In This Review

Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing
Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing
By Ian Buruma
Random House, 2001, 354 pp.

The now-exiled student leaders of the Tiananmen democracy movement have lost some of their heroic stature thanks to internal squabbling and material successes. Buruma, however, succeeds here in analyzing their personal situations with subtlety and sympathy, explaining what motivated the different leaders of the largest demonstration for democracy in history. Skillfully weaving together in-depth interviews with historical analysis and journalistic reporting, he challenges the idea that Chinese culture favors authoritarian rule. Through his interviews, he compares the stories of the Chinese exiles with accounts of dissidents from Taiwan, Singapore, and Tibet. Despite his attempts, Buruma is unable to find a theoretical formulation that can encapsulate his rich findings. But he does provide substantial evidence that the ceaseless backbiting and badmouthing among the dissidents stems partly from the lack of closure to their political struggles, such as an election that could at least give them some legitimacy. Buruma also succeeds in making the reader appreciate the travails of the Chinese rebels. Yet he is scornful of the possibility of evolutionary change and concludes that more radical, revolutionary actions will be necessary to bring democracy to China.