The Way to Glory
- Chinese Lives: An Oral History of Contemporary China by Zhang Xinxin and Sang Ye, edited by W.J.F. Jenner and Delia Davin
Macmillan, 367 pp, £14.95, February 1988, ISBN 0 333 43364 5
‘The Great Wall is the symbol of our nation,’ says one of the speakers in this extraordinary book. ‘It’s falling to pieces, ruined by people and by the elements like a dragon hacked apart.’ China is accessible now, in one sense: you can go on a tour. No doubt the Chinese will develop new layers of opacity, and a souvenir culture to keep the West happy; there would be plenty of precedents. The vast incomprehension between the Chinese and ourselves makes us inclined to study them through their artefacts, as though they were a vanished people. It is a way of dealing with them, now that the Great Wall is crumbling. A current tour brochure offers ‘a kaleidoscope of temples, tombs, bronzes, jades, pagodas, old city-walls, lacquer-work, terracotta figurines, frescoes, painting on silk, ceramics, porcelain, calligraphy and monumental sculpture.’ Yes, but who are they? What do they think?