Against the Tide

by Linda Grashoff

"Weird," he says. "It's weird."

Marc Blecher, professor of politics and East Asian studies, can't seem to get over feeling strange about the latest publication of his book China against the Tides, first published in 1997 by Pinter Publishers, London and Washington.

Most of all, he says, it's "weird to see myself next to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping."

Where is he next to what he calls "these paragons of Chinese communism?" In a flyer advertising publications of the Publishing House of the Central Communist Party School Press -- an affiliate of the elite university at which the Chinese Communist Party trains its top officials. The publications include China against the Tides.

Blecher had shown Professor Hua Qingzhao, of the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences, a copy of his book, in English, shortly after it came out. Hua's response was, "This should be published in China." Less than a year later, with a little help from the good offices of Hua and Professor Meng Qinglong, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, it was.

The Chinese publication of China against the Tides is not abridged, censored, or altered (though Blecher updated the material, and wrote a preface to the Chinese edition). Blecher -- an able reader and writer of Chinese himself -- worked with the translator for the Chinese publication.

The Chinese publishing house is linked to the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party, Blecher says, and top-level ideological censors as well as Chinese social scientists had to approve the book before publication.

At the beginning of the project, the publishers told Blecher that they might have to make some changes in passages dealing with the Cultural Revolution or the 1989 Tiananmen protests, both of which are taboo for serious analysis in China. So Blecher was somewhat surprised that the Chinese press published his often-critical book whole -- even including Blecher's appellation of the present government as "market Stalinists."

Blecher translates the words beneath the book jacket in the flyer: "Please read this book, which shows how an American scholar understands and analyzes the process of China's development, both now and for the future."

The publication of China against the Tides in China is just one sign of how Chinese society is opening up, says Blecher. "It's opening a lot more than people think."

Not long ago, he says, the Worker's Daily, the largest Communist-run newspaper for workers in China, carried a debate on the question "Is unemployment a good thing?"

"It even included angry denunciations of the government by the unemployed," says Blecher. "There is a lot of room for debate now. And most intellectuals are not dissidents but people who are working in the system -- because they believe that is the best way for China to open up more."

But knowing all this doesn't prevent Blecher from feeling -- well -- weird.

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