In This Review

In the Red: Contemporary Chinese Culture
In the Red: Contemporary Chinese Culture
By Geremie R. Barme
Columbia University Press, 1999, 448 pp.

Western news reporting often implies that China is a land absorbed with economic development and political repression. In fact, it also possesses an astonishingly lively popular culture. Australian scholar Geremie Barme is the most knowledgeable and well-connected Western authority on China's cultural scene, fully in tune with the constant cat-and-mouse game that writers and artists play with authorities oscillating between repression and hints of liberalization. He is most informative in his insider reporting on the shifting fashions among Chinese writers. The lively prose charts the ambivalent Chinese reaction to international cultural trends as well as developments within Chinese traditional culture -- a mix that has produced a nationalism vacillating between self-deprecation and xenophobia. The scene that Barme describes is too lively and confusing to provide any clear guidelines on where China may be heading in the post-Marxist cultural domain. Despite the recent resurgence of political repression, however, it is not implausible that China's writers, artists, performers, and cultural entrepreneurs are already shaping post-Communist political culture into a more pluralistic phenomenon.