In Chinese

This section of my curriculum vitæ lists Chinese-language essays, reviews and books published under the name 白杰明. Highlighted works can be downloaded in PDF format. See also ‘He’s Still Alive’ 他還活著, here.


My Life in Chinese

Most of the essays in the two collections published by Po Wen Books in 1981 and 1984 (see below) first appeared in the arts pages of Ta Kung Pao, edited by Pan Jijiong 潘際坰, from the late 1970s.

The PDF versions of the two books available for downloading here are marked with annotations and corrections made by me in 1986 in preparation for a single-volume selection to be published on Mainland China. That selection was undertaken at the suggestion of the publisher and editor Fan Yong 范用. In the event, Lao Fan’s plan was frustrated by the censors in Beijing. This was presumably because from that year I had a regular column in The Nineties Monthly, a prominent Hong Kong magazine edited by Lee Yee (The Nineties had been branded ‘a reactionary publication’ 反動港刊 in 1981 after it reported instances of high-level Party corruption involving Liao Chengzhi 廖承志, the Communist godfather of the Overseas Chinese and patron of the Party establishment Left in Hong Kong).

Or, was it because of something in the file that had been built up on me since my student days in the mid 1970s when my increasingly ‘bad attitude’ saw me becalmed in Shenyang, unable to transfer to another university? Perhaps it was because of my lengthy public critique of the 1983 ‘Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign’ (see my essay Culture Clubbed), or as a result of the time I was detained by members of Unit 8341, the Central Security Bureau, as I wandered around the Party compound of Zhongnanhai as a tourist? Anyway, by 1986, I’d been repeatedly told, sotto voce and only sometimes jokingly, that I was regarded as being a ‘cultural spy’ 文化特務. Oh, and then there was that newly edited book: Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience, published in Hong Kong. All of this was years before 1989 or my work on the 1995 film The Gate of Heavenly Peace.

Who’s to say what led to the ban? All I knew — and I had known it for years — was that the People’s Democratic Dictatorship observed inimical behaviour 敵情 tirelessly and amassed (both true and false) data obsessively. Like Xu Zhiyuan 許知遠 some thirty years later, I knew that the truth of the matter was locked in the ‘black box’ of Chinese censorship (see Xu’s Elephants & Anacondas, published by China Heritage). You will hardly be surprised to learn then that, for me at least, 1986 was not the year of unfettered Bourgeois Liberalisation and freedom that is so fondly recalled by others.


The essays that appeared in The Nineties mostly focussed on cultural developments in non-official Mainland literature, art, music, film. They combined cultural reporting with the kind of ‘casual essay’ informality that I had tried to develop when writing for Ta Kung Pao. Since The Nineties was by then an entirely independent magazine, and one with a curious, global readership, it provided an outlet for the kind of non-conformist writing that I found appealing.


It is with fond regard that I acknowledge here the mentors who encouraged and guided my fifteen-year life as a Chinese writer: Lee Yee 李怡 of The Seventies (later The Nineties), Yang Hsien-yi 楊憲益 and Gladys Yang at Foreign Languages Press, Pan Jijiong 潘際坰 of Ta Kung Pao, Yeung Lai-kwan 楊莉君 (韋妮) of New Evening News 新晚報, Fan Yong 范用 of Sanlian Books in Beijing and Hsiao Tzu 蕭滋 of Hong Kong Joint Publishing, Ng Sing-fun 吳承歡 of Rediffusion TV 麗的電視, Lo Fu 羅孚 of New Evening News, Fong Su 方蘇 of The Nineties, Fang Cheng 方成 and Jiang Deming 姜德明 of People’s Daily, the translator Dong Leshan 董樂山, the Feng Zikai and Li Shutong scholar Chen Xing 陳星 and Huang Mengfu 黃孟甫 (黃炳炎), my publisher at Po Wen Book Company 波文書局 in Wanchai. I’m also grateful for the reassuring enthusiasm of Linda Jaivin, my wife from 1986 to 1992, and Beijing readers like the playwright Wu Zuguang 吳祖光, the calligrapher Huang Miaozi 黃苗子 and the artist 黃永玉, as well as my Guangzhou friends: the film-maker Zhang Zeming 張澤鳴 and his brother Zhang Zebo 張澤波, the doctor. I was also delighted that Liu Xiaobo 劉曉波, whom I met in late 1986, also got a laugh from my essays. In Taiwan, Bo Yang 柏楊, whose own essays were an early inspiration, was constantly encouraging, as was Chin Heng-wei 金恆煒 of Con-temporary 當代雜誌.

During the years 1975-1977, my teachers at Fudan University in Shanghai (Qin Xiang 秦湘 and Wu Huanzhang 吳歡章 — formerly a member of the Shi Yige 石一歌 Lu Xun writing group — in particular) and Liaoning University in Shenyang (Wang Xiangfeng 王向峰) inducted me into the world of ‘Party Eight-Legged Essays’ 黨八股. My efforts took the form of jejune ‘literary denunciations’ 批判文章 of banned traditional operas and stilted collective ‘letters of gratitude’ 感謝信, composed and often literally writ large at the factories and people’s communes where the clumsy efforts of foreign students like me were imposed on kindhearted labouring people.

More important was the crucial impact on my Chinese life of my undergraduate mentors, those who introduced me to and guided my study of the Chinese world, its languages, literature and cultural history: Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys), Liu Ts’un-yan 柳存仁, Vieta Dyer (Svetlana Rimsky-Korsakoff), Anita Chang 張典姊 (a noted writer who helped me concoct a Chinese name), (then) Sister Julia Ching 秦家懿, ‘The Silent Traveller’ Chiang Yee 蔣彝 and others. They were the first to reveal the palimpsest layers, and clashing registers, of Chinese: literary, classical, modern-Republican, as well as that of Hong Kong journalism, Taiwan officialdom along with the judgemental and measured hysteria of Cultural Revolution New China Newspeak.

I am grateful to Adam Ni and Callum Smith for scanning this material.

Geremie R. Barmé 白杰明









《九十年代月刊》, 1986年至1991年