Retired author Ni Kuang was born in communist China, raised as a Shanghainese, recruited into the police force where his endless questioning of draconian, unreasonable procedures got him into trouble, forcing him to flee for his life. He settled down in Hongkong and became one of the most prolific Chinese writers in the world. He wrote a variety of books ranging from essays to martial arts and science fiction novels. Many of his books are highly critical of the Chinese system of government and are banned in the PRC. I like this video because even though it’s about China, you can find some stunning similarities in terms of situations and mentalities in other Chinese societies.
Tao Jie: When I read your novels, I see a lot of hope for the future, but in fact, you are pessimistic about the future of mankind; Chinese people in particular. Do you think there is any problem with this race?
Ni Kuang: If there is no problem with this race, would it end up in this mess? As the Buddha said, every happening has a cause. Not only do the Chinese people have a problem, they have a huge problem by global standards. For example, most if not all Chinese people hope for some supreme figure to lead them.
Tao Jie: An emperor?
Ni Kuang: They wish for a good emperor, but in this modern world, we should not be thinking of emperors. Without an emperor, Chinese people feel that they are lost and uncomfortable.
Tao Jie: Haven’t we solved this problem when China became a republic? Ruled by the people.
Ni Kuang: Do you see China being ruled by the people?
Tao Jie: When Puyi “retired”, the people were cheering. The peasants celebrated their new voting rights. There were some semblance of legislative assemblies.
Ni Kuang: And up came Yuan Shi Kai. That’s what I call changing the soup without changing the medicine. The Chinese people are very good at playing games like that. They change the names a bit, but the old system is largely intact.
Tao Jie: Do you think it’s a problem with the intellectuals, the leaders or the genetic makeup of the people? All the above?
Ni Kuang: All the above.
Tao Jie: Oh my goodness!
Ni Kuang: Of course, one of the reasons is that intellectuals lack pride and dignity. They pander to the powerful. I don’t know whether it is sad or laughable.
Tao Jie: Long live the emperor. But they have no choice. China’s system of meritocracy led scholars to the ultimate goal of administering the country beside the emperor.
Ni Kuang: Sucking up to the authorities is a shortcut to wealth and power.
Tao Jie: And they don’t care who the emperor is. He could be a bandit like Zhu Yuan Zhang or Hong Xiu Quan.
Ni Kuang: Well, they see nothing wrong with supporting a bandit as long as he is the emperor.
Tao Jie: I don’t understand. They are educated and intelligent…
Ni Kuang: Even before the emperor executes them, they still say “long live the emperor”.
Tao Jie: In the Ming Dynasty, there were so many scholars who were willing to get beaten to death by the emperor.
Ni Kuang: That’s not strange. In recent times, before Liu Shao Qi was put to death by the Communists, his last wish was to meet up with Chairman Mao.
Tao Jie: Zhou En Lai had also written letters of apology to Mao Ze Dong.
Ni Kuang: Zhou En Lai had confessed his “mistakes” many times.
Tao Jie: But these people were so righteous and idealistic when they were young.
Ni Kuang: Indeed they were. Bo Yang said that the Chinese people live in a sauce tub. When people got churned around in that tub, they acquire all its flavours.
Tao Jie: Is there a way to keep the sauce out of our minds?
Ni Kuang: I don’t see any hope of that happening.
Tao Jie: And all of a sudden, we have a Liu Xiao Bo who said that China should be a colony for 300 years.
Ni Kuang: I believe he said that out of impulse in his most hopeless moment. Actually, his famous Charter 08 manifesto was no threat to the regime at all. Even then, they had to destroy him. That’s why he said he would rather be a slave of colonial masters. Nelson Mandela was lucky he didn’t get killed by the Apartheid.
Tao Jie: Gandhi also survived. In the 21st century now, mainland China has exported a “new” concept to HK, an unstoppable movement called the Da Ma Brigade. These old ladies would dress fashionably and sing and dance on the streets.
Ni Kuang: Don’t underestimate these da ma. Those who are 60+ should have been in the Red Guards. I was thinking that during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards killed so many people; they persecuted teachers, principals, intellectuals. There’s blood on their hands. Shouldn’t we at least discuss them? It’s totally unreasonable for them to go scot free.
Tao Jie: It’s at if in Chinese culture, the good guys always end up in a sorry state.
Ni Kuang: It’s always like that. Look at history.
Tao Jie: It’s such an irony. The children of Red Guards who killed so many capitalists now have children who are shamelessly capitalist. Remember? In 1950, they entered Shanghai and forced businessmen to jump off buildings. Their children are now billionaires.
Ni Kuang: So many people were forced to jump off buildings during the Three-anti Campaign and Five-anti Campaign.
Tao Jie: What about the firing squads? Have you witnessed any?
Ni Kuang: Apart from the children of Red Guards, even the children of victims are still very supportive of the regime. Even as outsiders, we weep for the victims. Their children can still join and love the party.
Tao Jie: There’s something strange about Chinese mentality. They can forget these things and move on because they love the country. They believe that the country will collapse without the Communist Party. Actually, there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.
Ni Kuang: But it’s reasonable. China can be worse off without the Communist Party.
Tao Jie: So you don’t think that before 1949 China was doing well without the Communists in power?
Ni Kuang: The KMT wasn’t good either. They lost partly because the Communists were too strong and partly because they screwed things up.
Tao Jie: But there was freedom of expression.
Ni Kuang: My story, Zhang Che’s movie The One-Armed Swordsman was banned in Taiwan.
Tao Jie: Why?
Ni Kuang: The protagonist lost his right arm. The Taiwanese government said it supported the Communist’s cause because he didn’t lose his left arm.
Tao Jie: When Jiang Jie Shi arrived in Taiwan, he became paranoid and attributed his failure to be partly due to the lack of news censorship. That’s why they had been so aggressive with censorship in Taiwan back then.
Ni Kuang: Under those circumstances, I think it was necessary. If not, Taiwan would never have survived with all the propaganda from the mainland.
Tao Jie: You met Jiang Jing Guo in Taiwan at that time?
Ni Kuang: We went to Jinmen on a small plane. I asked the crew if the plane was reliable. They gave me a lifebuoy and warned me that the plane would fly close to the surface of the sea. When I took a peek in front, I saw Jiang and felt relieved.
Tao Jie: You were on the plane with him to Jinmen.
Ni Kuang: It was a lunch appointment with an American general. Before lunch, he asked me if I was from HK. I was with the team reporting for the HK news and cultural media. They knew we liked dog meat, so they specially prepared dog meat for us.
Tao Jie: My goodness! You’ve got a Westerner on board with American soldiers to boot and you serve dog meat?
Ni Kuang: We told them it’s mutton and they enjoyed it so much.
Tao Jie: Which year was that?
Ni Kuang: During the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. The PRC had been shelling the island every night. They orgainised a press team to report on the situation in 1959. Lu Hai An sent me.
Tao Jie: You were already a famous writer back then?
Ni Kuang: I was only a reporter then. I’m often baffled by the deeds of the communists. The other day, an old Chinese man at Victoria Park asked me a rhetorical question: “Aren’t you Chinese?” Of course I am. My face tells you all. He then asked me “Do you love your country?”. Of course I love my country. That’s why I’m anti-communist.
Tao Jie: The old men at Victoria Park are of a lower intellectual class. Why argue with them?
Ni Kuang: Don’t say that, they have their own reasons for believing that they are right. “My country is so rich.”
Tao Jie: The last word. No further debate. Rich my foot. Look what’s happening in the trade war. Donald Trump goes up and the vulnerability of China’s growth model is exposed.
Ni Kuang: But you have to hand it to them. How can they give out billions and billions all over the world with a smile?
Tao Jie: That concludes our discussion today. See you next time. Eat more, don’t die so soon. You need to see how the villains end up.
Ni Kuang: Good and bad guys end up the same. They all die.
© Chan Joon Yee