獨白. A collection of essays written by young authors from China's leading universities, including Yu Jie 余傑, Chi Yuzhou 遲宇宙, and Xu Zhiyuan 許知遠 (book review).
  • Kong Qingdong 孔慶東, Mo Luo 摩羅, Yu Jie 余傑 (ed.). Shenshi zhongxue yuwen jiaoyu: shijimo de ganga 審視中學語文教育:世紀末的尷尬. This volume caused an uproar when in was published in 1999. Joining a heated debate on national educational reform and the middle school curriculum, it was even brandished as an example of "bourgeois liberalization" (background information on the debate in general and on the book).
  • Kong Qingdong 孔慶東. 47 lou 207: Beida zui xia de langman xuanyan 47樓207:北大醉俠的浪漫宣言 (available in fulltext). Kong Qingdong's memoirs of his students days at Beijing University became a bestseller in 1999, and have also drawn the attention of Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan (see the author's remarks on his book, as well as a comment by Yu Jie 余傑).
  • Mao Zhicheng 毛志成. Xiri de linghun: Yi ge youmo xuezhe de zhihui guantou 昔日的靈魂:一個幽默學者的智囊罐頭. The writer Mao Zhicheng teaches Chinese literature at Shoudu shifan daxue 首都師範大學 in Beijing. His essays and commentaries cover a broad range of social and cultural issues (select publications).
  • Mo Luo 摩羅. Chiruzhe de shouji: Yi ge minjian sixiangzhe de shengming tiyan 恥辱者手記:一個民間思想者的生命體驗. In his essays, Mo Luo considers the situation of Chinese intellectuals and raises the question of their responsibility - during the Cultural Revolution as well as today. Another of his books that was widely discussed was Ziyou de geyao 自由的歌謠 (review of Chiruzhe shouji, an interview with the author, and more of his articles).
  • Xie Yong 謝泳. Shiqu de niandai: Zhongguo ziyou zhishifenzi de mingyun 逝去的年代:中國自由知識分子的命運 (available in fulltext). Xie Yong is a very prolific writer based in Taiyuan where he is editor-in-chief of Huanghe 黃河 magazine. In fall 2004, he was listed among China's "Fifty influential public intellectuals". Among his numerous books, his research on Southwestern United University (Xinan lianda 西南聯大) during Wold War II and on the magazine Guancha 觀察 led by Chu Anping 儲安平 (see ch.5 of Shiqu de niandai) have drawn wide attention (more articles by Xie Yong).
  • He Xiongfei (ed.). Xie du ouxiang: wentan san jun fangyang lu 褻讀偶像:文壇三雋方言錄. This collection contains essays by the Sichuan-born poet Yi Sha 伊沙, by Sun Yu 孫鬱, a scholar who has been writing widely on Lu Xun and is vice-head of the Lu Xun museum, and by Sun Jianxi 孫見喜, a writer from Shaanxi who has written, among other things, a biography of bestselling author Jia Pingwa 贾平凹 (click here for more articles from Yi Sha and Sun Jianxi).
  • Yu Jie 余傑. Huo yu bing: yi ge Beida guai cai de chouti wenxue 火與冰:一個北大怪才的抽屜文學. Yu Jie, one of China's foremost independent critics, made his breakthrough in 1998 at age 25 with this collection, which remains popular and is circulating in at least three significantly differing versions (the online version seems to correspond to that published by in 1998 by Jingji ribao chubanshe 經濟日報出版社 for the Heima wencong series) (more articles by Yu Jie).
  • Yu Jie. Tiewu zhong de nahan: yi ge Beida guai cai de chouti wenxue zhi er 鉄屋中的呐喊:一個北大怪才的抽屜文學之二. A sequel to the previous, that did not, however, produce the kind of sensation that his first book did. The title is an allusion to Lu Xun (book review).
  • Zhang Jianwei 張建偉. Shen huxi: wei zeng gongkai de xinwen neimu 深呼吸:未曾公開的新聞内幕. The author of this massive, two volume work is writing for Zhongguo qingnianbao and is celebrated as one of China's leading journalists. He has also written the script for the enormously successful CCTV documentary Zou xiang gonghe 走向共和. However, in 2002 Zhang was accused of plagiarism in one his works of reportage literature (see report).
  • Zhu Jianwei 朱健國. Bu yu shui hezuo: xiandaihua yu wei xiandaihua de chongtu 不與水合作:現代化魚偽現代化的文化衝突. At the time of writing, the author was a Shenzhen-based journalist for Zhonghua dushu bao 中華讀書報. The volume is a collection of his interviews, among them one with the well-known economist He Qinglian 何清漣 that resulted in a clash between He and Zhu, because He alleged that the transcript contained ssensitive statements and had not been authorized by him (see article).
  • Finally, there is the volume Chengshi niu mou 城市牛哞, edited by Muge 牧歌 and written by Xu Wugui 徐無鬼. The author - the pseudonym is an allusion to the Zhuangzi - is rumoured to be a local-level cadre from Northwest China who in this collection vents his anger on topics ranging from the Cultural Revolution to the current state of politics and society in the PRC. The book's original title was Zheren de chunhua: yi ge yinzhe de cangao 這人的蠢話:一個隱者的殘稿; publication was delayed by two years until 2001 when it appeared in the Jiushi niandai sixiang sanwen jingpin congshu 九十年代思想散文精品叢書 (published by Taibai wenyi chubanshe 太白文藝出版社), and not in the Heima wencong series, as originally advertised (statement by the editor).

Comments and suggestions highly welcome - please  contact me.

Last edited by: RS
Latest Revision: 2015-08-18
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