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Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing Paperback – January 7, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Myths abound about China: all Chinese everywhere are united in a community of enduring culture; Western-style democracy is unsuited to China, as it would bring only chaos and the disruption of unity. In this brilliant report of his encounters with Chinese dissidents, rebels and democrats those blessed or cursed with "sheer cussedness" veteran journalist Buruma (The Wages of Guilt, etc.) brings into question such generalizations. There are, it seems, many Chinas and many Chinese willing to risk all in the name of individual freedom and the rule of law. In the U.S., Buruma visits exiled veterans of the 1989 Tiananmen protests who have adjusted well to their new lives and older exiles lost in the impatient busyness of America. He travels to Singapore an antiseptic and intolerant blend of the market and one-party rule where dissidents risk not only prison but extreme marginalization within a conformist society. He then moves on to Taiwan, with its lively if banal democracy (of banners and campaign buttons and staged rallies) and the men and women who, under the island's Nationalist Party rule, faced lifetimes of torture, prison and exile to bring democracy to life, and then to Hong Kong, where democrats try to keep the rule of law alive under China's new rulership. Finally, he travels to the center, the motherland, China. Buruma detects the stench of political decay as the Communist Party drifts into dangerous irrelevance, but amid the decay are rebels fighting battles big and small, for the simple right to criticize, the grand right to choose their leaders. Whether he's describing the noble melancholy of an exiled Chinese rebel or the unbridled joy of free elections in Taiwan, Buruma's writing is as elegant as Chinese calligraphy and as potent as Chinese wine. It is hard to imagine anyone in the West beginning to understand China without first reading this book. (On-sale: Nov. 20)

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

After the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations and bloodshed in Beijing, Chinese dissidents dispersed, either going underground in China or escaping to the United States, Europe, or other parts of Asia. Buruma (The Missionary and the Libertine) seeks out "the rebels" of Tiananmen to find out what happened to them and how they feel about the future of human rights in China. Buruma's study is both engaging and deeply informed. As cultural editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, he has closely followed developments in China, and for this book he interviewed approximately 60 dissidents in Chinese. Robin Monro and George Black attempted a similar analysis in The Black Hands of Beijing (Wiley, 1993) but could not offer much more than a cursory sketch of the dissidents' lives. Buruma found that some of the rebels had turned to Christianity, believing that China needed some "positive" form of religion in order to form liberal democratic institutions. Others spoke firmly against the myth that economic prosperity will lead to democratic reform. In the end, Buruma decides that the real myth that keeps China from progressing to a state of political freedom is that of national unity the idea that Chinese everywhere should demonstrate loyalty to the motherland. Highly recommended for all collections.
- Peggy Spitzer Christoff, Rockville, MD
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679781366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679781363
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,900,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By RYAN R KOOPMANS on January 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The thread connecting the chapters in this book, several of which are adapted from Buruma's previously published writing, is the author's journey from free Los Angeles and thereabouts to unfree Beijing. At each stop along the way Buruma interviews dissidents or former dissents from Chinese societies. Their stories do seem to blend into each other after a hundred pages or so. There's the childhood of relative prosperity, the youthful recognition of a corrupt society, and the public expression of defiance, followed by arrest, imprisonment, and usually torture. The grisly repetition of fiendishly cruel punishments would be macabre if it weren't for Buruma's personal explanation for his curiosity: he wants to know if he and his generation in Europe could have borne such trials.
It is the personal element that makes this book as captivating as it is. We hear not only each dissident's words but also Buruma's reactions to them and sometimes arguments against them. His long experience in Asian affairs and understanding of Western and Asian societies make his thoughts as illuminating as the stories of the dissidents themselves. The book is not a travelogue but has elements of one. He meets old friends and strangers, eats new foods, and ruefully observes changes in urban landscapes. His brief descriptions of Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong and other cities on his route capture them in their essence.
"Bad Elements" is informative, horrifying, inspirational, and even funny at times. Anyone with an interest in Chinese culture, Asian politics, or modern history will find it enlightening.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ken Lee on September 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As with all of Buruma's other writing, this is a brilliant book, well-written and convincing. The strength of his writing lies in his appreciation of, and his craving for the intricacies and idiosyncracies that make up the Asian lifestyle. In this book, he gets down and dirty, even enduring the squalid conditions of rural Chinese life to live with a family whose Christian matriach runs an underground 'Church'.
My primary grouse with Bad Elements can perhaps be encapsulated in this very episode: I was very much looking forward to hear Buruma's views on the underground Church movement in China, and was expecting as much, but he chose to present the internal conflict within the above-mentioned matriach's family instead, whose children (like the Communist government) think that she's dabbling in the occult. Buruma loses the opportunity to discuss much of the issues he so tantalizingly mentions: an interview with a senior Chinese dissident falls through because the writer misses him as he passes quickly through the turnstiles of the Beijing underground, for instance.
This book strikes one as more of a work of travel writing, with plenty of pointed perspectives and unexpected opinions emerging from both the writer, the landscapes through which he passes and, of course, the people he meets. As such, this isn't quite as academic, nor does it provide as much in-depth historical/sociological research as some readers might expect. Another word of caution: while Buruma is mostly accurate in his descriptions, he does tend to neglect details - titles, place names, translations. Still, he does correctly observe that Lee Kuan Yew is, indeed, Senior Minister, the title he's held ever since stepping down from Prime Ministership.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For decision-makers in companies which are either doing business in China now or are planning to, this is a must read. Buruma examines various "bad elements" in China and elsewhere whose intransigence and (in several instances) corruption create serious barriers to communication and cooperation as well as to commerce with the western world. Viewed as a global market, the People's Republic of China offers business opportunities which are almost comprehensible. For those of us in democratic societies in which dissent is not only possible but protected by law, it is difficult to grasp the nature and extent of suppression of human rights which we so easily take for granted. Among dissenters, opinions vary as to the pace of reform by which to establish such rights. At one point in this brilliant book, Buruma discusses Dai Qing who can be described as a "go slow intellectual." She advocates patience and prudence, confident of eventual reforms. "One sees what she means, but the analysis is flawed. On the contrary, the raw emotions, the latent hysteria, the pent-up aggressions seething under the surface of Chinese life are the result of living a lie. As long as people speak cannot freely, nothing can be exposed to to the light of reason, and raw emotions will take over." Over the centuries, social reform in China has never been easy and often traumatic. After conducting interviews with several dozen "mavericks" and then reflecting upon what they have shared with him, Buruma seems skeptical that significant social reform can be achieved, given the opposition of various "bad elements." He may be right. There is also the possibility that one totalitarian dynasty will simply give way to another.Read more ›
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