In less than a hundred years, the Chinese have lost two systems of belief. During the first quarter of the present century they rejected Confucianism or, more precisely, scriptural Confucianism as opposed to habits of mind often given the 'Confucian' label. And at the beginning of the last quarter of this century, Maoist Communism ceased to be credible. It is not surprising, therefore, that a complex confusion about morals, world-views and the purposes of life now reigns in the thinking stratum of Chinese society, especially among the young. David Rice's Dragon's Brood is a marvellously fresh and immediate evocation of this confusion at what one might call the first level of perception - that of the serious visit. Rice is innocent of any real knowledge of Chinese culture or Chinese history, and has to work through an interpreter, but he has a good journalist's sense of the core of a human character, and a gift for asking questions. He has not been deceived by the usual stage props, and he persuades his informants to say blunt, even brutal, things. 'I could tell people enjoyed seeing the men killed,' says one of a political execution. 'In all our institutions, never forget there is a double tier of existence - one written down, and the other one, the things that really happen,' says another. Above all, Rice presents conflicting views and avoids peddling a single line of interpretation. In spite of its apparent superficiality, his book achieves real depth.
LRB 5 November 1992 | PDF Download