Coming Alive

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

The recent history of China is filled with traumatic change, having begun with the deaths of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong in 1976. To record these changes, Roger Garside has written an eyewitness account of major developments in the four years that followed. Closely observing Hua Guofeng, successor to Chairman Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping, architect of China’s Four Modernizations program, he follows the policy changes with narrative and political analysis. He is clearly optimistic, as the title of his book suggests, and he senses a broad popular demand for China’s liberalization and modernization designed to end Soviet-style totalitarianism.

From his vantage point as First Secretary of the British Embassy in Beijing, and with language facility and the experience of an earlier residence in China, the author has ably recorded the events, the people, and the emotions surrounding the angry crowds at Tienanmen Square, when the memorial wreaths honoring Zhou Enlai in April, 1979 were removed, and the ecstatic throng at Democracy Wall tasted freedom of expression. Garside adds a further dimension to his observations by interviewing major participants in these events, utilizing published sources where available, and making comparisons to earlier periods, particularly the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1969. The human response to the policy changes that caused these events is important to assess the effect of such changes, and Garside performs this task credibly. His achievement is particularly noteworthy considering that policy changes are not always easy to detect through the subtle techniques devised by China’s Communist system. Garside, however, has a sensitive but critical eye to detect the policy shifts often tied to the political fortunes of China’s leaders.

Garside depicts Mao Zedong as a daring leader, fearless of nuclear war, who is compared to Tamerlane, the Turkish conqueror of Central Asia. Garside’s interpretations of Mao differ little from prevailing viewpoints. Consequently, he also sees Mao as deliberately attempting to build up a cult worship as a rallying point for his revolutionary leadership but genuinely embarrassed about the excessive public adulation directed by Lin Biao, Mao’s chosen successor and later betrayer. Garside, however, does place less emphasis than Robert Jay Lifton in Revolutionary Immortality (1969) on Mao’s desire to ensure the immortality of his revolution. Garside believes that there is insufficient evidence to show that Mao was really preoccupied with this thought.

The ideological battles between the famed Gang of Four, an ultra leftist faction led by Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife, and the pragmatist resurgence led by Deng Xiaoping are recounted at length. In 1976, after six years of being away from China, Garside returned to find the nation little changed. The capital’s bleakness appeared to permeate all facets of life. Authority prevailed over individual movement and decision, politics was not discussed, libraries were largely inaccessible, the Communist Party appeared unstable and inconsistent, and few foreign ideas and contacts had penetrated China’s isolation, yet the reverence for Chairman Mao remained evident everywhere.

Before the year’s end, the scene in China began to change. The death of Zhou Enlai on January 8, 1976, brought a genuine expression...

(The entire section is 1370 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

Best Sellers. XLI, May, 1981, p. 63.

Choice. XVIII, July, 1981, p. 1605.

Christian Science Monitor. LXXIII, July 8, 1981, p. 17.

The Economist. CCLXXX, July 11, 1981, p. 94.

Library Journal. CVI, March 1, 1981, p. 556.

National Review. XXXIII, February 20, 1981, p. 172.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, April 12, 1981, p. 9.

School Librarian. XXIX, September, 1981, p. 267.

Times Literary Supplement. July 10, 1981, p. 788.