My post last week referencing reports that Lu Xun was being excised from Chinese high school textbooks does not appear to be one of my finer efforts. For starters, correspondents have been quick to note that the World Journal is no longer the virulently anti-Chinese Communist mouthpiece I remember from my days in Taiwan. Whether this means it can be trusted is another issue, but my characterization of it was off the mark.
A former student of Arthur Waldron, the China expert I labeled as having "a long history as a China basher" also posted a convincing letter arguing that I was unfair to him. That was followed by a letter from the man himself, which I'll just repost here, and take my lumps.
Andrew Leonard expresses some doubt about my report that works of China's greatest modern writer Lu Xun are being removed from school curricula. The reason seems to be that he distrusts both me and my (initial) source.
To quote "Not only does Waldron have a long history as a China basher, but the World Journal is owned by a Taiwanese publishing company and sports its own long-established record of eagerness to present the CCP in the worst light possible."
Does Mr. Leonard read the newspaper in question? It is indeed edited and set up in Taipei for local printing globally, part of the United Daily News group. It is owned, I believe, by emigres who came with Chiang Kai-shek (not Taiwanese) and traces its ancestry to several distinguished pre-1949 publications (hence "United" Daily News--the name of their Taipei paper). It is a serious newspaper, full of information and tightly written and edited, but its editorial policy and general slant are pro-China and anti Taiwan's current government.
As for my "long history as a China basher": I find such facile labeling unprofessional and offensive, but it is in any case irrelevant to the truth or falsity of the report. If Mr. Leonard wishes to challenge me, he should do so on the basis of incorrect facts or inferences, not ad hominem. I have spent my entire adult life studying and teaching Chinese language and history, and writing about China. I wonder whether before composing that characterization Mr. Leonard actually read any of my books?
To return to substance: Mr. Leonard may not yet have found a source "in English" but this story is all over the Chinese media, blogs, and so forth--though not all the explanations and interpretations are the same as mine and at least one person with a Chinese name has taken strong issue with me (see "contentions"--the Commentary Magazine blog).
My initial report indeed drew on the World Journal, the only Chinese language newspaper home delivered in my area, and thus the first thing I read every morning. But it has been confirmed by other publications inside China and out.
Since I first posted the item I have accumulated a folder of offprints nearly an inch thick, mostly from PRC web sources, confirming the changes in the curricula that I reported, but (as such a comment would be banned) not speculating on whether this is related to the Tiananmen Massacre. Three great stories are out: "The True Story of Ah Q," "Medicine," and "In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen." Read them and draw your own conclusions. Also out is the ancient text, "faults of Qin" that condemns the tyranny of the first emperor.
Having said all this, however, I must congratulate Mr Leonard for getting the conclusion exactly right.
Even as the words of Lu Xun are being removed from textbooks, the sorts of things that he wrote about with such bitterness and love and literary brilliance some eighty years ago continue to go on in China. The world he described still exists. For that reason he remains relevant. We and the Chinese should both read him.
With best wishes to all
Lauder Professor of International Relations
University of Pennsylvania