Late last week I finished China Wakes, the account of two married American journalists in China during the 1980s and early 1990s. They found China frustratingly difficult to judge; as much promise as its economic liberalization showed, the political and economic structure seemed rotten to the core, with civil society barely existent. The rule of whim and will ruled, not the rule of law; what counted was influence, whether social or monetary. Nick Kristof arrived in China regarding the Communist takeover as a good thing that had gone wrong; after extensive interviews with survivors of Mao’s “golden age”, Nick’s summation echoes Paul Dikotter’s: the “liberation” was a bloodsoaked tragedy. Women’s lot was improved by the Communists, his Chinese-American wife Sheryl admits, but now that the Chinese are growing wealthier, women are prized less for being economic units and more for their social roles — girlfriend decorations, or wives and mothers. What the Chinese of this book want — whether they are the kleptocrats on top or the still-abused peasants at bottom — is stability. The wars, famines, and mad chaos of the cultural revolution are bloody specters haunting the imagination of those interviewed, despite the Party’s campaign to control the memory of history.
I’ve been listening to the audio drama of Prince Caspian, produced by Focus on the Family Theater, on loan to me from a friend. I say audio drama deliberately, because the production doesn’t limit itself to Paul Scofield simply reading the book aloud; instead, different actors portray various characters, and background audio (music, other characters’ reactions to dialogue, etc) is employed for a full experience. So far I have listened to two books in this series (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe being first) and have found both delightful. Paul Scofield is a joy to listen to, though Aslan’s portayal sometimes borders on hammy. The dwarves (Trumpkin and Nickabrik) were solid, too. The world of Narnia (and that of Middle-Earth) has been a welcome relief from all the politics and death of this week, in both the news (poor Mexico and Puerto Rico!) and in reading. That’s also why I’ve been cozying up with The Fellowship, a biography of four writers who were part of the Inklings literary circle, contributing to one another’s imaginations and honing their craft together. It’s largely about Lewis and Tolkien, which is fine with me as the other two are rather strange.