China: Battling Spiritual Pollution

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The government tries to close the door on Western influence

When Chinese Leader Deng Xiaoping decreed an "open door" policy for foreign capital and technology a few years ago, he somberly warned his people that "the penetration of bourgeois ideas is inevitable." Sure enough, leggy beauties now glide along sleek runways in Peking modeling the latest Pierre Cardin fashions. Not far away, well-heeled tourists tuck into French cuisine at Cardin's elegant new Maxim's de Pékin. Even in rustic glades, jeans-clad teen-agers blast out punk rock from ubiquitous cassette players. Free enterprise has also brought in its wake less innocent forms of freedom. Earlier this year, Story, a tabloid filled with titillating tales of concubines and libertines, was attracting 2 million readers around the country and, according to one Chinese press report, subscriptions from 700 of the 800 pupils at a Shanghai middle school.

The inroads of Western decadence have apparently persuaded the government that it is time to start closing the door. Story, which was recently suppressed, became one of the first victims of China's newest and most novel political campaign. For the past month authorities have been waging a war to eliminate "spiritual pollution," a deliberately vague term that embraces every manner of bourgeois import from erotica to existentialism. According to Communist Party Propaganda Chief Deng Liqun, spiritual pollution includes "obscene, barbarous or reactionary materials, vulgar taste in artistic performances, indulgence in individualism" and statements that "run counter to the country's social system." Ostensibly aimed at those with a taste for capitalist pleasures, the purge has begun to descend on any artist or intellectual who seems reluctant to promote the orthodox Communist vision.

Many of the first signs of a cultural crackdown were exquisitely subtle. Premier Zhao Ziyang quietly forsook his Western suits for Mao jackets. The Peking municipal government ordered its employees to shave off their mustaches. The capital's leading hairdressing salon announced that it would no longer give men permanents. Many of the first casualties were similarly obscure: a Peking shopworker who procured two illustrated sex manuals from a Hong Kong businessman and reproduced 7,000 lucrative photos of their choicest scenes; an enterprising commune in Fujian province that used its pooled resources to acquire twelve video recorders and 16 pornographic tapes, then charged viewers $5 admission (about four days' wages for the average urban worker).

But Western influence has apparently gone far beyond skin flicks and designer fashions, and last week the drive turned serious. Hu Jiwei, director of People's Daily, was forced to resign, and Wang Ruoshui, one of the paper's three deputy editors in chief, was dismissed. Their apparent crime: printing a scholarly article eight months ago that dared to suggest that "alienation," a term reserved by Karl Marx for decadent capitalism, might actually be applicable to Chinese socialism as well.

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