There Was A Man Named Liu Binyan

The following article was previously published on the China Youth Daily intranet and became the pretext for Lu Yuegang being relieved of his duties as deputy editor-in-chief at the Freezing Point weekly magazine supplement (see The Li-Lu Statement On Freezing Point).

There Was A Man Named Liu Binyan.  By Lu Yuegang.  (Original Chinese article is here)

[in translation]

On the evening of December 6 in Beijing, I was giving a lecture at the Chinese Renmin University School of Journalism.  My audience was the graduate students at the School of Journalism.  The host gave me the title "In The Name Of The People" for my talk.  This was the title of a reportage article that I had published in 1993.  I said that this topic was too broad.  Since today was a special day, I changed the topic.  I erased the original title from the blackboard and I wrote down these words: "The Bottom Line For A Reporter."

Why change the topic?  I told everybody: Today, we are here to commemorate a great reporter and writer.  He passed away yesterday.  I said that as a reporter and a writer, his works had his own "bottom lines."  What is that bottom line?  It is an opinion, it is a value system and it is thoroughly about the people.  Then I asked: "Do you know Liu Binyan?"  All of a sudden, there was silence in the room.  After a while, someone whispered, "I know."  But it was an uncertain "I know."  I asked again, "Do you know which are the most representative works of Liu Binyan?"  There was dead silence in the audience.  I believe that with the exception of the professor who invited me, none of the attending graduate students had read anything by Liu Binyan.

I said, Mr. Liu Binyan passed away yesterday.  Liu Binyan was our predecessor at the China Youth Daily.  In 1957, he was condemned as a rightist.  Previously, his most representative works were "Internal News At This Newspaper" and "On The Work Grounds Of The Bridge."  After being restored from rightist, he was transferred from China Youth Daily to People's Daily as a mobile reporter.  His representative works were "Between Man And Demon," "The Second Kind of Loyalty," "Merits and Crimes Of A Millennium."  I said that Liu Binyan is the conscience of Chinese journalists and intellectuals.  If you don't know Liu Binyan, you won't be a good reporter if you are a reporter and you won't be a good scholar if you are a scholar!  If you want to study the history of contemporary reportage literature and news communication history, you cannot bypass Liu Binyan.

But the "silence" in front of me showed that Liu Binyan has been bypassed.  I can use the term "heart-rending and soul-shaking" to describe this "silence."

Liu Binyan left the country in 1988 and spent 17 years in exile before passing away.  After 17 years, he was forgotten quickly and completely.  This was the classroom of the best university school of journalism in China!

To forget the true history and to create the false history had obviously been pre-planned.  Until today, we have been living in this scheme.  Faced with these simple and lost faces, why can I say?  The lecture content that I had prepared becomes meaningless under these circumstances.  I was immersed in surprise and sorrow.  I can only begin with the ABC of Liu Binyan.

Actually, since Liu Binyan was expelled from the party in 1987 for liberal tendencies, I have seen in a countless number of occasions of "bypassing" during the eighteen years since.

I will tell you a story next.

In 2000, two major figures in the Chinese reportage literature field wanted to compile a series known as Major Writers In 20th Century Chinese Reportage Literature.  I was listed among them, and they sent me a letter requesting article submission.  The letter talked about who the editors and assistant editors were, as well as the importance and authoritativeness of the series.  Then it said that due to limited space, each person should submit one or two previously published works, limited to under 40,000 words.

I telephoned and asked, "Will the series collect the works of Liu Binyan and Su Xiaokang?"

The other party said, "No, they won't be collected."

I asked: "Why won't they be collected?"

The other party said, "Sensitivity."

I said: "If it is about sensitivity, then you shouldn't bother editing a 20th century collection.  If a 20th century Chinese reportage literature series does not include Liu Binyan and Su Xiaokang, it could not be called a collection series!  It cannot be done!  You must respect history at least!"

The other party said, "I believe that the reader will understand."

Which reader?  Which readers?  Understand what?  How can one speak of Chinese reportage literature in the last half century, especially during the new era, without Liu Binyan and Su Xiaokang?

I said, "If you don't collect Liu Binyan and Su Xiaokang, then you should not be editing this f*cking series!"

I originally had doubts about the qualification of the editor-in-chief.

I know that the series was going to be compiled anyway.  I wrote the two main editors a letter and declared that I didn't want to participate for three reasons.  1. Of the two main editors, one of them was not qualified to be the main editor.  2. I cannot accept the editorial policy of castrating essays down to a limit of 40,000 words.  3.  It is inappropriate to omit the works of Liu Binyan and Su Xiaokang.  Furthermore, I warned them: If they collect my works without my concurrence, I will sue them in court in order to protect my copyright.

The series will be published without Liu Binyan and Su Xiaokang.  It does not matter if Lu Yuegang is missing as well.  They don't want a serious and honest attitude towards history, they don't want a full and accurate presentation to the readers about the development strands and true history of Chinese reportage literature, and they don't want the readers to know the representative authors of reportage literature during the new era.  They are participating in this plan to forget.  They publish without caring about what is being published.  They only want to consolidate their positions, and they don't care whether they can withstand the test of history.

They murdered history and they murdered memory at the same time.

The situation at today's lecture shows the result of the murder.  This result should be expected.

Since 1987, the name Liu Binyan has been eviscerated.  We can no longer see the name Liu Binyan in news media and university textbooks.  We cannot buy the books of Liu Binyan in bookstores.  When Liu Binyan passed away, the mainland news media did not publish a single world.

Tuesday December 6 is the date for gathering articles for the China Youth Daily Freezing Point weekly magazine.  We discussed that we have to compensate for things.  So we put in a small photo of Liu Binyan and a short obituary-like narrative in the Weekly People Section.  What was the outcome?  Even before my taxi reached the Renmin University, I received a SMS that the Liu Binyan piece had been spiked.

I was mentally prepared for the Liu Binyan piece to be spiked.  While planning for it, we had no expectations to be able to publish it.  We did it even then because we wanted to clearly inform the chief editors what we advocate, insist and respect.  We must leave the marks in history.  They have the power to inspect and decide on the articles.  We have the right to demonstrate our professional standards and the journalistic values of independent editing.  You spike what you want, and we write what we want.  My professional process has to be carried out completely.

Of course, within my works, whenever I come to Chinese reportage literature, the names of Liu Binyan and Su Xiaokang are prominently present.

Our efforts are meager and limited, but we will not abandon trying.

This is something that I told Mr. Liu Binyan five years ago by letter.

Five years ago, Mr. Wu Jiaxiang went to the United States.  I asked him to bring Mr. Liu Binyan a copy of "Small People In A Grand Country" and three of my selected works.  The first one is a piece of reportage literature that brought me a great deal of trouble.  The latter collected dozens of reportage works in the 1980's to 1990's.  More than one million words, and he actually read them all and wrote me.

At the time, Mr. Liu Binyan did not know how to use a computer, although he swore that he would learn to use the computer as soon as possible.  Therefore, our correspondence was done by hand.  He wrote every word very seriously.  His letters were forwarded to me through his daughter Liu Xiaoyan.  My letters also went through Liu Xiaoyan, first faxing to him and then mailing it later.  Anyway, it was very complicated to communicate with him, and it took several months for something to get to him.

When I sent my works to Liu Binyan, there were two purposes.  First, I was paying respect to him.  Second, I wanted to tell him that we have not forgotten him.  Since the 1950's and then at the end of the 1970's and the beginning of the 1980's, he was promoting the "critical realism" tradition of reportage literature.  This has been continued by others in the 1990's.

The "new era" of literature in the eyes of the literary world occurred between 1976-1989.  The entire 1990's after 1989 were considered to be the post-"new era."  This covers a total of 25 years.  Actually, it was shorter than 25 years.  The three years from 1989 to 1992 was unmentionable because reportage literature in China was like a devastated battlefield.

I have spoken many times inside China about how I classify these twenty-five years of reportage literature (or "report literature" and "non-fictional" writing might be more correct) into three phases according to their rational characteristics: In phase one, this was about the sudden surge represented by Liu Binyan and Xu Chi.  This established the humanism and the foundation of critical realism of Chinese reportage literature, and the influence persisted up to now.  The second phase is the romantic rational phase represented by Su Xiaokang and others.

My reportage literary works of the 1980's was close to the romantic rationality.

In 1988, a hundred literary magazines in China joined in the "Chinese Tide" reportage literary selections and the appearance of "River Elegy" in 1989.  These were the high points of romantic rationality.

Why do I include all the rational characteristics of the reportage literature of the 1980's under "romantic rationality"?  This is related to the cultural enlightenment of the 1980's and the tools, methods, angles and knowledge preparation that the writers used to recognize and analyze the Chinese problem, and it is also related to the writers' attitudes.  Including my own work in the 1980's, the knowledge base was weak, the cognitive view was singular and one-sided, concepts were more important than facts and macroscopic views covered up microscopic details.  We could not accurately grasp the complex happenings and quality of a China undergoing a transition to the market economy, we bypassed the sensitive actual phenomenon and we used "cultural determinism" to look for the sins of our predecessors.

I believe that this is not an excoriation.  Even if it is an excoriation, it is based upon the basic understanding that "we are all responsible for June 4th."

June 4th led to self-reflection.  It was a deeply engraved self-reflection.  We fell from the heavens back onto earth, we went from the romantic back to the reality and we returned from the west to our own earth.  During this process, I said that we went from romantic rationality to "objective rationality."  The nature of this process meant that there is a logical theme for recognizing the China problem.  This theme is that this can be felt and touched in the lives of ordinary people, and it is accumulated through the emotions and knowledge of ordinary people.

This was a painful return that carried the taste of blood.

Yet, no matter what the characteristic of the rationality, there was a clear and obvious main strand.  That would be the humanism and critical realism that was first initiated by Mr. Liu Binyan and other writers.  The 1990's reportage literature exhibited quite a bit of self-awareness and emphasis with respect to this point.  As critic Zhou Chengbao said, there is an emphasis on the reportage literature written by intellectuals.  This is a huge topic that won't be discussed here.

I have never met Mr. Liu Binyan.  We knew each other through exchanging communication and our works.  I am familiar with every one of his work and he was familiar with every one of mine.  He has always been a major subject of discussion when I speak to other writers.  It is a big regret of mine (not to have met him).

It would have been such a beautiful scene for the two generations of China Youth Daily and two generations of reportage literature to be able to sit and talk together.  I was always hoping for that to happen.  Instead, I got his obituary.

Someone told me before that Mr. Liu Binyan was ill.  After some time, someone told me that he was seriously ill.  He requested to return to China for treatment, but the government refused.

My heart is full of regret, grief and indignation.

A Chinese person.  An old Chinese person.  An old Chinese reporter and writer.  A dissident old Chinese reporter and writer.  Before he dies, he wants to return to his home country to get treatment and recuperate.  To meet his friends and relatives.  To kiss the earth that reared him and loved him.  But they refused.  To let him come back would show their magnanimity, confidence and tolerance.  To refuse to let him come back proves what?

An overseas reporter interviewed me about the passing of Liu Binyan (previous to that, I never take formal interviews from overseas reporters) and asked: "Are they afraid that Liu Binyan may pose a threat?"

I said: "The Chinese people have the virtues of respecting the elders and loving the children.  Mr. Liu Binyan is already an 80-year-old man and he is seriously ill.  What can he do?  What kind of threat can an 80-year-old man pose?  What kind of threat can a final-stage cancer patient pose?  It is unacceptable not to let him return!  It is inhumane!"

Was this an unalterable fate?  Is this the price for speaking the truth?  A reporter and a writer spoke the truth and told his opinions and ideas, and he was expelled from the Party twice.

After the first expulsion, he was under wraps in China for 22 years.  After the second expulsion, he was under wraps outside of China for 18 years until his death.  A total of 40 years!  A society and a system that cannot tolerate dissidence and that will attack those diverse and critical opinions cannot possibly be healthy and harmonious with bright future prospects.  What does the example of Liu Binyan show for the Chinese people?  It can only show that they are spiritually withered!  It can only show that they are short on ideas and exhausted in creativity and cannot truly stand alone among the peoples of the world and win their respect!

I joined the funeral committee for Liu Binyan.  I want to write and publish a commemorative essay.  I want to publish my correspondence with Mr. Liu Binyan.  For me, a reporter and writer who exists within the system, this is inconvenient, strictly speaking.  But in facing Liu Binyan -- a martyr for speaking the truth -- a China Youth Daily predecessor that I respect, I can only do that.  Apart from this, I cannot think about what else I can do.