Deng's Generation: Young Intellectuals in 1980s China, and: Tiger on the Brink: Jiang Zemin and China's New Elite, and: The Era of Jiang Zemin (review)
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Reviewed by
Ruth Cherrington. Deng's Generation: Young Intellectuals in 1980s China. Basingstoke, England: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. viii, 232 pp. Hardcover $65.00, ISBN 0-333-67099-X.
Bruce Gilley. Tiger on the Brink: Jiang Zemin and China's New Elite. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1998. xi, 395 pp. Hardcover $29.95, ISBN 0-520-21395-5.
Willy Wo-Lap Lam. The Era of Jiang Zemin. Singapore: Prentice-Hall, 1999. xi, 452 pp. Paperback $19.99, ISBN 0-13-083701-6.

In June 1998, Bill Clinton arrived in China for a summit meeting that many expected to end in a public relations disaster for the American president. The year before, the United States had witnessed what Chinese commentators described as an "anti-China wave" (fan Hua langchao) epitomized by renewed media and Congressional attacks on the PRC's human rights record, by the publication of books painting lurid scenarios of a war between the two remaining superpowers, and by hostility to any rapprochement between a democratic nation and a "totalitarian" state.1 True, President Jiang Zemin's visit to Washington in the autumn of 1997 had temporarily given the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) a more human face. (Zhu Rongji's visit in April 1999 would do the same, even if against the impossible odds of the Los Alamos spy scandal.) But Clinton was still on the defensive about reciprocating Jiang's American tour. He responded in two ways.

On the one hand, Clinton the pragmatist committed himself to do more with China "to shore up stability in Asia, on the Korean Peninsula, and the Indian subcontinent." On the other, Clinton the man of principle reaffirmed his belief in democracy and freedom and urged China to embrace these fundamental values. In a press conference conducted in the grand surroundings of the Great Hall of the People on June 27, Clinton delivered a paean to the remarkable events that Tiananmen Square had witnessed since "China's quest for constitutional government was born" there one hundred years before, a series of events culminating in 1989 when "Chinese citizens of all ages raised their voices for democracy." Clinton continued:

For all our agreements, we still disagree about the meaning of what happened then. I believe, and the American people believe, that the use of force and the tragic loss of life was wrong. I believe, and the American people believe, that [End Page 7] freedom of speech, association, and religion are, as recognized by [the] U.N. Charter, the right of people everywhere and should be protected by their governments. It was to advance these rights that our Founding Fathers in our Declaration of Independence pledged our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor. Fifty years ago, the U.N. recognized these rights as the basic freedoms of people everywhere.2

President Clinton's words were directed to a multileveled audience: to President Jiang Zemin and other high-ranking Chinese Communist Party leaders, who were his official hosts; to millions of ordinary Chinese, who watched an unprecedented public exchange of views, carried live by CCTV's Channel One, in which the Tiananmen protesters were lionized and the Dalai Lama defended; to Chinese mainland dissidents, like Lin Xinshu and Zhu Yufu, who largely applauded Clinton's speech; to exiled dissidents, many of whom, like Bao Ge and Ye Ning, dismissed the trip as disappointing and shallow; to the American audience, divided between those who support engagement and those who wish to make China an international pariah; and, of course, to many constituencies beyond America's shores. That Clinton could be frank on human rights, without offending his hosts, was a remarkable coup de théâtre. But since words in these settings are carefully chosen, the social scientist is bound to examine not only what the president actually said, but also what he avoided saying. If America is a liberal democracy, whose founders were guided by the light of liberty, what kind of state is modern China, whose "remarkable transformation" Mr. Clinton hailed in the Great Hall of the People? Clinton himself did not try to define it; nor did he do so in...