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Liu Binyan Dies; Exiled Chinese Journalist

Author and journalist Liu Binyan, in Washington in 1997, wrote of corruption in his native China in articles that over 20 years led to his placement in labor farms and
Author and journalist Liu Binyan, in Washington in 1997, wrote of corruption in his native China in articles that over 20 years led to his placement in labor farms and "reeducation" facilities. (By Ruth Fremson -- Associated Press)

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Liu Binyan, 80, an author who became one of China's celebrated dissidents and whose investigations into corruption prompted his expulsion from the Communist Party and the country itself, died Dec. 5 at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. He had colon cancer.

Mr. Liu had been living in exile in the United States since 1988, most recently in East Windsor, N.J. He was long feted in the United States, where New York Times editor Harrison E. Salisbury once called him "the best investigative reporter in China and possibly in the world."

His boldest book, "People or Monsters?" (1979), was a detailed account of corruption rampant near his native industrial city of Changchun in northeastern China. This capped a long career of infuriating the government with his critical and revelatory stories that appeared in official Communist Party newspapers.

Mr. Liu was self-taught after ninth grade, when limited funds forced him to leave school. His father, who worked for the railroad, spoke Russian and passed on his interest in Russian literature -- including the fiction of Gorki, Tolstoy, Dostoevski and Turgenev.

"From them, I learned the concept of human rights and sympathy for the poor and suffering," Mr. Liu once said. "From them, I also learned what my mission would be as a writer: to struggle for the common people."

After Mao Zedong and the communists were victorious against the U.S.-backed Nationalist government in 1949, Mr. Liu was selected by virtue of his charisma, literary flair and conviction to work on the China Youth Daily. To overcome mundane assignments, he began to show initiative in his articles and practice a form of "literary reportage."

This included a feature about a factory employee punished for suggesting a more productive approach to work. He said he wrote the story to show the error of factory officials, but instead, Mr. Liu himself was criticized for promoting a challenge to authority.

He also published articles detailing corruption at a dam construction site and -- a subject of daily experience -- censorship at a newspaper.

The forthright style of his criticism coincided with Mao's "hundred flowers" campaign to foster more freedom of expression. But in practice, Mr. Liu was denounced as a "rightist" and sent to a labor farm with thousands of others. At the time, he said he did not question the wisdom of the punishment, figuring the fault was indeed within him.

From the late 1950s to late 1970s, Mr. Liu spent several stints in labor or "reeducation" facilities. He was in and out, depending on periodic crackdowns on those viewed as subversive.

His family, which he did not see for years at a time, was forced to denounce him. He carted sewage in cities and made bricks and raised pigs in the countryside. Labor camp officials coerced him to recant his controversial work.

He continued to see himself as a journalist, and the time at the camps gave him the first meaningful contact with those he had long tried to help.


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