IN ORIANA FALLACI's astounding interview with Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, published in The Washington Post on August 31, the resilient Deng ("Yes, I had three deaths and three resurrections") describes the Cultural Revolution as "all-round civil war," ascribes Chairman Mao's "mistakes" to his feudalistic practices, and contends that the present upheavals in China are part of a continuing struggle to overcome thousands of years of feudalism and establish at last a "real socialist democracy." His apparently candid analysis of modern Chinese history is so close to that developed by Han Suyin in My House Has Two Doors that a reader of both might well wonder if the vice premier had hired the Eurasian doctor to be his speech writer or vice versa.
My House Has Two Doors is the fourth volume of Han's "China Autobiography History" series. Although it may be too much to ask the prospective reader of this hefty book to read or reread the other three first, still unless the reader knows where Han Suyin has come from and where she believes China has come from, much of the value of the current book will be lost. Covering 1885 to 1948, the earlier three volumes were published in rapid succession between 1965 and 1968. In the intervening 12 years the author has visited China almost yearly, written and lectured about China, but, sugnificantly, has waited until now to bring out her personal account of the establishment of the People's Republic. This is, I presume, because nothing stood still long enough. The revolution did not end, as the rest of the world thought it had with Mao's declaration before the Gate of Heavenly Peace: "The Chinese people have stood up . . . no one will insult us again." The revolution in various guises and disguises continued, and according to Deng, is not yet over.
Early in the book, Han describes her roommate at the Church Guest House of Hong Kong, which in January of 1949 was bulging with refugees. While everyone else bewailed the communist advance, this little English missionary lady sat quietly knitting. "It had to be, my dear, she murmured to Han, "the people were just too miserable.
And once again, as in her earlier books, it is the people of China to whom the author pledges her support. It was their misery under the Manchus, Western capitalism, Japanese militarism, and the Kuomintgang which made her place her trust in Mao Tse-tung as early as 1941, while she was still married to one of Chiang Kai-shek's generals, and which has kept her an advocate of the Peoples's Republic for 30 years. And yet, she has remained a visitor. She never joined the Chinese intellectuals who returned after 1949 to devote their lives and talents to the new nation. "Would I be able as they were," she asked herself in 1956, "to give up everything, literally life itself, to fight and die so that human dignity would come to those who had none? The answer was no. I despised myself then, and this was unbearable and made me sick."
Her conflicting emotions toward the new regime began during this visit. For one whose childhood memories were besmirched with the clawing hands of beggars at the church door and newspaper-wrapped bodies of discarded babies cluttering the city's alleyways, the sight in 1956 of clean, well-fed peasants brought joy and amazement. During a long trip from Canton to Peking, a gnarled peasant sitting opposite borrowed the book off her lap, leafed through it and read a passage aloud. "Suddenly I was the immensity of what has been done . . . peasants travelling in trains, who could read."
But she was not in Peking long before she realized that party members within and outside the family were seeking to "help" her by reeducating her dangerous individualism, and the yound woman, who had fought out from under the domination of her Belgian mother and her Chinese husband, was not willing to subjugate her intellect to still another feudalistic remolding.
Thus internally divided, she continued for the next more than 20 years to visit her family and friends (among them Chou En-lai and his wife) in China and to be a spokesman to the West of McCarthyism, Cuba, and the Vietnam War for the "unknown universe of the Chinese Revolution; a world not as it was represented: unlinear, unidimensional, both in the West and in China's propaganda, but infinitely complex and multitudinous; a wholeness made up of a million contradictory aspects; magnificent in its achievements and colossal in its errors and failures." During these years Han would speak more of the achievements than of the errors for several reasons. Sometimes, as she freely admits, she was simply taken in by the official line, at times she was afraid that by speaking out critically she might endanger the lives of others, but, principally, she did not want to provide fuel or satisfaction to those on the outside who were only too eager to insult China, who wished nothing more than to see her on her knees again.
In putting what she perceived as the good of the Chinese people before her own display of integrity, she followed the example of the man she considers the true her of modern China, Chou En-lai. As Deng Xiaoping also contends, Chou did many things that he did not wish to, simply because he believed that he must stand between the people and those in the party whose hunger for power might well destroy the nation. It is amazing, if we credit these two witnesses, that the Chinese people as a whole, peasants as well as intellectuals, understood Chou's position and did not feel betrayed. Finally it seems to have been Chou's death and the campaign to slander him that followed which roused the masses to action against the now notorious Gang of Four and broke their grip on the government. As Chou's wife once explained to Han, the party is like the white foam on the waves which seems to lead, but which in truth is simply borne forward and back by the ocean. The people, she said, are the ocean.
Although the greater part of this book is devoted to the people of China, because it is also autobiography, the author shares other chapters of her personal history during this 30-year period. Included are her famous love affair which led to the sriting of her best-selling novel, A Many Splendored Thing , her marriage to a British civil servant and their life together in troubled Mayaya, and her love affair and eventual marriage to her third husband, who is Indian. I found the more imtimate passages of the book slightly embarrassing, not because the author provides indelicate details, but because something strange happens to her prose. For example, falling in love is described as falling "into a argasso churn of emotion, a torrid and absolute passion, which like a Hong Kong typhoon, carried away all my resolutions before it and left me racked and changed."
In a project of this magnitude an index cataloguing all four volumes would have been an immense help to a reader trying to sort out 95 years' worth of Chinese names, places and events. But I do not argue that the book attempts too much -- that it should have chosen either to be history or autobiography rather than both. For although this means that the reader must also seek out more objective assessments of China since 1949, it is precisely the presence of this passionate Eurasian intellectual struggling to find her place in a continually shifting nation which makes the history fascinating and the autobiography significant.