Reading should open minds, not please leaders

By Yu Ge Source:Global Times Published: 2011-9-27 22:09:23

The books officials read and recommend usually focus on Party work and the economy. So we might feel surprised when seeing such books as Meditations or Who Made the History of the Past 500 Years.

However, when officials take up reading, they need be alert that this kind of study doesn’t turn into a political task, otherwise what’s the difference between such lists and red-headed documents filled with official jargon?

The officials in Jiangsu Province have been fascinated by making book lists recently.

Luo Zhijun, secretary of the Jiangsu CPC Provincial Committee, recommended three books in a provincial meeting of party affairs to the officials present at the meeting: Spiritual Strength: The Latest Interpretation of the Great Spirit of the Communist Party of China, Zhang Weiying’s China Shakes, and Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. The last one was echoed by some district officials including Yang Weize, secretary of the Nanjing Municipal CPC Committee, Jiang Hongkun, Party head of Suzhou, and Miu Ruilin, Party head of Suqian. It has been passed up level by level like a relay baton. So most of the officials in Jiangsu Province are reading this book.

Besides Start-up Nation, Yang Weize also recommended the book Nanjinger, by Ye Zhaoyan, to Nanjing officials. To tell the truth, after reading the book, I thought that it wasn’t one of Ye’s best. If it becomes popular because of officials’ strong recommendation, will Ye be that pleased?

Jiang Hongkun adopted the three books recommended by Luo and later added another three books: Twelfth Five-Year Plan: Integrating City and Countryside, The Art of Guiding Public Opinion – How Officials Face The Media, and China’s Next 30 Years. The last one is really a good book with an outstanding lineup of authors. I think it is much better than Start-Up Nation. The book should be promoted in the whole province instead of only Suzhou.

Actually many officials like to make book lists or claim that they are reading some wonderful books. If the superior have any interests, their subordinates always follow them.

Perhaps every official in Jiangsu Province has a copy of Start-Up Nation, but if they study Luo’s ideas instead of Senor and Singer’s logic, then they are  studying to please the leaders instead of themselves.

The lists tell us a lot about the way Chinese officials are thinking, or the image they would like to present.

Wang Yang, Secretary of CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee included the book, Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, on his list.

If Wang really believes that GDP doesn’t add up, he’s an advanced thinker by the standards of his peers, who are still recommending Elbert Hubbard’s 1899 inspirational essay A Message to Garcia or standard  economic textbooks as Macro Economy and Micro Economy.

To my astonishment, Yuan Chunqing, Secretary of the CPC Shanxi Provincial Committee, once recommended Who Made the History of the Past 500 Years, a controversial book by “New Left” Peking University professor Han Yuhai. For a top official of a province to read and dare to recommend this book shows his unusual views. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has a similarly brave choice. His favorite is Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. He said: “I put the book on my bedside. I have read it almost 100 times and I read it every day.”

The booksellers are the greatest beneficiaries of Party leader’s endorsements. They printed what Wen Jiabao said on the cover of the new edition of the Meditations. Are there any advertising slogans more powerful than this? For readers keen for an endorsement from authority, nothing could be better.

Perhaps I can be so bold as to make some suggestions.

This year is the centennial of the Revolution of 1911. The Revolution of 1911: Shaking China, written by Zhang Ming and The Revolution of 1911: Unplanned Revolution, written by Xue Er both present the historical truth of that period and the secrets of the revolution.

The officials in charge of knocking down people’s homes could read Li Chengpeng’s novel Li Kele’s Tale of Fighting Against Demolition.

Education officials could read Liang Weixing’s novel For Your Own Good, about a teacher’s experiences.

And finally, court officials could read Murong Xuecun’s novel Dancing Through Red Dust and Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Perhaps these books could open their eyes, not just please the bosses.

The author is a freelancer based in Ningbo.

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