Bette Bao Lord
Bette Bao Lord
Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic
ISBN: 0449906205
Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic
Ms. Bao-Lord discussed her book, "Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic," in which she examines the culture and history of her native China. In particular, she examines the effect of television on the Chinese. Ms. Bao-Lord left China to live in the United States when she was eight years old. She returned in 1985, when her husband, Winston Lord, was posted to Beijing as the U.S. ambassador to China. They remained there through spring 1989. During the weeks before the pro-democracy demonstrations, Ms. Bao-Lord was a consultant to CBS News.
Search Audible
Video Clip Search is not avaialbe for this video.
TRANSCRIPT
Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic
Program Air Date: May 27, 1990

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Bette Bao Lord, author of "Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic." Buried in your book, you write the following, a short sentence: "As I write" meaning as you're writing your book "I am nostalgic for China."
BETTE BAO LORD, AUTHOR, "LEGACIES: A CHINESE MOSAIC": Yes.
LAMB: What made you want to say that in the middle of this book?
LORD: Well, because I start the book by saying, "I'm ready to go home," to come back to America. We had lived in China for three and a half years, and while it was wonderful, I needed the space that only America can give in the sense that my schedule would be my own and that I could get away from the so many things I had been hearing in China and seeing. But when you're up close, it's hard to really put some perspective on it. So I was so ready to go home. But as I was writing the book and writing about my friends and writing about China, I became nostalgic. So I guess it proves that we're never satisfied. Many times, I wish that we could be in two places at once.
LAMB: Why the title "Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic"?
LORD: Well, legacies refers to the cultural, the political legacies that the Chinese people carry on their shoulders every today. And then a Chinese mosaic refers to the stories that I tell about the Chinese people. Each one is a separate story. And they put together as a mosaic, I hope will give the reader a picture of China today.
LAMB: You often cite in the book and your characters cite in the book, or the people you're writing about, the cultural revolution.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: Would you try to explain what the cultural revolution was?
LORD: The cultural revolution spanned the decade of 1966 to 1976. It was a time, I think, when Mao wanted to revitalize the revolution. I think he felt that somehow the revolution had become bureaucratized and he wanted to stir up the feelings of people for change again. And he could do this only by stirring up the young people. He told them that they were the true revolutionaries, not the party leaders that ran the country, and so he unleashed young people from teen agers to college students to go out, do as they will, and make revolution; that they only had to read his little red book, follow him and they could remake China into a better China. Well, of course, this caused tremendous chaos because young people, spurred by the fury of radical ideology, are capable of all things. And so many things happen because of their belief in Mao and their belief that they were capable of remaking China into a better country.
LAMB: Did you ever meet Mao?
LORD: I did not meet Mao. But, of course, my husband, Winston, met Mao about five times on five separate trips to China. He had been traveling to China since the early '70s, since the secret trip he made with Dr. Kissinger.
LAMB: What was Mao's I want to say, "claim to fame?" That's not the right question. What was he all about?
LORD: I think he was a visionary. I think that he was a man who wanted to rid China of the foreigner and he wanted to put China on the map. I think he was quite successful in getting people to follow him and to support his ideas before the '50s. But I think this is always the problem with people who stay in power too long. They lose their abilities to judge. And just as he stayed too long in power, so has Deng Xiaoping. Because both men, as leaders of their country, did many great things. But in the end, they stayed too long.
LAMB: How did you approach writing this book?
LORD: I wanted to write on several levels. I started each chapter with just a headline about what happened during the seven weeks of China's spring last year. And then afterwards, if that is the sort of the frame of this book, if this is the mosaic we're talking about, that I would say would be the frame. And then I would go on and tell something about myself or my family. And that, perhaps, would be the glue. And the mosaic pieces are the stories of my friends ... to give them a context, to give them a frame for the reader to read the stories, not just the stories of individuals but of the Chinese people during China's spring.
LAMB: When you open the book at the beginning and you come to this page here and we're going to see if we can get a close up of this you see this symbol and you talk about here that this symbol suggests that there are other voices speaking.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: You don't realize it kind of takes over the book at some point, and you see this symbol a lot. What's the purpose of it?
LORD: Well, because I wrote these stories in the first person. Because in many ways, I feel that had I never left China as a child, I could have been any one of those 20 people that I write about. So I write as if I were them. And, therefore, I use the I.
LAMB: Well, now here's the page and right in the middle of the page, you see this symbol. And I want to ask you, who was the scholar?
LORD: I don't know who the scholar is. There are two chapters in this book where I'm not sure who they are because they're people I've never met. During the time that I was in China, I had asked many people if I could interview them. And many of them agreed. Others, who had heard from friends and friends that I was doing so, would send me tapes with their stories. And the scholar was after my farewell party. I had gotten a whole bunch of presents from friends who had come there, and among them were some tapes. And the scholar apparently there was no beginning, there was no end, there was no name. There was nothing except a voice speaking to me for hours and hours and hours. And that's one of the most moving stories, I think, because here's a man that lost his right to be a man because of politics.
LAMB: How?
LORD: When he was a young man, he was sent to help with the land reform program. And while he was there, he was asked to designate certain people in the village as landlords. But there were no people in his particular district who are actually landlords. So he said he saw it that the party could not possibly mean for him to name somebody who did not fit the category. So he did not. And then the orders at that time went down that most people had to name about 5 percent of their district as landlords. And he could not name one and he didn't. As a result, he was named as an enemy of the people and he was sent to hard labor. While he was at hard labor, they had a propaganda troupe a musical comedy kind of propaganda group. And because he was a musician, he was asked to participate in the programs. But they needed him to be a woman and so they made him a woman. Not only did they make him play a woman on stage, but they wouldn't cut his hair, so his hair grew very, very long. And they dressed him. They only gave him clothes of a woman to wear and he had no choice but to wear women's clothes, wear his hair long and be a woman for all extensive purposes. If you looked at him quickly, you couldn't tell. And he was forced to take that role for many, many, many years. And later, during the cultural revolution, when his wife was made to divorce him, he had a terrible setback a nervous breakdown. And during that nervous breakdown, he somehow reverted to talking to his wife as if she were there. And then one day he started to put on her clothes, and while he put on her clothes, he went outdoors and went to the public toilet and mistakenly, of course, went into the men's toilet, at which point he was shooed out. And then there was no choice for him except to go to the women's toilet. And when he went to the women's toilet, the women screamed, of course. He was out of it by that time. He didn't really understand what happened. And as a result of that, he was put back in jail for sexual crimes. So this man sent me this story. But what is amazing about this man is that he had written a book of poetry that analyzed the poetry of the ancients and he eventually regained his position as a teacher and he retired at the age of 70 as a teacher.
LAMB: How did he find you?
LORD: I think he must have known a lot of our mutual friends who I had been interviewing. And it was very funny, because I had not interviewed anybody with the point of view of how the politics had affected femininity or masculinity. And it was toward the very end when I was probing for this particular problem that I would tell my friends, "I'm looking for someone who I could interview on this particular subject about marriage, about being spinsters, about divorce." And usually, when I ask my friends to do this, I would then get back, "Well, we found someone for you." Or, "Let me introduce you to another friend." But when I asked about this particular problem, I think it was quite late in my stay and it was my farewell party. And I think they felt that I did not have time to interview him and he just sent it anonymously to me.
LAMB: You have 20 people that you write about. And we listen to their voices through what they had to say in your book. How many were in front of you -- that you had to whittle it down to 20?
LORD: Oh, many, many. I think I have about 500 hours of tapes.
LAMB: What have you done with those tapes?
LORD: I plan to, eventually, give them to a library of oral history.
LAMB: Are they all in Chinese?
LORD: Yes. Somebody will have to learn ... but I think it'll be very valuable for historians many, many years from now.
LAMB: Now you were born in China.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: Shanghai.
LORD: Shanghai.
LAMB: Are you, for all intents and purposes, fluent in Chinese?
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: How did you keep your language?
LORD: Well, I didn't. I had to relearn it. I came here when I was 8 years old. At that time, my parents thought we would be going back to China. And so practically from the moment I landed here, they started speaking to me in English. They put me in school the second day I was in America, thinking that if I stayed a year or two here, I would go back fluent in English. They spent so much time teaching me English and stuffing English into my head, as a child of 8, the other just popped out. And it wasn't until I was ready for college it was the year before I went college that I realized that I was being so stupid. All the time that my parents spoke to me in Chinese, I always replied out of habit in English; that I would have to make a try to relearn Chinese. And, of course, because I had heard it for so many years, it was not hard. But learning to read and write was harder.
LAMB: Are your parents still alive?
LORD: Yes, yes.
LAMB: Why did they come here in the first place?
LORD: My father was assigned after the war to come and buy equipment for China. He was an engineer. He is an engineer.
LAMB: And where did you move to?
LORD: Brooklyn.
LAMB: Why Brooklyn?
LORD: Well, it was after the war in 1946. Housing was really a problem. My father worked, I think, near downtown New York. And that was the place where he found a place for us to live.
LAMB: What do you most remember about your upbringing around the New York area?
LORD: In Brooklyn. Brooklyn Dodgers.
LAMB: Long time ago.
LORD: Well, yes, that's true. I felt that my Americanization really happened because I became a Dodger fan. Once I became a Dodger fan and rooted for Jackie Robinson, all the kids accepted me.
LAMB: Was it difficult being Chinese and growing up in white America?
LORD: You're not going to believe this and nobody else is going to believe it and I think a lot of people are going to write me letters but no -- I didn't. In P.S . Number 8, I learned to speak English with a teacher named Mrs. Rappaport. She was wonderful infinite patience, exacting. As I said, once I learned how to speak English, once I learned how to play the American games, I didn't find it troublesome at all.
LAMB: And how many people in your family?
LORD: There...
LAMB: Brothers and sisters?
LORD: I have two sisters and my father and mother are here.
LAMB: And you write about both your sisters in your book.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: And how many people in your family are back in China?
LORD: All the rest.
LAMB: How many is that, roughly?
LORD: Oh, I don't know. I've never counted. But when my parents came to Beijing the first time, we had a family reunion of people who are my relatives, just in Beijing alone of 60. And that doesn't count the other town.
LAMB: You grew up in Brooklyn. Where did you go to college?
LORD: I went to college at Tufts University and graduate school at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
LAMB: I remember in reading the book that the dates I remember and correct me if I'm wrong it was 1946 that you came here to the United States.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: You first return in '73.
LORD: That's right.
LAMB: And what was the purpose of that visit?
LORD: I wanted to see China. I wanted to see my relatives. Winston had been making several trips, many trips. And I was anxious to see what had happened.
LAMB: Before you talk about the trip back there, where did you meet Winston Lord?
LORD: At graduate school.
LAMB: And that was where?
LORD: That was at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. And he, believe it or not, on a dance floor the first thing he asked me was the question that you had asked me before. Had I encountered racial prejudice growing up in America?
LAMB: And what year did you meet him?
LORD: In 1959.
LAMB: When did you marry?
LORD: Nineteen sixty three.
LAMB: And what was it about the two of you that growing up in a mixed family in this country, what made it easy for you? In other words, why the marriage? What was the intention?
LORD: Why the marriage? Well, we have a very odd it's not your run of the mill or mixed marriages. As a matter of fact, both my parents both my parents in laws and my own parents if we ever had a fight, Winston and I, [the parents]would probably take the other side. So we were both welcomed into each other's family and I think that makes a big, big difference when two people of different backgrounds marry.
LAMB: After you married, where did you live?
LORD: Washington.
LAMB: And what did your husband do?
LORD: Winston was a Foreign Service officer.
LAMB: Where was he assigned?
LORD: Washington.
LAMB: The whole time.
LORD: No. We were here for about three or four years and then we went overseas to Geneva.
LAMB: And in the opening of the book, you list your other literary achievements. One of them is fiction, "Spring Moon."
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: When did you write that and what was that?
LORD: I wrote the novel "Spring Moon," I finished it in 1981. That's when it was published. It took me six years to write. It's a novel about China really covering the time that China had been trying to modernize; really since the late 19th century to the '70s, as seen through the eyes of a woman named Spring Moon who starts out in life with bound feet and not being able to leave the garden walls of the homestead, and then takes part in the political turmoil of China.
LAMB: And then the second listing is a non fiction book called "Eighth Moon." What was that?
LORD: "Eighth Moon" was actually my first book. I wrote that when my sister Sansan left China in 1961 and 1962. When she arrived in America, we had been separated for 17 years. I had seen her last when she was about a six month old baby, and met her at the airport and coming down the runway was a 17 year old girl that was my sister. I started, of course, to catch up with all those years and I found myself fascinated by her life. It's so different from my own and yet quite typical of a young person growing up in China during the revolutionary period right after the liberation of China by the Communists. So I wanted somebody to write the story because in the '60s, people knew very little about China and people usually had opinions about China colored by their politics, whether they were pro Taiwan or pro mainland. But here was a story of a young girl who saw the changes without any political ax to grind and told from a very simple story of growing up. I tried to find somebody to write the story, but I knew no writers who could speak Chinese. So being 23 and quite foolish, I didn't know what it was to write a book. And I decided to quit my job and give it a try.
LAMB: What were you doing then?
LORD: I was working with the Fulbright Exchange Program.
LAMB: And how did the book do?
LORD: It did quite well for a first book. It was translated into about, I think, 18 languages. It was a Reader's Digest condensed book. But I paid for this ease in which I wrote, because I didn't write for almost 10, 12 years. I was scared to again because somehow I felt that people would find me out as an impostor. After I wrote "Eighth Moon," I started going to the drugstore picking up all those magazines on how to break into publishing or how to become a writer and how to write memoirs or biographies and started reading them, and they scared me half to death. I didn't do any of the things that they had told me to do. And so surely I felt that if I wrote again, people would find me out as not a writer at all, not a genuine writer. So I was too scared to write and I didn't write until "Spring Moon."
LAMB: Where is Sansan today?
LORD: Sansan is working in Washington.
LAMB: You have another book to your credit for children, "In the Year of the Boar & Jackie Robinson."
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: When did you write that and what was it?
LORD: I wrote that after "Spring Moon." It was a story that I had tried to tell in an article for some magazine. But when I wrote it from the adult point of view, it didn't seem to work. Because my life has been rather free of conflict and disappointments. So the heart of a novel the heart of anything an adult writes about is conflict, is struggle. And somehow when I wrote, it didn't work. But suddenly then I thought about writing it from a child's point of view, which would not reflect upon the credibility of the teller. And that's when I wrote it the fictionalized version of my first year in America. And instead of as Bette Bao Lord, Bette Bao as Shirley Temple Waugh.
LAMB: One of the stories you tell in the book I'd like to have you share with us. And that's the story that when you were going to become a diplomat's wife.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: And you had to go through a process with the State Department with what's called a GS 15, a Mr. Shultz, I believe.
LORD: Mr. Zlook.
LAMB: Tell us about him.
LORD: Yes. Well, as you know, when Foreign Service officers marry any foreign national, the foreign national has to go through a security check, which is understandable. But in addition to that, they have to meet with somebody in the government, I guess to see whether the fiancee would aptly represent the United States of America. Well, in most times, most people who go in for such a test are asked: "Who's the president of the United States?" And, "Can you sing the first line of 'The Star Spangled Banner?'" And that's about it. So I didn't take it very, very seriously. I had grown up here. I had gone to college. I had a master's degree. I didn't think there was any problem. So I went to see Mr. Zlook. And I don't understand to this day why Mr. Zlook gave me a two hour test that was harder than, I think, what Winston took or anybody else took to get into the Foreign Service. Here I was just going in as a wife. The first question he asked me, very, very seriously was: "Who is Vardis Fisher?" Do you know?
LAMB: No. Did you have the answer?
LORD: I didn't have the answer and nobody I've asked since then has been able to tell me who Vardis Fisher is. And here you are running a book program and you mean to tell me you don't know who Vardis Fisher is?
LAMB: Did you ever find out?
LORD: Yes, I did.
LAMB: Who is he?
LORD: He is a writer of the "Oregon Trail." You see ...
LAMB: Didn't know that.
LORD: ... you have been enlightened. And then I was asked to give this my husband said that I should have been able to answer this one -- the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers.
LAMB: And there were a lot of other strange questions that he asked you.
LORD: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Why does it matter who a diplomat for the United States why does it matter who his or her spouse is?
LORD: Well, I think the rules have changed quite a bit since the early '60s, but I think it was left over from the war when people were I can only assume that they were marrying a lot of foreigners who then had to assume responsibilities and duties as the wife of a diplomat. But in the '70s, you no longer have to make your wife a partner in your career. Before the 1972 directive in the State Department, wives or spouses at that time let's face it, women of Foreign Service officers were graded in the officer's efficiency report. They were not paid. They were not even employed, but this was part of the old system.
LAMB: Did you work all through the period there besides writing your books -- that your husband went to China in '71 and you...
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: ...went in '73. What did you do from '73 to now? Or '73 until the time you went to ...
LORD: I used to be a dancer. I used to dance with the Washington Dancers and Repertory here in Washington. I taught dance. I also worked with the Associated Council of the Arts and wrote.
LAMB: Were you assigned to any other foreign post besides Geneva...
LORD: No, because...
LAMB: ...before you went to...
LORD: ...Winston left the Foreign Service after five years. So after the Geneva post, he left the Foreign Service, although he continued on working in the area of foreign policy.
LAMB: I remember another date, I think, that you went back to China in '79.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: What was that trip for?
LORD: To see family again. I went in '75 when I could not see family. It was a pretty tense period in bilateral relations at that time. So I went in with Winston on an official trip and I had hoped to spin off from them, but the atmosphere was quite chilly so I didn't stay. And then I went back in '79.
LAMB: Did people know when they saw you in China that you were not it's hard to know whether you're an American citizen, but did they know you were not living there could they tell right away?
LORD: Well, I don't think they can tell now, because people have changed their way of dress. But in 1971, when I first went, there were very, very few tourists at all in China. And even though I tried to dress as closely as possible to the people in the street, nevertheless, they could tell by my shoes or by the fact that I wore a wedding band that I was not a native Chinese anymore. And it was very odd going through the streets. Hundreds of people would follow me everywhere.
LAMB: Why?
LORD: Because I looked different. I mean, I look different to you, but I looked different to them. I was a curiosity.
LAMB: Page 120. The Journalists is the title of the chapter. "Chinese go through life wearing masks."
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: "The ones that tradition decrees, the ones that society decrees and since liberation, the ones that the party decrees."
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: Did you have a mask?
LORD: Yes, I tried not to have a mask because I wanted to be friends, to get close to people. But there are certain times when you do have to put on a mask, especially as a diplomat's wife. You have to pretend you're angry when you're not. You have to pretend you're happy when you're not. There are a lot of things you have to do.
LAMB: Do Americans have masks?
LORD: Not as much. Americans have been taught to shoot from the hip, to tell it the way it is, to be much more straightforward because they represent only themselves. Americans are raised as individuals. Chinese have responsibilities to the family, to the clan, to the country and it's a different way of thinking. So that if you make a fool of yourself, I'm not likely to blame your son or your father. I would just think, "Ooh, you made a fool of yourself." But Chinese usually link it all together. And so you have additional burdens to be good.
LAMB: Is there any way to describe what life is like for the average Chinese or the 1.2 billion or whatever the number is?
LORD: Well, no. I can tell you what it's like in the cities. Usually they have a living space, in Beijing at least, in the big cities, an individual has a living space less than the size of a double bed. It's very the space is very, very confined. And still there are a lot of housing problems for them. So living in a tight space also calls upon putting on masks. And there are many times when two or three generations have to share an apartment. And then, again, you have to pretend that you like your mother in law very, very much, because if you didn't, you couldn't live together. So that where the masks come in.

And the government usually assigns you to your work and your schooling. During the decade of reforms, there have been other outlets, but more and more it involved using the back door, using connections. And the system had become more and more corrupt so that knowing someone who could pull strings was a great help in life because, otherwise, you couldn't get things done.

In fact, I once had to indulge in corruption. It involved getting a car phone for Winston. We were told that for the ambassador's car to have a car phone, it would take three and a half years. So then I was told that if I could get, somehow, two tickets for an Alan de Leon concert for this Chinese who gave out these car phones for the government, that somehow, miraculously, Winston would then have a car phone. So I went around and got two tickets for an Alan de Leon concert at the Workers' Stadium for this woman, and sure enough, the next day, we got the car phone.

I felt very guilty about it, because this is the kind of small corruptions that leads to big corruption. But on the other hand, Winston was in the car going to the airport or elsewhere at least one or two hours a day, which meant that he was out of touch with the office and I guess I rationalized that it was important.
LAMB: I remember reading that your husband was proud to say that he had been to all 23 districts in China.
LORD: Provinces yes.
LAMB: Provinces. But you were glad that you didn't have to make every one of those trips.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: Why?
LORD: I love to sit and talk to people. I'm not a great tourist. I prefer getting to know the people. And usually when I am with Winston and touring, we usually don't get to really know people. We get to go to banquets and talk on official subjects and I usually have to do a lot of the translations at least and I find that it's landscapes are less interesting to me than people.
LAMB: And he could speak - what? you say pigeon Mandarin?
LORD: Yes. Well, this is because when he started out as a Foreign Service officer because he had married a Chinese national, the State Department told him that he would never have anything to do, he would be barred from participating in China policy because of his marriage to a Chinese. That rule, of course, was changed later. But at the time, when he was learning languages, he thought, "Why learn Chinese if I could never use it professionally?"
LAMB: I'm going to read a little bit. You say, "Unlike the peripatetic Winston..." What did you mean by "peripatetic Winston?"
LORD: He loves to travel.
LAMB: "I was raised in a family in which having a wonderful holiday meant sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea, nibbling watermelon seeds and talking. Father, mother and I would often linger there from breakfast until long after the witching hour."
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: Talking.
LORD: Talking ... talking. My father and mother are great storytellers and so the pleasures for me have always been conversation. And because we had no other family, but each other here in the States, I'd often sit and they would tell me about my grandparents, my other relatives in China. And I'm very lucky that they did; otherwise, I don't think I could write about China with the facility that I can without those stories, without somehow feeling that I had lived them, too.
LAMB: "Americans are a self selected breed programmed by their genes to be forever on the go and cursed by the fates never to enjoy luxuriating in the material comforts and spiritual splendors of home."
LORD: I was making fun of both sides and that's the way I make fun of Americans. Americans, I think, in many ways are a self selected breed. We're a country of immigrants. If we didn't want to move, and if we didn't want to seek -- push back the horizons -- we would not come to America from all over the world. Those of us who have come, for most of us, it's not an easy trip. I don't mean in terms of transportation; I mean leaving one culture, going to another, starting over. These are difficult things. And then what amazes me most about the American spirit is the spirit that had people go and settle the West where people lived hundreds of miles away from each other. For people who like to sit at the kitchen table, it's difficult.
LAMB: You also talk about language. You say, "After a while, the American side slumbered, however, unable to appreciate how the mere act of speaking in Chinese confers so much satisfaction that what is said hardly matters." What about language?
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: Which one is harder? Chinese or English?
LORD: Chinese, perhaps, is easier to speak, except for the fact of tones. Maybe I'll take it back. Let's say English. I think English is easier a language.
LAMB: There's such a dramatic difference.
LORD: There's such a dramatic difference. Chinese is easier grammatically because you can toss words up together and somehow they fall together. There's less grammar. There's less grammar. But then there's the problem of tones, which the same sound with the four different tones can mean totally something else.
LAMB: As I read the book, I saw you jumping back and forth Chinese, American, Chinese, American, language...
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: ...customs...
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: ...masks. Where are you now in your own head?
LORD: It depends on the occasion. I think now, when I'm with Chinese, after living there three and a half years, I feel very much at home with them. But, of course, when I'm here in America, I also feel very much at home here. I think it's a choice now for me. The two parts have never been at war with one another. So I think I'm doubly blessed.
LAMB: This is the book, "Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic." Bette Bao Lord is our guest and we're talking about a book she completed -- in what month last year?
LORD: In the end of October.
LAMB: How much of your experience during the Tiananmen Square happenings did you want to write about in this book?
LORD: I actually did not go into the square except one evening. Although I was not any longer the ambassador's wife Winston had left the country I had been hired by CBS to be a consultant, actually, on the Gorbachev visit in January. And I had returned to China to work for them. But I am recognizable in China, so I did not want to become a part of the story, thinking that if I went into the square and was recognized, that I would become part of the story. So I only went once at night and another time when we were doing "48 Hours" with Dan Rather, when I was standing on a truck, so I wasn't part of the crowd.

Most of "Legacies" is not about my participation, except that what I saw people who were suddenly together as a community. I'd been in China for three and a half years and it was becoming less and less a community and people were out of sorts all the time because of the frustrations of life. And yet, during those seven weeks when the students marched for a fairer society and against corruption, everybody was nice to each other in a way that was just wonderful. Perhaps, it's like New York after a blackout. Perhaps it's like San Francisco after an earthquake. Suddenly, neighbors became friends and people were helping each other. And so I was very privileged to be there and to see that.
LAMB: I would guess that you and your husband and friends sit around and talk about where China is going and where it will be.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: What's your best guess for 10 years from now?
LORD: I think China will always have a difficult time with solving the problems of a billion people. It's poor; its education has been neglected. But I do feel that sometime soon, there will be a much more open and much more progressive government in China.
LAMB: How soon?
LORD: Oh, within the next two to five years.
LAMB: And why do you predict that?
LORD: Because the people who ordered soldiers to shoot at the students destroyed their own myth that they had worked so hard to create, which was really one of the founding pillars of the Communist Party that the People's Army would not shoot at its own people, because the warlord armies did and because they said that Gormeen Town armies did and other people did, but not the People's Army.

But this time, everybody saw that they had done so, and really for no reason. The problem could have been solved by attrition very easily. When I left China two or three days before June 3rd and 4th, the weekend of the massacre, there were hardly any people left in the square. People were leaving. And if they had waited another week, I think the crisis would have been over. Even if the government felt that they had to clear the square by a show of force, they could have done it in other ways than tanks and bullets.

In 1976, when the despicable gang of four who everybody in the world knows about the horrors that they have committed in which every Chinese would despise, even they, when clearing Tiananmen Square, 1976, when citizens went into the square to object to them, they did it by spraying water, not bullets.
LAMB: Are you going to go back?
LORD: I will go back when there's a different China than there is today, when it's not so oppressive, when I can feel that I can meet my friends and not get them into trouble, when I can feel that if somebody takes my picture there it's not going to be used for propaganda purposes.
LAMB: Is that a special problem for you because you're Chinese, originally from China, or would you say that to all Americans, that they ought to stay out of China?
LORD: No, I think businessmen who have businesses there should conduct business. I think if you're a tourist, it would depend on whether you have other chances to go to China in the future. No, this is only a decision for myself.
LAMB: One of the things that seemed unusual when I read your book was that it I guess, I just didn't expect it -- at one point, you say, "I'm sitting here writing in Jackson Hole ...
LORD: Wyoming. Yes.
LAMB: ...Wyoming." Why did you pick that?
LORD: Well, I felt that I needed the peace and quiet of the mountains. I didn't want to go through the getting settled back into the apartment at the same time as writing a book that I wanted to write very much and as quickly as I could. So going into the mountains was a great help.
LAMB: It did work then.
LORD: It worked.
LAMB: With the 500 you say hours of tape you've got?
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: All in Chinese?
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: Did you translate it all?
LORD: No. I had some help in the transcribing. Sometimes I would have 12 hours of tapes for which I would use only a little bit of it. Some of the chapters are quite small. I think none of the stories go on beyond 15 pages. But the transcription that was done from the tapes was done by a group of people other than myself.
LAMB: Is there another book that you want to bring out of all these tapes you've got?
LORD: I think my next book will be a novel like "Spring Moon." I started a novel before I went to Beijing as an ambassador's wife and I still have to finish that one. So that one will come next.
LAMB: Which one of the 20 means the most to you the characters that you write about?
LORD: Oh, it's so hard to select, but I suppose there are only two women among the 20. And I suppose I would pick the story of the actress, because it is so heartbreaking. And yet I feel that she has survived her trials magnificently. She is, today, a wonderful actress and someone who brings many hours of pleasure to the Chinese people. So even though she went through hell personal hell because at the age of seven, she didn't know better, that the government could be wrong. Because when the government told her that her father was an enemy, she believed it.
LAMB: Were you able to name any of your characters? I mean, I notice you say, "The stories I tell are true and because they are, I had no choice but to disguise the people who live them." Is that everybody...
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: ... in the book?
LORD: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: From what you know of the Chinese government, will they take your book and go over it with a fine tooth comb and try to locate some of these folks?
LORD: No. These stories are the stories that were told to me personally so that they have depth and feeling. But these stories are very common, because the Communists do not look at you as a person. They look at you as an intellectual, a worker or a farmer. They put you in categories and the fate of people within that category are pretty much the same. So even though individually they reacted to the various political campaigns differently, nevertheless, their stories are quite typical. They're not unusual, though I would think it would be quite hard to pin down who exactly I'm writing about.
LAMB: What kind of a grade forget the politics of China -- would you give the administrative function in China right now of keeping track of all those people and collecting taxes and paying them and ...
LORD: I think that the organization, the network, is very, very deep and thick. There are many, many places. Bureaucracy's incredible. It's not just the Communists. China invented bureaucracy. But what has happened is the system is very comprehensive, but what has happened is every point of this comprehensive system the person has become corrupt in the sense of the tax collector will collect taxes from you, but not from a friend. The tax collector will trade how much tax you have to pay for a favor in return. So I would say the system is not working and that is why the people marched.
LAMB: This is kind of jump it may not fit together, but I think you get what I'm getting at -- "It is also true that at every step along the way, somebody always darted out and squeezed them. The neighbor down the road who now charges for the use of that road, the village headman who withheld fertilizer for favors, the local party secretary who fixed the quota of grain they must sell at artificially low prices to the state. Now peasants joke that at least when the landlord used to whip them three times a day, they could withstand the prescribed ordeal because they could count on what was to follow."

Is all that kind of treatment of your fellow person, is that all a factor of this system that's over there? Or is it the Chinese people?
LORD: No, I think it's when people are frustrated. When you and I can't get things done, perhaps if our money were ... if we could not walk in the front door of a store to get what we wanted to do, eventually, if we needed what was in that store badly enough, you and I would find out who works in that store. And then if there's somebody we know who knows these people and can I give them a call and get them to take me to the store so that I can get the thing that I need. It's not something so terrible that's incomprehensible; it's because the party makes so many decisions for the people that they can't seem to manage to manage their destiny. So more and more people find other ways underhanded ways, under the table ways, connections to resolve these problems.
LAMB: Another line is, "If the United States were this legacy of an open society and a free press could be reshaped by the small screen, imagine its impact on China." You're talking about television.
LORD: Yes.
LAMB: What kind of television do the people of China have today?
LORD: I think there are almost 200 million sets there. And people in the cities have them and at least villages would have one in which everybody would sort of come around and take a look at it. So and that again, this dissemination through television is very good. It's very good.
LAMB: Do they have one channel?
LORD: No, they have three channels. But they do not put only Chinese programs on their channels because they can't afford to. They have many programs that they have bought from the United States. For instance, "Hunter" is a regular program in China. So is Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Walt Disney other pictures. So they bought, I think, from CBS over 200 old movies which are shown. And "Little House on the Prairie" was the biggest hit in China, too.
LAMB: What impact did that have on the society?
LORD: Tremendous impact. Tremendous impact. Because that particular program is about an American family who sticks together, who have differences, who have generational problems and yet they have somehow worked it out amicably. And it was a great surprise to the Chinese, who had been taught through propaganda for years and years and years that Americans don't care about family.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's in your bookstores and it's on the best seller list, "Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic," by Bette Bao Lord, our guest for the past hour. Thank you for joining us.
LORD: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.