Ian John­son

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Ian John­son

Sex­ual Life in Mod­ern China

Through­out the late 1970s and 1980s, Chi­nese writers grap­pled with the trau­mas of the Mao pe­riod, seek­ing to make sense of their suf­fer­ing. As in the im­pe­rial era, most had been ser­vants of the state, loy­al­ists who might crit­i­cize but never seek to over­throw the sys­tem. And yet they had been per­se­cuted by Mao, forced to la­bor in the fields or shovel ma­nure for of­fer­ing even the most timid opin­ions.

Many wrote what came to be known as scar lit­er­a­ture, re­count­ing the tribu­la­tions of ed­u­cated peo­ple like them­selves. A few wrote sex-fu­eled ac­counts of com­ing of age in the vast reaches of In­ner Mon­go­lia or the imag­ined ro­man­ti­cism of Ti­bet. Al­most all of them were self-pity­ing and in­sipid, pro­duced by peo­ple who were ag­grieved by but not re­flec­tive about hav­ing served a sys­tem that killed mil­lions. Then, in 1992, an un­known writer pub­lished a strange novella that told the hi­lar­i­ous and ab­surd story of two young lovers ex­iled to a re­mote part of China near the Burmese bor­der dur­ing the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion. There they have an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair, are caught by of­fi­cials and forced to write end­less con­fes­sions, tour the coun­try­side in a min­strel show reen­act­ing their sin­ful be­hav­ior, es­cape to the moun­tains, and re­turn for more pun­ish­ment, un­til one day they are re­leased, un­re­pen­tant and slightly con­fused.

The novella was im­me­di­ately pop­u­lar for its sex, which is om­nipresent and far­ci­cal. But it isn’t de­scribed as some­thing lib­er­at­ing dur­ing a pe­riod of op­pres­sion or as a force of na­ture un­leashed by liv­ing in Chi­nese border­lands. In­stead, sex is some­thing the Com­mu­nist Party wants to con­trol—the ap­pa­ratchiks want the cou­ple to write end­less self-crit­i­cism so they can drool over the pur­ple prose— but the nar­ra­tor and his lover still man­age to im­bue it with a deeper mean­ing that they un­der­stand only later, at the end of the story.

Af­ter the sex, what was most shock­ing about the novella was how in­tel­lec­tu­als are por­trayed. They are al­most as bad as the party hacks who con­trol them. The novel’s hero cons his lover into the sack, picks fights with lo­cals, daw­dles at work, and is as tricky as his tor­men­tors. The novella’s ti­tle added to the sense of the ab­surd. It was called The Golden Age, leav­ing many to won­der how this could have been any­one’s or any coun­try’s best years.

And who was Wang Xiaobo, the author? He was not part of the state writers’ as­so­ci­a­tion and hadn’t pub­lished fic­tion be­fore. But af­ter its pub­li­ca­tion in Tai­wan, The Golden Age was soon pub­lished in China and be­came an im­me­di­ate suc­cess. Wang fol­lowed it with a tor­rent of novel­las and es­says. He was es­pe­cially pop­u­lar with col­lege stu­dents, who ad­mired his cyn­i­cism, irony, hu­mor—and of course the sex.

Just five years later, in 1997, Wang died of a heart at­tack at the age of forty-four. Few re­marked on his pass­ing. Most in China’s lit­er­ary scene saw him as lit­tle more than an un­trained writer who had be­come fa­mous thanks to bawdy, coarse works. Abroad, al­most none of his writ­ing had been trans­lated. He seemed des­tined to be lit­tle more than one of the many writers whose works are re­duced to fod­der for doc­toral stu­dents re­search­ing an era’s zeit­geist.

In the twenty years since Wang’s death, how­ever, some­thing re­mark­able has hap­pened. In the West he re­mains vir­tu­ally un­known; a sin­gle vol­ume of his novel­las has been trans­lated into English. But Chi­nese read­ers and crit­ics around the world now widely re­gard Wang as one of the most im­por­tant mod­ern Chi­nese au­thors. Two new col­lec­tions of his works have been pub­lished in China. In­ter­net fo­rums honor his life and writ­ings. A café has opened in his name. He is now in­cluded in every ma­jor an­thol­ogy of re­cent Chi­nese fic­tion, and his es­says are con­sid­ered cru­cial to un­der­stand­ing China’s re­cent past.

He was also an early user of the In­ter­net and spoke up on­line for dis­ad­van­taged groups—then an un­usual po­si­tion but now com­mon among public fig­ures such as the film­maker Jia Zhangke, the writer Liao Yiwu, and the nov­el­ist Yan Lianke. In a less overtly ac­tivist way he re­sem­bles the re­cently de­ceased No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate Liu Xiaobo: an in­ter­loper who pushed for change out­side the state lit­er­ary and in­tel­lec­tual ap­pa­ra­tus.

Wang

Xiaobo was born in Bei­jing in 1952, the fourth of five chil­dren; his fa­ther, the lo­gi­cian Wang Fang­ming, was a univer­sity pro­fes­sor. That year, the elder Wang had been la­beled a class en­emy and purged from the Com­mu­nist Party. The new­born’s name, Xiaobo, or “small wave,” re­flected the fam­ily’s hope that their po­lit­i­cal trou­ble would be mi­nor. It wasn’t, and peo­ple like Wang Fang­ming were re­ha­bil­i­tated only af­ter Mao died in 1976. In his mem­oirs, Wang’s elder brother, Wang Xiaop­ing, said their mother was so dis­traught at her hus­band’s po­lit­i­cal prob­lems that she spent her preg­nancy weep­ing. She was un­able to breast­feed, and Wang Xiaobo grew up with rick­ets. He had a slightly bulging skull and a bar­rel chest, as well as bones so soft that he would en­ter­tain his four sib­lings by yank­ing his legs be­hind his head and pulling him­self along the floor on his stom­ach like a crab. His one priv­i­lege was sweet­ened cal­cium pills, which he ate by the hand­ful while his sib­lings watched en­vi­ously.

De­spite the fam­ily’s mis­for­tunes, Wang grew up in­tel­lec­tu­ally priv­i­leged. His fa­ther had a wide col­lec­tion of for­eign lit­er­a­ture in trans­la­tion. In school, Wang would stare at the wall and ig­nore his teach­ers, but at home he de­voured works by Shake­speare, Ovid, Boc­cac­cio, and es­pe­cially Mark Twain. His brother es­ti­mated that Xiaobo could read one hun­dred pages an hour, even of dif­fi­cult works by Marx, Hegel, or clas­si­cal Chi­nese writers.

When Wang Xiaobo was four­teen, Mao launched the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion, hop­ing to purge the Party of his en­e­mies and re­turn the rev­o­lu­tion to a purer state. Af­ter that quickly de­scended into chaos, Mao or­dered young peo­ple to go down to the coun­try­side to learn from the peas­ants. Even though weak, Wang vol­un­teered to go to Yun­nan, spurred by ro­man­tic fan­tasies of the bor­der re­gion. He was fif­teen when he ar­rived, and he wrote end­lessly while there. He would get up in the mid­dle of the night to scrib­ble with a blue pen on a mir­ror, clean­ing it and then writ­ing again. He dreamed of be­ing a writer and re­hearsed his sto­ries over and over again.

When he re­turned to Bei­jing in 1972 he kept writ­ing but didn’t pub­lish. He worked in a fac­tory for six years, and when uni­ver­si­ties re­opened he got a de­gree and taught in a high school. All along he stayed silent un­til one day he couldn’t.

I have met Wang’s widow, Li Yinhe, sev­eral times over the past twenty-five years.1 Un­til re­cently I thought of her

1See my in­ter­view with her, “Sex in China,” NYR Daily, Septem­ber 9, 2014. mainly as China’s fore­most ex­pert on sex and in­ter­viewed her about Chi­nese peo­ple’s sex­ual lib­er­a­tion in the re­form era (a typ­i­cal clichéd idea writ­ten up by for­eign jour­nal­ists; how of­ten have we read sto­ries about Chi­nese peo­ple’s sex­ual lib­er­a­tion?).

It took me awhile to re­al­ize that she was ac­tu­ally a lead­ing chron­i­cler of some­thing more pro­found: the re­turn of the pri­vate sphere in the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple. She had re­searched and writ­ten about China’s gay and les­bian move­ment, and in re­cent years has stood up for trans­gen­der and bi­sex­ual cit­i­zens as well, but the big­ger pic­ture was the govern­ment’s re­treat from peo­ple’s daily lives.

This past spring I talked with her about her late hus­band. She said that they had had a sim­i­lar up­bring­ing. Both came from ed­u­cated families, and both had se­cretly read nov­els like The Catcher in the Rye. While in the United States in the 1980s, Wang had read Michel Fou­cault and his ideas about the hu­man body, but she felt he was more in­flu­enced by Ber­trand Rus­sell and ideas of per­sonal free­dom. “The per­son he liked to cite the most was Rus­sell, the most ba­sic and ear­li­est kind of lib­er­al­ism,” she said. “I think he had started read­ing these books in his child­hood.”

The two met in 1979 and mar­ried the next year. Li was part of a new gen­er­a­tion of so­ci­ol­o­gists trained af­ter the ban on the dis­ci­pline had been lifted. In the Mao era, so­ci­ol­ogy had been seen as su­per­flu­ous be­cause Marx­ism was sup­posed to be able to ex­plain all so­cial phe­nom­ena. Sup­ported by China’s pi­o­neer­ing so­ci­ol­o­gist Fei Xiao­tong, Li stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh from 1982 to 1988. Wang ac­com­pa­nied her for the fi­nal four years and stud­ied­with the Chi­nese-Amer­i­can his­to­rian Cho-yun Hsu.

Now re­tired, Hsu told me that he was ini­tially flum­moxed by Wang. Al­though not for­mally a nov­el­ist, the young man wanted to write. And al­though he was liv­ing in the United States he spoke very lit­tle English. “I re­al­ized that I was train­ing not a his­to­rian or so­ci­ol­o­gist but a Chi­nese nov­el­ist who needed to un­der­stand his­tory,” he said. “He was writ­ing a form of trauma lit­er­a­ture.” Hsu put Wang on a course of in­de­pen­dent study, mostly sys­tem­atic read­ing in the Chi­nese clas­sics and re­cent Chi­nese his­tory, which had been lack­ing in his Com­mu­nist-era ed­u­ca­tion. Wang re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in East Asian Stud­ies but spent most of his time writ­ing—for the desk drawer. “He wasn’t ready to pub­lish,” Hsu said. “And I re­spected that. My goal was to help him de­velop.”

Af­ter Li re­ceived her Ph.D., the cou­ple re­turned to China and col­lab­o­rated on a ground­break­ing study, Their World: A Study of the Male Ho­mo­sex­ual Com­mu­nity in China. Li even­tu­ally took a po­si­tion at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences, and Wang taught his­tory and so­ci­ol­ogy at Ren­min and Pek­ing uni­ver­si­ties.

The 1989 stu­dent move­ment came and went, end­ing on June 4 with the

Tianan­men mas­sacre. Still, Wang did not pub­lish. “On the night of June 4, we were ac­tu­ally in Xi­dan [the in­ter­sec­tion in Bei­jing near the worst killings],” Li said. The cou­ple watched the pro­test­ers, hop­ing they would suc­ceed where their gen­er­a­tion had failed. “Wang Xiaobo hid be­hind a con­crete traf­fic is­land at a corner of the street to take pho­tos,” she told me. “We thought at the time that we should just let the young peo­ple do it.”

Stay­ing silent be­came the theme of Wang’s most fa­mous es­say, “The Silent Ma­jor­ity.” He de­scribes how dur­ing the Mao era peo­ple were si­lenced by the ubiq­uity of the great leader: his thoughts, his ideas, and his words rained down on peo­ple day and night. Later, that left a scar, which for Wang meant that he “could not trust those who be­longed to the so­ci­eties of speech.” The strug­gle to find a voice be­came a per­sonal quest and an al­le­gory for the whole na­tion’s trauma dur­ing the Mao era.

This is what drew Wang to ho­mo­sex­u­als in China. Dis­ad­van­taged groups were silent groups. They had been de­prived of a voice, and so­ci­ety ig­nored them, some­times even deny­ing their ex­is­tence. Then Wang had an epiphany—that all of Chi­nese so­ci­ety was voice­less:

Later, I had an­other sud­den re­al­iza­tion: that I be­longed to the great­est dis­ad­van­taged group in his­tory, the silent ma­jor­ity. These peo­ple keep silent for any num­ber of rea­sons, some be­cause they lack the abil­ity or the op­por­tu­nity to speak, oth­ers be­cause they are hid­ing some­thing, and still oth­ers be­cause they feel, for what­ever rea­son, a cer­tain dis­taste for the world of speech. I am one of these last groups and, as one of them, I have a duty to speak of what I have seen and heard.

Wang’s most promi­nent chron­i­cler in the West, Se­bas­tian Veg at the School of Ad­vanced Stud­ies in So­cial Sciences in Paris, be­lieves that he was shocked by the 1989 mas­sacre and his own fail­ure to sup­port the pro­test­ers. At the same time, he was search­ing for a new way for peo­ple to change so­ci­ety that went be­yond protests and marches. Fi­nally, he had some­thing that needed to be said. In 1992 Wang fin­ished The Golden Age, which he had been work­ing on since re­turn­ing from Yun­nan in 1972. Un­sure how to pub­lish it, he sent a copy to Pro­fes­sor Hsu in Pitts­burgh. Hsu sent it to United Daily News, a promi­nent Chi­nese-lan­guage news­pa­per in Tai­wan that spon­sored a lit­er­ary prize. Wang won and en­tered what he called a “yam­mer­ing mad­house”—the world of speech.

Wang was the sec­ond son in his fam­ily, or er—num­ber two—a name he gave most of his heroes: Wang Er. In The Golden Age, Wang Er is a twen­ty­one-year-old sent to Yun­nan, where he meets Chen Qingyang, a twen­tysix-year-old doc­tor whose hus­band has been in prison for a year. Gos­sips ac­cuse Chen of be­ing “dam­aged goods”—of hav­ing cheated on her hus­band with Wang—and she asks him to vouch for the fact that they haven’t slept to­gether. Par­o­dy­ing the log­i­cal for­mu­las of Wang Xiaobo’s fa­ther, Wang Er tells Chen:

We would have to prove two things first be­fore our in­no­cence could be es­tab­lished:

1. Chen Qingyang was a vir­gin; 2. Cas­trated at birth, I was un­able to have sex.

These two things would be hard to prove, so we couldn’t prove our in­no­cence. I pre­ferred to prove our guilt.

Even­tu­ally the cou­ple have an af­fair and re­treat to the moun­tains. They are later rounded up and “strug­gled against”—put on a stage and forced to reen­act their sins. But in­stead of hu­mil­i­a­tion, Chen feels only that this is an act­ing chal­lenge. And when they are forced to con­fess their sins in writ­ing, both tell the most ab­surd sto­ries of their sex­ploits, see­ing the pun­ish­ment as a lit­er­ary ex­er­cise. When freed of this state bul­ly­ing, the cou­ple make love in their room—a true emo­tional act that the party couldn’t con­trol.

The ex­pe­ri­ence makes Wang Er re­al­ize that so­ci­ety is noth­ing more than a se­ries of power re­la­tion­ships. In the vil­lage, he notes, lo­cals didn’t just cas­trate bulls, they also ham­mered their tes­ti­cles into a pulp to make sure the bulls got the mes­sage. Af­ter that, he says, even the feisti­est bull was a docile beast of bur­den.

Only much later did I re­al­ize that life is a slow process of be­ing ham­mered. Peo­ple grow old day af­ter day, their de­sire dis­ap­pears lit­tle by lit­tle, and fi­nally they be­come like those ham­mered bulls.

This mes­sage of con­trol is re­flected in Wang’s other fic­tional works. As part of The Tril­ogy of the Ages, The Golden Age is a novella sand­wiched be­tween The Bronze Age, a se­ries of cu­ri­ous sto­ries set in the Tang dy­nasty (one of which has been re­cently trans­lated by Eric Abra­ham­sen as “Mis­ter Lover”) and The Sil­ver Age, a se­ries of fu­tur­is­tic dystopian sto­ries in which so­cial con­trol is nearly per­fected. This makes the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion merely a vari­a­tion of the suf­fer­ing that hu­mans have en­dured in so­ci­eties through­out the ages. Wang also set down his ideas in two col­lec­tions of es­says pub­lished in his life­time: My Spir­i­tual Home­land and The Silent Ma­jor­ity. Many of the pieces orig­i­nally ap­peared in the edgy mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers that used to ex­ist in south­ern China and which over the past decade or so have been ham­mered into docil­ity.

I met Wang in 1996 be­cause of a piece he had pub­lished in Ori­ent, a mag­a­zine that had de­voted a spe­cial edi­tion to the thir­ti­eth an­niver­sary of the start of the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion. Wang’s es­say an­a­lyzed pe­ri­ods of un­rea­son in his­tory and the thinkers who re­sisted: Galileo chal­leng­ing the doc­trines of Rome; the Austrian writer Ste­fan Zweig op­pos­ing the Nazis; and the Chi­nese writer Lao She op­pos­ing Maoist ex­cesses. But Wang didn’t stop there. He also pointed out par­al­lels to the China of the 1990s (and, in ef­fect, to­day) by writ­ing about the rise of na­tion­al­ism.

At our first meet­ing, in a ho­tel near his apart­ment, he showed up di­sheveled, wear­ing a Hawai­ian shirt that made him look like a Hong Kong busi­ness­man on a week­end fling. He had a big side­ways grin and a mop of hair combed over rak­ishly. He talked gar­ru­lously for a cou­ple of hours, and later we went home to meet his wife and play with his com­puter.

One of his big­gest com­plaints then was a book called China Can Say No, a col­lec­tion of polem­i­cal es­says by a half-dozen young writers fed up with the United States and its per­ceived bul­ly­ing of China. The writers ranted against Hol­ly­wood, Boe­ing jets, and other re­minders that China was in­ex­tri­ca­bly bound to the out­side world. Wang thought the book was rub­bish, writ­ten by op­por­tunists. “Peo­ple of my age had mis­er­able ex­pe­ri­ences. We have seen the dark side of things,” he told me. “But to­day’s young peo­ple may not be aware of it. [The writers] are sen­ti­men­tal and un­rea­son­able, and that is why I dis­like them.”

Those young au­thors and most of their in­tel­lec­tual con­tem­po­raries com­mit­ted what for Wang was a car­di­nal sin: they as­pired to lead so­ci­ety rather than re­main out­side of it as in­de­pen­dent crit­ics. Wang said: “The mal­adies of Chi­nese so­ci­ety are mainly from au­toc­racy and cen­tral­iza­tion of state power. In the Chi­nese cul­tural tra­di­tion, there is no sense of the peo­ple.”

About six months af­ter we talked, Wang died. His friend the lit­er­ary critic Ai Xiaom­ing2 car­ried out what she thought of as his last wish. The Tril­ogy of the Ages had been pub­lished just days ear­lier, which he hadn’t lived to see. She placed it on his body be­fore it en­tered the cre­ma­to­rium’s fur­nace.

As the scope of Wang Xiaobo’s pub­li­ca­tions in those five fre­netic years be­came ap­par­ent, Chi­nese crit­ics be­came more ap­pre­cia­tive. On the fifth an­niver­sary of his death, the for­mer cul­ture min­is­ter Wang Meng wrote an ar­ti­cle about Wang Xiaobo say­ing he had “lived a life of clar­ity.” The strong sales of his books didn’t hurt ei­ther. The Shang­hai-based critic and lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor Huang Ping told me that Wang now ri­vals the World War II–era Hong Kong writer Zhang Ail­ing (bet­ter known abroad as Eileen Chang) as the most pop­u­lar mod­ern Chi­nese author.

Wang had no sense of this in his life­time, ac­cord­ing to Li Yinhe. “There weren’t too many lit­er­a­ture re­views of his works in the main­stream,” she said. “Peo­ple just be­gan to pay at­ten­tion to his works and es­says. We had no idea of his sales.”

Huang has a slightly con­trar­ian ex­pla­na­tion of Wang’s pop­u­lar­ity. While govern­ment crit­ics see him as a lib­er­tar­ian, he can also be read as some­one whose irony and sar­casm ex­on­er­ates mid­dle­class Chi­nese from re­spon­si­bil­ity for so­cial prob­lems. Huang said that “in­stead of ex­plain­ing how to over­come the is­sues, [Wang] tells you by his ironic tone that the is­sues have noth­ing to do with you.”

This could be one rea­son why Wang’s works are in print in China—their hu­mor and sar­casm can be seen as putting dis­tance be­tween then and now, in essence ab­solv­ing to­day’s Com­mu­nist Party for its sins of half a cen­tury ear­lier. And yet his books don’t read as if he were a prac­ti­tioner of what Perry Link calls “daft hi­lar­ity”—a use of hu­mor to avoid so­cial crit­i­cism. In his fic­tion, the sys­tem and the of­fi­cials are clearly mis­guided. His es­says are also sharply crit­i­cal of is­sues like na­tion­al­ism. His sup­port for marginal­ized mem­bers of so­ci­ety is now com­mon among Chi­nese in­tel­lec­tu­als in the post-Tianan­men era. Peo­ple like Ai Xiaom­ing turned to film­mak­ing, along with in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ers like Hu Jie and Wu Wen­guang, to doc­u­ment vic­tims of the Anti-Right­ist Move­ment and the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion. And Li Yinhe be­came an ad­vo­cate for the LGBT move­ment, even­tu­ally com­ing out her­self as hav­ing a trans­gen­der part­ner.

It’s abroad that Wang is lit­tle known. Only three short works, in­clud­ing The Golden Age and the story “2015” from The Sil­ver Age, are in print in English, pub­lished in one vol­ume with the silly ti­tle Wang in Love and Bondage.3 The

2In­ter­viewed in “The Peo­ple in Re­treat,” NYR Daily, Septem­ber 8, 2016. 3Trans­lated and with an in­tro­duc­tion by Hongling Zhang and Ja­son Som­mer (SUNY Press, 2007).

cover is a disas­ter, show­ing a draw­ing, rem­i­nis­cent of a 1940s Amer­i­can crime novel, of a man and woman in a cheap ho­tel room af­ter a tryst. Two other es­says are avail­able on­line, but about 90 per­cent of his work is un­trans­lated—a strange over­sight when pub­lish­ers are of­ten search­ing (seem­ingly des­per­ately, given what some­times gets trans­lated) to find Chi­nese voices to ex­plain the coun­try’s rise.

David Der-wei Wang, a pro­fes­sor of Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture at Har­vard Univer­sity, said the lack of trans­la­tion can’t be due to Wang’s work be­ing dif­fi­cult to read. Be­sides in­clud­ing Wang Xiaobo in his New Lit­er­ary His­tory of Mod­ern China (2017), Pro­fes­sor Wang reg­u­larly teaches Wang Xiaobo in lit­er­a­ture classes to non–China spe­cial­ists. “They re­ally like it—the style, the story, the laugh­ter and the melan­cho­lia, even though they didn’t know who this per­son was or what the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion was all about,” Wang told me. “These are is­sues that speak to a world­wide au­di­ence.”

On the an­niver­sary of Wang Xiaobo’s death this past April, some of China’s best-known lit­er­ary crit­ics met to dis­cuss his works, while his widow and a half-dozen of his fans made a pil­grim­age to his grave on the out­skirts of Bei­jing. There they spilled a bot­tle of his fa­vorite grain al­co­hol in his honor and read po­ems. The group had made com­mem­o­ra­tive T-shirts for the day, with Wang’s face and the dates 1952–1997 on the front. “To me, it was never easy to en­counter a ro­man­tic love,” Li said as she walked up the steep path. “He was the trig­ger to it. It felt great.” Fol­low­ing Li was Zhang Lin­lin, a thirty-year-old high school his­tory teacher. Zhang reg­u­larly in­tro­duces his stu­dents to Wang Xiaobo. He said they are drawn to Wang’s works for the sex but stay for the ideas and the so­cial crit­i­cism. For Zhang, Wang has be­come some­thing more im­por­tant than a fa­vorite author—a guide­post, his prin­ci­pled and thought­ful life an in­spi­ra­tion for his own. “When Ni­et­zsche was in trou­ble, he’d find a por­trait of Schopen­hauer and shout, ‘Save me, Schopen­hauer,’” Zhang said. “I hold a por­trait of Wang Xiaobo and think about what he would do. He shows me the di­rec­tion. He is a per­fect per­son.”

Wang Xiaobo, Bei­jing, 1996; pho­to­graph by Mark Leong

Wang Xiaobo and Li Yinhe, Bei­jing, 1996

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