In the spring of 1972 I met what I still think was the bravest man in China. An ordinary factory hand, he told me that the officially invited American China academics, of whom I was one, who the previous day had been brought to his ‘typical workers’ house’ in Canton, had been told a pack of lies by him and his family. In essence it was a Potemkin flat in which none of the new-looking things — TV, bicycles, kettles, even the bedding — belonged to the family. They lived near by in typical squalor. I had re-met him by chance very early the next morning and this daring Chinese invited me into his real flat and astounded me by telling me about his real life. This was during the Cultural Revolution and he was risking certain jail if not a bullet in the back of the neck.
I returned to my hotel where two things immediately happened. I was locked in my room by our Chinese handlers who scolded me for leaving the hotel unattended — by them. When I told my companions what had happened some of them said it was wrong of me to go out alone and, anyway, how did I know that the man who spoke to me was telling the truth? One person suggested that my informant might be a foreign agent, maybe from Taiwan. For the rest of the trip, when the two of us who found the constant deception enraging grizzled about it, the rest of the group reminded us that we were guests of the — very poor — ‘Chinese people’, and that in any event to complain, especially back home in the States, would strengthen American imperialism.
Beijing certainly got its money’s worth: for a few weeks of hospitality, including a late-night chat with then Premier Zhou Enlai, the Party had secured ten propagandists out of a group of 12, to do their best for China within the American academic elite.
We had been targets of what to this day is called ‘waishi,’ foreign affairs, which, as Anne-Marie Brady says, is ‘a perception of the outside world, particularly the West, as hostile and intrinsically opposed to the PRC’ [People’s Republic of China]. Although all such contacts were couched in terms of friendship, ‘in CCP [Chinese Communist Party] terms “friendship” might be read as doublethink for “hatred” or at the very least “distrust”’. Such handling of foreigners, a technique which the Chinese have never admitted they adopted from Stalin’s Russia, ‘has proved to be one of the most effective tools in the repertoire of the Chinese Communist Party for building and then sustaining its hold on power’.
Every now and again a book comes my way that is so lapidary in its style and so informative that to review it briefly is to cheat potential readers. Dr Brady, lecturer in political science at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, is the leading expert on how the Chinese have treated ‘foreign friends’ since 1936 when Edgar Snow, author of Red Star over China, was invited to Mao Zedong’s guerrilla headquarters at Yanan. There he saw Mao as ‘Lincolnesque’, and put the Chinese communists on the map as the future and idealistic rulers of China. Within 13 years this came about and Snow had become one of China’s greatest ever ‘foreign friends’. In 1970 Mao authorised Snow to return to China and invited him to stand beside him on the Tiananmen reviewing stand as a signal (which was missed in Washington) that he would be happy to see President Nixon.
Dr Brady has read Snow’s private papers which make clear that he knew he was being used, but obliged Beijing anyway on many delicate matters. On an earlier visit, in 1960, even while the greatest famine in history was killing something like 30 million Chinese, Snow and all the other foreign ‘friends’ denied it was so; in 1997 there were foreign friends in China, Dr Brady says, who ‘continued to deny it’. (Poor Snow; he once had been a ‘friend’ of the Soviets and in 1938 wrote to Moscow’s main agent in the US saying that he had asked his publisher to excise from Red Star passages which might ‘offend the party’.)
Brady’s previous book, Friend of China: the Myth of Rewi Alley, is about a New Zealander who devoted himself to lying for China where he lived most of his adult life. Alley was one of New Zealand’s few well-known international figures, and so potent remains his distorted reputation that as late as a few years ago China’s devoted ‘friends’ in that country attempted to boycott and disrupt Brady’s public lectures because she had shown him up.
Brady has read a quantity of hitherto secret ‘waishi’ materials including the manuals in which the cadres who devote themselves to cultivating foreigners are educated in every detail of their duties, such as keeping clean, avoiding heavy drinking and nose- and ear-picking, and briefing their bosses on everything their charges asked and said. This corpus ‘is an extraordinary genre of detailed instructions’, directed, as the Chinese said, at ‘making foreign things serve China’. In her new and invaluable book, Brady concentrates on ‘China’s friends, admirers, and agents of influence in the Western world’. There are also academics like those in my group in 1972 and many since, and, as Brady relates, Edward Kennedy and George Bush (when he represented the US in Beijing), Edward Heath, and Britain’s ex-ambassador to Beijing, Sir Percy Cradock, who was to become Mrs Thatcher’s and John Major’s intelligence chief; after he retired Sir Percy spoke and wrote about how Governor Chris Patten had damaged Britain’s relations with China.
I have met a number of the foreign friends who lived in China for decades. Brady describes them perfectly. ‘Two- hundred percenters’, they were sometimes called, or ‘sunshiners’, referring to what they might have imagined shone out of Mao’s bottom. True believers in the Communist future, most of them no- hopers and failures in their own countries, even after decades in China many spoke little or no Chinese. Although their living accommodations were shabby and their incomes from jobs as ‘polishers’ of English-language propaganda or English teachers were small, they lived at a much higher standard than most Chinese and were usually housed in their own ‘foreign friends’’ ghetto or, if particularly favoured, in especially comfortable quarters. When the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, eventually costing tens of thousands of lives, suspending schools and universities and wrecking cultural monuments from Lhasa to Shanghai, many of the ‘foreign friends’, Dr Brady says, saw in this Maoist convulsion ‘the natural successor to the great revolutions of the United States, France and the Russian Revolution, too’. Then the movement began to devour its foreign admirers. One of them was the English Stalinist David Crook, sent by Moscow to China after the Spanish civil war. Although he devoted himself to the Chinese communists for many years he told me they never trusted him. In 1967 he was arrested. But the ‘waishi’ treatment had eaten into his soul. After five years in jail, Dr Brady relates, Crook wrote to an American friend: during a revolution, he said, there will be ‘painful experiences. But the gains are the overwhelming aspect, not the losses.’ Crook’s wife, Isobel, told me in Beijing years later that after her husband’s arrest she wrote to their friends abroad that ‘David has gone to the countryside to teach the peasants. I wasn’t going to give anyone the satisfaction of gloating over China’s difficulties.’ What more can one ask of a ‘friend’? As one of my well-trained ‘waishi’ handlers from 1972 told me when we met again in 1979, ‘We wanted to put rings in your noses, and you helped us put