In the afternoon, when Lisa and I
were about to leave, we passed by the path leading to Li Hua's office. I
decided to try my luck. Figuring that Li Hua was probably a man who
cared about his international face and thus would be more willing to
meet a foreigner, I urged Lisa to go with me, giving her a brief
explanation of my purpose. Lisa, being a kind friend, complied. On the
way up the path we were stopped three times, first by a woman sweeping
the ground, then a man, finally a secretary of Li Hua's. Each asked if
we had an appointment, and each time I said yes. In the courtyard of a
two-story building, the secretary asked us to wait downstairs while she
went up to check with her boss. A minute or two later we were brought
in, pretty much as I expected. (I want to apologize to Lisa again for
using her like that, but her foreigner face apparently worked.)
Hua was a sturdy man with a chubby rough face, in his mid-50s, dressed
in a blue jacket and jeans. He sat on an expensive-looking mahogany
chair, and two attractive young women waited at his sides. A plaque of
"The Li Family Troupe" hung on the wall - in previous generations his
family had run a famous Sichuan-opera troupe.
He put a
cigarette between his lips, and one of the young women leaned over to
light it for him. His secretary brought us tea. I talked with Li Hua in
Chinese while Lisa listened. Hearing that we were writers interested in
SACO's history, he pulled out his new book from the shelf behind him,
gave us each a copy - very generous of him. I glanced at the book title:
Decoding the Red Crag Archives.
Now, here came the surprise. I
asked Li Hua about the relation between SACO and the prisons. He said,
"They were unrelated. There has been a mix-up. We are restoring
history's original face."
I paused. An official revision of
history was quietly taking place. I wanted to ask about his numerous
previous writings contradicting his words, but was too embarrassed to
say things like that to someone's face. Instead I said, "The mix-up, was
it intended or unintended?"
He paused. Then: "Unintended."
waited. No more elaboration.
Later I browsed his new book,
which was published in November 2008. It is essentially a popular
edition of story-telling, with anecdotes of historical figures related
to the novel Red Crag. Nothing much new there - all the stories I have
read elsewhere, but in one chapter titled "Disclosing SACO Secrets,"
there is a line saying "SACO was unrelated to Juntong's concentration
camp." That's it, one line among 349 pages.
It is progress, I
suppose, but I couldn't cheer myself to it. One line, and a history is
effortlessly turned, no explanation, no apology, let alone any sense of
shame about his own past propaganda writings and organization of
Perhaps that is why Li Hua's book can be
published, but Sun Dannian's can't. Perhaps that is why Bo Xilai wants
ten Li Hua's for Chongqing.
In the summer of 2009, an
odd news report appeared on the Chinese internet with the headline "Bo
Xilai Says: Chongqing Needs Ten Li Hua's!" It says that Li Hua was
elected as Chongqing's "city image publicizing ambassador" by popular
votes, and Bo Xilai, Chongqing's party boss, awarded him the title in a
big ceremony. With 8.7 million votes cast, Li Hua was third, behind Gu
Li (Go player) and Li Yundi (pianist). The report does not say how many
votes each had received. Li Hua's achievements? "In 20 plus years, he
took the 'Red Crag Soul' exhibits all over China to 383 cities, on 308
tours and with more than a thousand 'Red Crag soul' performances, and
moved the hearts of 5.6 million attendees."