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New Left Review 5, September-October 2000


He Qinglian was born in Shaoyang in the province of Hunan in 1956. Sent as a teenager to work in the countryside on a railway construction site, she studied history at Hunan Normal University and economics at Fudan University in Shanghai, passing out in 1985. After teaching jobs in Changsha and Guanzhou, she moved to the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen, working first in the publicity department of the municipal Party Committee, and then on the Shenzhen Legal Daily. In August 1996 she completed a book on the social and economic ills of China after two decades of reform policies, declined as too explosive by eight or nine publishers. But after it appeared in Hong Kong in 1997 under the title China’s Pitfall, an expurgated version was published in Beijing as Modernization’s Pitfall in January 1998, with a preface by Liu Jili, Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, then an adviser to Jiang Zemin. The book was an immediate sensation, as a blistering indictment of far-reaching inequality and corruption in the PRC, selling 200,000 legal copies and vastly more pirated ones.

The essay translated here appeared in the March 2000 issue of Shuwu [House of Books], a journal published in Changsha. The number sold out within ten days. More radical than her book, the article met with a swift reaction from the authorities. The Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the CCP denounced it as a ‘liberal’ document guilty of ‘inciting antagonism between the different strata of Chinese society’, and sent an investigative team to Changsha to find out how it could have seen the light of day. In May meetings were summoned of the Guangdong Provincial Committee and Shenzhen Municipal Committee of the Party, at which confidential directives were given that her works were no longer to be mentioned in the media. On returning from a trip abroad in June, He Qinglian was demoted from her editorial position at the Shenzhen Legal Daily, and placed under domestic surveillance. Her article, however, continues to be the focus of intense unofficial discussion, amid increasing intellectual ferment in China. In study circles, it has been compared—only partly in jest—to Mao’s famous Report on the Peasant Movement in Hunan of the twenties, as a gripping class analysis of Chinese society for these times. Disavowing the analogy, He Qinglian has said that where Mao’s text set out to identify the agents, allies and targets of a social revolution, her concern is simply to bring home to her compatriots some unquestionable realities of the country in which they are living.



The class structure of Chinese society has undergone a profound transformation since the beginnings of the reform-policy period in 1978. The elite, previously selected on a political basis, is now also being recruited on the basis of ‘wealth’ and ‘merit’—profoundly affecting the underlying social structure. These new sections of the elite are now beginning to form their own interest groups, social organizations and lobbying channels, beyond the already established political ones. The working class, hitherto the constitutionally decreed ‘leading class’, and the peasantry, the ‘semi-leading’ class, have both been marginalized; intermediate social organizations are developing apace. All these processes have led to thorough-going changes in the relations between the state, society and the individual. We have reason to believe that, after China joins the WTO, interest groups will multiply further, and relations between them will undergo yet more complex change.

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Qinglian He, ‘China’s Listing Social Structure’, NLR 5: £3

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