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An Unexpected Award

Out of Mao’s Shadow has won the 2009 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations for the best book published on international affairs! This is a wonderful surprise, and I want to share this honor with the many colleagues and sources without whom the book would not have been possible.

Odds and Ends

Just a few odds and ends to report from Moscow:

* The New York Review of Books has called Out of Mao’s Shadow “one of the most revealing books about China since it opened up to the outside world in the 1970s.”  Richard Bernstein’s kind piece in the March 26 edition here discussed my profile of Chen Lihua, the real estate tycoon who used her ties to party officials to demolish and redevelop neighborhoods in Beijing — and make herself the richest woman in the country.

*The Council on Foreign Relations has put Out of Mao’s Shadow on the short list for the prestigious Arthur Ross Book Award along with five other works of nonfiction.  The prize honors the best book published in the last two years on international affairs and will be awarded in late May.

*The paperback edition of Out of Mao’s Shadow is set to be published this summer. It is available for pre-ordering on Amazon and elsewhere, as are discount copies of the hardcover edition.  Check out the new cover!

*Both the Washington Post and the Economist magazine listed Out of Mao’s Shadow as one of their Best Books of 2008.  Listen to the Economist’s books editor Fiammetta Rocco discuss it at the top of the magazine’s books-of-the-year podcast.

*Links to my interviews on Bill Moyers Journal and China Digital Times.

*An invitation to share your thoughts on Out of Mao’s Shadow on Facebook, and a note of gratitude to Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, whose very kind review of the book there means a lot to me because I’m such an admirer of his reporting on China and now Russia for the BBC.

One Last Media Push

I have refrained from blogging during the Olympics, in part because I’ve been sharing my views in a series of interviews intended to promote Out of Mao’s Shadow.  This is basically my last media push; I’ll be cutting off the book tour and going to Moscow next week — earlier than scheduled, because of the situation in Georgia.

In print, you can read an interview with me here and a new review in Slate here, and I’ve been on radio across the country, as well as a few television shows.  One of my favorite interviewers, Charlie Rose, had me on his program, and you can watch it here.  For something a little lighter, check out my appearance on this episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, perhaps the funniest and smartest fake news anchor in the world.

Next week, I’m scheduled to be on the Bill Moyers show and answer questions at the Talking Points Memo website and the China Digital Times.

The Latest Review

Here’s the latest review, a kind one from the influential Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times.

The Earthquake, the Webmaster and the State

In my book talks and interviews, I’ve often used the Communist Party’s response to the Sichuan earthquake as an example of why it has been able to stay in power. Now there’s a new twist in the story.

The government’s initial response to the earthquake was to order journalists not to cover it — but journalists across the country ignored the edict, rushed to Sichuan and provided moving coverage of the disaster. This coverage improved the government’s response — information reached Beijing faster and there was more pressure on officials to act quickly. Just as important, the coverage cast the party’s top leaders in a favorable light, especially Premier Wen Jiabao, who was shown clambering over rubble, tearfully comforting children and issuing impromptu orders to soldiers.

The journalists challenged the party, and the party was forced to retreat. But by retreating, the party unwittingly strengthened its hold on power. That’s because a more open and more democratic government is usually a more effective government. The result is something of a paradox — society is gaining greater freedom but the one-party state is also getting stronger. It’s a pattern that we see again and again in the stories in Out of Mao’s Shadow.

But there’s a final piece to this. If the party retreats too far, it could quickly find itself on a slippery slope to democratization. If it wants to stay in power, it needs to draw a line somewhere. The trick is knowing when to retreat and knowing when to stand firm. It’s a balancing act that the party has excelled at over the years, often unintentionally.

Which leads us to the latest news from Sichuan. Huang Qi, a local human rights activist and Webmaster, has been arrested after trying to help parents of children killed in the earthquake when their schools collapsed. Huang had just posted an article on his Internet site describing parents’ demands for compensation and a criminal investigation into allegations of shoddy school construction due to official corruption.

Public anger over party corruption runs deep, and the death toll among schoolchildren in Sichuan is a potentially explosive issue. In many areas, schools fell even as other buildings remained standing. No one knows how many of the 70,000 people killed in the May 12 earthquake were children, but the government has estimated that some 7,000 classrooms collapsed. Many of the journalists who rushed to cover the earthquake began investigating the issue, and for a while, an outraged public railed against local officials in Internet forums and chatrooms.

But now the party has decided to draw the line. The censors have forced the media to abandon the story and shut down discussion of the subject on the Web. And Huang has been silenced too.

Will the parents give up their demands now? After retreating at the right moment, has the party picked the right time to stand firm? So far, it looks like the answer is yes.

Read about Huang Qi’s arrest here, here and here. There’s more on the public’s reaction to shoddy school construction here, here and here.

An Interview, a Review, and a Request

I’ve been trying to spread the word about the book, and thanks to the folks at Simon & Schuster, I have been a guest on ten radio talk shows so far — in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Albuquerque and, as of today, Dallas.

For someone who has been living in China the past seven years, the most interesting things about these interviews (and about the talks I’ve been giving at bookstores and other venues) are the questions from listeners.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I wasn’t sure what Americans knew about China, but I have to say I have been impressed by the quality of the questions.  Americans, at least the kind who call in to radio programs and go to book events, seem to be thinking hard about China.

I received some very good questions from callers in the Dallas area today, for example.  You can download or listen to the hour-long interview with me on Think, the program hosted by Krys Boyd on the local NPR affiliate KERA, by clicking this link.

Also today, the Christian Science Monitor published a nice review of the book here.

And, finally, a request for your help.  If you use Facebook and liked the book, please consider visiting the Out of Mao’s Shadow page on Facebook and becoming a “fan.”  This sends a non-intrusive message to your friends on Facebook.  You might also consider writing a review on Amazon.  Thanks!

A New Excerpt

The Washington Post published a piece on the front of its Style section today that I adapted from chapters 2 and 3 of Out of Mao’s Shadow. It tells the tale of Hu Jie, the air force officer turned documentary filmmaker who devoted five years of his life to recovering and recording the remarkable story of a young woman who was imprisoned during the Anti-Rightist Campaign and executed during the Cultural Revolution.  The woman, Lin Zhao, an obscure poet, continued writing while in prison, using her own blood as ink, and the party saved her writings to use as evidence against her.  Hu was determined to find the writings.

I participated in an online discussion about the article here.  One reader asked where to find more about Hu Jie and Lin Zhao, and I neglected to plug my own book.  Because of space limitations, the piece in the Post tells only a small part of the story — there’s much more in the book!

Earlier this month, the New Republic published another piece that I adapted from another chapter, about Jiang Yanyong, the elderly surgeon who exposed the government’s cover-up of the SARS epidemic and then tried to force the party to confront the truth of the Tiananmen massacre too.  Again, there’s much more about Dr. Jiang in the book.

30,000 Riot Against Police After Death of Girl

The government has confirmed that as many as 30,000 people rioted in a town in southwestern China this past weekend after the death of a 17-year-old girl, Li Shufen, whose body was found in a local river.  Police ruled the death a suicide by drowning, but residents of Weng’an County in Guizhou Province believe the teenager was raped and murdered — and that police covered up the crime to protect three young suspects who are relatives of senior officials in the local Communist Party apparatus.

Hundreds of Li’s high school classmates staged a protest outside the local police station, and when police used force to disperse them, an angry mob formed and responded by attacking and torching the station as well as a local government building.  Twenty police cruisers and other vehicles were also set ablaze.

The riot is reminder of how even rumors of wrongdoing can bring people out in the streets in China because of simmering public anger over party corruption and deep mistrust of the government and its media outlets.  As described in Out of Mao’s Shadow, the party has been struggling to contain these “mass incidents” — in 2004, police reported 74,000 of them, or more than 200 every day. This one in Guizhou stands out because it seems more destructive than most — and because it has resulted in an outpouring of outrage across the country on the Internet.  Residents posted their suspicions about the girl’s death, along with photos and video clips of the riots, and the censors were slow to delete them.  It’s just the latest example of the power of the Web to quickly spread news the party would rather keep under wraps.  You can actually see people holding up their cellphones to snap photos and record videos in many of the amateur clips, including this one below.

Read coverage of the riot in the Washington Post, the New York Times and the GuardianThe Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, has an article about how people are getting around the Internet censors to spread the word about what happened in Weng’an.  Xinhua, the state news agency, issued a unusually detailed report in English here, though state media is taking a much tougher line in Chinese.  Still, you can also catch a good glimpse of the rioting in this official news report broadcast on provincial television.  China Digital Times has also linked to several amateur videos of the rioting here.  If you subscribe to the South China Morning Post, you can read day-to-day coverage of the aftermath, including efforts by the authorities to pressure the girl’s parents into accepting a “compensation” payment of about $1300 from the suspects and drop the matter.

Chinese Lawyers Blocked From Meeting U.S. Congressmen

Teng Biao, a \Two American congressmen visiting Beijing were blocked from meeting a group of Chinese lawyers over the weekend.  Readers of Out of Mao’s Shadow may recognize the names of some of the lawyers — Li Heping, Teng Biao, Jiang Tianyong, Li Fangping, Li Baiguang — because they figure prominently in the fledgling legal movement that is the subject of the last two chapters of the book.  These weiquan, or “rights defense,” lawyers have been pushing the Chinese government to live up to its own rhetoric about the rule of law — a subtly subversive challenge because the Communist Party has always considered itself above the law.  The party wants to use the law as a tool to rule the population, but these lawyers — and a growing portion of the general public — think of the law as a check on the power of party officials.

For a while, the weiquan movement was considered one of the most pragmatic channels for pursuing political change in China — and one of the best hopes for gradual reform.  But in recent years, the campaign has begun to stall, as party officials have resorted to increasingly repressive tactics and the lawyers themselves have divided among themselves over tough questions of ethics and tactics.  They have been asking themselves: How hard should we push?  Should we back down when our peaceful, legal actions provoke party officials to use violence?  If so, what about our obligation to fight for our clients?  If not, are we just showboating and strengthening the hand of hardliners in the government?

A similar set of questions confront policymakers in the United States and other nations concerned about human rights in China.  Does the attempt of these two Republican members of the House, Frank R. Wolf of Virginia and Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, to meet these lawyers in Beijing help their cause?  Or does it simply strengthen those party officials who have already been arguing that the lawyers are traitors working with foreign enemies determined to weaken China?

Read how the Chinese security services detained these lawyers to prevent them from meeting with the American visitors here in the Washington Post and here in the New York Times.  I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

The Washington Post Book World

Andrew J. Nathan — a distinguished political scientist at Columbia University, and one of my favorite China scholars — has written a very kind review of Out of Mao’s Shadow for The Washington Post’s Book World section.  You can read it here.

It was a pleasant surprise on Sunday to see Prof. Nathan’s piece because the Book World editors are serious about protecting the integrity of the process and very careful about keeping information about pending reviews from the rest of the newsroom, especially those of us who are new authors!