TAIPEI, TAIWAN -- Governments have censored, silenced, and imprisoned the acid-penned Chinese writer Bo Yang. But they have found that cracking down only tends to make him more popular.
This was the case in 1967 in Taiwan, where the Nationalist Chinese imprisoned the essayist, accused him of being a communist and tortured him. It is now the case on the Chinese mainland, where the communists have banned his latest book.
And it may prove to be the case in the supposedly freer atmosphere of the British colony of Hong Kong, where the leading Chinese gadfly met another restriction designed to silence him. In an interview, he said that when he applied for a permit to travel from Taiwan to Hong Kong last summer, a Hong Kong immigration official required assurances from him that he would give no interviews. When Bo made the trip in August, he kept silent.
Everywhere he goes in the Chinese world, Bo Yang seems to land in hot water because of his condemnation of the dark side of Chinese culture and politics.
Describing his work, Bo said: "It's just like holding up a mirror to the Chinese."
"It's only when the Chinese can face themselves, and realize that they're sick, that they can get well," the writer said.
On the mainland, young intellectuals circulate secretly Bo's latest book, "The Ugly Chinaman." In the book, Bo argues that the Chinese cultural tradition discourages independent thinking, encourages excessive fear of authority and inhibits the development of a democratic system.
"Our culture has been shaped largely by Confucianism, which does not contain a single element of equality, a key concept in building the modern democratic system," he said, during a previous visit to Hong Kong in March.
Instead, the Chinese tradition nurtures bullies, ranging from "tyrannical emperors to despotic officials and ruthless mobs."
Moreover, in the 2 1/2 millennia since the death of Confucius, he wrote, China's literati have rarely contributed any independent opinions because traditional culture did not permit it.
"The minds of the literati were stuck on the bottom of an intellectual stagnant pond, the soy sauce vat of Chinese culture," Bo wrote.
Bo Yang is the pen name of Kuo Yi-tung, 68, who was born on the mainland but lives in Taiwan. During his March visit to Hong Kong, he criticized Beijing's ideological antiwestern campaign against "bourgeois liberalism," which was at its height then.
"Look at the mainland!" Bo said. "The lives of the people were improving, society was progressing. Now this happens, an antibourgeois liberalism campaign, and everything suddenly goes into reverse."
In an interview in the June issue of the Hong Kong edition of Playboy magazine, Bo praised recent steps taken by Taiwan toward creating a more democratic political system, questioned the ability of the communists to govern Hong Kong and said he considered capitalism to be superior to socialism.
The title essay in his book was published on the mainland, but the authorities later withdrew it from circulation and banned it.
Some writers on the mainland argue that Bo Yang exaggerates, and is using shock treatment. But they concede that "The Ugly Chinaman" has an impact on young Chinese because it describes the most vulnerable aspects of Chinese culture with unusual candor.
"For all these years, they have seen so little writing about the bad side of China," said one Chinese intellectual, who asked to remain anonymous. "So when someone comes along with a really penetrating eye, it's refreshing," he said. "And when one of his books is banned, that adds to the attraction."
Bo fled the mainland in 1949 because he feared the communists would deny him his freedom. He worked in the Anti-Communist Youth League on Taiwan. But his criticisms of corruption on the island angered the authorities there.
In 1967, the authorities saw Bo Yang's translations of the American comic strip Popeye as an indirect attack on President Chiang Kai-shek. In one of the cartoons, Popeye and his son, alone on a small island, decide to hold a presidential election -- with only one candidate and one voter.
The authorities accused Bo of "defaming the leadership" and "complicity with the communists." They sent him to prison for nine years.