The story begins in 1728 when the Governor General of a remote province is handed a letter by a stranger which contains a denunication of the Manchu emperor, Yongzheng. The writer, calling himself "Summer Calm", urges General Yue to "rise in revolt" and stop serving a "bandit ruler". "The barbarians(Manchurians) are different species from us (Chinese)...[and] should be driven out". The letter goes on to accuse the emperor of plotting against his parents, murdering several of his brothers, piling up material wealth, and living a debauched life. It praises a scholar, identified as "Master of the Eastern Sea" who has upheld the ideals of earlier times.
General Yue, though Chinese, is a loyal official of the "bandit ruler". He arrests the messenger, tortures and interrogates him to find out more about the conspiracy hinted at in the letter. His report to the emperor sets off an imperial investigation involving hundreds of officials in many provinces. Through detective work worthy of a modern police state, they net everyone connected to the messenger and, no matter how remotely, to "Summer Calm", a rural teacher whose real name in Zeng Jing. The roundup also includes the family, friends and former students of a poet-scholar name Lu Liuliang, the "Master of the Eastern Ocean" who has been dead for forty years. Not even dead poets can escape the long arm of a Chinese emperor.
One is awed by the efficiency of the Manchu emperor's administrative control over his vast country -- exercised through his Confucian-trained bureaucracy and a communication system unmatched in the west until the advent of the railroad. At about the same time Louis XIV's Intendants were just beginning to challenge the hereditary nobles for administrative control of the French provinces and the Hanoverians in Britain, a new alien dynasty like the Manchus, had no professional administrators. The British civil service, that would rule an empire greater than Yongzheng's, was a century in the future.
Under interrogation, Zeng Jing confessed that the "conspiracy" was mostly in his head, germinated by his reading of Lu Liuliang and nutured by gossip about the emperor he heard from a mysterious scholar named Wang Shu who had visited his schoolhouse six years earlier. After Zeng had been tried and convicted, the emperor decided that clearing his own reputation was a more important matter than executing a misguided slanderer. Zeng, he announced, was just a dupe of literary troublemakers like Lu Liuliang. To set record straight, the emperor published a 500 page book titled "Awakening from Delusion" Containing his own critque of the Zeng letter, an attack on the writings of Lu, and -- strangest of all -- a series of written exchanges between himself and Zeng Jing regarding the allegations of the letter. Zeng Jing confessed his errors of "understanding" abjectly, but in the process argued for land reform, more equitable distribution of wealth, and local "selection" of officals. The emperor made an enlightened argument for tolerance in a multi-ethnic nation. Both based their reasoning on the writings of Confucius and earlier scholars. Hundreds of thousands of copies of "Awakening" were printed and distributed throughout the empire together with imperial orders that it was to be read at bi-monthly public gatherings.
Neither of the principals lived to see the ironic conclusion of the decade-long affair. Nor could they have imagined that three hundred years later a "barbarian" scholar would use their story as a mirror in which his readers can study the reflection of their own times.
Everyone hates paperwork except historians, and the massive archives of Imperial China contain treasures that scholars are still mining. Spence's odd but fascinating story begins in 1728 when a provincial governor receives a letter insulting the emperor. The paranoia of Stalin's Russia was nothing compared 18th century China. For a government official to accept such a treasonous message might be fatal. The frightened bureaucrat seized the messenger and quickly learned the names of those involved in composing the letter. Eagerly he poured a stream of reports to the emperor, a stream which quickly became a two way flood. More people were interrogated, more names were named. The efficient Chinese bureaucracy sent orders to every province to arrest and interrogate everyone named along with (this being China) their families. Ironically, to our eyes, none of the accused planned to harm anyone. Their offense was to spread rumors, grumble in private, or write poetry that might be interpreted as critical of the current dynasty. Imperial China was positively Orwellian in its efforts at thought control. Hundreds were arrested. Many spent years in prison including many of the suspects' bewildered wives, uncles, sons, and cousins. Careers were ruined (the provincial governor's among them). A few executions took place. Much poetry was burned. Eventually the government turned to other matters, and the investigation petered out. Only the paperwork remained.
In movies, people from the past are identical to us except for the funny clothes. In reality, their minds worked differently; they believed strange things and behaved in ways we find incomprehensible. Yet they are recognizably human. This book, like all good history, brings it all to life.
In reading the book I think a little bit of a democratic bias comes out, just a little, but enough to notice. I also thought it interesting that they had far more details of the Gore group then the Bush camp, it follows the perception that the Post is somewhat liberal in its views. The book is an overview that came out almost 10 minutes after Gore hung up the phone on the second concession call so there are a few more details out now that they did not get in the book. Overall it is a good effort and a readable book, but not the end all be all on the subject.
Conversely, though, Deadlock was a well-written book. Two passages are worth noting. The first is about the book itself. About one-third of the way into the first chapter the book says: "These are the ... decisions, alliances, power plays, snap judgments and personality flaws revealed when a flukishly close election is played out for staggering high stakes. Both sides were nimble and brilliant and occasionally shady; both sides were also capable of miscalculations, divisions and blame. The best and worst of politics were on displayed in those 36 days, and both sides trafficked in each. This is how it happened." Although the Post endorsed Al Gore (no surprise) they tried to be equal in their appraisal of how the two campaigns sought resolution in their favor.
As for the two sides' strategy one only has to look within the first three pages of Chapter 2 where the Post records that the Democrats enlisted the services of three authors who wrote "The Recount Primer". The book reads: "Anyone who read and heeded the booklet could predict how the two sides would play America's closest president election -- at least in the broad outlines. Gore would gamble; Bush would stall. Gore would preach a doctrine of uncounted ballots; Bush would extol the dependability of machines. Gore needed more: more counting, more examination, more weighing and pondering of more ballots. Bush needed it over while he was still ahead." The only trouble for the Gore forces with this gospel was that the Republicans knew the same gospel. The book attempted to show how the two sides played out the roles assigned them.
For a behind the scenes objective look at the two sides, I think the Post did a very decent job. This could have been a... job on the Republicans and conservatives, but generally it was not (though I expected it). It could have been a... job on the Democrats and liberals, but it was not (nor did I expect it). I am not accustomed to this degree of fairness from the liberal Washington Post nor do I expect to see it very often in the future.
The trials and tribulations that she endures is the essence of this novel coupled with her own unique background. For you see, Renay is Black and a lesbian. Her lover, Terry is white. Two lesbians of different backgrounds and races defy the sexual and racial mores of their time. What a wonderful tale full of possibilities.
Those possibilities never blossom. All of the characters are predictable in their dialogue and come across as one dimensional. Renay's spurned husband is the stereotypical misoganist with a deep hatred for lesbians. Renay come across as a passive woman needing to find salvation in her white lover's sanctum. Even Terry's love making with Renay comes across as a mechanical exercise in exploring new sexual techniques.
This novel had the seeds within it to explore the relationships of interracial lesbian couples. Instead, it comes across as a boring tome guarenteed to put anyone to sleep. It is a failed classic that could have offered so much more.
Yes, I would recommend tis book, because there is some action parts, chipmunk must face, which is quite interesting. I liked this book.